Disney as an effective harbinger of feminism

Warnings: Full of spoilers from Tangled and Frozen. Some spoilers from Maleficent.


There’s been a subtle paradigm shift in Disney movies recently. Or maybe not as subtle as I think it is.

Where all the previous Disney movies- the Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast-involved a strong male character saving the female protagonist, it’s now the other way round.

Exhibit A- Tangled. Albeit a modern re-adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm tale Rapunzel, the titular characters are as different as can be. Tangled shows Rapunzel as a smart, funny, saucepan-wielding girl, who is capable of baking, sewing, and candle-making, amongst other things. She’s well-read and intelligent, as is evident from the scene where she charts the stars and comes to the conclusion that the lanterns released on her birthday are not celestial bodies. She learns to adopt to the rather limited walls of her tower, and having never seen a human beside her evil ‘mother’ before, she deals rather skilfully with the thief, Flynn Rider, when he seeks refuge in her tower.


In the end, however, it’s not Flynn who saves Rapunzel’s life, although he does chop her hair off. It’s Rapunzel whose magical tears saves Flynn’s life.

The more recent examples are Maleficent and Frozen, two of Disney’s biggest blockbusters in 2014.

Let’s talk about Frozen first. There are so many things to love about this movie- from its Oscar-winning songs to its cast of loveable characters. Those were the things that made me re-watch the movie so many times. But I observed something new every time I re-watched. The most obvious thing was the fact that when Anna was told that it was only a true love’s kiss that could save her, and everyone assumed it would be Kristoff (I know it was Hans they thought of first, but let’s just pretend that the bloke never existed). It wasn’t Kristoff, however. It was her sister Elsa’s love for Anna that saved her life and melted the ice in her heart. This was the biggest validation that a true love need not be a man. It could be family too. There are so many other examples which extol the same point.

For example, in the song ‘Love is an open door’, there’s a line that goes ‘Our mental synchronisation can have but one explanation…’. Cut to the scene of the ball, where Elsa and Anna are standing awkwardly, waiting to receive the guests. When Elsa asks Anna what that amazing smell is, they say ‘chocolate’ in perfect synchronization.



That’s the thing I loved the most about Frozen. In their own subtle way, Disney keeps reiterating the point that a true love could be platonic too. A woman doesn’t need a man to save her life. All she needs is a loving family.

Maleficent is another such movie. Another retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, this movie is completely female-centric too. We have Angelina Jolie, resplendent in black leather and red lipstick, kicking massive arse from the very moment we see her.


In spite of being betrayed by her childhood love/friend, she remains unshaken. When she develops a liking for Aurora and tries and fails to revoke the curse, Aurora falls into her sleep, and can only be awoken by a, you guessed it, true love’s kiss. Everyone expects Prince Phillip to be the one, but his kiss fails to wake her up. It is, however, Maleficent’s tender kiss on the forehead that ultimately succeeds.

What I love the most is the fact that these movies are completely accessible to everyone. All of Disney’s movies have a U rating, which means no-one is restricted from enjoying them. Also, since the target audience is generally the youngsters and kids, parents invariably accompany them for these movies, which means they get to learn these lessons too.

This is, according to me, nothing short of a revolution in cinema. And Disney’s doing a wonderful job by bringing about a shift in thinking among people. I hope to see many more such movies from not only Disney, but also other animation companies. And maybe, just maybe, non-animated movies will soon start following suit.