No More Damsel in Distress: Representation in Films as told by a Former Disney Cast Member

“You can’t marry a man you just met,” Queen Elsa says to her sister, Anna, in the hit Disney film “Frozen.” This was the first time in forever that a Disney character has not only acknowledged, but called out, the often criticized trend of Disney princesses getting married to their Prince Charming after nothing but a few brief interactions. 

This short line from a film that ended up becoming one of Disney’s most popular is just one in a new wave of thinking in Disney films. From Merida in “Brave,” Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog,” Elsa, and Moana, young girls and boys are seeing a break from the tales of damsels in distress, instead watching stories of young princesses taking control of their lives and not waiting for anyone else to save them. But, just because now we’re seeing better representation in Disney films, does this mean we have to abandon the classic Disney films that might not send the same message? 

As a self-proclaimed Disney fanatic and a former cast member (Disney’s term for employees), the films and characters will always have a special place in my heart. Ever since I first saw “Beauty and the Beast” when I was just a few years old, Belle has been my favorite Disney princess. One of the main reasons was because with brown hair and brown eyes, she looked the most like me.

Except for when I went blonde…

If you were to ask most young girls which princess is their favorite, they will likely choose the one that they resemble the most, and thanks to new movies and TV shows produced by Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Channel, there are more races and ethnicities than ever being represented. 

But still, many parents of today are hesitant to let their young daughters watch the classic tales of “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” because of the messages that these movies can send to their young, impressionable children. Actresses such as Kristen Bell and Keira Knightly have both gone public with their decisions to not let their daughters watch many of the Disney movies that I grew up with. 

Many of these films recently criticized by parents, however, have much deeper messages than to be beautiful and wait for a prince, and can be a great excuse to have an important discussion with your daughter about what it means to be a princess. While I loved Belle because she looked like me, I also admired her voracious reading as well as her loyalty, bravery, and kindness. When my 2 year-old niece (whose favorite princess changes every day) says “please” and “thank you,” because “that’s what princesses do,” I remind her that princes must be polite, too. 

“The only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.”

Princess Tiana, “The Princess and the Frog”

Though many of the movies produced during Disney’s Golden Age (from 1937-1967) offer what are now seen as antiquated values, it is important to remember that many of these stories were adapted from classic fairy tales written by The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and that these messages were much more accepted at that time. That, of course, doesn’t make it right, but you can’t change the past — you learn from it. 

While it might not be the best message for a 3 year-old to see princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty being kissed without their consent, it is also an opportunity for parents to teach how to protect themselves from strangers. Sheltering children will not help them as much as exposing them to real world situations and having conversations about them will, and Disney films can be an excellent tool to initiate many of these important discussions.

The Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) films introduced more progressive female characters, like Mulan and Megara from “Hercules,” though some of the tales are still seen as problematic for some. Yet, these films include several important values and messages for young girls besides forcing femininity and submission to men. For example, though Jasmine is beautiful and kind, she also fights back against the patriarchal society and her forced marriage. The princesses of this era begin to convey the idea that being feminine does not mean that you have to give up your strength.

It is a legitimate concern that Disney princess stereotypes are teaching girls to be “passive and caring more about personal appearance,” as journalist Christian Gollayan writes, and with parents wanting to raise their daughters with more modern values, some Disney movies might not be what they’re looking for. It’s understandable to want to raise your daughter to be strong on her own, and that isn’t a belief I’m going to fault. 

As a former cast member, my opinion is probably a bit biased, but that’s because I’ve seen first-hand the joy of a girl meeting her favorite princess. I’ve seen them completely done up in hair, makeup, and sparkly dresses after visiting the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique. And when I do, I think maybe she, like me, doesn’t admire that princess because of her looks and her ability to be rescued by a big, strong, man, but because of her character, heart, and knowledge. 

“Frozen” and “Moana,” both films featuring strong female characters on a journey to save their families and community, are excellent films that are helping to change the narrative of what it means to be a princess, but appreciating them doesn’t mean we have to forget the classic films many of us know and love. Instead of banning these older films, using them to open up discussions with daughters can expose her to several other important themes that will help her grow into a strong woman. 

Besides, many of the Disney princesses and heroines, like Megara (who faces her troubled past to help Hercules defeat Hades) have proven that even if you are a damsel, and you are in distress, you can (and will) handle it. 

The Least Dramatic Season Ever: A review of ‘The Bachelor’ season 23

Can I talk to you for a second?

I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have something important I need to talk to you about. It’s just, I feel like we have such an amazing connection, and I really want to open up to you about my feelings so you know what I think. 

Now that I have you. ABC’s long-running reality series “The Bachelor” has entered its 23rd season, with former contestant, and former pro football player, Colton Underwood now on the other side as he chooses a wife from among 30 young women vying for his love. Oh — by the way, did you know he’s a virgin?

While the season is not yet over, viewers have already seen plenty of dramatic moments unfold, though the season as whole has been somewhat disappointing to long-time fans. 

If you made it past the first episode, which referenced Colton’s virginity at least 18 times over the three-hour premiere, then you know that who has and hasn’t had sex continues to be the most important discussion this season. The amount of virginity talk reminds me of my high school graduation party, which even at 18 seemed only slightly more juvenile than Caitlin C. “popping” a red balloon upon exiting the limo night one. Yet it remains a constant theme – so much so that it’s often hard to focus on anything else. Their obsession with a social construct, the outdated idea that having sex for the first time drastically changes a person and his or her identity, sometimes makes it seem that they’re just trying to find someone for Colton to sleep with, and has ultimately become a distraction from the rest of the show. 

While we’re on the (ever present) subject of Colton’s virginity, is it just me or are the group dates this season seemingly designed to remind us that, while he’s a virgin, he’s still a man? Group dates are notoriously ridiculous – from performing as backup dancers with Juan Pablo to literally smelling each other’s armpits with Ben Higgins, viewers have seen more than their share of cringeworthy group date situations. 

So far – this season we have seen Colton watch, and participate, as the women compete to see who’s the strongest, practice survival techniques in the wild, fight each other in Vietnam, and pretend to be swashbuckling pirates in a show. Because, you know, nothing says that Colton is choosing to be a virgin like having him wear tights and a deep-V blouse while jousting with a play sword. Again, the producers’ fascination with who has and hasn’t had sex has turned the season into an overdone joke, with each group date becoming more ridiculous than the next. 

Season 23 has shown that “The Bachelor” has just about run out of gimmicks, though it’s obvious that the producers can, and will, stir up as much drama as they can. Previously, every season has had a “villain” — someone who causes the most drama in the house. On night one, most viewers pegged contestant Catherine as the resident villain of the season, but she was quickly forgotten and eliminated in episode three. Caelynn and Hannah, the two beauty pageant rivals, finally made up on a previous episode. Onyeka was eliminated, and therefore can’t tattle tale on the other contestants anymore. And Demi’s hilarious attitude towards the show and blunt honesty with the other contestants has made her a fan favorite. Not having a designated villain? Maybe they really are doing something they’ve never done before. 

“The Bachelor” frequently comes under fire for its lack of diversity, and rarely does it take the opportunity to speak about a larger cultural issue. One of the most meaningful moments of the season thus far came when Caelynn, a 23 year-old from North Carolina, opened up to Colton about being sexual assaulted in college. While the show has had its share of more progressive moments, this one was handled particularly well both by Colton and ABC, and was one of the few conversations of the season to spark any kind of genuine emotion from the viewers.

If this season could have left the obsession with virginity on night one, and perhaps made someone in the house actually villainous instead of just unapologetically herself, it would have been much better off. While the season has had a few memorable moments and twists and turns, like Heather getting her first kiss while fireworks conveniently go off in the background (don’t even get me started on that), ultimately the season has had a rather slow first few weeks.

There are the women who aren’t there to make friends, and the women who seem like they have never watched the show before (I’m looking at you, Elise), but the last two episodes have all of us wondering which women aren’t there for the right reasons. Despite its slow beginning, the most recent episode and the teaser for the next have both helped to pick up the pace a bit, but personally, I won’t be satisfied until I see Colton finally jump that fence. 

“The Bachelor” airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC. 

So Bad It’s Good: “A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding” Review

The review I chose to discuss in class was written by Carly Mallenbaum of USA TODAY and is about the infamous Netflix movie that premiered just a couple of months ago, just in time for the holidays. I like this review because it not only critiques the obvious flaws and general hilarity of the film’s premise, but it also comments on a lot of the other inaccuracies and connection to real world events. For example, even before I took a Journalism class I was aware that the main character’s approach to journalism was… interesting, to say the least. This review takes the time to examine the complete lack of knowledge (or maybe just disregard) of journalism and journalism ethics that the writers must have. I also loved the comparisons she drew to the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which was one of the most watched television events from last year, because as someone whose birthday celebration plans included spending the morning watching this movie just after its Netflix premiere, I immediately noticed the similarities, too. Finally, I like this review because Mallenbaum acknowledges that sometimes, it’s okay to watch things that are just plain bad and simply enjoy them for pure, mindless entertainment. I know I do.