Are Villains the New Disney Princesses?

When Disney released the trailer for their upcoming Cruella movie a couple of months ago, the internet had a lot to say. I decided it would be best to stay in my own lane. After all, 101 Dalmatians and its subsequent remakes are not Disney Princess movies. Then, it was announced last week that a new movie featuring Cinderella's stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, is in the works. Suddenly, Cruella didn't seem so irrelevant after all. It looks like villain-centered remakes are the next step in Disney's ongoing trend of poor decision-making and the general dearth of creativity in Hollywood. Don't get me wrong; I thought Maleficent was an excellent movie in its own right and quite innovative for the time period, but I wasn't expecting it to be the mold for a series of cookie-cutter screenplays about sympathetic villains after Disney ran out of animated classics to convert into soulless live-action remakes.

Cruella teaser image with the words "The Future" painted across her face

I've seen tons of backlash for Cruella from various sources. The gist is that Maleficent only worked because she did one bad thing in her life without clarifying her true motivation. Presenting the story from her perspective and having her show remorse for her mistake was an effective way to turn her into a sympathetic character. Cruella de Vil, on the other hand, had an undeniably selfish motivation in her desire to kidnap and murder puppies and showed absolutely no remorse for her actions. The preview for her upcoming film does little to justify that as it continues to convey her image as a daring fashionista who is willing to do whatever it takes to have the most innovative fashions among her competitors, even if that means lighting herself on fire. But I'm not here to talk about Cruella. I'm here to talk about the future of Disney Princesses, a future doesn't look very hopeful.

Anastasia and Drizella Tremaine from Cinderella III: A Twist in Time

I don't think that a new about Cinderella's stepsisters is a bad idea and of itself, but having such a movie follow on the heels of Cruella implies that it will make Anastasia and Drizella Tremaine more redeemable than they probably should be. Plus, this storyline has already been explored by Disney multiple times. The 2002 film Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister aired on the Wonderful World of Disney and incorporated the same ideas. The biggest difference between that movie and the upcoming one is that the 2002 version was based on a fully fleshed out novel by Gregory Maguire, who is famous for penning Wicked. The new film is being written by a feminist comedy team that will likely excuse bad behavior as empowering. This is why Disney has been struggling to make new princess movies as of late. Our culture has reached a point where being feminine and well-behaved is seen as weak and outdated. The new model for girls is to take what they want, no matter the consequences. I shouldn't even need to explain why how dangerous that can be. Recent works for more feminine princesses like Rapunzel show their empowerment by forgiving people in their lives like Cassandra, who had done terrible things. Cinderella III: A Twist in Time also gave Anastasia a chance at redemption but still painted Drizella as a spoiled brat, which gives the more realistic perspective that not everyone is willing to change.

Raya and her gang of warriors about to kick ass

I haven't forgotten about Raya and the Last Dragon, an original animated princess movie that Disney released recently. Though it was was an excellent and creative movie, I don't think we're going to see another one like it anytime soon. Due to the pandemic, the movie had a limited release in theaters, and people who were already paying for Disney+ did not want to spend additional money to watch it. As a result, it was an embarrassing flop, which gives Disney the false impression that the public is not interested in original content from. Live-action remakes require very little story or character development and always bring in nostalgia bucks, so the mouse is more like to continue moving in that direction instead. Even Raya doesn't feel like the type of Disney Princess that I remember from my childhood. She is a warrior through and through and doesn't dress or act in a way that would be stereotypically feminine. The original Disney Princess model veers too far away from the latest cultural shift to remain relevant. Princesses are too young and inexperienced to be relatable to today's jaded audiences. They want strong queens who can stand up to any danger that gets thrown at them, not na├»ve damsels in distress. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you head too far in the opposite direction, you end up with, well, villains.

What it means to be a Disney Princess by today's standards is very different from what it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. The classic romantic dreamer who never forgets her manners and is beloved by all who know her is an artifact of the past. Today's princesses are kickass pioneers who refuse to be told how to live their lives. While this type of behavior can seem empowering from a distance, it is only a few small steps away from villainy. I think Disney's upcoming slate of movies says a lot about how their characters have shifted from role models to troublemakers. The most telling sign that the Disney Princesses have lost their spark is the title of the upcoming sequel to Enchanted, Disnenchanted, which is how many of us feel about the new direction that Disney has taken their female-driven movies.

Comments

It makes me wonder what the upcoming Tiana and Moana series for Disney Plus will be like given how princess culture has changed over the years.

As for the topic at hand, trying to make a villainous character into more of an anti villain or even an antihero is not a bad idea in theory, but it is better to do so if there's some semblance of redeeming qualities or if they're at least affably evil (as defined by tv tropes, it's about someone who is a villain yet is also fairly courteous with the hero to some degree).
Lisa Dawn said…
There are some theories that Disney might not not even make all the shows they announced at the investors meeting. They just talked about everything they had in pre-production to get people excited, but they probably don't have the budget for all of them. We'll have to wait and see which ones actually make it.
Hi there! I stumbled across your blog after coming across your Instagram from my own Time Princess insta. What an enlightening article! I have sort of disconnected from reality since I seem to be so old fashioned compared to other women. I have often wondered to myself, "What's so wrong with standing up for yourself and what you believe in as well as pursuing your dreams while remaining kind, generous, unselfish, and feminine?" I grew up considered a tomboy and I never thought I was very pretty, only to eventually open my eyes and realize that I was certainly pretty enough,even if I wasn't a cookie-cut look. But growing up that way, I adored the idea of finding my "true love", and therefore I sort of idealized Disney Princesses. I wanted to be lovely and feminine like them. I wanted to be kind and generous like them. If I couldn't look just like them, I wanted to be just like them on the inside. As I grew and matured and worked through a lot of the misconceptions that came along with my ideals, a lot of those yearnings turned into art and creative writing. I pursued neither as a career because they were both too close to my heart and I have never dealt well with rejection. But somehow still, your blig really intrigues me and draws me in. I am going to try to work in to my incredibly busy life checking out your blog whenever I can!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Hilariana,

Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I grew up in a similar way and dreamed of finding true love and being admired for my compassion like the Disney Princesses. I achieved the true love part and had a big sparkly wedding a few years ago! I became more feminine in how I dress once I became old enough to buy my own clothes. It felt a little odd because the world around me was becoming more casual. Every time I would pick out a nice dress and sparkly necklace to go out, all the women around me would be dressed down in sweatpants and t-shirts. I don't mind it that much, though, because I didn't even fit in with the other kids when I was in school, so I'm used to standing out a little. We should never be afraid to be ourselves.

I'm also passionate about creative writing and became a self-published author. I don't think of it as my career because it doesn't pay well at all, but you should look into Amazon KDP if you'd like to get your stories out into the world. You can find my books at http://lisadawnbooks.wixsite.com/lisadawn or www.amazon.com/author/lisadawn. I also wrote a similar post to this one a little while back called Feminism vs. Feminity that I think you might like at https://www.theprincessblog.org/2020/09/feminism-vs-femininity.html. You can keep up with my new blog posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprincessblogger and Twitter @PrincessOfBlogs. Have a lovely day!

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Time Princess - Shadows of London Visual Novel

What's Still Missing From Disney+

Review: Dress Up! Time Princess - Gotham Memoirs Visual Novel

Review: Dress Up! Time Princess

One Hundred Princesses for My 100th Post

Review: Time Princess - Phantom of the Opera Visual Novel

Find Me in Paris Has Its Last Dance

Review: Dress Up! Time Princess - Romy and Julius Visual Novel

Review: Dress Up! Time Princess - Swan Lake Visual Novel

Do Disney's New Theme Park Costumes Go Too Far?