Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

First Advisor

Andrea Foroughi




disney, animated cinema, feminism, non-traditional families


In this study, heroines and villainesses in nineteen Disney animated films from 1950- 2013 are characterized as traditional, complex, or non-traditional. A total of twenty-four female characters are classified based on their representation, actions, personality traits, appearance, and relationship status. Traditional female figures are beautiful dependent on male figures and engage in a heterosexual relationship as part of their "happily ever after." The traditional female figures in this study are Cinderella from Cinderella (1950) Lady from Lady and the Tramp (1955) Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) from Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Duchess from The AristoCats (1970). Complex female figures are, in the beginning of a film, independent from male figures and outspoken, but by the end of a film they are dependent on male figures and they always end their tale with a man beside them. The complex female characters are Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989), Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Jasmine from Aladdin (1992), Meg from Hercules (1997), Mulan from Mulan (1998), Jane from Tarzan (1999), Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009), Rapunzel from Tangled (2010), and Anna from Frozen (2013). Non-traditional women are all independent outspoken and determined. Non-traditional female characters are separated into two sub-categories: negative and positive. The negative women are evil and masculine in appearance, while the positive women are inherently good and feminine in appearance. The evil villainesses are Lady Tremaine from Cinderella (1950), Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959), Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmatians (1961), Ursula from The Little Mermaid (1989), Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove (2000), and Mother Gothel from Tangled (2010). The positive non-traditional women are Pocahontas from Pocahontas (1995), Nani from Lilo & Stitch (2002), Helen Parr from The Incredibles (2004), a Disney and Pixar film, Merida from Brave (2012), a Disney-Pixar film, and Elsa from Frozen (2013). There are two phases of changing representation: traditional to complex and negative to positive non-traditional. When Ariel appeared in 1989, it marked the shift from traditional to complex female figures. Likewise, in 1995, Pocahontas signified the transition from negative to positive non-traditional female characters. Disney's animated female characters in the 1950s to early 1970s reinforce Cold War values of modest femininity and devotion to family. Walt Disney's influence is crucial to the traditional female figure image. Most of the "princesses" of the 1990s-2010s reflect changes brought about by feminist activist efforts of the 1960s-1970s, attempting to incorporate multicultural and feminist ideals in their representations of heroines. With recent positive portrayals of independent female characters, Disney has experimented with representing non-traditional families which are increasingly prevalent in 21st century America. The recent rise of positive portrayals of independent female characters in Disney animated cinema is in part due to the phenomena of consumer feminism. Based on current Disney films and media such as Moana (2016), Elena of Avalor (2016), and Beauty and the Beast (2017), it is evident that Disney continues to feature positive non-traditional female figures in their animated productions to capitalize on feminism.