Disney: that megalith of childhood hallmarks, and a brand name as prominent in North America as Coke or McDonald’s. Their success is hardly surprising, considering they hit all the right notes: adventure, love, angst, all with incredible scores, remarkable animation and really, really great hair. It’s hard not to fall in love with Walt’s world.
However, Disney has accrued a reputation for exploiting the most shameless trope still darkening the door of North America’s media scene: the weak female, incapable of righting her own wrongs, whose ultimate triumph manifests itself solely through romantic bliss. Thank God for Prince Charming, amirite? Fret not, however, as there are exceptions to this rule.
What with the imminent Disney-gasm coming to theatres on March 13th, where the over-milked Frozen teat will attempt to carry a live-action Cinderella, let’s take a gander down memory lane and remind ourselves that Disney women aren’t always vapid, blond and high-heeled.
5. MEGARA (Hercules, 1997)
Perhaps not an obvious choice, Meg made the list by dint of her absolute conversion to the Cult of Sass. Opinionated and knee-slappingly funny, her I’m-getting-too-old-for-this-crap shtick has made her a fan favourite of Disney buffs everywhere. As audiences watch her fall in love and overcome her painful past, she shows them that having vulnerabilities does not make you weak, nor does making mistakes mean you’re a bad person. Too cool for school, Meg is all about fighting the good fight and keeping it real, especially when it comes to handling inflammatory used car salesman-like baddy, Hades.
4. ESMERALDA (Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996)
If the moment where this gypsy-acrobat-freedom fighter yells “Justice!” didn’t move you, you should probably see a doctor to get that lump of ice removed from your heart. Outspoken, loyal and fiercely moral, Esmeralda isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, whether it be defending the rights of her people, or stopping an angry French mob from pelting Quasimodo with food. Though she does technically get saved in the end by the hunchbacked hero, she was certainly ready to take one for the team, choosing to be burned alive instead of doing the nasty with lusty old Frollo.
3. POCAHONTAS (Pocahontas, 1995)
She can talk to trees and canoe like a sonovagun, but can she paint with all the colours of the wind? Um, duh. Wise and intuitive, Pocahontas couldn’t keep all those truth bombs from landing and blowing six-year-old minds as she runs around barefoot in the woods, because that’s just how she rolls. In this beloved tale which focuses on overcoming differences through love and understanding, this Disney heroine is the obvious catalyst for a meeting of minds and hearts between two warring factions. She rescues her love interest (sexy John Smith who becomes considerably less sexy once you realize he’s voiced by Mel Gibson) and two embittered communities with her diplomacy, empathy and those awesome floaty leaves.
2. MERIDA (Brave, 2012)
Och aye, let’s hear it for the proud bow-and-arrow-wielding ginger who won our hearts and reinforced the ever-relevant notion “I don’t need no ring,” thank you very much. She can ride a Scottish Shire horse at full gallop, shoot bull’s eyes without breaking stride, escape angry man-bears and defy ancient customs, all while somehow managing to keep about seven tons of bright red hair-chaos out of her eyes. Merida is fierce, proud and loud, stubbornly refusing to lose her independence to some archaic woman-as-property law. Wilful, opinionated and athletically-inclined, this Scottish princess is a breath of fresh air in a franchise consistently preoccupied with the damsel-in-distress trope.
1. MULAN (Mulan, 1998)
You probably guessed it: Mulan, the one and only. A firm favourite of 90’s brats everywhere, this tale of a butt-kicking cross-dresser has won the right to collect dust amongst twenty-somethings’ VHS collections for years to come. Droll Mulan pushes the bounds of both propriety and legality in her daring attempt to protect her father, dressing as a man to take his place in the army. What’s not to love about Mulan-cum-Ping as she navigates the murky waters of army life, replete with bawdy humour, feats of physical duress and (gulp) communal bath-time? Mulan nails it: blow up some rich old guy’s palace and you’re sweet-sailing for life.