The Disney Villain and Representation

Disney villains are not friendly people. They’re villains, why would they be? But typically in a Disney story villains represent anti-white culture. Disney villains and Disney heroines/heroes have have some obvious discrepancies in physical appearance. While heroes and heroines are attractive to white culture, villains are anythingbut. Let’s take a look at a few villain/hero comparisons.

ariel ursila

Here we have Ursula and Ariel, side by side. Ariel is a conventionally attractive white girl (minus the giant fish fin) with a tiny waist and big blue eyes. Ursula is non-white colored, with heavy lidded eyes, and obese in size (therefore contributing to stereotypes and discrimination against fat women). The representation of evil in The Little Mermaid manifests itself in the form of anything different than mainstream white culture.

aladdin jafar

Next we have Jafar, the villain from Aladdin. Again, we have the heavy lidded eyes and dark skin. It appears that he is wearing eyeliner on his eye lids (ergo, Jafar is feminized; femme male = bad/evil), and his features are distinct and very non-white. His eyes are also elongated in comparison with Aladdin’s. Aladdin bears the conventional white boy features and charming smile. His skin is lighter, eyes are larger and rounder, and all around he has a more mainstream look (read: the white boy look). Even though Aladdin is a PoC, he is distorted to fit white morale.

maleficent aurora

For a third comparison on the strand of Disney villan vs. Disney hero/heroine, here we have Aurora and Maleficent. Maleficent’s distortion is less prominent than the two previously discussed villans, but she still possesses heavily lidded, elongated eyes and non-white skin. Aurora is drawn in the traditional princess sense, with large, round eyes and tiny waist.

The effect on children on perceptions of those with white skin and non-white skin must be profound. If they are constantly surrounded by images of people that are different being portrayed as evil and mean, then they will become socialized to view them as evil and mean. In contrast, if the child has similarities with the villians in regards to appearance, the effect on how the child will view themselves has to be negative.

I know that I was profoundly affected by the portrayal of Disney villians. I was socialized by Disney to believe that I could only find happiness in life if I looked like their protagonists. When I gained weight as I got older, I bought into stereotypes that are perpetuated by Disney villians like Ursula and even Ratcliffe, from Pocahontas. How could I possibly be a good person with all this fat when all the fat people I saw as a child were evil?

I will continue a discussion of Disney villian characteristics in a later post. Until then, compare and contrast villians/antagonists that you are surrounded by. How are they alike? How are the different from the protagonist? How does that affect you?

Dissatisfied Princesses

This is a cute video created by YouTube user AVByte that criticizes Disney’s princess stereotype. The princesses featured in the video (Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle) are lectured by Queen Elsa on their refusal to critically think about their story lines. Princesses such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida are omitted, perhaps because their story line does not revolve around finding love but on other factors and AVByte’s criticism might not have held up.

This video exposes many of the problems that are prevalent within the older princess films. While progress has been made with films such as Frozen and Brave, old princess tropes are still prevalent and surround our young girls. Even though Snow White and Cinderella are older films, I grew up watching them and even though I am now in my twenties I still see young girls enjoying them. The presence of criticism such as this cutesy YouTube clip is uplifting, however, because videos such as this can spur discussion among mothers and their daughters about what being a girl and a woman means. And even newer Disney princess films such Tangled fall under this trope, with Rapunzel being saved from Mother Gothel by Flynn Rider and never given the chance to grow outside of someone else.

Girls need to recognize that they need to develop as themselves first, then worry about falling in love. Love is an incredible human emotion and should be experienced by everyone one way or another, either between siblings such as in Frozen, family such as in Brave, between friends,  or between those in a consensual relationship. Dialogue such as this video needs to exist to bring light to the fact that men are not the be all and end all. While these older stories may center around the woman character, the real story is about finding and keeping a man. So are the stereotypical Disney princess movies really about women? ‘Cause it really seems to revolve around men.

The Little Mermaid

Ariel seems to believe that all she wants in life is to be human and to escape her overbearing father and life as a mermaid. She wants so much more than being a mermaid princess. This is an incredible premise for growing as a woman and becoming her own. “Part of That World,” one of Ariel’s big numbers in The Little Mermaid, she doesn’t mention a man in the entire song. She merely focuses on the freedom that she would encounter as a human, and her longing for it.

What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet’cha on land they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand

However, as the movie progresses, Ariel encounters Prince Eric and falls in love. Falling in love is an incredible emotion and my critique should not be taken as one of love, but rather as a critique that falling in love with a man is the only thing that gives a woman value.

Ariel “falls in love” with the first human being she sees. Eric is, by all accounts, a friendly and caring man. But Ariel is only 16. Essentially, a sophomore in high school. As she deals with teenage rebellion, she projects that onto Eric. She sees him as her way out, like an escape, instead of seeking to find herself as “Part of That World” describes. The song itself transforms into an ode to love and devotion instead of a anthem of independence.

What would I give
To live where you are?
What would I pay
To stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?

At the end, she marries him. Marriage today is evolving into something beyond traditional gender roles. But did The Little Mermaid really move beyond those traditional roles?

No, it didn’t. Ariel was rendered voiceless in exchange for human legs to meet her man, and she was told to make him fall in love with her body. She was literally voiceless — something women have been fighting to rectify for centuries. In Ariel’s fight against the feminine mystique, she lost and sucked back in. She never has a moment to be herself in the whole film. The beginning she spends railing against her father, and the following scenes are spent searching for a way to be with Eric and make him fall in love with her as she has fallen in love with him.

There is not a single person of color in the entirety of the movie. One thing that critics have noted is Sebastian, with a Jamaican accent, seems to portray stereotypes of Jamaican culture and Disney pokes fun at the non-white culture by integrating Sebastian as some comic relief in the film. Sebastian does not qualify as a PoC (person of color) as he is a crab and not a human.

Feminist rating: 3/10

Fails Bechdel Test                                                                                ~Ariel does speak to Ursula in the scene where she turns human, but the whole scene is about turning into a human for a human prince, and I refuse to count that as passing. 

Fails Racial Bechdel Test