Top 10 Disney Movies That Empower Women

Since childhood, Disney movies have had a hold on us with their fairytale-like stories and the most serene melodies ever to touch your ears.

With the long flowing sparkly gowns, extravagant castles, horse-driven carriages, and fantasy creatures, Disney gave us high expectations regarding romance.

But recent years have seen a drastic change in Disney’s portrayal of its characters – especially women characters.

Gone are the days of a graceful damsel-in-distress who would wait for a prince to come and save them.

They are now fierce fighters who are fully capable of protecting themselves and their loved ones from any harm that comes their way.

This change has attracted more people – especially young girls, who now feel empowered and inspired by these characters.

We have collected some of these animated Disney movies and made a list that will empower you!

The Princess And The Frog (2009)

Image Source: IMDb

Director Name: John Musker, Ron Clements

Genre: Animation, Musical Fantasy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Set against the background of 1920s New Orleans, The Princess, And The Frog revolves around Tiana, the first-ever African-American Disney Princess, voiced by Anika Noni Rose. Hardworking yet stubborn, Tiana dreams of becoming an entrepreneur by opening her restaurant.

She meets Naveen, a prince, who was turned into a frog by an evil witch. Though initially, these two don’t see a common ground due to their stubborn nature and worldly views, they eventually fall in love.  

The movie dwells on themes of gender equality and racism. It destroys the society – established gender roles and makes Tiana a feminist icon – using the plot that men can help in the kitchen and women can have their businesses while having healthy relationships. 

Beauty And The Beast (1991)

Image Source: IF

Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Genre: Animation, Musical Fantasy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Based on an 18th-century fairy tale by Jeanne – Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty And The Beast can be termed Disney’s most popular and exciting adaptation.

The story revolves around Belle, who goes on to save her father, who a beast captures. The beast was once a human, cursed by an enchantress. He can only be cured by marriage with the person who loves him. 

Belle is portrayed as an ideal feminist as she rejects Gaston’s marriage advances multiple times – in a way, rejecting the patriarchal notions of forced marriage.

Despite being criticized by her town, she is shown as an avid reader who continues educating herself and making her own decisions. Belle can be seen as an empowering woman who tries to protect the ones she cares for.

Moana (2016)

Image Source: IE

Director: John Musker, Ron Clements

Genre: Animation, Musical Adventure

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Moana, partly based on Polynesian myths, revolves around the curious daughter of the village chief.

The ocean chooses her to restore Te Fiti’s heart – a mystical relic stolen thousands of years ago. The strong-willed Moana sets sail to find Maui, a demigod, hoping to return the relic and save her people from the ocean’s wrath.

Moana can be seen as an unapologetically feminist movie for many reasons. It has an incredibly self-reliant and assertive female lead, who is by far the only Disney princess not to have a potential love interest.

The movie also considers body positivity issues by giving Moana more average proportions than the usual “tiny-waisted” princess. The character is also more representative since she belongs to a Polynesian tribe.

Moana is a great role model – a robust and independent leader who does what even men fear doing.

Mulan (1998)

Image Source: DG

Director: Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft

Genre: Animation, Musical, Adventure

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Set against the backdrop of the Hun invasion in China, Mulan tells the story of a young girl who takes her old, wounded father’s place to fight in the army against the Huns.

Several countries across Asia believe that women should act in a way that would uphold their family’s honor and image.

This notion is highlighted when Mulan is expected to meet a “matchmaker” and impress him for marriage. 

The movie also addresses issues related to gender inequality; when Mulan, dressed as a man in the army, says that she would prefer “a woman with brains,” she is immediately called boring by the other men who think of women as submissive or an object.

The movie takes up a radical approach to feminism, unlike Moana or Brave, and proves that women can take up roles that are stereotypically meant for men. 

Brave (2012)

Image Source: IMDb

Director: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrew

Genre: Animation, Fantasy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

The first Disney princess created by Pixar, Merida, is a young and fierce princess who gets into a conflict with her mother, who forces her to choose one of the suitable princes for marriage – but Merida takes matters into her hand, or rather, a bow and an arrow. 

Brave talks about the tumultuous relationship a mother and daughter share, and despite having different opinions and goals, they work together to save their clan.

Brave also destroys the patriarchal norms that state that women should be poised and elegant while men should be the ones in action.

It is also the first Disney movie where the female protagonist does not sing or dance because Merida fights, unlike the other princesses.

With Merida, Disney has created an independent and headstrong fighter who knows better than to change herself to please others.

Tangled (2010)

Image Source: IMDb

Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Comedy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Tangled, partly based on German folklore, tells the story of Rapunzel, who has magical blonde hair which has healing powers. Abducted as an infant, Rapunzel spends 18 years of her life in a secluded tower wishing to closely see the lanterns that only light up on her birthdays. 

Tangled, in every way possible, is one of the most feminist movies by Disney, even though it barely has more than two female characters.

Rapunzel is shown as an intelligent, determined young woman who can outsmart even the smartest in the room.

Even though the story has a potential love interest (the smoldering Flynn Ryder), Rapunzel takes charge of everything, showing herself as an equal to her male counterpart. Even the antagonist, Mother Gothel, is a powerful and wise character who is determined to get what she wants. 

Raya And The Last Dragon (2021)

Image Source: IMDb

Director: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada

Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Based on various Southeast Asian folklore, Raya And The Last Dragon tells the story of a warrior princess, Raya, who sets out to find the last dragon, Sisu, and restore its gem to turn her father from a stone to a human.

While Raya And The Last Dragon may not be the first Disney movie to have a warrior princess, it is among the first to establish close bondings among several female characters. 

Based in a universe where most of the kingdoms or clans have a woman as a chief, the movie highlights the fact that leadership does not take into consideration the gender of the person.

What is more interesting is that none of these leaders are questioned for their positions – everyone just accepts the said woman as their leader, which is a rare sight even in fantasy. 

With its jungles and dust storms to martial arts and dazzling lanterns, Raya And The Last Dragon is an extraordinary treat of marvelous visuals and unwavering feminism.

Pocahontas (1995)

Image Source: YT

Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg

Genre: Musical, Historical

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

Based on the real-life tales of Pocahontas, a native indigenous woman who saved the life of a European colonizer at the age of ten, Pocahontas describes the titular character as a strong, determined, and courageous woman.

Though Disney did not mainly focus on the actual historical events, it still made Pocahontas a feminist icon of today.

Disney’s first-ever person-of-color female protagonist, Pocahontas, was a strong-willed woman who did not need a man to save her. Instead, she was ready to jump in to save him – which she did.

Though she belongs to a tribe in the colonial era, she does not tolerate any oppression from the men around her and stays bold and courageous. She even stands up to her father, the village chief, to put forward her views. 

It is safe to say that Pocahontas was the beginning of Disney’s feminist days.

Encanto (2021)

Image Source: QR

Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard

Genre: Musical, Fantasy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

The 60th film produced by the studio, Encanto, follows a multigenerational family in Colombia who is gifted with supernatural powers – except for the youngest daughter, Mirabel.

When she discovers her family’s powers weakening, she sets out on an adventure to find the reason and restore the powers.

The film bears a more positive and diverse female representation, as most Madrigal family members are women under a matriarch, Abuela.

The characters interestingly diverge from what Disney has been creating for so long. The main lead, Mirabel, is not a beauty with unattainable body proportions but rather a socially awkward geek, an artsy teenage girl with glasses and freckles.

Disney goes a notch higher by destroying patriarchal norms by giving Louisa superhuman strength and a bulky appearance. 

Encanto, though a fictional story, closely follows the harsh realities of women subdued by their families just because they are different.  

Zootopia (2016)

Image Source: ME

Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Genre: Action, Comedy

Where To Watch: Disney+ Hotstar

A different approach from the usual fairytales, Disney’s Zootopia is set in an anthropomorphic world where mammals coexist.

Officer Judy Hopps, an optimistic rabbit, teams up with con artist Nick Wilde, a red fox, to discover the truth behind the mysterious disappearances of predatory mammals. 

Zootopia proactively addresses the struggles of being a working woman, with Judy Hopps working twice as hard to become a police officer.

Several comments in the movie, such as “Go back to the carrot farm!” or “Do all bunnies drive like this?” directly indicate the sexism women face in their day-to-day lives by being told to go in the kitchen or being called bad drivers.

While being a fun kid’s movie, Zootopia also highlights the active xenophobia and sexism in today’s society.

Featured Image Source: ME

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