10 Of Disney's Most Feminist Characters

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"Why Emma Watson's Belle Is The Feminist We Need Right Now."
"Dan Stevens: Beauty and the Beast's Woke, Feminist Beast"
"Is Beauty and the Beast The First 'Feminist' Disney Movie?"
These are all recent headlines that have run ahead of this Friday's release of Disney's live-action update of Beauty and the Beast. For months we've been reading about how the casting of Emma Watson, a passionate campaigner for women's rights, will give the film a feminist edge. The new Belle doesn't wear a corset. She has a career. She's got Gloria Steinem's stamp of approval.
Needless to say, expectations are high. Will Belle really move the needle in terms of feminist representations in Disney films, or is it just another (sexist) tale as old as time? Many of us have idolized heroines like Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and Snow White, but it's hard to shake off storylines that rely on tropes that do little to present women as empowered beings. Cinderella's Prince Charming doesn't even know what she looks like. Belle falls for the person who has imprisoned her. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are passive slumberers who must be rescued by men. And Ariel can't even talk. Meh.
That's not to say that Disney princesses can't be empowering. Last year's Moana gave Disney fans a heroine who not only broke the mold in terms of what "princesses" (in this case, the daughter of a Polynesian village chief) are "meant" to look like (hello, curves and muscle tone!), but also proved to be independent, motivated, courageous, and fully capable of saving the day herself.
Though 2018's Gigantic is pulling an interesting gender switcheroo on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk story (the giant is now a giantess named Imma), we won't be seeing another Disney princess until at least 2019. As such, Beauty and the Beast really has an opportunity to leave us with a fleshed-out, strong-willed female character that sticks with us. With luck, that opportunity hasn't been squandered.
In the meantime, we'll always have these fierce females.
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Video: Courtesy of Disney.
Merryweather, Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Don't underestimate this fairy godmother. She may be cute, but she's also a tough cookie, and if weren't for her, Aurora wouldn't be sleeping — she'd be straight-up dead. Merryweather's the one who changed Maleficent's spell from ensuring death to a heavy sleep, which is a hell of a lot more usual than the gift of beauty or song (cough, cough, Flora and Fauna). She's also not afraid to take on the color pink.
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Moana, Moana (2016)

Nevermind her beefy demigod sidekick Maui (voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson); Moana (Auli'i Carvalho) is the real hero of this Polynesian tale. He may have the muscles and shapeshifting skills, but it's her strong will, initiative, and heart that ultimately overpower the lava demon Te Kā. No surprise she ends the film as a village chief who leads her villagers on high sea adventures.
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Merida, Brave (2012)

Don't mess with this Scottish princess, pals. Flame-haired Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is an independent young woman who's not about to settle for a conventional marriage to some dope. Instead, she uses her archery skills to win her own hand in marriage.
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Video: Courtesy of Disney UK.
Elsa, Frozen (2013)

At last, a Disney royal who isn't hung up on finding a prince, and doesn't need a man (or a talking snowman, for that matter) to save her hide. Kudos to Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) for reminding us in the power of sisterhood, and that being a solo girlboss living on her own terms is a totally legit happy ending. That said, we won't be mad if she gets a girlfriend in the sequel.
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Mulan, Mulan (1998)

I am woman, hear me roar. Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) poses as a man in order to save her father, the Emperor, and her city. While her ability to kick butt is impressive, her strength of character also won us over.
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Ursula, The Little Mermaid (1989)

It has not gone unnoticed that some of Disney's most strongest women are, erm, villains. Ursula the sea witch may be the antagonist here, but she could also been seen as a woman who owns her sexuality and her thirst for power. She's also quick to point out sexist attitudes towards women who speak their minds, which results in her not giving Ariel a voice. It's worth wondering how'd she be perceived had she used her powers for good.
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Tiana, The Princess and the Frog (2009)

How refreshing to see a heroine who eschews traditional "one day my prince will come" expectations and focuses on becoming an independent and capable gilrboss. Diana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) prioritizes her career over settling down with a man, and even though her prince does indeed come, her interaction with him is at first simply motivated by her own ambitions. She also continues to make her work a priority after she finds love.
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Megara, Hercules (1997)

"I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle this," Megara, also known as Meg, tells the Greek hero Hercules in this mythological tale. "Have a nice day." Voiced by Susan Egan, Meg stands out as a Disney love interest who doesn't suffer fools and calls out sexism when she sees it.

Another great quote: "Well, you know how men are. They think 'No' means 'Yes' and 'Get lost' means 'Take me, I'm yours.'"
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Video: Courtesy of Disney.
Esmeralda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Voiced by Demi Moore, Esmeralda is compassionate, unconventional, and strong-willed, which of course means that she's accused of being a witch. It's also worth noting that it's she who rescues love interest Captain Phoebus when he falls into the Seine.
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Pocahontas, Pocahontas (1995)

This is a problematic film, but one thing can't be ignored: Pocahontas, both the real woman and the Disney character, was pretty incredible. Here, she's seen as a woman who passionately defends her beliefs, stands up to her father, and doesn't chase after a man (and not just because he's voiced by Mel Gibson).