I don’t think I’ve watched enough Disney films made in the past years to solidify this conclusion, but I really want to talk about what I’ve noticed from watching the Tinker Bell series. There is always a soft-spot in my heart for animated films–or should I just say that I friggin love animated films in general? Yeah, I love animated films in general. Anyway. I watched Tinker Bell and The Pirate Fairy a few days ago, and I’ve made an amazing discovery about the portrayal of girl-relationships in Disney films. Needlessly to say, even if you are just slightly familiar with the gender dynamics in traditional fairy tales, you will know that for years the lesson for girls in these fairy tales are: do your duty, be good, and a handsome prince will rescue you and make your dreams come true. This, of course, is predicated upon the fact that women/girls are objects to be acquired by an eligible bachelor. I don’t want to go too deep into the issue–but you get the point. It’s always the beautiful princess waiting for the prince in shiny armour to come to rescue them, and usually there is the inevitable girl-on-girl drama that promotes “girly” competitions and eliminates the possibility of girls ever becoming good friends together. There’s always the evil stepsister, or the “mean girl” that picks on the innocent girl protagonist, blah blah blah, and the list of the stereotypes goes on.
However! I am noticing a positive change in recent Disney films. Instead of promoting values that involve girl-on-girl rivalries and the true love’s kiss as the ultimate solution–the princess films nowadays seem to be promoting what I deem is an important theme: acceptance. And they are also breaking traditional female stereotypes and upholding gender equality. This is such an exciting discovery. Take Tinker Bell, for example: initially, Tinker Bell is disgusted by her given talent as a Tinker (which involves craft, woodwork and metalwork and all kinds of architectural and down to earth handiwork that are typically classified as “boyish”), and is overcome with sadness and envy as she yearns for other fairy powers that are “prettier” in nature, such as light-bending, the ability to grow flowers and plants, swift-flying, and water-bending. However, eventually, she overcomes these negative sentiments and accepts herself and her talents as she proves herself to the fairy world. A female protagonist who is proud of being a Tinker! This is totally breaking the stereotypical assumptions that “girls have to be girly”. In The Pirate Fairy, the focus of the story shifts between Tinker Bell and a newly introduced character, Zarina, who is also portrayed as an adventurous, innovative, and slightly rebellious spirit who is not afraid to explore the limitations of fairy rules and fairy magic and exert her talents. In the beginning, she is rejected by the fairy society as well–same as Tinker Bell (I think I failed to mention that her daring adventures to the edges of Neverland has made her a constant figure of public disapproval). After causing a tiny plant to grow into a disastrous tree and destroying her workplace, she is “fired” and no longer a fairy dust-keeper. Devastated, she packs up her things and leaves, becoming a pirate fairy who plots to steal all the magical blue dust for a ship of pirates (led by the young James Hook) who seem to appreciate her talents. Tinker Bell and her friends, each with their unique fairy talent, goes after her in attempt to recover the blue dust and the outcast Zarina. In short, after everything is over and the bad guys are defeated, Tinker Bell accepts Zarina, forgives her for her past faults, and welcomes her back to fairy land. Thinking back now, my head is exploding with fireworks because there is not even one negative female stereotypes in these two films! You know, such as the evil stepmother and the bitchy mean girl who picks on the protagonist. (Actually, I think there were some girl drama in the first Tinker Bell film…but as I recall, it was resolved peacefully and still centred around the theme of acceptance.)
Of course, Tinker Bell series is still saturated with “girliness”, but in a healthy way that does not overshadow the characters and the themes of the film. Jokes about hair and fashion actually punctuate the film in a delightful way to generate humour. I’m kind of a tom-boy, so that means a lot coming from me, haha. All in all, I think Disney is doing a wonderful thing in sending these positive images and messages to girls who will grow up watching these films. My generation grew up watching beautiful princesses unable to help themselves in their circumstances, waiting for their prince to rescue them. But the few films I watched are anything but: they are telling girls that recognizing your talent and yourself with confidence is the right thing to do–and as girls you don’t have to compete with each other, you accept each other as individuals, and it is friendship and your own values that are worth fighting for–not for the hand of a handsome prince! And also, don’t be afraid to break the norms, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.