Disney’s damsels – a thing of the past?


If you think back to early Disney princess movies you can ask yourself a few questions. Why doesn’t Cinderella have any talents? Why are people so obsessed with Snow White’s looks? And why doesn’t Sleeping Beauty seem interested in anything besides waiting for her prince to rescue her?

By: Rebecca Gleeson

50 years have passed since the release of these princesses, and Disney have created more relevant and inspirational female characters. So what’s changed since then?
Think of your favourite movie as a kid? If you are a parent, think of your kid’s favourite movie. When you have thought about it, ask yourself the following three questions. Does it have at least two women, who talk to each other, about something besides a man?
If the answer is yes to all three criteria, then it has passed the Bechedel test. According to some sources, half of all movies fail ever made fail the test. Passing the test doesn’t make a movie perfect, or feminist, but it’s a start.
Let’s have a look at some recent Disney and Pixar blockbusters and see if they pass the test.


Disney’s most successful movie ever. The central plot revolves around a relationship between two sisters. Anna, the optimist, sets off to find her sister Elsa. The twist at the end of the movie involves an act of true love that doesn’t involve a man. You guessed it, it passed!



A movie all about female empowerment. The movie easily passes the first two parts of the test, but it’s debatable if it passes the third question. The main female characters conversations focus on Merida’s suitor, which Merida resits. She even wins the marriage test. Despite resistance, it’s built into the narrative. So it’s debatable if it passes.


Walt Disney have spent a long time crafting the idea of princess finding her one true love. But this Disney movie is completely different. Female bunny, resilient Judy Hopp, dreams of the day that she becomes the first bunny police officer, not the day her prince will come. This movie passes the test as both female leads talk about career progression and focus on Judy’s life prospects. Is Judy Hopp the hero your child has been waiting for?
So are Disney’s damsels a thing of the past? In theory, yes. But we still have to work hard to remove these negative stereotypes and fight for gender equality in movies. For example, in Pixar, historically there are fewer female characters than male characters.
Even if movies to pass the Bechedel test, it’s just one part of creating realistic, inspirational role models for our children. At Toya, this is something we really care about. Our mission is to provide inspirational female role models for our kids.
So, who is your favourite female hero?

writer Rebecca Gleeson is a strategist at Skating Panda, a creative communications practice specializing in social impact. 
Disney’s damsels – a thing of the past?

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Disney’s damsels – a thing of the past?

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