This morning I was singing my new favorite Disney song and watching it for the 20th time on You Tube. It’s from Frozen. I call it Elsa’s freedom song. The official title is Let It Go. (I think it should have been Bring It On.)
While watching the video and singing along I thought about the other leading lady songs I sang over the years and I realized something. Disney princesses have made a transition.
The first song I remember was Snow White. 1938. She sang in a wishing well about wishing for the one she loves to find her that very day. Lo and behold he came up on his white charger and climbed over the wall singing his love for someone whom he didn’t know existed 45 seconds ago.
Cinderella, 1950, also sings about wishing and dreaming.
Sleeping Beauty, 1959, sings songs about dreaming and wondering about love. “I know you, I met you before upon a dream.” That’s the only song in that movie that didn’t put me to sleep.
The little Mermaid 1989 sings a different tune. She is not actually looking for love: not at first. She wants to be part of a whole different environment. She actually sings about a career and maybe a cause. “Bright young women. Sink or swimin’ Ready to stand …” This is the end of the “marry a man with a good job” era and the beginning of the “find your own life and a man will come along” era. Part of this movie still bothers me a little as she wants to change her very nature to be with someone not even of her species. But that is the lesson of the original cautionary tale. Disney studios are saying this is okay. Yuk.
Remember these are Disney movies so each teenager (they are not all princesses) must find a man whether she is looking for one or not for the movie to have a happy ending.
Let’s move on to Jasmine from Aladdin. 1992. She doesn’t even have a wishing song. Aladdin starts the song and she joins in. But together they sing about seeing and experiencing new worlds, not falling in love. This demonstrates the changing attitudes of girls who no longer just wish for a rich prince to whisk them away but would rather see the world for themselves. If love comes along then that’s a fringe benefit. Perhaps Jasmine does not sing of love and longing because she actually takes action. She sneaks out of the palace to find her own adventures. Jasmine may have been the first girl (these heroines are only 15 or 16) to not fall in love with the first prince she sees.
Belle from Beauty and the Beast, 1991, is the second person to be approached by a handsome desirable man and say “hell no. You can’t give me what I want.” She rejects the lead male for something bigger.
Then along comes Pocahontas, 1995. The tune is getting a little old now. She sings of adventure, and rejects the handsome man and the life others have planned for her.
The Princess and the Frog, 2009, shows us something much different. Tiana wishes to start a business. At the very beginning of the movie she is approached by several men including a prince. She snubs them all. She does wish upon a star but she is also working toward that wish by working two jobs and saving every penny. I believe she is the first Disney leading woman to actually have a job.
So now let’s come to the present. Elsa, the emerging Ice queen from the movie Frozen, 2013, sings what I think is the most modern song yet. Her song is actually a song of triumph and freedom. This is unlike any other leading woman Disney has ever portrayed. She doesn’t wish for anything. Like the other girls she is held back and is kept a prisoner by those around her. Once she finds herself wandering alone in the wilderness she doesn’t sing of wishing for a prince to come along and free her. She is free, and she has made it to queen. No man needed. It takes her a minute to realize that she is free. Once she does she bursts into joyous song. Imagine Snow White doing that.
Note: I have left out some Disney leading ladies because I wanted to make a point, not provide a list.