Bechdel Test: The Disney Princesses – Part Two

Last month, I ran the first six movies starring Disney’s official princesses through the Bechdel Test. For those of you keeping score, the results were four passes to two fails. Now I’m going to tackle the five most recent Disney princess movies. Will they fare better or worse than their predecessors?

Pocahontas and Nakoma

Pocahontas – 1995

Whether or not this movie passes depends on how you define a conversation. There’s no one scene that where two female characters never talk about a male character. But I feel like much of the dialogue between Pocahontas and her best friend Nakoma in their first scene together could be counted as a separate conversation from Nakoma telling Pocahontas that her father has returned. The argument that Pocahontas discussing her dream with Grandmother Willow is separate from the two talking about Pocahontas’s impending marriage is tougher since there isn’t a break between the two subjects. I’m calling it a pass, but by a slim margin.

Verdict: PASS

Fa Mulan, Mother Fa, and Grandmother Fa

Mulan – 1998

Most of the conversations between women are either about prepping Mulan for the matchmaker or between Mulan and the matchmaker, so there are direct and indirect references to men peppered throughout. But it’s all pretty vague, as no specific man is ever being discussed. If every single exchange made mention of marriage or a husband, I’d be more torn about how to judge this one. But since it doesn’t and the conversations are as much about how ill-prepared Mulan as they are about her potential marriage to a theoretical guy, I think this one safely passes.

Verdict: PASS

Tiana and her mother

The Princess and the Frog – 2009

Hoo boy, did this one give me a headache. Tiana spends most of the movie completely uninterested in romance, but men seem to keep working their way into her conversations with other women. Part of the problem – from a Bechdel test standpoint – is Tiana’s father. He has died by the time the opening titles roll, yet his influence is felt through the entire film, as the source of Tiana’s dream to run her own restaurant and the ultimate inspiration for her realization that she needs to balance her goal with a personal life and relationships with other people. So even when he’s not in the movie, he’s frequently the subject of conversation or hovering around the edges.  Even when she declines her friend Georgia’s invitation to go out dancing,, a couple of their male friends join in on the conversation, albeit briefly.

I keep going back and forth, but given how I judged some of the other films, I’m going to call this a narrow pass.

Verdict: PASS

Mother Gothel and Rapunzel

Tangled – 2010

Now this one is easy. Rapunzel and Mother Gothel talk quite a bit and several of their conversations have nothing to do with male characters. I do find it interesting that several of the Disney princess films that pass the test only do so because of conversations between the female lead and the villain. In some cases, they’re the only two prominent female characters in the movie. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t pass, or even that the films in question are bad or anti-feminist. It’s just another example of the limitations of the Bechdel Test.

Verdict: PASS

Merida and Elinor

Brave – 2012

Do you really need me to tell you? Even if you’d only seen the trailers for Brave, you could probably guess how it would do on the Bechdel test. The entire movie is about the relationship between Merida and her mother Elinor, so obviously, they’re going to talk. Sometimes it’s about the male characters, but a lot of the time it isn’t. Elinor even loses the ability to talk and they still manage to have back and forth exchanges.

Verdict: PASS

Final Verdict

Out of eleven Disney Princess movies, nine pass the Bechdel Test and two fail it. Is that a good pass to fail ratio? It’s tough to say. Compared with a lot of Bechdel tests I’ve seen on groups of films like Best Picture Oscar nominees, the princess film do extremely well. But I would be curious to see how the performance of these films on the Bechdel Test compares to eleven films from a different animation studio, or eleven films with similar subject matter from the same years that the princess films were released in.  As I said back in the first article, the Bechdel Test works best as a comparison tool, so the more data you have to compare, the better. Consider also that all but one of these movies have women as either sole protagonist or co-protagonist of the movie. So maybe the high Bechdel Test score for the Disney princess movies is a given or lower than you would think.

One surprising result of the Test is that the two films that didn’t pass are both relatively recent movies.  The original three princess films all passed, two of them without question. Again, this doesn’t mean the older films are paragons of feminism, or that the modern films are inherently less feminist. But I would never have guessed that all three of the oldest princess movies would pass the test where two more modern films failed.

So that’s the Disney Princess Bechdel Test. Do you agree or disagree with the results? Are you surprised by them, or was it pretty much what you expected? What other groups of films do you think should be put through the Bechdel Test?

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4 comments

  1. Jennifer G

    I, too, find it very interesting that the original three Disney Princess movies all pass, two with ease, and the modern movies is where the failure is. My question is now, are we as a society focusing more on the woman-without-a-man issue than was done back in the day, whether positively or negativity, and thus leaving out other normal parts of female life in our entertainment?

    I’m not counting Aladdin in the tally because isn’t actually billed as a Princess movie. It’s about Aladdin and the Genie, and the princess is one of Aladdin’s complications. So it doesn’t bother me that it only has one female in the whole movie and therefore fails the test on step 1. That’s actually why when I watch it I don’t think it’s representative for our side of the genders.

    Little Mermaid failing is disappointing. It has such great music and good supporting characters. *sigh*

  2. Pingback: Bechdel Test: The Pixar Films – Part One | The Ladies of Comicazi
  3. cartoons8

    It’s hard to excuse the reconception of the eleven or twelve-year-old Pocahontas…as a statuesque supermodel, especially as kids don’t need their stories to be hung on romance to deem them, err, shapely.

  4. Pingback: Best of the Ladies 2015 | The Ladies of Comicazi

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