Disney Officially Rejects, Changes Course on 87-Year-Old Classic Princess Legacy

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An illustration of the classic princess, Snow White, in a forest surrounded by animals like raccoons, rabbits, and a fawn. A large red "X" is drawn over Snow White's face, obscuring her features and casting a shadow on her Disney legacy.

Credit: Inside the Magic

The Walt Disney Company will be moving away from a classic but long-contested component of its 100-year legacy.

Cinderella in her shimmering blue gown is surrounded by a magical glow in a dark forest, illustrating a classical fairytale moment of transformation.
Credit: Disney

When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) debuted 87 years ago, it marked the House of Mouse’s first foray into feature film creation. The success of Disney’s first princess has since spawned over 60 animated classics in the ongoing canon, establishing an unparalleled empire.

Aside from the princesses and other royals that exist in the world of Disney animation, such as Anna and Elsa from the Frozen franchise, the company also has a dedicated entity known simply as Disney Princess.

Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Sven in 'Frozen II'
Credit: Disney

From Snow White to Aurora, Cinderella to Ariel, and more recent additions like Rapunzel, Merida, Moana, and Raya, the Disney Princess media franchise consists of 13 characters from the Walt Disney Pictures enterprise.

The princess characters are a key component of the Mouse House and some of the most popular of all time. But despite their popularity, Disney has been criticized over the years for its apparent stagnation in promoting appearance differences.

Rapunzel and Pascal the chameleon looking shocked in Tangled
Credit: Disney

Critics have often complained as to the similarity of Disney female protagonist’s faces. As Polygon describes as “pleasantly round, with rosy cheeks, a dainty button nose, ginormous long-lashed eyes, and pale pink lips with a perfect cupid’s bow.”

The discourse resurfaced following the 2013 release of Frozen, starring Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, respectively. In October 2013, the production head of animation, Lino DiSalvo, spoke about bringing the siblings to life.

Shocked Elsa in 'Frozen'
Credit: Disney

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through [this] range of emotions, but they’re very, very–you have to keep them pretty,” DiSalvo said (via The Dissolve).

It has long been an issue with female Disney protagonists. As Polygon summarized when discussing the similarities between characters like Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, “Heroines look one specific way; everyone else looks different.”

Ariel gasping in The Little Mermaid
Credit: Disney

In Aladdin‘s (1992) case, many of the supporting characters have defining facial characteristics, while Jasmine retains the classic, soft Disney female heroine appearance. Similarly, 74 years ago, Cinderella’s pale skin, button nose, and blue eyes were contrasted by her stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella’s more accentuated nose, eyes, and mouth.

Now, it seems that the memo has been received, at least in part, and the House of Mouse has specifically addressed this concern in their upcoming animated venture.

Animated characters from the movie "inside out" with joy in the center, surrounded by sadness, anger, and disgust, in a colorful setting, expressing a range of emotions.
Credit: Disney Pixar

Next month, Disney and Pixar fans will officially return to Riley Andersen’s mind in Inside Out 2 (2024), the highly anticipated sequel to 2015’s Inside Out.

Taking over directing reins from Pete Docter, Kelsey Mann will bring the likes of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira), and Fear (Tony Hale) back to the big screen in a movie initially announced back at the 2022 D23 Expo in Anaheim, Southern California.

Joy about to hug Anxiety in the control room
Credit: Disney Pixar

Over the last few months, more information has come to light regarding the upcoming Disney Pixar sequel, including the new wave of emotions entering the arena as Riley confronts teenagehood.

Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Envy (Ayo Edebiri) will arrive in Riley’s mind, while other characters like Valentina “Val” Ortiz (Lilimar) become part of Riley’s real world as she attends high school.

Riley in 'Inside Out'
Credit: Disney Pixar

Many have already suggested that Inside Out 2 could potentially be a queer love story, considering how Riley–played by Kensington Tallman–acts towards Val in the trailer.

That, teamed with the story happening during Riley’s teenage years and footage out of CinemaCon 2024 revealing a focus on puberty and “The Belief System,” Inside Out 2 could become the new Turning Red (2022)–welcomed with open arms on one side and detested on the other.

Embarrassment, Anxiety, Envy, and Ennui take control of Riley's board in Inside Out 2
Credit: Disney Pixar

But, one thing Inside Out 2 is definitely acknowledging is the historic look of female characters. When looking at the first movie, Joy (Poehler), in particular, has a very humanoid face despite being a living, shining, canary yellow emotion.

Polygon recently attended a behind-the-scenes Inside Out 2 event, where director Kelsey Mann recounted to the outlet concerns Pete Docter had over the personification of the emotions, saying he wished they had gone further with character design.

Sadness, Joy, and Disgust freaking out over a panel lighting up
Credit: Disney Pixar

Related: Pixar Moves on From ‘Toy Story 5,’ Kicks Off New Cinematic Universe

The arrival of characters, especially female ones, in the Inside Out 2 footage proved that Mann was going further than his predecessor; it “was a conscious decision that we made,” he told Polygon. “[Production Designer Jason Deamer] said, ‘Why can’t the female characters have the same kind of design sense? It’s pushed, it’s fun.’ And we leaned into that,” the director added.

Being animated and not live-action, Deamer added that the intention was to really push the weirdness.

Anxiety introduced in Inside Out 2
Credit: Disney Pixar

Now, there’s Anxiety (Hawke) with her elongated mouth and plume of fire-orange hair, Ennui (Exarchopoulos) with her pointed nose and tallness, Envy (Edebiri) with oversized eyes and no nose, and Embarrassment (Hauser) with a bright pink ball-sized nose accentuated by his tightly closed hoody.

This design, especially for the female characters in central roles, is a far cry from Snow White’s cherubic face 87 years ago. It may be a hint that the studios could move away from this historic “Disney Princess Face” with its animated human characters, too, further down the line.

Evil Queen as an Old Crone giving Snow White the poisoned apple
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Buries Live-Action ‘Snow White’ With New Princess

Speaking of Snow White, the live-action version of the classic animation will officially debut on March 25, with Rachel Zegler as the titular princess. Disney’s Snow White is directed by Marc Webb from a screenplay by Greta Gerwig and Erin Cressida Wilson. Gal Gadot stars alongside Zegler as the Evil Queen.

Are you looking forward to Inside Out 2? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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