And they all lived happily ever after? A critical analysis of the Disney princess phenomenon

Muir, Robyn (2020) And they all lived happily ever after? A critical analysis of the Disney princess phenomenon. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Disney princess films and marketing have captured the hearts of children and adults all over the world. However, they may also contain gendered messages that reinforce traditional societal expectations of men and women. This thesis examines the Disney princesses, a worldwide commercial and cultural phenomenon that made $1.686bn just in 2018 (The Licensing Letter 2019). The Disney princesses are 16 royal women featured within animated Disney and Pixar films that are loved by young girls across the globe. This research will explore the Disney princess phenomenon, aiming to answer the following research question: ‘How is femininity depicted within the Disney princess phenomenon?’ through facet methodology.

I examine the role of femininity through three facets. Firstly, by examining the models of femininity depicted in Disney princess films using textual analysis. Secondly, the identified models are used as a framework to examine which models of femininity are dominant in Disney princess merchandising and marketing experiences. Content analysis and interviews supplement this research. Thirdly, I build on this framework once more by examining which models of femininity are dominant within princess park experiences through autoethnography.

I identified five ‘waves’ of femininity within the princess films: passive dreamers, lost dreamers, active leaders, sacrificing dreamers and innovative leaders. Each wave demonstrated characteristics that adhered to psychological understandings of femininity and masculinity. It was found that as more masculine attributes were introduced, the princess’ behaviour would be policed by the introduction of a romantic relationship. The most dominant model of femininity within princess merchandising was the innovative leaders due to the heavy marketing of Anna and Elsa (Frozen 2013). Without the sisters, it was the passive and lost dreamers who dominated. Within princess park experiences, the singular character trait of female support was most central, being depicted by active and innovative leaders. Overall, the most dominant model of femininity within the princess consumer experiences was the innovative leaders due to the heavy marketing of the Frozen sisters. Without them, it was the passive dreamers who were most dominant.

This thesis has provided an exploratory and holistic examination of the Disney princess phenomenon in its key representations: films, merchandising and marketing, and princess park experiences. It also has provided an up to date analysis of non-franchised and franchised princesses, including the recently released Frozen II (2019), adding further depth to the phenomenon. The film analysis framework created for this research is a transferable and adaptable structure that can be used by future researchers to analyse a phenomenon of their choice.

This research is a lens in which to view and understand how a global phenomenon such as the Disney princesses can contribute to the depiction of femininity within popular culture. I have identified micro changes within the phenomenon due to the in-depth nature of my analysis. It has provided a deeper insight to the 16 heroines in order to highlight how the phenomenon has changed and developed over time.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Fielding, Steven
Sargisson, Lucy
Keywords: Disney films; Gender role; Femininity; Textual analysis; Content analyis
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion pictures
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Politics and International Relations
Item ID: 63870
Depositing User: Muir, Robyn
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2021 14:56
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2022 13:22

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