Disney’s Male Execs To Stop Making Movies Starring Girls

At first it seems like possible good news. Disney/ Pixar announces: no more fairy tales, code for princess movies. Great! No more damsels in distress who end the movie by landing a man. Now we’re going to have a slew of new movies with cool girl heroes who bravely rescue boys from peril, exuding power and beauty by performing all kinds of risk-taking tasks and challenges.

But, no.

First of all, the reason the fairy tale movies are stopping is because Disney/ Pixar executives have decided that little girls aren’t worth making movies for at all.

The Los Angeles Times reports the fairy tale movies “appealed to too narrow an audience: little girls. This prompted the studio to change the name of its Rapunzel movie to the gender-neutral ‘Tangled’ and shift the lens of its marketing to the film’s swashbuckling male costar, Flynn Rider.”

Can you imagine if Disney decided to shut down a genre because it only appealed to little boys? Or if they switched a movie title so it wouldn’t risk highlighting a male star? It’s awful that this kind of radical gender discrimination exists for our smallest people– little kids who come into this world with huge imaginations and aspirations, big dreams that get squashed by a bunch of billionaire guys who run massive entertainment franchises.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Alas, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine and the other Disney royals were all born in the 20th century. Now, different kinds of Disney characters are elbowing their way into the megaplexes and toy aisles, including Pixar’s “Toy Story” buddies Buzz Lightyear and Woody, Capt. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and a platoon of superheroes from the recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment.

Do you notice something about the characters listed above? Because neither the Los Angeles Times reporter or the Disney execs mention in the article that we are losing girls (Snow White, Ariel, and Jasmine) and getting boys (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Captain Jack Sparrow.) The Los Angeles Times goes on to report the current roster of upcoming movies includes, surprise, surprise, two more movies with males in the title roles: “Winnie the Pooh” (along with his friends: Eeyore, Piglet, and Christopher Robin?) and “Reboot Ralph.”

Remarkably, the men who run Disney/ Pixar, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, go on in this article to congratulate themselves on their originality and creativity. I kid you not! This would be totally hilarious if these guys didn’t have such a hegemony on the kinds of movies– and accompanying toys and accompanying mass-marketing campaigns– our kids are exposed to. But because this boys club completely dominates kidworld, their privileging of males over females with no care at all, their disregard for half the population, is really sad.

Catmull said he and Lasseter have been encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and push creative boundaries.

“If you say to somebody, ‘You should be doing fairy tales,’ it’s like saying, ‘Don’t be risky,'” Catmull said. “We’re saying, ‘Tell us what’s driving you.'”

Dude– could you be any more safe and predictable than putting out a line up of kids movies starring males? What’s driving you guys? Gender programming! And you don’t even see it! Or you are just pretending to be that cluless? Don’t you get that you are teaching and training girls starting at the youngest possible age that their roles will be only supporting? You are telling the girls of the world that they exist to make boys look good and to help them along on their cool quests and incredible adventures. How about some real creativity, Lasseter and Catmull? Can you try to imagine a magical world where girls’ stories are valued just as much as boys’ stories are? Where girls and boys are treated equally? Can you make a movie about that?

This post was originally published on Margot Magowan’s blog ReelGirl

Photo from Flickr.com user David Chartier through Creative Commons License 2.0


  1. CarolineHeldman says:

    Magowon's analysis here is great. It's great that we won't have more damsels in distress, but to erase girl protagonists altogether is terrible. Perhaps a boycott of Tangled is in order to let Disney know how we feel about their move away from female protagonists.

  2. Ahh but Caroline, a boycott of a girl-oriented movie won’t be seen as a boycott from Disney’s perspective, they’ll see it as confirmation that movies for girls are dead in the water!

    I know it’s a tired old line to trot out, but what would Uncle Walt have to say? Though the classics had problematic stereotypes, at least Snow White and Cinderella drove the damn movie!

  3. Another "girls as victims" article. Hell bent on appearing oppressed, are we? In the "reel" world, movies run on trends. As the article glossed over, there was a period when all the disney movies were focused on girls. The audience grew tired of that, so they are going for boy leads… in a while, the audience will get tired of that, and new movies with girl leads will be back. geez.

  4. There really is no pleasing you, is there? Take the girl out of the equation, take the boy out of the equation, blah blah blah. They're KIDS MOVIES. Stop projecting your gender biases onto media designed for 7 year olds.

    Disney IS being more creative, whether you want to see it or not. The Princesses franchise was spawned from movies that were LOOSELY based on centuries old fairy tales where the female protagonist WAS a damsel in distress. They've moved away from taking tired old stories and remaking them towards creative storylines that aren't just modern-day rip offs of old stories.

    And in case you didn't notice, Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates franchise turned out to be a pretty big bad-ass. And it's not like Jesse from Toy Story was some stupid walking ditz – they actually had a Barbie for that role. Jesse could rope, ride, and rock right alongside the main characters.

    I've noticed that sometimes people cling to their habits so hard that it's extremely unsettling when faced with something else. Of course, I'm sure the author of this article has seen this too – during the feminist movement. Nothing wrong with being a feminist, but seriously. Your stance that "The MEN at Disney are being all MANLY by having the balls to actually release movies with MALE leads and this is the end of females in children's movies" is a little preposterous.

  5. Girls should not have their "dreams and aspirations" pegged to a multi-billion dollar corporation that follows profit, as the author is suggesting here.

    Disney is not your personal non-profit charity for proper child rearing, it is a cold and heartless money machine that will follow popular trends and cash in on them. The author's lamentations fall short because she fails to realize this and puts too much weight on where Disney should be in children's lives. Yes, it's influential, but no, it is not going to create a generation of lost girls just because they tone down the princesses.

  6. So boys shouldn't have wholesome Disney movies with strong male leads to watch? Must they always have boy cartoons with violent, alpha male leads? And, correct me if I'm incorrect, but wasn't the last animated Disney movie about a black princess? What harm is it to, after 70 years of princesses being the protagonist, having a male in that role?

    Also, you're romanticizing the past. Women in the lead role didn't mean they were the heroin. They were the victims needing rescue.

  7. So let me get this straight. Disney has decided to stop making movies focusing on pampered damsels in distress that have everything handed to them by men, and you think it's sexist?

    A company is shifting to a more gender-neutral marketing strategy in order to make its films more widely appealing? Who could allow such a blatant trampling of civil rights? I guess it's just a sad world we live in if companies are trying to — God forbid — make MONEY.

    Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem with feminism. I am a man and I fully support equal treatment of women in all respects. The problem that I have with some feminists is that there seem to be quite a few that don't understand the phrase "equal treatment." Equal doesn't mean getting entire films devoted to girls. That's what happened with the "Disney Princess" age, and I wouldn't call "wait for a prince to come and whisk you away" a good role model. Equal means getting films that are appealing to both girls and boys, which is what they are providing.

    Sure, there is still plenty of gender bias in the world. But I don't think we have to worry about Disney indoctrinating little girls so they grow up to be good submissive housewives.

  8. Boycott of all Disney/Pixar films and merchandise is more appropriate. These ditzes will see who controls the pocketbooks when they get to play with all of those unsold toys and watch films instead of going to bank. Caroline, the only feeling they have is in their pocketbooks.

  9. There's nothing to add that the prior two commentors haven't said. Disney wants to appeal to all kids rather than 1/2 (girls or boys). Not sexist, just good business.

    • Why do you interpret "making movies with only male characters" as "appealing to all kids rather than 1/2"?

      • Nothing in the article says anything with "only male characters". It only talks about "no more fairy tales" – movies normally attended by mostly female audiences.

    • Exactly! "Guest" comment proves the article's point – appealing to males is assumed to be appealing to everyone. Women are invisible in this decision.

  10. What a hypocritical feminist.

    Please take an opportunity to step back and see that women have just as many opportunities as men do in this world. (As an aside, I do realize some "nations" are still struggling with this…)

  11. Actually, Pixar has a film in production right now starring a female protagonist, and a strong one at that. Also, are you reporting on Disney, or on the Los Angeles Times reporting on Disney? This is sloppy and lazy.

  12. But wasn't the damsel in distress a bad thing? It was promoting the female helpless steriotype that would encourage them to become victims, waiting for some man to come along and save them. I find your article very offensive to the feminists who were trying to get Rid of the helpless princess steriotype. Are you really thinking this through, or are you just looking for something to complain about?

    • nikitabluewriter says:

      No one is complaining that the stereotypes were dropped. And, yes, all feminists spend their time wondering what they can complain about next. That's what we like to do. It has utterly *nothing* to do with calling attention to relevant issues that impact our gender and cause further imbalance within a patriarchy that we have little say in. You're probably right. We should just keep our mouths shut and take it, like good little girls.

  13. I don't see what the big deal is. It's marketing. Now the approach to changing the market scheme is rude and could have been reworded 10x better. But it's just marketing. It seems that Disney is not making enough money with "girly" films. So, make less or none of them. But please, don't make it a politically correct media hype.

  14. Yah, you didnt do your research. If you did do your research, you would see that 44% of Disney's staff is female.
    And are you really going to whine about a bear, rabbit, and donkey who happen to have male names? I understand the frustration of the seemingly unfair ratio of male to female actors. But understand this is how marketing goes. Disney has done a horrible job releasing this marketing information, i agree. But this change is not to undermine anyone, in fact to just keep a profit going.

    • You completely missed the point. The percentage of female "staff" is irrelevant, other than to show how deep the hegemony of women in America goes.

      And yes, the change DOES undermine someone – girls. Instead of providing strong female roles, they are simply dropping the weak ones (thank god) and then writing off the demographic entirely. They aren't even trying – just giving up.

  15. Edgar Friendly says:

    "surprise, surprise, two more movies with males in the title roles: 'Winnie the Pooh'"

    'Nuff said, really.

  16. There are only two movies mentioned in the article that were axed. The first is The Snow Queen, the second is JACK and the Beanstalk….. The focus of the article is the movie tangled, featuring a "swashbuckling male COSTAR, Flynn Rider". It is never indicated the movie was changed, only that it is being marketed differently. They go on to use the terms musicals and fairy tales and reference Aladdin in this genre. I agree that Disney generally features more male than female co-stars, I would love to see this remedied, but I think your take on this article is entirely wrong. This move away from fantasy/princess movies is a good thing, these movies generally characterize women as weak and dependent. Also, a movie featuring a man is not inherently evil, nor are the directors producers and studio staff.

  17. Mike Kelly says:

    Disney will do what they have always done. Try to make as much money as possible. Anything can be twisted to highlight gender bias if that is all you are looking for. Women models make 10 times what men make but we never hear any complaints about that because we only notice bias if it is against us. Everybody will see or not see movies based on if they appeal to them. If you do not like the male leads then do not see the movie. If you support movies with female leads then spend money on them. The world does not owe any of us a fair shake and even if it did, we will not be getting it. Power is taken, not given.

    • nikitabluewriter says:

      Women are paid ten times what men make in the modeling industry *because* of the fact that women are continually valued solely for their appearance. Your own argument points out gender inequality. NEXT.

  18. Wow, I can't believe the negativity this article has generated. Male is not neutral! Male is male. How nice for little boys that they have a plethora of male characters with many personalities and roles to choose from. And you say men have "the balls to actually release movies with MALE leads" like wow! That's never been done before! How brave of those men to eschew the stereotype of cartoons inundated with female characters! WTF?

    This has nothing to do with women claiming victim status. It is about not having enough positive female characters for children (girls AND boys). The princesses were not good role models. But instead of working to improve their leading female characters, Disney has decided to drop them altogether.

    I wouldn't expect male readers to understand this because any time they turn on the TV or pop in a movie they get to see: men! Just like themselves! If you don't like the male lead, perhaps you can identify with his sidekick . . . or the villain . . . or the villain's sidekick . . . or the kindly old man who gives advice . . . or any of the other dozens of male characters who appear in . . . pretty much anything ever.

    If you're a girl who doesn't identify with the female lead, perhaps you can identify with . . . another girl, in some other movie. Because there's very often only one girl, whether she's the lead or the token. It's sad when one of the most progressive movies is Toy Story, a movie that features mainly the adventures of men. But hey, there's actually TWO female characters to choose from.

    When I was a kid, we would always pretend to be characters from cartoons. Of course, there was only one girl in EVERY freakin' movie or show, so only one girl got to be a girl. The rest of us had to be guys. How many times have little boys been forced to identify with a female for lack of male characters? Unless you're the kind of progressive family that lets your little boy watch Barbie movies, the sure bet is never.

    Did someone actually suggest that because something is for children, they take no message away from it? That's a painfully ignorant stance. Children learn very quickly, and very early, the gender messages our culture presents. I learned fast that it was better to be a boy because they were smart, and active, and not relegated in to the role of being pretty/supportive/seductive.

    Boo on Disney for buying into the b.s. that boy characters are neutral humans that appeal to everyone, while girl characters are something other that only appeal to that other. If they made movies featuring characters like Jesse (in a lead, rather than supportive role) with multiple strong female characters, they'd not only be doing our children a great service, but get a fat lining for their pockets.

    • Progressive families and Barbie? Would that be the Malibu Barbie that likes shopping for outfits for her big date with Ken, or Princess Barbie waiting for her prince charming – Ken, or Cheerleader Barbie cheering Ken on to victory at the big game?

      • Have you actually seen a Barbie movie? While they're not perfect on the materialistic content, they are a huge improvement on female agency over Disney. Check out "Diamond Castle" and get back to me.

    • @Palaverer: excellent.

    • Are you one of the only few people who actually understand THIS? The fact that being male is treated as the norm is problematic enough. More so, that the Problem isn’t even understood among the Privileged.

  19. Nothing says children only need to grow up on new movies.

    Actually, for all the crap that is produced, it would probably be better if people watched more old movies until producers started getting their heads out of their arses.

    Or better yet, try reading books.

  20. I dunno, seemed like you’d be more upset that decades of female protagonists from Disney are still just helpless pretty princesses instead of the fact that they’re mixing up their lineup with some male protagonists
    I mean that’s what I’d be miffed about

  21. Girls shouldn't be watching movies when there's cooking and cleaning to be done

    • I certainly hope that the large amount of "+" are recognizing this as sarcastic, and not rewarding the comment for the literal meaning.

  22. So…you have a problem with women being portrayed as strong heroic characters instead of the usual damsel in distress who can do nothing but let herself be saved by prince charming and live happily ever after?

  23. The film executives don't care either way. Their not being biased to a specific gender, they're simply following the money. Don't complain to the execs, complain to society for paying for one type of film more than another.

    • It's not a matter of paying for one type of film over another. The types of movies the author is suggesting don't exist – strong female leads. No monetary comparison can be made if there are no Disney movies that are either a) damsels in distress, or b) strong male leads. The execs are no longer considering young girls as an audience at all – they are writing them off. That's where the article is coming from.

  24. Margot, your article reflects exactly the thoughts going through my mind when I read the tragic news in Los Angeles Times. Like you already suggested, the most laughable part is the so-called "gender neutral" path Disney has taken, which is simply to cater to boys and expect female audiences to swallow it down. I feel that the film industry is, literally, suffocating half their potential audiences. I am sick of seeing the male gender ALWAYS having its way. It's not like there's some shortage of action, blow-em-up films. I quite enjoyed the Disney musicals.

    • This is true with the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean. I keep seeing the trailers and it's all men, men, men, a couple words by Penelope Cruz, and alas, the highly sexualized mermaids grabbing at men to pull them undersea. Surprise, surprise.

  25. If you want a fairy tale with strong positive female characters, go buy Hoodwinked. Disney female characters are classic "I need to be rescued" dolls that I wouldn't want my children to identify with anyway!

  26. Looks to me that that article states no more "faerie tale" movies, and princess is simply part of that, not the entirety. You make some baseless accusation in your article, demonstrating a clear misadry and hatred towards men. I see no indication in that article that even implies they intend to no longer have female protagonists, as you suggest

    The princess and the frog was, as far as Disney is concerned, a box office failure, "last year's " the most poorly performing of Disney's recent fairy tales.", and their research showed it was due to it's lack of appeal to boys. Boy's aren't generally associated with "princesses, and it's understandable that merely having it in the title, without something (like beauty and the beast) that would appeal to them, may cause them not to be interested. As such, Disney choose to re-title Rapunzel into something clearly more gender neutral, and at no point (that I know of) did they actually change the story in any way, simply a re-titling. If you have anything to support a claim otherwise, it would be beneficial to produce it, otherwise, your simply fear and hate mongering.

    In many respects in today's western society, the pendulum of gender discrimination has swung to the other side (if people are curious, do a wiki search for men's rights, I suspect many will be surprised, especially under the "wages" category). I'm truly finding it distressing how many women are finding a balance towards "actually" equality so dangerous, and rail against it. Perhaps they feel they deserve to be on top for longer then they have been, or perhaps they are just unwilling to give anything, regardless of whether it's fair or reasonable or even constitutionally required.

  27. Well, guys, your shortsighted commentary has consistently proven the author's case. You all missed the point entirely. Good job. Thanks for doing my gender proud.

    The point is, gender-neutral still means male leads. It's great that they are dropping the ridiculous damsels in distress with extreme, completely unattainable body shapes. However, they seem to think that's all that girls are into or are for. They are dismissing the demographic completely, rather than adjusting the focus from weak female roles to strong female roles.

    Yes, it's "marketing" – a sign of our culture. The decisions made expose the relentless patriarchal bias.

    • Surprise says:

      Tom, thanks for clearing this up. Yep, it’s true. Gender-neutral means male leads with mostly an-all male supporting cast. Perhaps, however, if we females are lucky, one or two attractive young women who are there only to support the male lead.

  28. The announcement by Disney means nothing – they are business; action films that appeal to little boys have more money making potential than princesses these days. Maybe there is an amen and hallelujah! in there. Maybe it means the damsel in distress story is boring and our girls aren't in to it anymore. Above, Tom A. points out that hey are missing the mark completely – strong girls in strong roles would revitalize the market for girls.

    In my house, there is a ban on all things (Disney) princess for my 2 year old daughter. However, I did just get her 2 (non-Disney) princess figurines that she adores; she loves their dresses, builds structures for them to climb and takes them with her on her adventure through the playground. Its not the dis-empowering storyline shes into and it won't be – she has been and will continue to be exposed to strong girls doing strong things. Disney, shmisney. Dont get me wrong, the corporation is as gross as it gets and sadly, its almost impossible to avoid it having a presence in an American child's life in one way or another. But, it can be combated. Check out the Paperbag Princess but Munch or the Olivia series for a cool girls.

  29. There isn't anything wrong with making movies that star boys alongside movies that star girls, but they don't have to completely get rid of the female-centred movies. And all of the typical Disney "princess" movies have male characters, just not in the lead. This is sad..

  30. Just for a minute, forget about Disney/Pixar wanting to broaden the appeal of their movies to a larger audience than just little girls; unfortunately, it's the nature of business to try to maximize profit. Instead think about our little girls and what else is wrong with this picture that we as parents can do something about. What a pity that it's 2010, and little girls (and their parents) still provide the audience for "Princess" films. Wake up parents. Princess films should appeal to NO ONE–least of all to little girls.

    • Right, so all the women and girls rush to see the boy movies. Meanwhile the men and boys wouldn't be caught dead bored in a girlie flick, would they?

  31. They would never succeed unless women didn't constantly collude with them. While men create these problems, women go right along with them.

  32. No more fairy tales? Oh the horror! What will we do without our millionth retelling of the stories that have been so widely distributed that they’re public domain?! Having these damsels in distress taken out of the spot light would be an improvement. Lasseter has done some pretty interesting and beneficial things in the Pixar world and the roles that the female characters play aren’t archetypal and continue to get stronger as they go. We have variety and strength and depth of character instead of pretty poster It girls whose only value is their appearances. From Jessie to Eva to Atta and if the rest of Disney gives us more Mulans and Kidas I think it’d be better off for our little girls to see proud, fun, resourceful, and strong women as their role models instead of wishing, wanting, and helpless victims. And if they end up making movies that appeal to boys too, then all the better for Disney.

  33. This doesn’t bother me at all sure the girls are losing their say in this but isn’t this good for girls? They’re losing their traditional gender role. No more princess movies doesn’t mean no more girls I believe that Disney intends to flesh out the more independent woman. I actually prefer the traditional damsel in distress theme. I mean what else do guys have to look forward to? Women are confusing enough as it stands add a plethora of skills an abilities for independence. Then we have a rational society who weighs the counterbalances of good/bad in a relationship rather than a compatibility of emotions. I disagree with their ending of princess movies but at least there are still other animated studios out there. What makes me furious to say the least is the women bashing Disney because they’re producing gender promoting movies… instead of gender stereotypical movies. Like a good philosopher always said “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

  34. Disney really skews everybody’s perspective.

  35. It’s sad that the only way the over privileged and patriarchy sympathizers can empathize with their ‘sisters’ in this scenario is if they were a fan of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic show.

    I can’t even think of another show with that kind of quality work put into it, with such an “overrun of estrogen,” that displays such potential for shows and movies starring female protagonists and a large female cast relating to both girls and boys.

    Sure, some of their brony fans sometimes miss the mark of their “Love & Tolerance” message, but at least, MLP;FIM, itself, is an EXAMPLE. With this disturbing and depressing news, Disney failed what Hasbro’s inadvertently accomplishing in a more feminist media.

  36. “No more fairytales” does not equate to “no more strong female characters”. It means “boys don’t want to watch princesses, girls want to watch more than JUST princesses, so let’s make something that both girls AND boys will enjoy”. It just so happens that things we as Americans consider gender neutral are more typically “masculine”. (It’s more acceptable for a girl to like bugs or race cars than for a boy to like princesses or cute woodland critters.) So Disney, a business corporation, made a business decision to stop alienating parts of it’s base in favor of one particular demographic, because it will be good for business.

    In fact in recent years, all Disney’s animated films have either been about independent, strong-willed girls or talking cars/animals/toys. Although I love both genres, I’d personally love to see Disney go back and focus more on good (human) role models for boys, like Jim Hawkins from Treasure Planet or Tarzan (which in hindsight was just a gender-reversed Pocahontas).

    If you really want to analyze Disney and their impact on gender roles, look at how far the princes have come. It used to be that in order to get the girl/be the hero a boy only had to be the Charming Prince. You were lucky if you even had a name! But now princes are becoming actual people, with flaws and dreams and individual personalities. Shouldn’t Disney focus more on that? (It could be argued that the influx of “strong, independent women” in media has pushed a desire for good male role models to the wayside.)
    Besides that, moving away from princess characters provides girls with a wider range of roles to choose from. Maybe the next Disney heroine will be a huntress, or a space mechanic, or a basketball player. Or maybe she’ll be the average, unremarkable every-girl who has adventure suddenly thrust upon her–a plot typically assigned to male protagonists?

  37. Marvel'sWoman says:

    Why does a girl’s movie have to be about Princesses and High School dramas and whatever? I don’t want to be a princess, unless it was the kind of princess leads her army into battle in a FUNCTIONAL (Read: covers her chest and stomach) set of chain mail. I always wanted to be the superhero, the special ops soldier , the defender of the weak. I never imagined staying home and making sandwiches while my husband fights zombies or aliens or being held captive and no cracking my captor over the head with the nearest blunt object. I want Disney to stop making Princess movies, I want they to make movies about REAL woman. Mulan is my favorite Princess movie, historical inaccrauties be damn!

  38. Mom of boys says:

    Since this was written, Disney has made Brave, Frozen, and Moana. All awesome role models for little girls. Now please show me a protagonist for my little boys to look up to in human form? A toy, , a car, or a lion don’t count. The pendulum has swung too far.

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