Anything and Everything

CHILDHOOD HEROES: Disney Edition

Disney Heroes
Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Many generations have been raised on the cartoons of Walt Disney, from the classic princess tales of sleeping beauties and rags-to-riches Cinderella to more recent depictions of ice queens, Disney is often at the forefront of children’s development and first movie experiences. Here some of our SQ writers unveil their childhood Disney heroes….
Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
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There were two women I considered the pinnacle of badassery when I was younger – Trinity from The Matrix and Esmeralda, from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I was one of those kids who grew up on a diet of pirate Disney VHS’s and, looking back, not much has changed when it comes to the movies I connected with most and those I watched religiously then. The Renaissance period (1989 – 1999) which included The Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastPocahontas and Aladdin, were some of my favourites growing up and I am still very fond of them.
But none could reach the level of obsession I had with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was my personal favourite Disney film at the time and still is now. My brother and I used to re-enact scenes between Frollo and Quasimodo (I tended to be Frollo) and one of my biggest toy-purchasing regrets was when I had the choice between getting an Esmeralda doll, which came with her goat Djali, or some bloke and a triceratops from Jurassic Park: The Lost World. I went with the latter and regretted it ever since.
The morbidness of a kid saying that their fave Disney film is The Hunchback of Notre Dame aside, there was a lot in the film that other Renaissance films didn’t offer; one being the character of Esmeralda.
I have to admit that, before I watched, say, Beauty and the Beast, I always considered the women of Disney films to be quite bland. The spectacle and fantasy is what drew you in, not the compelling female leads. That’s one thing that I loved about the decade before the new millennium – Ariel, Belle, Meg, Pocahontas and Jasmine were all far more developed and better written roles for women than what the studio had produced before. There are evident problems and valid criticisms made towards them, but these were big steps for Disney at the time and it would be a shame to discredit them.
Esmeralda was that fiery, passionate, ‘don’t fuck with me’ kind of woman that I always aspired to. She had compassion and honesty, and cared about what happened to the people she loved more than herself. She would risk her own life for the greater good and never backed down on her beliefs. Every time she screamed “justice”, I was totally on board. When she was cornered by the creepy Frollo who was near to molesting her, she told him to fuck off (in so many words) and called him out on his grossness.
Her struggle also came from the lens of a person of colour; someone who was shunned in her city because of the community she came from. She didn’t come from a state of privilege like other Disney women did, most of who were princesses. I related to that a lot more, even if it were more subconsciously as a child rather than a conscious awareness. Not only was she fighting for the sanctuary of other people, but she battled with the prejudice those had against her. Bad. Ass.-Cherokee Seebalack
Meg (Hercules)
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Meg from Disney’s Hercules is the ultimate (if strangely sexy) damsel. From her sultry lounge singer voice—all hail Susan Egan—to her story line, Meg has one purpose: to be Hercules’s ultimate foxy obstacle between him and his immortality.

Yet, for a character who could so easily be a one-dimensional, typical damsel in distress, she is anything but. Meg has her own dark and twisted obstacles to face, mostly within herself, and her struggles are met with a mostly thankless reception.

Our journey with Meg begins when she is locked in a contract with Hades, God of the Underworld—a bargain she entered into in order to save the man she once loved from death. Throughout the movie, her goal is to be rid of her contract with the god. But as she is an obstacle for Hercules, so is he an obstacle for her. As her feelings for Hercules begin to strengthen—exemplified by my favorite Disney heroine song “I Won’t Say I’m In Love”—Hades takes advantage of their relationship to trick and weaken Hercules from his god-like strength to that of a mortal.

At this point, the movie tries to make Hercules the ultimate hero, but I disagree. When Hercules is brought to a mortal state, Meg is the one who proves to be the stronger person. Now spurned by all of the protagonists, including Hercules, for her apparent betrayal—she still fights to save Hercules, an act for which she gives the biggest sacrifice: her life.

(Spoilers: Hercules saves her so so she lives and stuff. Don’t cry, dear friends).

Meg is the true hero of this movie. She does not have immortality or god-like strength. All she has is an incredible amount of sass and the bravery to rise against adversity, even when it comes from those she loves. –Genevieve  Hoeler

Ursula (The Little Mermaid)

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When I was a child, I was all about Ariel. She was different, she didn’t belong, she knew she was destined for something else. To an effeminate young boy, that was highly appealing; it was everything I was feeling. But once I grew a little older and I was able to finally put my differences into words, I found myself identifying with Ariel less and less.

I realized I was gay in 6th grade and subsequently came out in 7th. From then on out, it was a constant barrage of things I couldn’t do, shouldn’t do. I was assaulted by all these social rules when all I wanted was to be myself and be happy. It soon became clear to me that I wasn’t Ariel at all. I was Ursula.

Much like me, Ursula was an outcast because of who she was. She wanted to live her life her way, but because people didn’t like it, she was banished. Sure, I wasn’t evil and enslaving people, but as a gay boy constantly told to butch it up, I just got her. I understood her. Not to mention, everything about her appearance screamed TOO MUCH. While all the mermaids looked fresh-faced and natural, Ursula did not. The beauty mark, the razor thin eyebrows, her blue eyeshadow, red lips and nails… From her looks to her attitude, Ursula did what she wanted and listened to no one. She was everything to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had discovered my first drag inspiration.

Through Ursula, I fell down a fabulous rabbit hole. Through her, I discovered Divine and drag. Through her, I found a way to smile. Through her, I found my escape into my own world where the rules are whatever I say they are. –Tyler Dziubinski

Pocahontas

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There are lots of reasons why Pocahontas was a total inspiration to me when i was a kid, one of those reasons being her connection with nature and the general world surrounding her. Like, the basis of the movie is a bunch of self-righteous foreigners trying to steal shit from land that doesn’t belong to them and Pocahontas and her tribe being rightfully protective over it (queue rendition of Colours of the Wind where Pocahontas not only totally shows up John Smith and makes him look a fool but also shows her passions towards the Earth and Mother Nature/the circle of life and respect and all that). Another reason, tied to that fabulous song, being her ability to overcome stereotypes and prejudice (despite conflicting advice from her overbearing father and friends). She’s willing to be vulnerable and show John a thing or two about how she lives, to teach him what he’s doing is wrong, and that he obviously does not paint with the colours of the wind. It was/is important to see North America from a Native American point of view as there have been enough Western ‘cowboy and indian’ movies painting tribes as ‘savages’ to last a life time. Along with that life lesson, Pocahontas’s fork in the road also lead to another – that has somewhat stuck with me – when she is forced to choose between her marrying Kokoum and pleasing her father and taking the ‘smoothest course’, or choosing to follow her heart and not know what is … Just Around the Riverbend. That song is the best song on the entire planet i’m prepared to fight about it. Basically it’s totally cliche but remembering that ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’ is kind of important to me, It’s totally lame but it has been the way i’ve lived my life since i understood what it meant and is also the song i chose to put as my yearbook quote. Anyway pocahontas totally rules PLUS Meeko and Flit are the best sidekicks ever AND she is a person of colour fronting a Disney movie and there sure ain’t enough of them. Let us all just pretend that Pocahontas II does not exists thanks x –Mel Sutherland

Ariel (The Little Mermaid)

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Ariel from The Little Mermaid was definitely the beginning of my fictional character obsessions. I wanted to be her so bad! I was just obsessed with how independent and adventurous she was because I strived to be exactly like that. Ariel rebelled against the rules set by her father and did whatever she had to do to get what she wanted which were my distinct goals in life as a child.

16 year old mermaid Ariel felt confined to the sea and the rules of her father, King Triton. Similarly to Ariel, I felt misunderstood and didn’t understand why my parents had so many annoying rules I had to follow. Ariel just wanted to get out of the sea and experience new things whilst everyone close to her was singing musical numbers about how she should stay “under the sea” and constantly undermining her dreams.  I could 100% relate to this when I was younger as probably so many others could. Part of Your World was my anthem. I wanted to escape my town, experience new things for myself and explore the world but everyone just laughed in my face and told me it would most likely never happen.  Ariel was an icon for me and she symbolized adventure and escape. Considering the amount of times I watched The Little Mermaid as a kid, if it wasn’t for Ariel I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to leave my home-town, let alone move to a whole different country. Even though Ariel had to experience so many struggles to get what she wanted, including losing her voice and watching the man she loved fall for someone else, she still got there and that’s what makes her so admirable. –Shaianne Hugh

Tiana (The Princess and The Frog)

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There are so many reasons why Tiana, The Princess and the Frog’s protagonist, really takes the crown as the queen of all Disney princesses.

For one, she’s the only black Disney princess in the history of ever. Unfortunately she is a drop in the ocean of that typical “I’m so pale and cute (and disgustingly young) with unrealistically perfect hair teeheehee aww look at that butterfly OOooh and I need a man aside from daddy ehheeeehee oh helLO there Mr. Teapot” thing creepy-men-of-the-past-who’s-work-keeps-getting-rejuvenated have kept going on for ages.

In fact, the typical princess stereotype has been to the misfortune of WOC since records began, but as Tiana is the youngest princess as far as storyline goes (her film released in 2009) she is symbolic of the advancing age of our views to coloured women. To a young girl she may just be another princess who happens to turn into a frog and sing jazz, but to me Tiana is a door to a new world of celebrating other ethnicities instead of brainwashing or, more appropriately, white-washing our culture.

Ethnicity aside, Tiana has more character development in the single movie than other characters will have in a semi-popular franchise. From a young age, Tiana has a clear dream: to own her own restaurant. Alas, she’s the only Disney princess to own any sort of business; the others mostly fend off their daddy king. To achieve this dream Tiana battles emotional belittling from her boss at a local cafe yet manages to remain generous and kind-hearted towards her customers, to whom she waits on. Granted, she does it to save up tips and finally get a restaurant and realise the dreams of hers and her late father, James, but the strength she has is not only comforting but much more realistic and applicable to reality without Fairy Godmothers.

Another fascinating thing about Tiana is how she sees ahead of terrible situations. Okay, she panics when she turns into a frog (wouldn’t you?), and gets mad when someone (her future ex-frog husband) gets gobby with her – but she still keeps her mind clear of negativity. My favourite example of this is when she bursts into the song: “I’m Almost There”. Not only is the 20’s Jazz-like number uplifting, but it brightens the fact that she’s actually dancing and singing in a run-down sugar mill, which she wants to renovate to make her dream restaurant the real deal. Even when she’s told that she’ll lose the mill permanently if she doesn’t pay up quick, she doesn’t sulk or cry. She prays, clears her mind, and starts to make a plan. Okay, so that was the part she got turned into a frog. But she did get further than most people!

Princess Tiana doesn’t become a princess until the very end – but that process includes overcoming and discharging the difference of authority between her and Prince Naveen (see: “Dig A Little Deeper”); teaching him her work ethic and marrying him for love and only love.

“Fairy-tales can come true – you gotta make ’em happen, it all depends on you” she sings in “I’m Almost There” and oh God she is so true. Happy Ever Afters don’t happen until you decide what you want to be your Ever After and remain Happy to work towards this, and this may be the only Disney movie where this is enforced time and time again.

For closure, when five-year-old Tiana promised her hard-working dad that she’d “never lose sight of what is important”, she really didn’t. And that’s the only lesson we ever really needed. –Sharon Igbokwe

 Mulan

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Mulan remains one of my most loved films and characters of all time. The whole film is a reaction to the rigid archetypes of both ancient Chinese culture and traditional gender roles – topics that prove as relevant and well received now as in its release in 1998.

Based on the ancient female warrior Hua Mulan, the film follows her as she enrols, dressed as a man, in the military, in order to protect her father and bring honour to her family. She is accompanied by, like herself, an outsider (in the form of a dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy). She tackles emotional and physical adversity (Shang is a major heart throb) and comes out on top. As women do. Because we’re GREAT.

The struggle with achieving traditional gender roles is paramount to the movie, teasing the geisha culture as well as the concept of masculinity. Watching her physical struggle and determination turn to success is an essential message for young girls, in particular. I am bursting with passion and exhilaration towards the end of the film and never fail to envision myself joining the army or running a marathon (if you knew me, you would know that that would be a big, big, unheard of deal). She provides girls, people, everywhere with the inspiration to reprehend society’s dumb constructs and she was, and continues to be, a great hero of mine. –Zoe Brennan

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