Back in April, I started off a little series highlighting the Disney Heroines whom the Collectress and I felt were badass and self-sufficient long before the Frozen phenomenon.
While the last post focused on the themes of exploration and independence, citing Pocahontas, Jane Porter, and Rapunzel, today’s will spotlight is on the Disney animated features that emphasize the importance of family and caring for others. One could certainly argue that this is a huge theme in nearly every Disney film, but I’ve chosen to examine three ladies across two films. Belle, Nani, and Lilo exemplified familial bonds before Elsa and Anna were ever dreamed of.
Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
Belle has many admirable qualities, but the one that catapults her into her story is the love she has for her father. We remember her as a brunette bookworm who is able to see past outward appearances, but we often forget the bond she has with Maurice.
Maurice and Belle are on the fringes of their society, subtly shunned for being different. Maurice is an eccentric inventor, often mocked by the townspeople. Gaston even calls him a lunatic at one point. But Belle only sees her father’s creativity and imagination, not someone to be ridiculed for not fitting in. As Belle’s deceased mother isn’t in the picture (she isn’t even mentioned in the 1991 screenplay, although she featured in an episode of Once Upon A Time), we can assume that our young protagonist was raised by the quirky Maurice. Belle likely has him to thank for her open mind and her sincerity.
Belle’s feeling for her father are shown most strongly when she trades her life for his in the mysterious castle. The Beast is an unknown creature who could easily kill her, eat her, or rape her, but Belle doesn’t hesitate to make the sacrifice to let her father go free. She has no way of knowing that the story will turn out in her favor—as far as she knows, she’s will be the prisoner of an arcane monster, and never lay eyes on Maurice again. If that’s not love, what is?
Nani and Lilo (Lilo and Stitch, 2002)
I don’t have any siblings, but some reliable sources (aka friends with siblings) have told me that Lilo and Stitch gets the complex relationship between sisters spot on. In fact, if there were ever a movie about family, this is it. Nani and Lilo lost their parents, and Nani has been trying to raise Lilo on her own. She must straddle the line between mother and sister, and though it doesn’t always work, Nani tries her hardest. This movie crushes the myth that Frozen was the first Disney movie about sisters who save each other.
Although there are times when Lilo wants to throttle Nani (and vice versa), our pint-sized main character unknowingly mimics her sister’s maternal actions when she “adopts” Stitch. Lilo can identify with the alien, who in many ways is as weird as she is. She knows what it’s like to be lonely and without friends, and treats Stitch the way Nani treats her. She tries to instill some manners in him, while also letting him be himself.
At the end of the day, the gender or race of the characters doesn’t matter. The message is ohana, no matter how weird you are, or what planet you come from. Not every family looks the same, and that’s okay.
I’ll just be here, crying into my Disney stuffed animals.
Until next time,
The Collected Mutineer