Everything changes and so does Disney. Not only are modern films more beautiful, colourful and dynamic.. But they've also started telling different stories. Very different from late 80s and early 90s. And one of the main changes is connected to female characters: their looks, behaviour and attitudes.
Early Disney cartoons were often accused of sexism and dismissive attitude towards women. True or not, female images from that time are considered to be more offensive than topical these days. It's not just about Snow White serving and taking care of seven grown-up men, but about female characteristics in general. Let's just take a look at such famous princesses as Cinderella and Aurora (we can add Snow White to this list, too). All these three did was suffering from their mothers in low's intrigues and humbly waiting for a prince to save them and solve all the problems. Looking pretty was their only duty. And singing, of course :)
Generally speaking, Disney women can be divided into three categories: perfect good-looking girls, insidious villains and kind grannies. First category usually contains princesses, second one — gorgeous and imperious Ursula-Maleficent-Cruella-like creatures. And third one is usually about fairies and nannies. Funny thing is that for some reason most Disney princesses don't have mothers. Though I guess this fact does have an explanation: if they did have them — most likely they wouldn't get into troubles and there would be no stories to tell.
With time, these standards started to change. Slowly, but still. New stories started to appear after Michael Eisner took over Walt Disney in 1984. First there was "The Little Mermaid" that took after classical "princess fairy tale" a lot. But then there were "Beauty and The Beast", "Aladdin", "Pocahontas", "Hercules" and "Mulan". Main heroes of these cartoons are girls with strong character and ambitions. None of them wants to be a plaything of men. Belle fights back vulgar but handsome Gaston, Jasmine argues with her father when he tries to decide who's going to be her husband. But the most progressive princess is, of course, Mulan. During the entire film she keeps breaking gender stereotypes.
The crucial moment of "princess evolution" happened in 2007 when "Enchanted" was released. In this film a very typical for Disney character Giselle travels to real Manhattan from a fairy-tale world. From the first sight, you can see that Giselle is kind of a mixture of Snow White, Aurora, Ariel and Cinderella. She sings, dances and a lot of her problems get solved with help of birds and animals. But we also can see here that typical princess starts doubting about falling in love from the first sight. She's not sure that the prince who "saved" her in a fairy-tale world is the one. We can finally see that female characters start wanting something else besides happy marriage.
Right after "Enchanted" there were such wonderful films as "The Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled". Let's look at Tiana. Foremost, she's the first African American princess. Second of all, she's the first Disney girl with career ambitions. She thinks so little about love and wants to open her own restaurant more than anything else. Speaking of Rapunzel, she appears to be brave enough to openly go against her stepmother, which is also quite an unusual behaviour. And even though she does marry Flynn eventually, she's in no hurry to fall in love and even manages to kick him with a frying pan.
And then happens 2012 together with striking "Brave". Being a princess, the main character Merida is supposed to demonstrate a suitable royal behaviour. But instead she likes rock climbing, riding and archery. And most importantly — she doesn't want to get married at all, even though it's required by tradition and her mother. Another catch — her mother is actually alive, and the difference between generations becomes the basis for this story. It's so non-standard for Disney. And moreover, the wedding doesn't happen and there's even no hint of love line.
Of course, I'm going to mention "Frozen", too. This film also breaks a lot of Disney stereotypes. For example, in this film they show such ideas as prince being a villain and that marriage to the person you met five minutes ago is a rather stupid idea. Besides, you can see here that women are capable of solving their problems on their own. And they don't need a true love's kiss to do it. Princess Elsa is shown as a positive and negative character at the same time: she loves her little sister but almost kills her couple of times thanks to her magic abilities. So it's also quite revolutionary.
Main characters of today's Disney films take after real girls. At least way more than they did before. They have a variety of hobbies and habits. They're brave, don't give up easily and are able to learn from their mistakes. And at the same time it doesn't mean that they are absolutely not afraid of anything or are not vulnerable. Some of them still dream of meeting a prince, others — don't. And step by step they stop being so ideal. Being not perfect doesn't prevent them from living a happy life full of bright moments and adventures. Just look at princess Fiona :)