Home » Disney is Changing How its Princesses Look, and it’s Proving Controversial

    Disney is Changing How its Princesses Look, and it’s Proving Controversial

    Earlier this year, Disney Princess fans were caught off guard when popular characters Mulan and Pocahontas debuted new looks at Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, respectively. And while fans were mostly ambivalent about Mulan’s new look (which was “inspired” by her matchmaker outfit, but doesn’t really resemble anything specifically seen in the film) many were very upset by Pocahontas’ new outfit, which swapped her iconic blue necklace (which the film says is a gift from her mother) for a plain white seashell necklace that was “inspired” by the hand-made look of traditional Native American jewelry. 

    However, though these previous changes were met with some annoyance from character fans, Disney quietly made another character change last week that set off the biggest firestorm of controversy yet…

    Introducing the newly redesigned Princess Jasmine

    Image: Laura W.

    During the inaugural Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party last week, fans were able to meet a brand new, redesigned Princess Jasmine in Adventureland. This princess’ new look swaps her trademark billowy blue pants and crop top with a full-body dress that features a high neck, long sleeves, and goes all the way down to the floor. The dress also includes a jeweled bust accent, a gold belt and glittering embroidery throughout. In addition to the costume overhaul, Jasmine’s hair also seems to have gotten a bit of a redesign, as she now has small flyaway bangs. 

    Obviously, this new look is unlike any that we have ever seen before at Disney parks or in any of the Aladdin films. So why would Disney make one of its most popular characters less recognizable? 

    Character integrity vs. cultural norms

    Image: Steven & Courtney Johnson & Horwitz Follow, Flickr (license)

    Though Disney doesn’t make official comments on character redesigns, attendants and Cast Members have been telling curious guests that ask about Jasmine’s new look that this redesign was created to help the character look more like the culture she represents. However, the glaring issue with this is of course, that Princess Jasmine doesn’t officially represent any specific culture, since she is from Agrabah, a fictional land. And though the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred quite a bit recently (Anna and Elsa are clearly from Arendelle, but somehow represent Norway at Epcot), the fact remains that until the land of Agrabah is real, there’s no official dress that is associated with this fictional land. Now while Pocahontas and Mulan come from a very real place, Jasmine does not, which is why this redesign is even more perplexing.

     Do characters even need to look like “real” people? 

    Though Jasmine’s redesign may or may not look like something someone from Agrabah would “really” wear, it brings up an excellent question: do characters really need to look like where they are from? The fictionalized version of Pocahontas that was presented in the 1995 film of the same name bears almost no resemblance to the actual historical figure. So then why bother changing the iconic look of this character in the name of cultural accuracy? Even if her look now is just a little bit closer to a culturally and period accurate style of dress, it seems strange to mash up a “real” look with a fictional one together in a way that doesn’t really reflect either accurately.

    Unfortunately, Jasmine’s new redesign is similarly confusing. We know the land of Agrabah is loosely based on Saudi Arabia (though Epcot travelers may associate Jasmine and Aladdin more with Morocco, which is on a different continent) but if we look at what women were wearing in the third century on the Arabian peninsula, this new outfit strikes out again, especially as women’s garb before the seventh century in this part of the world wasn’t particularly well-documented. Which leads us back again to our initial query: do fictional characters need to look “real”? If someone wants to know what a woman in the third century dressed like, they can visit a museum or do a Google search.

    Image: Laura W

    However, even though there are some questions about what women during this time period wore in this part of the world, we know exactly what Princess Jasmine looks like. However, with all these alterations, she’s looking less and less like the classic Disney character many have grown up with and seems to be morphing into another strange hybrid that blends fact and fiction in a way that doesn’t really pay homage to either.

    Does the integrity of the original character design trump the historical realities of the period and culture being represented in the film? Should it? These aren’t questions we can really answer, but they are definitely worth pondering, especially as Disney parks move into the future. 

    Are more Disney Princess redesigns on the way?

    Image: Laura W

    Right now, only three Disney characters have gotten substantial redesigns in the past few months, and nothing has been announced regarding future changes to character designs. However, if we had to guess, we’d say that Disney is probably working on reimagining a whole new look for the entire princess line, and we’ll probably see updates come to other characters in the coming months as well (a leaked photo shows an updated look for Elsa with a slightly sparklier cape, though there’s no way to know whether this photo was just a test or something else). While more recent princesses like Rapunzel and Merida probably won’t get as dramatic of an update as Jasmine, Mulan, or Pocahontas, it seems very likely that Disney is going to continue to create new looks for its most iconic characters in the coming months.

    How do you feel about these recent character look changes? Do you appreciate Disney’s attempt to make these characters a bit more representative of their respective cultures with new outfits, or would you rather Disney left the classic looks of these characters alone? Let us know what you think in the comments!