In honor of December 6th being the anniversary of the birthday of Walt Disney’s sister Ruth and the two having a particularly strong relationship, I thought I would write a post dedicated to the sisters of Disney.
Alliances of women, whether related by blood or not, are more important now than any other time period besides perhaps when women were campaigning for the right to vote. Not having a sister myself, I find Disney films particularly interesting as examples of female relationships. Unfortunately, Disney films portray women working alone or in conflict with other women (Snow White may be the epitome of this) more often than they portray women working with others, male or female so the few times that women are seen as having female counterparts deserve celebrating. Rather than doing a ranking of characters for their goodness as sisters which would further pit women against each other, I wanted to just touch on what they can each teach us about sisterhood.
Anna & Elsa
The most well-known Disney sisters of the modern age (although some might think that Elsa and Rapunzel should be sisters instead) demonstrate a very strong bond despite lost memories and scheming princes. Although there is debate about whether the act of true love that saved Anna was Anna herself or Elsa, no one can deny that these two will be inseparable until the end of their days. Their mutual love of chocolate and snow unites them like wine and the Bachelor unites me with my sorority sisters.
Atta & Dot
Some of the first female Pixar characters (besides Bo Peep and Mrs. Potato Head who only served as love interests in Toy Story) were a pair of sisters. Atta (voiced by the amazingly talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a worry-wart and rule-follower. Dot is a bit of a brat but optimistic and sees the best in everyone. Over the course of the movie, these sisters’ animosity towards each other turns into appreciation. With Dot’s help, Atta comes to believe in herself and value doing things differently; Atta also recognizes Dot’s maturity and capability of being a leader in her own right. And for a movie that most people probably associate with having a male lead, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors: The queen, Atta, and Dot talk with each other about saving the colony among other things.
Nani & Lilo
Nani may be more motherly than sisterly towards Lilo but the message of “Ohana means family and family never gets left behind” is a message that all siblings, regardless of gender, could benefit from being reminded of. Lilo making fun of and interfering with Nani’s crush on David makes me think fondly of all the times that my younger brothers would tease me about the boys that I liked. But Nani showers Lilo with love and builds up her confidence when no one else will. After working together to protect Stitch, nothing can separate these two loyal sisters, not even an intergalactic space agency.
Cinderella & her step-sisters, Anastasia and Drizella
Deep down, all three sisters have more in common than meets the eye: they were all raised by Lady Tremaine, they appreciate beautiful dresses, and it seems like they all have the same short-term goal of attending the ball and potentially long-term goal of getting married to a handsome prince. Despite these similarities, the sisters turned out very differently. Nevertheless, I think if something terrible were to happen to Anastasia or Drizella the other two sisters would forget their jealousies and be there to provide a helping hand, shoulder to cry on, or ear for bending. It’s possible that after many years pass, the three sisters could be each other’s bridesmaids and doting aunts to each other’s children.
Ariel & all her sisters (Can you remember all of their names? Answers below!)
Although the sisters do not get a lot of screentime, I believe the song at the beginning of the movie helps this film (almost) pass the Bechdel test. During the song, the sisters, who are all named, are singing about presenting Ariel to the audience. Whether they’re technically talking to each other or to other female characters is up for debate. Even though the lyrics in this brief segment mention both King Triton and Sebastian, the important thing to consider is that the sisters sang about something other than a man – which is the usual topic of conversation between most Disney princesses and their co-stars. As portrayed in the film, Ariel is not so attached to her sisters that giving them up is something that weighs heavily on her mind in her decision to become human but they still support her for her wedding day at the end of the film. I wonder what the sisters were thinking the whole time she was gone.
Friends as Close as Sisters
Tiana & Charlotte La Bouff
Having spent countless hours together as young girls, these two function like sisters despite being from very separate social spheres. If their nicknames for each other (Tia and Lottie) aren’t enough to convince you of their close relationship, then consider how much they are willing to sacrifice for each other. In addition to giving Tiana the last amount of money she needs to purchase the old mill, Lottie is willing to kiss a frog and give up marrying a prince so that Tiana can marry the love of her life. Tiana changed all of her plans to make the extra beignets for Lottie’s party at the drop of a hat and put up with how spoiled Lottie is for years. Lottie never really realizes the importance of hard work but Lottie’s belief in magic rubbed off on Tiana just enough to help her reach her dream. Most importantly, they are one of the very few examples of inter-racial friendship in Disney films (I’m not going into inter-species friendships, okay? Because then Dori and Destiny are definitely #goals) so while not perfect example of intersectional feminism, these girls’ friendship is nevertheless valuable.
Pocahontas & Nakoma
Friends from childhood, these two powerful young women definitely talk about men a lot (as I’m sure most women would if a huge group of eligible bachelors showed up out of the blue). But these two also push each other to be better versions of themselves and are each other’s confidantes. Their voyage down the river is like the colonial times version of a roadtrip and I’m sure they went on several other adventures together and have regaled each other with their stories around the fire night after night (which is almost as good as catching up over weekend brunch).
Which female friendship resonates most with you? Share this with a Disney-loving female companion and tell her how much you appreciate her!
Ariel’s sisters’ names are Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, Alana. Did you get them all right?