If you look at the featured image you may notice something about all our favorite Disney sidekicks. They are all male. This began to get my attention when I was writing my series on the Disney Princesses. When you look at how much dialog is spoken by women, you begin to notice ow few characters are women. And while Disney does a good job alternating between male and female protagonists, they actually are fairly terrible at diversifying their second tier characters.
As I was sifting through my movie knowledge trying to think of female sidekicks, I was sure that I was forgetting some. Turns out I wasn’t forgetting, there just aren’t that many to remember. After doing a search I was fairly shocked at how few there are. For your enjoyment, I have compiled a list for you.
Laverne, Mrs. Potts, & Rita
Let’s start with the women who were sidekicks, but were part of a team. Each of these characters shared the role with men and were in every case outnumbered by the men. They feel like token characters in movies that were otherwise too male dominated. Adding one small character doesn’t actually solve that problem, it just highlights it.
The Good Fairies are also a team, but I have included them separately as they are an all female team. Not surprisingly with a heroine, a female villain, and three female sidekicks; “Sleeping Beauty” has one of the highest ratios of women speaking. Interestingly, in an interview I just watched in is often rated the worst of all Princess movies by men.
Perhaps the most famous of all Disney sidekicks, Tinkerbell has moved beyond the sidekick role to main character in her own right. She has her own series of movies (more than Peter Pan whose sidekick she is) and is one of the icons of the Disney company. While she has come into her own in recent years, as a sidekick she was a silent character.
The first female to step into a traditional sidekick role is Terk. She is comic relief, confidant, and last minute rescuer. She does all the things we expect a sidekick to do regardless of gender. Considering “Tarzan” was released in 1999, it only took Disney animators 62 years to figure this out. Unfortunately, the lesson was not a lasting one.
The next proper sidekick came in “Finding Nemo”. Dory was Marlin’s foil as he crossed the ocean to find his son. She was his opposite and complemented his character perfectly. Like Tinkerbell before her, she went on to even greater success as a main character earning her own movie.
Venellope Von Schweetz
Finally, (yes already) we have Venellope. This is a questionable one for me. She seems to be an equal protagonist with Wreck-It-Ralph, but is classified as a sidekick. Without her story and goals Ralph would have nothing to do in the movie. Maybe this is how Disney keeps her out of the official Princess line-up (but that is another blog).
So there you have it. With over 70 feature films released by Walt Disney animation Studios and Pixar combined over 80 years, seven of them have female sidekicks. And in three of those seven the woman share screen time with a team of men. Of the four that are left, in only one does a woman get female sidekicks. Aurora has her fairies, the other three sidekicks back up male characters.
Why are women so conspicuously missing? This is not a small oversight. This is 90% of Disney films that exclude women from roles. This is a disturbing statistic. Considering the heavily female demographic of all things Disney, you would there would be an effort to incorporate female characters beyond princesses and barely named servants. Show girls especially that they are more. They can be funny, opinionated, or downright weird and there is still a place for them. They don’t have to be rescued. They don’t have to be pretty or perfect. They can have mental issues (thank you, Dory). They can be unfriendly (thank you, Tinkerbell). They can be different (thank you, Terk). They can be a loner (thank you, Venellope). They can, in fact, break the mold that society insists they belong in and still have an important and valuable place in this world. So while I appreciate characters like Moana, who show girls their power. I also think we need a female Heihei, because everyone needs permission to be a crazy chicken, too.