The Bechdel Test has been widely discussed and applied to films all over the world, but have you ever wondered which popular Disney movies don’t pass the test? To fill you in, The Bechdel Test is a series of requirements that a film must meet in order to be considered to give women enough representation. The requirements are as follows:
Does the film have two (or more) named female characters?
Do those females talk to each other?
Do they talk about something other than men?
The Bechdel Test is somewhat controversial, many argue that it’s just not necessary. While I definitely don’t hold that opinion, I’m not here to debate controversies. However, when it comes to films made for children, I can’t understand why there aren’t more female lead characters. I would like my hypothetical future daughters to live in a world where they believe that they too can have their own adventures, instead of being confined the “side-kick”. To me, its not about representation and numbers, it’s about these very young girls getting to see that they are relevant, that they can have their own stories instead of having to take a sideline role in someone else’s.
These films are considered some of the best Disney films, according to the unofficial official Disney database.
1. The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King is based entirely around future King Simba, his father the current King and his bitter uncle. The film also features Timon and Pumbaa, who act as Simba’s surrogate parents for a portion of his life, both of whom are males.
There are a handful of named female characters. Simba’s best friend and future mate Nala, his mother Sarabi and Nala’s mother Sarafina. Whoopi Goldberg also voiced the leader of the Hyena pack, Shenzi. Despite these females being closely associated throughout the film, they fail to ever hold a full conversation. While they occasionally exchange words, “conversation” is the focus word. These exchanges also all focus on one of the many males as the object. Collectively, this means the most popular Disney film in existence only passes 1/3 of the necessary gates of the Bechdel Test.
2. Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin is only one of the worst culprits in this list. Aladdin is the story of a street urchin who comes across a Genie Lamp. He uses the Genie to grant him wishes, such as becoming a prince, in order to get closer to the Princess Jasmine. Their love is thwarted by Jafar, who is power hungry and wants Jasmine for himself, so he can become the Sultan.
Throughout the whole film there is only one named female character, Jasmine. She does not hold a conversation with any other women and exists only as a love interest, instead of having any of her own story. A very sad 0/3 requirements met by Aladdin.
3. Finding Nemo (2003)
I certainly didn’t expect this one. This is one of those shockers that you sit and think about for a second, and scene by scene you slowly realize.. WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN? Dory is a lead character and that is great, though if we’re being pedantic, she is kind of the side-kick.
During the course of the film, the adventures Marlin and Dory have never once feature another female. The sharks, the turtles, all men. There are two ladies in the tank which Nemo gets placed in after his capture, however Deb/Flo the split personality Damselfish and Peach the pink starfish never once have a conversation with each other, only adding words in group exchanges. Finding Nemo will always hold a very special place in the hearts of most of us, but I can’t say i’m not just a little confused that in such a huge film with such an expansive cast, it wasn’t possible to add just a few more women or at least have the existing ones interact more. A very shocking 1/3 requirements met by Finding Nemo.
4. Toy Story (1995 & 1999)
Another shocker. To clarify, only the first and second films fail the test, the third movie made in 2010 does pass (the beauty of modern times). In the first movie, Buzz Light-year enters the scene and threatens to knock Woody of the top toy spot. After accidentally losing Buzz, the toys are then taken on a wild adventure to track him down and get him back home, and in all of that time, no two women engage in conversation once. There is some debate over an interaction between Andy’s sister and his mother, but as shown in the films transcripts, this is only an exchange of a few words each, no back and forth and certainly not a conversation. Even more concerning is the fact that there are only 3 female characters altogether, Bo Peep and Andy’s mother and Sister. This means one of the greatest children’s movies of all time barely scrapes a 1/3 rating.
In the second movie, Woody is taken by a toy collector and introduced to the other members of his toy family, toy memorabilia from the 1950’s TV show Woody’s Roundup. One of those members is Jessie, a cowgirl. Meanwhile the other toys set out to rescue Woody, and inadvertently, Woody’s new friends too. In this film three new female characters are introduced, Barbie, Jessie, and Mrs Potato Head, and guess what? NONE OF THEM TALK TO EACH OTHER. It really blows my mind that creators and writers so often fail to consider the female characters as integral characters. Once again, only 1/3 requirements met by this one.
5. Up (2009)
Up is such an incredible film and holds a very special place in my heart. It was the second animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award, as well as winning big at the Golden Globes. The film features Carl, and old man who is about to fulfill his dead wife’s dream of living on the edge of Paradise Falls. He ties thousands of balloons to his house and readies to fly away, with boy scout Russell stowing away on his makeshift airship. The pair meet Dug the talking dog and Kevin, a somewhat mythical bird, and the group then face up against an old explorer who is set on using Kevin for his own personal gain. While I cannot, and would not, deny how wonderful I think this film is, I can’t pretend it doesn’t rub me up the wrong way just a little, to realize there are no female characters at all. The only appearance of a named female character is Carl’s wife, Ellie, as a child. As we all know, she doesn’t stick around long.
It is films like this that get under my skin and make me worry for the youngest generation today, because I have genuinely heard boys as young as 6 tell equally young girls that they can’t play with them, because “girls don’t go on adventures”. It is films like these which teach children that girls aren’t the ones living exciting lives. 0/3 requirements met by one of the loveliest Disney films made. At least Aladdin had one girl..
6. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Monsters, Inc. is the first movie I really remember being a part of my childhood (does that give my age away?). Truth be told, it’s a genuinely funny movie with a really lovely sentiment. The story follows tiny one eyed Mike and his giant friend Sully, who work at Monsters, Inc., a factory where the screams of children are harnessed for powering their parallel city, Monstropolis… I heard it too..
In this film, there are four named female characters. Celia, Mike’s girlfriend, Roz, an administrator at the factory, Ms. Flint, who’s job is to train new Scarers and Boo, the adorable little girl who finds her way into the monsters world. Despite the comparatively high number of women in this one, still they never hold a conversation with each other. This whole thing is very confusing. 1/3 for you, Mike and Sully, and for the record, Monsters University didn’t do any better.
7. The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book is the age old story of a boy, Mowgli, who is raised by wolves in the jungle. One fateful day, Mowgli’s life is put in danger by the return of a man-eating Tiger, Shere Kahn, and he has to leave his family for the safety of the “man-village”. Mowgli soon meets Baloo, a large friendly bear who decides to raise the boy on his own and never take him back to the village. This plan goes swimmingly, other than the endless fear of Shere Kahn. After a series of musical numbers which we all remember even as adults, Mowgli finds his way back to the Man-Village and Baloo finally lets him go.
Unfortunately, this wonderful, deeply classic movie has a total of zero named female characters. None to have any conversations, about males or otherwise. 0/3 for The Jungle Book. The 2016 doesn’t do much better either.
BONUS TRIVIA: Every “princess movie” passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
For all the hate these movies get for their “unrealistic” representation of women, each and every one passes the Bechdel test. Truthfully, I don’t think the only reason why little girls enjoy these movies so much is that they’re about princesses. I think it’s just nice to see more women on screen. Those princess movies show that a female can have her own story.
In these movies, not only is the lead character a woman, but the villain often is too, just to keep things balanced. There are also usually Mothers and other female friends involved, named and ready to engage in a conversation about anything other than the Prince.
*I wouldn’t consider Jasmine part of the Disney film princesses specifically as she appears in Aladdin, which isn’t really about her.
Writer of articles on controversial topics; Mental Health, Women’s Issues and less anxiety inducing subjects like Superheros and Sitcoms.