It might seem like an easy generalization to say that female characters in modern Disney films are a more enlightened bunch than those of the Snow White and Cinderella variety. Which is why two linguists who are crunching data on a dozen of the animated movies going back to the 1930s were surprised by one clear trend: Female characters speak less of the dialogue in today's films than they did in those made decades ago, reports the Washington Post. For example, women speak 50% of the lines in Snow White, 60% in Cinderella, and 71% in Sleeping Beauty, a trio of films made more than a half-century ago. Contrast that with percentages in more modern ones such as the Little Mermaid (32%), Beauty and the Beast (29%), Mulan (23%), Aladdin (10%), Pocahontas (24%), and Frozen (41%). "My best guess is that it's carelessness, because we're so trained to think that male is the norm,” says researcher Karen Eisenhauer of North Carolina State.
"So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man," she says. "Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that's just really ingrained in our culture." Quartz notes that the trend applies to films with actual humans, too, citing research on how male best-actor Oscar nominees have far more screentime in their role than their female counterparts. One silver lining is that the words swirling around the more modern Disney females are focused less on appearance and more on skills and accomplishments than they used to be, note the researchers. On that note, E! Online rounds up quotes from newer Disney princesses to illustrate the point, including, "You control your own destiny," from Merida in Brave (a modern exception, women have 74% of the lines in this one). Otherwise, it finds the study "depressing," and a blogger at Refinery29 shares the sentiment. "Disney is failing the Bechdel test, big time." (It turns out that our fairy tales are much older than we thought.)