I don’t think anyone will be shocked if I say that Disney hasn’t been the best at representing women. Its earliest movies featured a near-constant stream of delicate, beautiful damsels-in-distress that needed to be rescued by princes with muscles and swords. Recent Disney movies have done a much better job at crafting dynamic and interesting female characters that are more than just their looks, but the most beloved era of Disney films, the ‘90s renaissance, still suffers from problematic cliches when it comes to women. It’s not called Belle and the Beast, after all.
One of the things I love about Disney Lorcana, the new trading card game that just launched its first set earlier this month, is how much of an effort it makes to separate beauty from the identity of classic Disney characters. Lorcana updates and reimagines characters from every era of Disney animation, and it seems like a deliberate decision was made to avoid reducing women to their looks. Some of the characters in Lorcana are so compelling, they practically have more personality on a single card than they did throughout the entire movie they originated from.
Princesses abound in Lorcana, and I often joke that it’s the pretty girl trading card game (so as not to exclude Elsa, Anna, and Tinker Bell, who are pretty but not princesses). And while Disney is still broadly invested in the marketing and commodification of its characters as archetypal beauties, particularly with the Princess Line franchise, Lorcana is going for something totally different. They’re still beauties, but that isn’t all they are.
Aurora is probably the best example. Across the three different cards she’s featured in, she’s only ever referred to by name, rather than as ‘Beauty’. Her descriptors are regal and guardian, rather than references to her looks, and the only time the word beautiful is even used is in a quote from Prince Phillip on the flavor text of Aurora, Briar Rose, where he refers to her beautiful voice.
But it’s more than just avoiding reductive descriptions, Aurora is given a new identity through her art and abilities. In Aurora, Dreaming Guardian, she’s depicted as a sorceress that can conjure vines covered in thorns and roses. Her flavor text explains “As the princess slumbered, her power awoke,” and her ability, Protective Embrace, gives the target-deflecting keyword Ward to your other characters when Aurora is in play.
Aurora comes through her card fully formed, with new powers and personality that both fit her characters and bring her to life in a new way. There are examples of this all throughout The First Chapter. Belle, Inventive Engineer is a steampunk-esque inventor who, thanks to her skills, seems to play an active role in Lorcana’s emerging story. Rapunzel, Letting Down Her Hair has mastered some kind of hair-jitsu, and can now use her locks to lasso her enemies. With a 5/4 stat line, she’s also one of the more imposing characters you can play.
No one is ever defined by their looks. Belle is special rather than beautiful, Minnie is classy or beloved, rather than pretty. Cinderella is called Gentle and Kind. Tinker Bell is most helpful. Ariel is a spectacular singer. They are all beautiful, but beauty is not a value ascribed to them. Rather, it is what they do, how they act, and who they are as people that defines them.
It’s a small thing, but it means a lot to see Lorcana make that effort. The game pulls from every era in Disney history, and it could have gotten away with more direct, nostalgia-driven interpretations of these characters. Instead, it found ways to represent them that emphasize the things that make them unique and interesting, and in some cases, like Aurora, elevates them. Lorcana does right by these characters. For the girls who will discover the game and the TCG hobby, it could make all the difference.
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