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The princess and the villain -- who are the strongest women in fantasy?

Angelina Jolie stars in
Angelina Jolie stars in "Maleficent."

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In fantasy stories aimed at children, the fairy princess often a necessary element. Girls have long modeled themselves after the princess characters from fairy tales and Disney films -- rags to riches young women who are saved by a prince, gentle, pretty, passive heroines.

Characters from more recent Disney features like Brave and Frozen raise the bar for female characters in fantasy, but it’s frequently the female villains who are the strongest and most complex characters. These characters have power, complicated backstories, and charisma.

Modern fairytales are refocusing, honing in on darker characters instead of the traditional princess. How are fairy tales changing? Will young girls and their parents gravitate towards complicated villains, or will the classic princess always be the feminine ideal?


Peggy Orenstein, author of The New York Times best-sellers “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture” and “Waiting for Daisy.”

Claudia Puig, film critic for KPCC and USA today

Lael Loewenstein, film critic for KPCC and Variety