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Report: Disney still has a big princess problem

In the Disney universe, gone are the days when men are necessary to save the damsel in distress. No prince's kiss is needed to wake the girl. The prince's hand in marriage is not the ultimate goal anymore.

Today's Disney princesses have saved China, saved each other, fought bears, and generally taken on kick-butt personas.

Still, there's a problem, according to new research that was first reported on by the Washington Post.

Simply put, the women in modern Disney movies just aren't allowed to open their mouths and talk as much as the men, according to research by linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess franchise.

They told the Post that because so many girls around the world watch Disney princess movies, often on repeat, it was important to understand better what they were teaching.

"We don't believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way," Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College, told the Post. "They're not born liking a pink dress. At some point we teach them. So a big question is where girls get their ideas about being girls."

A paradoxical discovery in their research found that in the classic Disney princess films - "Snow White," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Cinderella" - women give a majority of the dialogue in the movies, 72 percent, despite taking on roles that are traditionally subservient to men.

In modern Disney princess films, despite being more independent, women talk less.

The Post report: "Men speak 68 percent of the time in 'The Little Mermaid'; 71 percent of the time in 'Beauty and the Beast'; 90 percent of the time in 'Aladdin'; 76 percent of the time in 'Pocahontas; and 77 percent of the time in 'Mulan.'"

Even in the modern blockbuster, "Frozen," where two princess sisters are the centerpiece and heroes of the film, men speak 59 percent of the time.

The researchers found two modern exception: "Tangled," the retelling of the Rapunzel story, in which women have 52 percent of the lines; and "Brave," about a fraught mother-daughter relationship, women speak 74 percent of the time.

There has been one important and positive shift, however, researchers found. In the old Disney princess classics, an overwhelming majority of the time female characters were complimented on their looks. In modern princess films, their abilities and accomplishments were given most of the compliments.

As for the dialogue problem, the linguists chalked it up largely to an oversight, as well as the likelihood for the quirky sidekick character and most other supporting characters to almost always being male.

"My best guess is that it's carelessness, because we're so trained to think that male is the norm," said Eisenhauer, a graduate student at North Carolina State. "So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that's just really ingrained in our culture."