Disney History Project or “Period Princess Project”


Students attempt to accurately place an animated Disney film within the context of Theatre History using primary research sources.

Length of Project

Semester long project

Activity Objectives

Students can accurately recognize a historic period through costume details such as silhouette, seam, waist and neckline placement, sleeve shape, skirt length, fit and hairstyle. Students can decipher what is NOT accurate to period through these same observations. In addition, students are asked to find and use primary and secondary historic research to articulate their observations and support their arguments.

Activity Goals

This project helps my students put their knowledge of costume history into a context they can relate to their personal lives. Most of them grew up watching these movies and now they can observe them from a new perspective. While watching something they are familiar with and enjoy, they can also use their new found knowledge of costume history to analyze the accuracy of the costume design choices.


On the first day of class, I assign each of my students an animated Disney film with human characters and I give them the following project description. Please note that not all of the films they are assigned are “princess” movies, but the students like the idea of the “princess project” as most of them grew up loving one or more of these films. I assign things like The Sword and the Stone, Tarzan, Alice in Wonderland and Mulan as well as more traditional princess fairy tales.

Period Princess Project

Assigned 8/29. Due in class 11/2.

20 Points Possible

Today, you received a coloring page with a character from a Disney animated film on it. Your assignment is to determine what time period your particular film takes place in, and provide research to support your claim.

Research: Begin by watching your movie. Make note of what characters are wearing, particularly in crowd scenes. Next, find ORIGINAL movie stills/screenshots of various scenes and characters from your film. Make sure you find both male and female characters. Keep these images in your mind (or saved on your computer). As we go through costume history, use your textbook, in-class lectures and personal research to determine what general time period you think is being depicted in your film. Familiarize yourself with the fashion of this time period. Then find specific, PRIMARY research of garments similar to those you have observed in the movie images. You may not use fan art or republished Disney marketing images, only original movie stills.

Presentation: Create at least FIVE side-by-side comparison “slides” showing the film images next to your historic research. Now that you are familiar with your time period, watch the movie again. Do you notice anything that seems out of place for your time period? If you aren’t sure, look it up. Create an additional slide or two explaining any incongruities you may have noticed. If a character is dressed in clothes that are not from the same period as the rest of the film, what period to they resemble? Students give a brief in-class presentation of their findings near the end of the semester.

Example from Project

Here are some examples of student slides. Keep in mind they present these is class, so much of the information was spoken, not written on the slides.

The Princess and the Frog! 1920’s New Orleans


Sleeping Beauty Prince Philip

Snow White

Time Required

This project is fairly small and has minimal time investment. I assign it at the beginning of the semester and they present it near the end. But it helps keep students engaged through the costume history portion of class because they are looking for their movie.

Required Materials

Normal research materials. Powerpoint. Could be a printed presentation as well. I prefer digital slides so everyone can see the work.


This could be done in pairs with a large class or with live action movies.

For as costume design course, students could be asked to redesign one or more movie costumes to be historically accurate while keeping to the essence of the original design.


There are a lot of “historically accurate” interpretations of Disney films that can be googled. I insist that my students only use original movie stills and primary research images for this project to help ensure they are doing their own work. I grade the students on the accuracy of their findings and the quality of their research.

-Bethany Marx