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Posts Tagged ‘disney princesses’

I’ve written a number of posts on my perspective of Disney, but I’ll be the first to admit that those posts have largely been limited to problems related to the female characters and how the gendered stereotypes affect girls/women. Although I try to bring in the failings or successes of male representations, I tend to focus heavily on female representation since I know how these female representations affect and make me feel as a woman. But sometime ago, I came across an eye-opening post on Bustle about how Disney’s portrayal of men is in many respects no better than their female representations. Surprising or not surprising, many of the problems the blog post author, Alex Kritselis, highlights are similar to those that feminist bloggers have been bemoaning in female characters for years. The male characters are always straight, in a hurry to get married, and incredibly good-looking, naturally. Sounds a lot like the majority of Disney princesses, yes?

The other thing I enjoyed about Kritselis’ post is that it gives us a look at how the lopsided power dynamics that I have discussed before have an impact on the young boys watching. For example, while girls learn that jerks are princes in disguise, boys learn that women will practically fall at their feet even if they treat them like dirt. It was great hearing about the other side of this problematic portrayals for once, and it’s inspired me to keep a look out for these trends and more as I watch. So, if you haven’t read it yet, click the link and head over to Bustle to read this post!

While I’m at it, I also wanted to let you all know that the frequency of posts should be going up again very soon. I have finished up the work that has been keeping me so busy, and I’m already working on some posts that I’m excited about sharing, including one on a series called Natsume’s Book of Friends. Thanks to everyone who’s been reading despite the lack of activity on the blog recently, and I hope you’ll enjoy the upcoming posts!

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Disney-FrozenOver the years, I’ve complained a lot about Disney’s expansive line of princess tales, from Cinderella to The Princess and the Frog. Even with renditions that I liked overall, namely their adventurous undertaking of Rapunzel (Tangled), I still had moments where I felt something was left to be desired. Well, Disney, you’ve finally done it. I enjoyed your newest princess movie, Frozen, as both a story lover and as a feminist. As a movie that follows your classic princess formula, i.e. one that has romance as a focus, this is an improvement.

Like many princess tales, Frozen‘s featured protagonist is a teenaged princess, Anna, but in this case, she’s not the only one. Anna’s got an older sister named Elsa and, as we’re quickly shown, the two are close. But Elsa has a little secret. She was born with a magical, wintry power that allows her to create ice and snow with just the touch or wave of her hands. It’s all fun and games until Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her powers, which leads Elsa to close herself off from everyone to protect them. The years pass and the sisters grow distant as they live their separate lives in a castle completely shut off from the outside world. Soon, however, Elsa comes of age and must emerge for her coronation. While Elsa is terrified of what might go wrong, Anna is ecstatic and wants to use the opportunity to the fullest after the years of loneliness, maybe even find her “prince.” But when an argument breaks out between the sisters and Elsa’s powers are revealed, she’s labeled a sorceress and flees, inadvertently putting her kingdom into an eternal winter as she goes. Worried about her sister and the kingdom, Anna sets off to find Elsa, picking up some help in the form of a boy and his reindeer (not to mention a talking snowman) along the way.FROZEN_color_p2_3_V2

In recent years, Disney has made an effort to put forth princess protagonists who don’t wilt at the first sign of trouble and Frozen is no exception. Both Anna and Elsa are dynamic characters who display fears and flaws viewers of both genders can relate to while amply showcasing their inner steel as well. And although the sisters get into their fair share of difficult situations, neither feels like a helpless doll, collecting dust while they wait for a prince to save them. If anything, spunky Anna could be viewed as taking the hero’s place for her sister, although Elsa is anything but helpless and has her own crucial part to play. Needless to say, the interaction between Anna and Elsa is wonderful and while Anna’s relationships with Kristoff and Hans are very important, the plot between the sisters is just as much so. In Disney’s past princess films and many other romantic fiction, it’s been hammered home that romantic love can overcome anything, but through Anna and Elsa, Frozen wisely makes it clear that romantic love is not the only powerful form of love.

As for Elsa, overall, I like that the queen/witch character is not vilified. Typically, the queen/witch has great power and independence, but she endsElsa-and-Anna-Wallpapers-frozen-35894707-1600-1200 up ruled by jealousy, vanity, and other shallow, ugly emotions, resulting in her torment of the innocent heroine before her inevitable downfall. As a result, power and independence in women almost goes hand-in-hand with evil in many classic Disney princess movies. Elsa, however, is an independent, powerful woman who girls and boys can relate to and like. Of course, it’s arguable that Frozen‘s queen/witch character loses some of the authority and power her evil counterparts command since Disney puts her in the role of the persecuted victim. That was done to garner sympathy for a character that plays the villain in the tale Frozen is based on. This role change is something I’ll try to look at more in-depth in a later post. For now, however, I’m just happy that Disney is trying something new.

images-94Disney also continues its trend of pulling away from perfectly plastic prince charming in favor of a more layered, interesting male lead with flaws and quirks of his own. In Frozen, just as there are two female leads, there are two male leads: one prince (Prince Hans) and one average guy (Kristoff), both of which play vital roles in the story. Hans very successfully sets himself apart from the 2D princes of old and I found Kristoff to be an improvement to Disney’s gruff male lead formula. In their attempt to create a new down-to-earth male lead in the princess movies, Disney began featuring more rugged types, the opposite of the stark, clean blankness of past prince characters. The result in the last two movies were somewhat the “bad boy” type. Prince Naveen from The Princess and the Frog starts off as an egotistical playboy while Tangled‘s Flynn Rider is a wanna-be “cool criminal” type. Both were good guys deep down, of course, a goodness which the heroines eventually bring out in them. It’s a charming and fun concept in fiction, but since this trend has been used a lot and can send the wrong message about real-life relationships, I’m happy that Disney took a slightly different approach with Kristoff. As with the past two male leads, Kristoff is a little gruff with the heroine, Anna, resulting in fun and dynamic interactions between the leads, but not once does Kristoff try to pose as a “bad boy.” Instead, he’s an honest, hard-working guy who is perhaps a tad socially awkward, a trait which he shares with Anna and that reflects their mutual struggles with loneliness and isolation.

I also feel Disney has improved its messages about romance. Toward the latter half of the movie, a song starts in which one of the male leads is disneys-frozen-2013-screenshot-kristoffreferred to as a “fixer-upper.” At that moment, my heart sank, thinking this was when fiction would once again announce that if your potential mate has traits you don’t like, all you have to do is stick with and change him/her. But Disney didn’t say that this time. In fact, they made a clear effort to tell viewers that you can’t change people like we’re always told you can. Rather than searching for the “perfect” one like Cinderella or even The Little Mermaid suggest, or finding someone who has flaws that you don’t like and believing you can change those aspects as movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog seem to say, Frozen settles upon middle ground. That is, recognize that we all have flaws and don’t expect to whisk those flaws away with love. It also directly challenge the romantic idea that one can simply bump into the right person and know instantly that this is “the one.” Instead, Frozen sends the message that you must get to know someone before love truly enters the equation. In the end, it touches on the issue of accepting reasonable flaws, but cautions viewers to watch out for duds.

There are still things to improve such as including a lot more POC in their movies, but Frozen is a step in the right direct for Disney’s romance-focused princess films. After years of transition, trying to balance romantic fantasy with modern ideas, I feel they’re finally starting to hit the right notes; female and male leads who break stereotypes and standard roles, a plot with just the right touch of magic, hilarity, and heart-felt moments that both adults and kids can enjoy, and messages that freshen up an old genre, even directly contradicting old fairytale notions. I haven’t read “The Snow Queen” which Frozen is based on so, if you’d like to read an insightful post on that angle, check this post out, but just judging the film, I would recommend it as a large improvement to the classic Disney princess formula.

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In this series, I analysis princess characters who defy the stereotypical representation of princesses in fiction, the beautiful, kind, and romance-focused princesses like those in Disney movies (click here for a refresher). When it comes to destroying the princess stereotype, it’s hard to get much further from the traditional type than Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Azula. Unlike the other complex princesses I’ve discussed who were characters one could consider “heroes,” this princess is ruthless and completely proud of it. In the well-known Nickelodeon series, Azula plays one of the main antagonists and boy, does she make an excellent one! She’s the pride and joy of her father, leader of a nation that has systematically invaded and taken control of other societies and a man cold enough to burn and exile his own son. Rather than sit around a palace in a puffy dress waiting for others to take care of her, Azula has been charged with an important mission to capture the greatest threat to her nation–the Avatar–and she thrills at the chance. This is obviously not your average princess character so, without further ado, let’s break down her characteristics.

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITSimages-76

Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of typical princess material in Azula. She’s attractive, but that is never the focus of her character and most of the series she appears in armor or something else that’s easy to fight in (the picture to the right is one of the rare instances when she looks more traditionally feminine). She’s a perfectionist, but she’s not perfect like some of Disney’s earliest princess characters. While she would like to be perfect and tries her hardest to be, it’s clear that Azula is human and therefore imperfect, much to her frustration. Romance is never a factor so, Azula doesn’t fall into the category of prince-crazy princesses who give up everything for them or whose whole story revolves around romance. And as for kindness…

NON-STEREOTYPICAL TRAITS

AzulaAzula has followed closely in her father’s footsteps; she’s an egoist who knows just how to manipulate, threaten, and control those around her, even people she calls “friends.” Is that something to be admired? Most of us would probably say no, but one of the things I like about Azula is that she’s not nice. She has high ambitions and won’t let anything or anyone stand in her way, even if it means hurting someone else. It’s not unusual to see this trait in male characters, but rarely is it seen in female characters. So often female characters, whether they’re princesses or not, are supposed to be nice. Sometimes they’re obviously nice and other times they’re tough girls who come off as cold, but are revealed to be softhearted girls who have been put into a difficult situation and forced to toughen up. If a female character is ever mean, it’s almost always in a petty, shallow way (i.e. the mean girl who torments the nice girl because they both like the same guy). But where are the merciless girls, the mean girls who have more on their minds than making a nice girl look stupid in front of a guy? Azula is one of the few I can think of and she’s actually quiet complex.

In addition, she’s extremely capable, unlike many of the classic Disney princesses. Azula is given big responsibilities by her father/ruler of her country and she handles them excellently, to the horror of the protagonists. Arguably, she does a better job of hunting the Avatar than anyone, beating out her older brother and a decorated admiral, and (without spoiling anything) accomplishes some amazing feats for her country. She’s also one of the most skilled firebenders (think of it as magical martial arts) in the series. Besides her father, the Firelord, Azula is the second-baddest villain in the series. If a series has a female antagonist, she typically doesn’t play a huge part and is usually one of the weakest enemies. The fact that Azula is a princess just makes her badness all the more amazing since princess characters are most often depicted as damsels in distress or (if we’re lucky) heroes; either way they’re supposed to be good people.

To sum it up, Azula is the anti-Disney princess princess character. She has power as a princess and she uses it to her fullest advantage. She’s brutal, capable, complex, and one of the best female villains I’ve come across. So, if you’re looking for princess characters who destroy stereotypes, Azula is definitely one to check out. She won’t disappoint.

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merida-brave-new-lookRecently, Disney released images of a new Merida (Brave) design, which will be used on merchandise along with the original 3D version, according to reports. If you need a reminder, Merida is the feisty, bow-and-arrow toting princess from Disney’s Brave (click here for my review), a 3D Pixar adventure that came out last summer. For a story about a young woman rebelling against tradition, including making herself up for the sake of looking beautiful by others’ standards, I was surprised and disappointed with this new version. Rather than accept Merida as she is, Disney felt the need to make her “fit in” with the rest of their princesses–that is, they’ve made this new Merida sparkly, pretty, and glamorous just like all the others. untitled folder18

Just compare this new look to Merida’s original design, as seen in the movie. Part of the difference is of course just the change in media, but the face of this new Merida looks slightly older, as if she were wearing makeup. If you look closely, Disney has made her paler with perfectly rosy cheeks as if she’d just applied blush with a demure, cheeky expression, instead of the natural, red-cheeked round face full of enthusiasm and energy that we all know and love. Disney may have been trying for attitude in the way they designed the expressions and body position in this new Merida, but I’m not getting teenage rebelliousness from these images. I’m getting cute and pretty. Her expression isn’t strong enough to suggest determination or stubbornness nor is it energetic and loud enough to show Merida’s bright personality. It’s just…subdued, which isn’t Merida’s personality at all. I guess a big smile or a set jaw and furrowed brow just didn’t make her look pretty enough.

In addition, Disney appears to have slimmed Merida’s waist so her hips and chest look more pronounced. It’s a bit hard to tell in the image with her arms crossed, but look closely at the original Merida in comparison to the new image with her hands at her hips. I swear the new Merida must be wearing a corset! That really bothers me since she’s perfectly slim in the original version. I’m not sure if Disney has heard, but we have a little issue called anorexia among girls in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. Part of the problem is that girls see so many unrealistic portrayals of beauty, including how thin is beautiful. I was reading comments on blogs from readers’ reactions to Merida’s new look and one person mentioned that if Merida were a real person, these new images would be like an airbrushed and photoshopped version of the real person. I completely agree. This is the slimmed down, smoothed out, and amplified Merida. To add insult to injury, Disney also made Merida show more skin in a dress that shows shoulder and cleavage that the original dress does not. Thanks Disney.

The interesting thing about this issues is, if these images were completely unrelated to Merida from Brave or weren’t official images from Disney, I wouldn’t be half as fired up about it. I’d probably say, “That’s pretty,” and move on. The problem lays in the fact that Disney doesn’t seem to understand that a female character doesn’t have to be ultra-glamorized to be popular. There is more to a female character than just making a pretty face with a sparkly dress. Disney doesn’t seem to get that audiences, both female and male, love Merida for her spunk and sense of adventure. More kids have actually started picking up archery in the U.S. because of Merida and other strong, bow-and-arrow wielding female characters that have hit the big screen in the past year or so. That should give Disney the message that it isn’t Merida’s sense of style that is inspiring viewers. In fact, while the original Merida is accessible to both genders, this new Merida screams, “I’M FOR GIRLS!” (Because, you know, only girls like sparkles and boys couldn’t possibly be interested in a female protagonist.)

This isn’t the first time Disney has done this to a female character that is as brave as any male character, rejects gender roles, and could easily be marketed to both boys and girls, even in this very gender stereotypical and gender segregated market. Disney’s Mulan told the amazing story of a young woman who was gutsy enough (despite her fears) to take her father’s place in an army and go to war while trying to hide her identity and find herself, but the only thing Disney wants to market is a pretty girl in an elaborate gown. (If you want to read more about that, click here and here.) That was more than a decade ago and now Disney seems to be making the same mistake in 2013. So, if Disney wanted to rip away everything that makes Merida stand out and make her look like one of the crowd, they’ve accomplished that splendidly. all-disney-princesses

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I’ll be the first to admit, I give Disney a lot of flack. Disney has a reputation for their princess characters. Princesses make up the majority of their main characters in animated movies directed toward girls, but unfortunately, the princess characters and their movies are full of gender stereotypes, rather harmful messages about relationships, and what a girl’s goal in life should be. But out of all those meek heroines, there is one whom I find to be an inspiring heroine; Mulan. While Disney does consider Mulan a princess (based on their formula (human) Disney main character + female gender = princess), I refuse to pigeonhole her character like that and thus, she will not be in my series “Destroying the Princess Stereotype.” However, I do want to talk about Mulan and her movie. Awhile ago, I made it very clear why I hate Mulan II (or as I call it, the-movie-that-must-not-be-named), but recently, I realized I had yet to write a post on why I like Mulan. So, without further ado, let me tell you why I believe Mulan is the best Disney movie about a female character to date.
  • Mulan avoids major female character stereotypes
For starters, I feel Mulan breaks some stereotypes connected to Disney’s female leads. Take, for instance, the fact that Mulan is one of the few Disney movies about a girl who is not a princess. As regular readers know, I believe princess characters can be very interesting, but if all of Disney’s movies about young women are stories about princesses, it’s limiting. It seems to say that Disney doesn’t think girls would be interested in anything except tales of princesses. In contrast, Mulan is a young woman who becomes a soldier and then the hero of China. That’s fresh and new for Disney and breaks the trend. And luckily, Mulan doesn’t feel like a caricature of any other personality type. In addition, while many of Disney’s earliest princess characters are the “perfect female” (a.k.a. subservient and pretty), Mulan struggles with that. She isn’t the subservient, cookie-cutter beauty who exists only to please others. Sure, she initially thinks she needs to conform to society for her family, but I think many people can understand this. It’s hard to go against what everyone else is doing and I like that her struggle with that is depicted.  

Another thing I like about her character is her strength of will. While uncertain of herself, she ends up going to war disguised as a man for her father’s sake despite the risk of being killed in battle or if her true gender is discovered. Her strength grows, enabling her to take bold actions even after her identity has been revealed and she’s been abandoned by her comrades. I would also point out that Mulan’s intelligence is highlighted as a valuable trait throughout the movie; her clever ideas and quick thinking saves her and others on more than one occasion. It’s always great to see a girl’s intelligence showcased as an asset.

  • Mulan’s story breaks stereotypes
Mulan’s story also breaks numerous stereotypes associated with Disney movies that revolve around young women. First, unlike almost all other Disney stories about a female character, Mulan completely avoids the old plot of the young, innocent girl versus the conniving, evil, older woman. Even outside of Disney, I see so many stories where women are pitted against women so, strange as this sounds, it’s nice to see a girl (Mulan) whose main foe is a guy (Shan Yu). And don’t even get me started on my problems with the evil older woman stereotype.
 
The next big stereotype avoided is that Mulan’s story does not revolve around a romance. Most of Disney’s stories about girls involve a huge romance which becomes the main plot. Mulan actually does the opposite, making romance such a small portion of Mulan’s journey that it’s only hinted at. Instead, Mulan’s story is about her finding herself, her love for her family, and trying to save China. Mulan fulfills herself by finding acceptance with who she is, not by finding a guy. Compared to the sea of Disney movies (and frankly, a lot of fiction) about young women whose stories seem to revolve almost entirely around romance, Mulan is like a breath of fresh air. I would also argue that by finding herself, Mulan is rewarded with the bonus of meeting a guy who ended up liking her for who she is, untraditional aspects and all. And because Mulan is able to take care of herself, her relationship with the guy she likes seems much more equal than traditional Disney stories where the man always has to rescue the woman.

Mulan is about a girl finding acceptance with who she is even when society tells her she should act another way. Granted, her story comes to a fairy tale-like ending in which she not only achieves the confidence to be herself without fear, but also receives acceptance and praise from all of China. However, this gives the message that good will come from being honest with who you are, even if the road is challenging. Does this story do everything right? Probably not, but in a world single-mindedly telling girls to be princesses, Mulan tells them to be whoever they are. There are lots of other things I liked about this movie such as how the girl saves the day instead of the guy and how she has non-romantic relationships with men, but I won’t get into those today. For breaking trends and setting a new goal for girls, I consider Mulan the best of Disney’s movies focused on a young woman to date.

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The Twelve Kingdoms

In this series, I introduce princess characters I feel defy stereotypical princess characteristics, some of which I identified in Disney’s classical princesses characters. Last week I discussed Nausicaa from Nausciaa of the Valley of the Wind, a strong-willed princess with real responsibilities and the best of intentions. I said stereotypical princesses lacked responsibilities, but definitely possess the good-hearted trait seen in Nausicaa. The princess in this post is going to be somewhat in between and takes quite the interesting character journey. You know it’s not going to be a Disney princess story when the princess’ father is a cruel tyrant and her title is taken away from her at the beginning of the story!

HER STORY

Shoukei is a princess from a book series turned anime called The Twelve Kingdoms, appearing in the book entitled Skies of Dawn and in the third arc of the anime series. As I said, she starts off as a princess living an ideal princess life in an ideal world inside the palace, all the while unaware that her father the king has become so obsessed with ridding the world of crime that he executes citizens for the smallest of crimes. After 30 years of this, some government officials rise up and kill Shoukei’s parents, unable to take the bloody reign any longer. Shoukei’s life is spared because of her ignorance, but she is, in her opinion, still unfairly punished by being thrown out of the palace to live like the average orphan at an orphanage. Believe it or not, this is the beginning of her story.     

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITS

The Twelve Kingdoms

Shoukei begins her story the ideal princess–at least, she has a number of big traits associated frequently with dreamy princesses. For starters, she’s young and beautiful. When her father becomes king, Shoukei is only 13-years-old.  In this world, the ruler is immortal and other high-ranking people are able to become immortals by being entered in a register (Of course, that means their immortality can be taken away by taking them off which becomes part of Shoukei’s punishment.) This means Shoukei had essentially been frozen in the role of a young girl for over three decades. While others may have grown mentally and become independent, she continued to act like a child and was treated as such by her parents who spoiled her. Shoukei even sings like the perfect princesses of Disney! (And like Disney songs, Shoukei’s song has meaning significant to the story.) She is fragile, doll-like, and appears to have no other responsibility other than to be pure and innocent, singing pretty songs and wearing pretty things. But that’s where things get interesting.

NON-TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITS

The Twelve Kingdoms--Shoukei is on the far left

Shoukei was kept inside the palace at all times by her father and was not involved in politics so that she would always be pure and innocent. If we were to go by Disney standards, Shoukei is just perfect. However, in the world of The Twelve Kingdoms, people expect more from a princess. What the king ended up creating was a girl who was completely detached from the reality of the world outside the palace, unable to live up to her title and position and who struggles to live as normal citizen after she’s dethroned and removed from the Registry of Immortals. In other words, The Twelve Kingdoms takes the traditional princess, sets her in a more realistic word, and highlights the problems. In many ways, this section could be renamed in Shoukei’s case because, while she does develop non-typical princess traits, in many ways the thing that makes this princess different is the world which expects more from her and depicts vividly how purity and innocence aren’t the best traits in someone with power. This forces Shoukei to become something more than a pretty doll.

But for those of you who are a little depressed at the idea of a naive princess’ fall from grace, rest assured there’s more to Shoukei’s journey than this. The Twelve Kingdoms has a lot of character development and, although there’s plenty of action, too, half of the story is about various characters’ psychological journey. Shoukei must cope with the past and figure out how to live this new life as a normal person. That’s the way she is different from Disney princesses; Shoukei grows and experiences many feelings over her new situation, not all of them pretty. She expresses a lot of jealousy, not to mention rage, and can be rather self-centered at times. But Shoukei isn’t a bad person; it’s just that this story isn’t afraid to show that princesses are human with all the emotions that come with it. This allows for realistic growth. Ironically, while Shoukei was punished for her ignorance, her knowledge later becomes a huge asset to some big events and, now aware of both the difficulties of a ruler and the plights of the subjects, she becomes intricately involved in a rebellion in another kingdom. Shoukei is one of many interesting and deep characters from this series (which I hope to review soon) so, if you haven’t read or watched it yet, check out The Twelve Kingdoms.

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Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

For those of you who don’t know, this is the first official installment of a series discussing princess characters who break the Disney princess stereotypes. The first princess up is Nausicaa from Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I’ve talked about Nausicaa before on this blog, but it’s impossible to talk about stereotype-defying princess characters and not mention her. In fact, one of the things that I like about this character is that she’s a princess who’s not afraid to be in the front lines of things and get stuff done herself. I’ll try to go over the major points that differentiate Nausicaa from stereotypical princesses in this post.

To give you a general idea of the story, Nausicaa lives in a postapocalyptic world some time in the future; humankind has driven the world to the brink and pollution has made much of it uninhabitable. In addition, humans have lost most of the industrial knowledge of their ancestors. But none of this has stopped people from fighting amongst each other and wars are occurring between groups of people over the few resources that exist in a poisoned land. Obviously, this isn’t a world for the fragile and naive princesses from Disney and truthfully, we never see Nausicaa twirling around at lavish balls or fawning over princes.

TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITS 

Before I go off on how different she is from Cinderella or Snow White, Nausicaa does have certain similarities to stereotypical Disney princesses. As I pointed out last week, all Disney princesses are kind, innocent beings. Nausicaa isn’t naive, but more so honest and has undiminished hopes and she’s definitely shown to be a kind and peace-loving. Another element that I did not mention but that exists at least in a couple of the Disney princesses is a certain self-sacrificing nature, kindness taken to the extreme; Nausicaa has this as well. There is nothing wrong with these characteristics in princess characters; it’s the way they are handled and Nausicaa is the prime example of this.

While the earliest Disney princesses were kind and innocent to the point of sleep-inducing boredom, these traits in Nausicaa, combined with a few other traits like bravery, strength, and a brain, become some of her strengths. Many in Nausicaa’s world are blinded by things like ambition, greed, anger, or even misconception, fueling the destruction of their world. As a result, Nausicaa’s unbelievably pure and understanding nature cuts through much of this and shocks the people around her into awe. Much of her battle is dealing with the hatred in the world.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

NON-TYPICAL PRINCESS TRAITS

But Nausicaa doesn’t just get through to people by standing around being really nice; as I mentioned earlier, she has other traits and circumstances which transforms her from a nice princess to an inspiring and interesting figure. Nausicaa is the princess of a small group of people and her position as the daughter of the king actually holds power and responsibilities. The fact that Nausicaa has power is very distinctive difference between all the Disney princesses, none of whom are ever shown to have any power whatsoever as a princess. As for responsibility, some of the princesses do have a little (Jasmine, for instance, originally has the responsibility to marry for the good of her country), but it’s limited. In the manga version of her story, her father is ill and has no son so, Nausicaa must go to war in his place. In the movie, for the sake of her people’s well-being, she must become a political hostage. In both versions, Nausciaa takes plenty of risks to keep people from completely destroying the world. Because of this, she can’t just simply be kind, but also tough, resilient, and know how to act on her own. In fact, Nausicaa makes all of her moves of her own accord and takes a lot of action. As a result, coupled with her motives derived from her kind, innocent nature, Nausicaa helps many. This is what earns her not just the love of people but also respect.

There are several other major differences including Nausicaa’s intelligence, which is actually important to the story, and that there is only the slightest whiff of romance in either the movie or the manga. As for the romance, I will just say there is nothing wrong with romance, but since we see so many stories with female leads where romance takes center stage, it’s nice to see one where the independent female lead is the focus. Finally, while I realize Disney’s princesses are made for a young audience, I just want to point out that the movie version of Nausicaa’s story still only receives a PG rating.

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Princess. What comes to mind when you hear or read the word? For me, two things instantly pop into my head; as a child, like many little girls, I liked princesses. I kid you not when I say that I liked their frilly dresses, but more than that I liked stories about girls. While in many stories princesses are not the main character, sometimes they are the main female character or one of few. Yet once I became old enough to pay attention to what happened in the story I remember feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. How excited could I get if the good princesses don’t do anything besides wait for someone else to do something? That leads me to my second thought; princess characters have become one of the most old and tired stereotypes for girls.

But despite princesses typically being horribly stereotypical, that’s not always the case. It’s become my mission/hobby to seek out princess characters that defy the limited and lame definition of what princesses have come to stand for in fiction. I’m going to introduce you to some of those that I’ve found and explain how they break that mold in a new series of posts. However, before I go showing off characters who break that mold, what is it that’s so bad about the usual princess character? Because Disney’s princesses demonstrate my point so well, I’ll use them as my princess archetypes.

 Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow White–the 1st batch.

These three are “perfect” in the traditional sense, and when I say “traditional” I mean ye ol’ times traditional; they are all kind, beautiful, and subservient. On the topic of subservience, notice that none of these princesses have a strong will. Snow White and Aurora didn’t do any kind of rebelling and the extent of Cinderella’s defiance was sneaking out to go to a ball. On that last note, notice that, despite the abusive behavior of her step-sisters and step-mother, Cinderella never confronts them. All three princesses have the emotional range of happy and sad because a good girl should never get angry.

As for their few skills, they are skills that are considered feminine such as cleaning and singing. They’re not shown to be particularly intelligent, but in previous centuries intelligence in a woman was not seen as a virtue. (Frankly, it hasn’t been too long since the U.S. as a society began valuing smarts in women instead of teaching them to dumb themselves down.)

Finally, the princesses’ problems are not due to any fault of their own. Both Snow White and Cinderella suffer because of the jealousy of other women and Aurora is cursed by a witch out of spite for her family. These three princesses’ problems only emphasize their own virtue and the vice of others. The most these girls could be accused of is naivety. In addition, none of them solve their own problems; a prince appears and does that for them. So, to sum it up, the earliest Disney princesses symbolize the female who is pure and good yet frail and entirely dependent on men. These princesses are unrealistic, outdated ideals of what a good girl should be so, there’s really not a lot of good I can say about them. Honestly, they’re just plain boring.

Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Jasmine (Aladdin), and Belle (Beauty & the Beast)–the 2nd batch.

These princesses are definitely improved from their predecessors. They actually seem to have souls and take action throughout the course of their stories rather than just being pretty dolls collecting dust on a shelf. Yes, they are pretty and kind, but there’s more to them; Ariel is adventurous, Jasmine is rebellious about her fate as a princess, and Belle has a thriving brain behind her pretty face that she wants to use. Each of them also confronts at least one person at some point, meaning they’re not punching bags.  However, there are issues that set them up as typical princesses.

Ariel gives up things she loves (i.e. her voice and family) to be with a guy. There are two ways to look at her giving up her world to be with her love: 1) Ariel was dissatisfied with her world and wanted something new thus it wasn’t just about the guy, or 2) this course of action has an underlying message that a girl should give up anything for a guy she loves. The thing that makes me lean toward the latter is Ariel’s deal with the sea witch. With this deal, she not only gives up her world but also her voice and it’s not like she’d been dreaming of getting rid of that. The other point to note is she makes that deal not with adventure of the new world in mind, but of meeting a man she’s never met. Not having a voice also means that Prince Eric, her love, judges her only on her looks and general nature, but not on what she thinks.

Jasmine becomes the damsel in distress of Aladdin’s story. She tries to run away, she gets in trouble, Aladdin saves her. Jafar, the villain, tries to get the royal family’s power and Aladdin saves her and her family. And of course, like those classic stories mentioned above, Aladdin also saves Jasmine from her biggest problem–marrying someone she doesn’t love. Granted, Jasmine at least isn’t such a boring damsel in distress like the previous three, but that element is still present in her story. Obviously, her story also revolves around love.

Finally, I have the least problems with Belle, but she is also the good, pretty girl whose story is singularly about love (note that the problem is not that there is a romance but that it is only about romance). Also notice that once again, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine have no real noticeable flaws and represent ideas of what a girl should be; kind and pretty with a life that revolves around a guy.

So, in this series I will write about princesses (by blood or marriage) who have flaws, stories with more to them than just a romance, take action, and are more than just pretty and kind (if pretty and/or kind at all)   

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In Tangled, Disney takes a crack at yet another classic fairy tale, Rapunzel. Now I think most of us are familiar with the story of Rapunzel; innocent girl with freakishly long hair held captive in a tower by yet another evil older woman until prince charming comes along. If Disney had kept very close to the original story line, I would have ignored it (which honestly wouldn’t have been too hard seeing as it’s not a very action-packed plot), but luckily, they didn’t. Instead Disney did some major tweaking (as usual).

Rapunzel is still the girl (actually a princess in this version) whisked away by an evil older woman, waiting to go outside, but she’s got a lot more spunk than the original Rapunzel. Swinging frying pan-kind of spunk. Because of a healing flower the pregnant queen consumed to save herself from sickness, Rapunzel was born with magical hair granted with the same power as the flower. Well, the crazy old lady of the story (no fairy tale is complete without one) wants that power to keep her young forever and kidnaps the princess, raising her in a tower for almost 18 years secluded from the world. Prince Charming eventually shows up except he’s not a prince like the original; he’s a criminal finding refuge in the secluded tower. (That’s when Rapunzel brings out that frying pan.) Flynn reluctantly helps Rapunzel escape, but Rapunzel’s captor isn’t going to let her go so easily. Thus begins the adventure.

Rapunzel from Disney's Tangled

After seeing the commercials way back when Tangled was being released to theaters, I was intrigued by Disney’s more adventurous take on Rapunzel. It didn’t let me down on that. Tangled’s Rapunzel has a lot of giddy energy which is not as annoying as it sounds; compared to stiff renditions of young princesses in past Disney princess movies like Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White, this energy breathes life into a previously dull girl whose only memorable characteristic was her flowing locks. This doesn’t give her an air of great maturity, but this goes along with the goofiness of the other characters. And while this new Rapunzel is captive, she doesn’t give off the feeling of a helpless damsel-in-distress (for example, she’s not rescued from the tower; she actually strikes a deal with the criminal Flynn to get him to escort her out of the tower). She may not be wielding the frying pan the whole movie, but Rapunzel is pretty resourceful and isn’t just along for the ride. This is a Disney princess movie so, the focus is on romance, but Rapunzel is one of the more modern princesses I’ve seen from Disney. She’s no Mulan (who, strangely, is considered a princess), but Rapunzel is a notch above most of the princesses.

Flynn Rider from Disney's Tangled

The love interest of Tangled is a mixed bag. Flynn Rider replaces the prince from the original tale as a criminal which is good and bad. In some big ways, Flynn is similar in personality to Prince Naveen from Disney’s other most recent princess movie; he thinks he’s hot stuff just as Naveen did and both men have an unhealthy obsession with money. Flynn also starts off as a bit of a jerk at the beginning. His character has a bit of a twist though; he’s really not the tough guy that he acts like, but puts up an act to emulate a “cool” guy. This makes things tricky. He’s not your average trope, but this still presents the message that if you just dig deep enough, a guy who seems jerky will turn out to be nice. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know how I don’t like this idealistic notion of a jerky guy *changing purely due to love. (*After something a reader pointed out, I’d like to correct this; often the jerk-who’s-not-really-a-jerk changes due to love, but this is not entirely the case in Tangled.)  I know these characters are supposed to be good guys that just aren’t in tune with their hearts or whatever, but unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty scenario in reality; in reality, rarely does a jerky guy change like Disney and other fiction suggests. However, with so many stories spinning this tale, some people pick this idea up and expect similar results in real life. I do see why Disney did this though; by making Flynn a criminal/guy-trying-to-act-cool instead of a prince, he’s someone who has just as many problems and issues to work out as the female lead. So, not my favorite stereotype at all, but I’ll acknowledge the effort.

That brings me to my next comment; I did like the equal standards in Tangled. Not only did the two leads both have issues to work out, but they helped each other through the journey and both did some saving. Looking back at the original where Rapunzel just sits in a tower until a prince comes around and helps her escape, it was much more interesting seeing Flynn steal into the tower to hide out only to be hit by Rapunzel with frying pan (the natural reaction to an intruder) and forced into helping her then watch as the two evade not only Mother Gothel but also the authorities after Flynn. As I said, equal opportunity.

Mother Gothel from Disney's Tangled

On the other hand, the antagonist in the movie, the evil old woman called Mother Gothel, is not so refreshing. As I said earlier, we are presented with the evil older woman trope once again. Her entire motive for kidnapping Rapunzel is to retain her youth. Of course, this power apparently extends beyond granting youth but also allows Gothel to live well beyond her years, perhaps forever if she continued to use the power as needed. However, the story is more focused on Gothel forever scrambling after her lost youth rather than any greater ambition like immortality. Also, while the movie makes a point to show viewers that looks don’t necessarily reflect what’s inside, Rapunzel’s real mother (who is, of course, a kind and good person) remains youthful despite the 18 years that have passed during the movie (maybe because she ate that flower?). It gets back to the old idea of beauty=good and old=bad, an idea that seems very limited in its usage to female characters.

In the end, Tangled is still a princess movie which, with more traditional/stereotypical aspects, will not break many boundaries of the genre, but it meets modern times halfway by introducing adventure and more equal standards between the male and female lead. For those of us looking for something more radically different, maybe our wish will be granted in the upcoming Pixar movie, Brave (keep hoping!), but all in all, Tangled is one of the better Disney Princess movies.

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A conversation between two Disney employees ensues.

Employee 1: “Hey.”

Employee 2: “Yeah?”

Employee 1: “I want some more money. We should make a new movie. …What’s with that look? Don’t you want money?”

Employee 2: “Well, yeah. I want money, but doesn’t making a movie require…you know, a lot of effort? Besides, what if we create a whole story, all-new characters, spend all that time on it, and nobody buys it?”

Employee 1: “Relax! I’ve got it all figured out. We’ll create an unneeded sequel to one of our classics. It’ll save us a lot of effort and make a lot of money; people always buy those things.”

Employee 2: “Hey, that’s brilliant! And here’s an idea! What if we create a sequel to that Mulan movie?”

Employee 1: “Mulan, mulan…is that one of those movies about talking horses?”

Employee 2: “No, it’s about a girl in ancient China who disguises herself as a man and goes into the army.”

Employee 1: “Oh.”

Employee 2: “Anyway, it’s never sat right with me. It just doesn’t go with any of our other movies with female leads. I mean, the girl doesn’t even get married at the end, for Pete’s sake! How do we even categorize a movie like that? So, how about we fix that in a sequel?”

Employee 1: “And marry off one of the only independent female leads Disney has ever had? …Sounds great!”

This is the conversation I imagine took place just before the making of Mulan II. Ever since it was released in 2004 this movie has been a large thorn in my side, lodged deep in my skin. I can almost forget it’s there until Mulan-anything is mentioned. Then, there it is again, annoying as ever. Let me start from the beginning.

I adored Mulan as a child; I sill do, in fact. In a world filled to the brim with pathetic role models for girls (and women), Mulan was the shining ray of hope amongst the darkness that is Barbie, Bratz, and any Disney princess movies. I could watch Mulan over and over, relishing Mulan’s strength (physically and mentally), courage, and above all else, independence. Mulan’s story is all about self-discovery and accepting one’s self and for Mulan, that meant being independent. She took control of her own life while showing women could do anything men could do, that one’s gender shouldn’t be a restriction. Furthermore, while the story is chalk-full of male characters, there is only a hint of romance, no wedding bells (the signal of conformation as a “true,” full-filled woman in Disney), and there is truly a partnership between Mulan and her fellow male cast, including the guy she likes. How’s that for a role model?

Disney, however, seemed confounded on that particular issue. Even before the never-should-have-even-been-thought-of Mulan II, Mulan was almost consistently represented as the pretty young woman going to see the match-maker. Mulan merchandise consisted mostly of beautiful Mulan dolls with painted faces and extravagant robes and while searching “mulan costume” does yield some soldier-Mulan costumes, I don’t believe any of them are made or sold by Disney. Yeah, Mulan looks very pretty in that dress, but wasn’t one of the big points of the movie that Mulan was more than a pretty face? It reminds me of video game companies trying to appeal to girls/women; if it’s got to do with girls make it pink, frilly, and pretty.

Mulan is also presented as a Disney princess. F.Y.I. Disney, last time I checked Mulan wasn’t a princess so, here’s my question: why must every (human) female lead be grouped with the princesses? Because of our culture’s stereotypical view of princesses, by placing her with the princesses, it’s like screaming “THIS IS A GIRL’S MOVIE! ONLY GIRLS WOULD BE INTERESTED!” Of course! The movie is all about a girl so, obviously it’s a chick-flick! Not. Girls watch/read movies/books about male protagonists all the time so why is it that so often when movies/books feature a female lead, it’s automatically a girl’s movie? Boys could like Mulan just as much as girls. Disney just can’t seem to let it go.

Now you know what to avoid.

The other thing Disney just can’t seem to let go of is the opportunity to make sequels-sequels that should never have existed. In the case of making sequels, Disney is like that dog that, no matter how many times you tell it “no” or “leave it,” feels a certain compulsion to go after that dead squirrel in the backyard. It’s a gross fixation that usually ends up just as stinky (with some exceptions). They go back to dig up classics and give beloved protagonists kids (The Little Mermaid II, Lady and the Tramp II, The Lion King II, Return to Neverland), generally add stories that never need to be told (Tarzan II, Bambi II, The Lion King 1 1/2),  and, of course, marry off previously independent leads. Enter the hated Mulan II.

Frankly, I don’t like even thinking about the content of Mulan II; I like to pretend it doesn’t even exist. (So far, my denial of reality doesn’t appear to be working so, I’m hoping this rant will be like some kind of therapy. Some day, I hope to move past this trauma.) So, Mulan II goes like this: Mulan and Shang have been abducted and replaced by shallow shadows of themselves (ok, I made that up). They want to tie the knot, but they’re dealing with the usual relationship issues. (“I told you we should have stopped for directions, Shang! Jeez, Mulan! I know what I’m doing! Just because you saved all of China doesn’t make you smarter than me!”) Mushu, for his own reasons, wants to break the couple up. Let’s pause here for a moment. Did Disney really make Mulan, a story that went beyond the normal blah of stereotypical romances, into a superficial romance? Now the uniqueness of the original has been replaced by outsiders trying to break up the couple that’s “meant to be” for their one selfish reasons. What’s next? Mulan and Shang will be breaking up and getting back together in some strange accordion fashion? Not far from it.

The new Mulan.

Then there’s a sorry story about Mulan’s friends Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po finding their ideal women in three princesses (Disney can’t resist). Oh yeah, and then there was some stuff about playing bodyguard and political alliances (oooh, so that’s why those princesses were there!). Mostly, Mulan II is a romance with a side dish of action, the polar opposite of the original. The sophistication of Mulan was also replaced by a certain shallowness, a mere trifle. In The Art of Mulan, the animator of the character Mulan, Mark Henn, is quoted as saying the original movie was “‘really a story about a father and daughter and honor–not girl meets boy and they live happily ever after.'” Oh, what must he have thought at seeing Mulan II? Bottom line: Disney should leave dead squirrels where they lie and let the world enjoy a truly independent female lead.

The real Mulan.

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