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Posts Tagged ‘Sleeping Beauty’

In my review of Disney’s most recent princess movie, Frozen, I praised it as being a more modern rendition of Disney’s classic princess formula. While I tried to briefly explain what I mean by that, my thoughts on Frozen understandably left some people a little confused. After all, what about out-of-the-box hits like Brave or Mulan? Those are both great princess movies featuring protagonists and stories unlike any of the other Disney princess movies, aren’t they? In this post, I want to clarify what I mean when I say Frozen is an improvement of the classic Disney princess formula and why I put Mulan and Brave in slightly different categories. To start, let me define what I consider to be the classic formula.

Princess Protagonist + Romance-focused Plot = Classic Disney Princess Formula

The basic elements of the classic Disney princess formula are a princess protagonist (born royal or married into it) and a plot centered around romance. That is not to say that there are not other plots in the movie other than romance, but that romance plays a starring role in the story. The classic formula is called such because these are the basic elements of the oldest Disney princess movies (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty) and remains the dominate formula in their princess films (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled).

On a side note, Jasmine from Aladdin is an exception to the formula because she is not the protagonist of the movie she appears in, but rather the female lead and love interest of the protagonist, Aladdin. Anyway, now let me break down why Mulan, Brave, and Frozen do or don’t fit this formula.

Mulan: Non-princess Female Protagonist = Not a Disney Princess MovieDownloadedFile-1

I’ve written about this before, but it never hurts to say it again. Disney markets Mulan as a princess. In fact, the only time we see Mulan nowadays in when a dolled up version of her appears in banners brimming with all the lovely ladies of Disney’s princess stories or in other princess-themed Disney merchandise. Therefore, it’s easy to forget that Mulan has no connection to royalty other than saving the Emperor’s hide at the end of her already epic adventure.

While Disney may call Mulan a princess, I see no reason to put her in that category. Her story is much closer to the many male-centered Disney adventures that focus on the growth of a young male protagonist and his relationship with friends and/or family. The only real similarity that I see is that Mulan is a story centered on a woman, just like Disney’s princess movies. That, however, doesn’t mean I have to include her in the princess category and since comparing Disney princess movies to Mulan is like comparing them to The Lion King or Hercules, I don’t. That comparison is fine and doable, but it’s different from comparing a princess movie to a princess movie.

Brave: Princess Protagonist + Non-romance-focused Plot = Non-Traditional Princess Movieimages-26

Brave, on the other hand, is a movie I count as a Disney princess movie because it does feature a princess protagonist. I would, however, consider this movie to be a non-traditional Disney princess movie. Why? Because Brave throws out the romance plot so central to the majority of Disney princess movies in favor of focusing on a mother-daughter relationship. Of course, other Disney princess movies I’ve classified as classic, romance-based plots feature other types of relationships, too, like Ariel’s relationship with her father, but the type of relationship that is most central to those plots is the romance. In Bravethe main plot revolves around how the heroine and her mother come to understand each other when they are forced to work together to undo a spell, pushing what may have been a sub-plot (the heroine’s relationship with her parents) in another princess movie to the forefront.

Frozen: Princess Protagonist + Romance Plot + Non-romance Focused Plot = Tweaked Classic FormulaDisney-Frozen

Frozen falls somewhere in between the pure classic formula and the non-traditional formula, but because the protagonist is a princess and romance, while not the only important plot, is still a central plot, I’m considering it an upgraded version of the classic formula. It mixes elements of the classic formula (romance) with aspects of non-traditional princess movies like Brave (focus on relationships other than romantic ones).

As I said earlier, some of the Disney movies I’ve placed under the category of “classic formula” do have other sub-plots dealing with non-romantic relationships and wishes for freedom/adventure, but those sub-plots are just that–sub-plots. They take a backseat to the main romance plot or are wrapped up tightly in it. For example, getting a chance to see a new world is acted on and achieved only through Ariel’s romance with Prince Eric; Jasmine and Rapunzel ultimately only get their desired freedom through their relationships with their love interests; Tiana has dreams of owning and running her own restaurant, but the story is not about her accomplishing that dream, but of her romantic relationship with Prince Naveen, etc. On the other hand, Anna’s romance and her wish to help/have a relationship again with her sister are equally important in Frozen. Romance is the focus of a good portion of the movie, but obtaining goal A doesn’t get overshadowed by romance nor does Anna’s romantic relationship mean the achievement of that goal.

Pocahontas probably falls somewhere in this group, too. The protagonist is a princess, but unlike Brave, there is a strong romance-focused plot. Like Frozen, there is also another strong plot running alongside the romance–the tension between the English settlers and Pocahontas’ tribe, which the heroine and her love interest try to bridge. However, it’s been years since I’ve seen Pocahontas so, that’s one I need to revisit.

Anyway, that’s it! To some, it may seem that I’m splitting hairs, but I hope this makes my stance a little clearer.

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Damsels-in-distress, evil stepmothers, wicked queens, and valiant, nameless princes. If you ever meet someone who has never seen these and other stereotypes, it would be appropriate to ask them (politely) whether they’ve lived under a rock for very long. Most of us are subjected to these at very early ages. We’ve seen them in Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, all of which are more commonly known by their Disney versions, the king of reproducing classic fairy tales to be fed to a modern audience and by fault the king of regurgitating old, undying stereotypes at a new, young audience. Let’s break it down.

The Damsel-in-distress

The damsel needs no introduction. Most of us have been well acquainted with her since childhood when our eyes beheld Disney’s Cinderella (who fell so low she had to be helped by a few incoherent mice). However, broken down to the basics, the damsel is beautiful, innocent, hapless, and most often young and at the mercy of another person, be it a step-mother or someone else. In some stories we really have no other characteristics to go by but that and a good amount of those are the female character’s physical appearance.

The Evil Older Woman

Also, in classic fairy tales such as Cinderella or Snow White the young, innocent creatures play opposite to less attractive-to-haggard, older women who are vain and greedy, but often in a more powerful position and more cunning. Whether they are witches, queens, or step-mothers, they are free of male dominance (although some of them are supposed to be married) and have control over their own lives and choices.

So, what does that say to children? Powerful women are undesirable and wicked? Think about it: how many little girls do you meet who play queen? Girls like to play princesses who are subjugated, but they never play powerful queens. Personally speaking, as children, never did any of my girl friends nor I pretend to be a queen because we thought of them as mean old women, an idea that was certainly strengthened in our minds by Disney, if they did not completely give us the idea. These portrayals also fuel incorrect messages of “good” and “evil” by the way that it is related to physical appearance; the beautiful are good, the ugly are bad.Also, these fairy tales like to pit women against women (or more correctly, girls against women). This supports a societal concept that the U.S. has fueled of women putting each other down, ideas that run strong today in stories recreating (or attempting to recreate) high school mean girls scenarios. Instead of being taught to help and support each other, girls are taught from a very early age to be wary of possible threats from their fellow females.

Cat fights of a previous century.

Prince Charming

Needless to say, the rescuer is always some prince on a white horse (in some cases, literally). Here’s a question: can you remember the names of those Disney princes? Some of them didn’t actually have names such as the prince from Snow White and Cinderella. Both are forever destined to be “Prince Charming,” the nameless and soulless guys with a kingdom and an apparent need to rescue girls they have artificial crushes on. Let’s face it; the so-called “romance” in these fairy tales must be physical attraction. The only other explanation would be that the two lovers knew each other in past lives thus they already have gotten to know each other, but I don’t think that kind of romance scenario was so popular back when these stories were made. Anyway, in the end, the two beautiful young people end up in a bland, unrealistic love.

Disney: Teaching girls to look for the man on the white horse since 1937.

However, it is also important to point out that while the princesses give priority to beauty, the princes impress the idea of masculinity for boys. This deepens harmful traditional stereotypes that restrict people in real life. In Damsels in Discourse: Girls Consuming and Producing Identity Texts Through Disney Princess Play by Karen E. Wohlwend, a study done on young boy and girls is noted, to have found that “girls as well as boys positioned male characters as powerful and female characters as weak, even suicidal, victims.” So, while Disney’s fairy tales are just tales, sweet and innocent, the ideas within them hold more weight in a child’s mind than one might think.

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