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Posts Tagged ‘Snow White’

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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After waiting in a line that made it look like an opening night premiere, I have finally made it to see Snow White & the Huntsman at my local dollar theater. I think it’s safe to assume we all know at least one telling of the classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Perhaps the most well-known take on this fairy tale is the one done by Disney, full of cute animals, singing dwarfs, and pathetic women. If you’re expecting Snow White and the Huntsman to be anywhere close to that, abandon all hope now for this retelling is a dark tale brimming with action and the women at the front of it all.

Our story begins with Snow White as a child. The kingdom is at war and her mother dies, breaking her father’s heart. But soon enough, the king does find another love, on the battlefield no less. After a battle, the king and his men stumble upon Ravenna, a beautiful woman who had been held captive by the enemy. The very next day the king marries Ravenna. As the audience can guess, this isn’t going to be a very happy marriage and in fact, that night the new queen kills Snow White’s father, takes over the kingdom, and imprisons our heroine in the dungeons.

Skip forward into the future and Snow White has come of age in her grubby cell. Now she’s a threat to the queen, but before Ravenna can kill her, Snow White manages to outsmart her captors and makes a daring escape. She’s got to make it to the rebel army before the queen’s men find her. With that, a Huntsman is hired and this fairy tale really begins.

I’ll be honest; in general, the movie was just okay. It wasn’t bad. It was entertaining enough to pass the time, but not mind-blowing. After one viewing, I can’t quite pinpoint what all was lacking, although my initial instinct is that it’s the characters. Yes, the main cast was fairly interesting and likable enough, but there was no great connection to them that the best of stories create nor much great character development. It felt shallow at times. (On that note, for those of you looking for a prince more developed than that of the original, the “prince” of this film is only slightly better.) Therefore, while it was a fun movie to see, it made no great impact on me character-wise — expect one. The queen.

Rankin/Universal Studios

What do you do when you want to make a one-dimensional character who is defined by her obsession with beauty and her heartlessness interesting? You develop her character by exploring the why’s. Why is the queen in Snow White so bent on beauty to the point that she’s willing to kill for it? Well, in Snow White and the Huntsman it’s because she’s learned that beauty is power and has used it to survive in a harsh world controlled by men. As she reveals near the beginning of the movie, she’s seen men choose women, use them until they age or become boring, and then throw them away. She’s not about to be used like that. Thus, Ravenna learned to betray the men who were charmed by her before they betrayed her. It is through this method that she becomes queen.

But it’s not just beauty that the queen has. She also has magic which has sustained not only her most treasured beauty but makes her immortal, although not invincible. When Snow White comes of age and becomes “the fairest of them all,” her very existence threatens the queen’s magic. The blood of someone who was pure and fair gave the queen her magic and it can also take it away. For this reason the queen wants Snow White dead — she’ll have the princess’ heart so that she can gain more magic and at the same time she is eliminating a serious threat to her power and to her throne.

Rankin/Universal Studios

Insights such as these add tremendously to an annoying tale of women pitted against each other over nothing more than youth and beauty. Suddenly, the witch/queen who was jealous of an 8-year-old’s youth and beauty is turned into someone much more interesting and even sympathetic. Yes, sympathetic. The queen is cold and unable to trust others; she believes men will betray her and girls like Snow White are threats. She’s obsessed with keeping her beauty and youth because without it, she’s lost something she’s relied upon as her greatest influence and her magic with it. It was a brilliant move to make Snow White feel some sympathy and sadness for the queen.

As for Snow White, she is a much more interesting Snow White than the classic. She’s resourceful and a survivor, something that is best shown at the beginning when she makes her grand escape. Unfortunately, like most of the characters, there was something missing; after one viewing, I felt like her character lacked depth. Despite this, I still like what the movie was trying to do.

Snow White and the Huntsman is not perfect and in general doesn’t show much riveting storytelling or characters, but provides an intriguing and refreshing take on an old classic that adds interest to an entertaining movie. If you’re lucky enough to have a dollar theater showing it, check it out. If not, it’s certainly worth renting.

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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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