It’s Disney Princess Week! A time to celebrate all of the virtuous, kind, patient- and of course beautiful Princesses in the Disney franchise. Like many women of a certain age I have a challenging relationship with the Disney Princesses. On one hand, I grew up watching the movies and running through my backyard singing. On the other hand, as an adult I find my feminist values at odds with the general message of the films. Of course the princesses’ characters and personalities have evolved alongside our cultural values- but the end result is always the same.
Let’s start at the beginning…
1937- Snow White: Killed by a woman who was jealous of her beauty- only to be rescued by a necrophiliac Prince whom she later married. Beauty and marriage were her salvation. Not to mention that she can cook and clean like a woman should- though in fairness the Prince didn’t know that (he didn’t know anything about her other than that she was hot). At least in the Grimm fairy tale, they accidentally dropped the coffin- knocking the logged piece of apple out of her throat and that’s how she woke up. (Which is hilarious.)
1950- Cinderella: Enslaved by her family and once again put in the kitchen, Cinderella’s salvation is her good looks. Not because she is a hard worker or kind/thoughtful- but because she is the most beautiful girl in the land. (With the most unique shoe size.)
1959- Sleeping Beauty: Here the situation is a little different, Aurora is betrothed at birth to Prince Phillip. Common practice. But crazily enough she meets him again- not knowing who she is or who he is- and they fall in love. Prince Phillip happens upon ‘Briar Rose’ singing her little song and decides to hang out and watch, laughing a little. Which surprisingly I don’t think is creepy. If I came upon someone singing their heart out and dancing, I’d watch too. But when he joined in, Rose ran away (smart girl). They plan to meet again, but never get the chance until he rescues her from the castle and awakes her with a kiss. If she wasn’t pretty-she’d be pretty screwed. She had nothing else going for her in terms of rescue.
1989- The Little Mermaid: What to say? Ariel drastically changes her body to please a man and gives up her best feature (her voice). So when they meet, they can’t even talk. She’s just pretty. “The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber. They think a woman who’s a gossip is a bore!”- Ursala the Sea Witch. Now, there were 30 years in between Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid. Before, there was little to know character development for the princesses and they were all perfect. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is brave, intelligent, and disobedient. She wanted to find her own happiness… but it’s they way she goes about it and her lack-luster relationship with Prince Eric that I have a problem with.
1991- Beauty and the Beast: Belle is odd. She is a girl who… READS! She doesn’t fit in not only because she is beautiful but because she is intelligent and outspoken. This is a definite improvement from the past princesses. Even her relationship with the Beast is far beyond the romantic development we have thus far seen. In fact, the majority of the movie is spent showing them interact. Perhaps one of the best moments is when the Beast gives Belle his entire library because she isn’t “rather odd” to him. He encourages her interests and pursuits. I have heard people remark that she saves the Beasts life only by her beauty, but I do not think that’s entirely true. I am sure it factored into it, but that wasn’t the only characteristic that was developed.
1992- Aladdin: In the beginning, Jasmine is being forced into marriage because of an old law. She doesn’t want to and fights her father. She even runs away and tries to make it on her own. Although I love this movie, it is true that Aladdin is only interested because she is beautiful. However, he learns that Jasmine is firey, quick-tempered, and kicks ass. And perhaps this makes him love her more- who can say? But once again I make the point that now Disney Princesses have flaws as well was the ever-present virtue of beauty. And even though Jafar chains her up and makes her look like a tramp, she isn’t a victim.
1995- Pocahontas: The always forgotten princess. Pocahontas is unique. While she falls in love with John Smith in the first movie, she ends up marrying someone else in the sequel (within the bounds of history). Pocahontas is a princess but she doesn’t fit the typical mold. She is beautiful, but she doesn’t have flowing dresses and instead adventures in the wild. John Smith’s eyes are opened to the beauty of the world through Pocahontas- despite their language barrier.
2009- The Princess and the Frog: A BLACK PRINCESS! Finally. Not only is Tiana the first African American princess, she is also not interested in being a princess at all. Tiana’s a hard worker who’s dream is to own her own restaurant. When Tiana meets Prince Neveen- they don’t even like each other. Although she is pretty, she is tenacious. And it isn’t until their long journey as frogs, do they come to love each other for their attributes rather than their looks.
2010- Tangled: The latest addition to the princess club. Rapunzel is locked in a tower by a witch pretending to be her mother. Every year on her birthday, Rapunzel watches the floating lights that are released in honor of the missing princess. Rapunzel dreams of being free and allowed to leave the tower- but she fears it will kill her mother. So when some handsome stranger shows up in her home… she knocks him unconscious (several times) and forces him to take her to see the lights. Rapunzel is pretty, but she is also a little crazy. Flynn Rider is a vain criminal. Once again, they don’t even like each other at all- but fall in love along the way. In the end, Rapunzel is the missing princess and her crown is returned- therefore making her the breadwinner. And apparently she and Flynn didn’t get married right away, he asked for a couple years until she finally agreed. Such a breath of fresh air!
As an endnote, I would like to mention the ages of the princesses when they got married:
Snow White- 13/14/15? (unclear but she is 12/13 in the Grimm story)
Jasmine- 16 in film, not married till 2 movies later
Rapunzel- 18 in film, married 3 years later
Yup. Lots of child brides here.