Princesses on Parade

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)

Cinderella- 16

Aurora- 16

Ariel- 16

Belle- 16

Jasmine- 16 in film, not married till 2 movies later

Pocahontas- 19

Tiana- 19

Rapunzel- 18 in film, married 3 years later

Yup. Lots of child brides here.



Once Upon a Time…

… there was a T.V. show by the creators of LOST about fairy tales come to life. Given the fact that it is by the creators of LOST, all the boys and girls who watched this program wondered if it too would rip out their souls and spit into the chasm left in their hearts.

The basic premise of ABC Family’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ is that the Evil Queen from Snow White cursed the fairy tale world as vengeance against losing her happily ever after. If the Evil Queen didn’t get a happy ending, no one would. Before the Evil Queen was able to cast her spell, Snow White and Prince Charming (or James) placed their only child in an enchanted wardrobe so that the curse would not affect her. The curse took the fairy tale world and placed it into a small town in Maine. No one in the town remembers who they were in the fairy tale world, time is stopped, and no one can leave. The main character of the story is Emma, Snow White’s daughter. We learn that Emma had a child when she was 18 whom she gave up for adoption. About 10 years later, the child finds Emma and tells her that she is the only one who can break the curse on the town- Henry was adopted by the Evil Queen who is the town’s mayor. He was given a book of fairy tales that explains what happened- and needs Emma’s help to make everyone remember who they are.

Before all of this Emma was a bail bonds investigator- meaning she tracked down people who paid their bail and ran off. When we first meet her, she is wining and dining a criminal to get him to admit to his crime before kicking his ass. Emma is a rather complex character. She was orphaned (since her parents were, you know, fairy tale characters), and bounced around from foster home to foster home until she aged out of the system. Once she aged out, she got pregnant. Emma wasn’t ready to take care of the baby- she didn’t know how to be a family and didn’t think she could ever give love she had never known. In the actual show Emma explains this is a much better, less flowery way. More like a ‘look, kid, life sucks but we deal with it’ badass way. After giving up Henry, Emma bounced around from town to town, state to state, before Henry caught up with her 10 years later in Boston. Although Emma agreed to help Henry, and it’s been 4 episodes now, she is still trying to hold him at a distance. Their dynamic is almost a big sis/little bro.

Although Emma is Snow White’s daughter, she is also a lot like the Evil Queen. The series is becoming a battle of wits between the two- and they are pretty much evenly matched when it comes to subversion and attacks. Perhaps my favorite counter by Emma was at the beginning of the season where she waltzed into the queen’s/mayor’s backyard with a chainsaw and cut down her prized apple tree. While the Queen’s tactics are subtle (like framing Emma, terrorizing citizens, or sleeping with the man we ALL know is going to fall in love with Emma!) Emma’s are blunt. The Queen can threaten Emma all she wants, but Emma is much stronger and resourceful than these other fairy tale princesses.

Snow White’s character also got a bit of an update. The way the show works is somewhere similar to LOST. We have the main plot in the New England town, then we have flashbacks (and flash-sideways?) of the fairy tale world. In one of the flashbacks, we see how Snow While spent her time when she was on the lamb. In the show, she isn’t holed up in the seven dwarves’ house cooking and cleaning. She is in the woods robbing people and selling the goods to trolls to survive. She ends up stealing from the Prince, who is escorting his fiancee through the woods. He goes after her… and the rest you can imagine. While I sometimes find this sort of thing tedious, I think that ‘Once Upon A Time’ did it well. Snow White had previously been established as a little harder around the edges than her Grimm counterpart, therefore making her a conditional bandit wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility.

Thus far, ‘Once Upon A Time’ has not been a disappointment- I hate to mention LOST again, but these wounds they will not heal. I hope if you were on the fence about the show you will go to ABC Family’s website and watch it. It’s been a while since I’ve looked forward to watching T.V. (c’mon Psych- what what what are you doing?) and ‘Once Upon A Time’ has a pretty good blend of fantasy, action, drama, and romance. Especially for being on ABC Family.

A question: What does Rumpelstiltskin want with all those first-born babies?

-Bat Cat