Musings from the Princess Party

If you follow me on Twitter, or if you read my previous post, then you know I spent the better part of 3 days this week watching my way through every single Disney Princess movie (and a few that only featured some quasi-princesses), tweeting along the way, much to the delight of some, and, I’m sure, the chagrin of others.

While you might consider a 20 hour marathon of movies made for children a waste of time and energy for a 25-year-old (supposed) media professional, I would argue that you obviously have never tried it, and maybe that you have lost the child in yourself. Who doesn’t want to spend their weekend going on adventures with Belle and Mulan, singing along with Elsa and Ariel, and finding their Prince Charming with Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White?

Okay, maybe I don’t care that much for the finding of Prince Charming, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Beyond simply enjoying the stories and, of course, the songs, along my 14 movie journey through nearly 80 years of Disney animation, I discovered a few things about the film, their stories, and how they’ve evolved over the years.

First off, let’s talk about the old movies. 

Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty sometimes get a bad rap for being anti-feminine. I’m one of those people, honestly, and while my marathon viewing of these films didn’t completely change my mind, it did make me think a little about the time period in which these films were made. For example, Snow White was made in 1937. Women barely had the right to do anything, and it would be years before women would make any headway in the workplace. For those reasons alone, it shouldn’t be shocking or offensive that Snow White only every wishes for a prince and cleans a lot. That film is much more significant as the first full length animated feature than anything else.

Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were made a great deal later, and they do make a few strides forward. Cinderella and Aurora are at least a little rebellious, if not completely defeatist. Seriously, every time something goes wrong they’re all “oh, darn …” until someone offers them a solution (or they prick their finger on an arbitrary spinning wheel). Cinderella does eventually go to the ball despite her Stepmother’s wishes, but not before two separate dress related set backs nearly ruin everything, and Aurora technically only pricks her finger because she’s upset about wanting to marry someone she hasn’t apparently been betrothed to since infancy.

Then there’s that time jump.

It would be another 30 years before Disney would make another princess film, and when they did, a lot of things changed. Probably one of the biggest differences: the structure of the stories changed drastically. They became fleshed out adaptations, rather than simple ones, and the musical numbers started to drive the story forward rather than act as several minute long interludes.

Then, of course, there’s the sociological aspect, wherein the princesses in question gradually become more independent, more adventurous, more outgoing. You go from Snow White and Cinderella who are completely swept up by their circumstances, to Ariel and Belle who are looking for, and find, and escape from those circumstances, or you have Pocahontas and Mulan, who defy their patriarchal societies in order to save people they love, and inadvertently affecting change.

It isn’t until you get to much more recent films that they start moving, even slightly, away from the standard Disney mold. While Princess and the Frog and Tangled both include independent main characters, it isn’t until Brave that we get a story where romance doesn’t even play a part. Instead, it’s about family, about misunderstand, communication, etc.

Similarly, Frozen is much more about familial love, and a different kind of bravery. Instead of facing down a dragon, Anna and Elsa face down fear. Anna, her fear of Elsa, and Elsa, her fear of herself. Sure, there’s a bad guy, but he’s not so much defeated as rejected.

Now that we’ve seen what Disney can really do with their stories, and now that they know people can and do appreciate films that tell stories about something beyond finding true love (not that there is anything wrong with that), it will be extremely interesting to see just what they may have in store for us when the next princess film comes around.

Random Musings:

  • The facial hair in the old movies was FANTASTIC! Seriously, go watch any of the first three films (especially Sleeping Beauty).

  • Pocahontas has, hands down and completely subjectively, the best of any of the soundtracks.

  • Belle will likely always remain my favorite princess, until they come up with another adventure seeking bookworm who is given a library as a gift.

  • My favorite line from any song will always be “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.”

  • The next person who tells me Belle has Stockholm Syndrome will get bitch slapped (another post for another day).

  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire, despite being “Stargate” for kids, is one of the most underrated Disney movies ever.

  • Despite that opinion, I still can’t put my finger on why I like it so much.

  • The horses are vastly under-appreciated.

I had fun doing this, if it wasn’t a little bit exhausting, so next week I’m going to do it again, but this time using Disney Channel Original Movies. There are a lot of those, so I’ll post some sort of poll that will allow you all to vote on which movies I watch, and you can delight or torture me accordingly.