Sunday, 22 September 2013

Let's Break This Thing Down

We've come a long way baby. Things certainly have changed for women since Disney released their first full length animated feature in 1937, and ever since their films have acted as punctuation marks encapsulating the historical moment in which they were created. This is particularly true of their princess movies. In their depiction of their central princess character these films have managed to personify what the 'ideal woman' of the time was meant to be. Putting the visual depiction of the characters aside (that's a whole other kettle of fish... what an odd saying) the choices they make and the hardships they encounter illustrate a clear progression over time in how we as a societal whole have adapted our interpretation of a woman's role.

Since most of these stories occur in a variety of settings and time periods, it is only fair that I use one common element present in each of the eleven princesses and use that as a point of comparison. For this I've chosen to use something befitting the fairy tale nature of these films, that is I will be compairing each princess though their heart's true desire. (In the real world we would call this their meta objective.) Each princess sings a song expressing the objective or goal that drives her forward throughout the story. More often than not this is the most famous and iconic song of the film, and for good reason. These songs distill the overall message of the film into a few lines of lyric and melody. Think "Part of Your World", "Colors of the Wind", or "Reflection". That's pretty powerful stuff.

When looking at the princesses in chronological order of their film's release date (see timeline below) there are five categories that begin to emerge based on the character's objective. I've given each category a name to help distinguish them.
  1. The Bystanders
    he traditional princess who relies on her prince to come and save her, but is content to spend her time caring for others until that time arrives. 
  2. The OutcastsThese characters feel out of place in the society they are born into and take steps to better their situation but ultimately rely on their prince to remove them from it. 
  3. The Warriors
    These women are similar to the Outcasts in that they do not feel they fit into the roles their society expects of them, but rather than depending on a prince to save them they take matters into their own hands and save themselves.
  4. The Partners
    These characters focus on finding a balance between female empowerment and independence while still recognizing the significance of working with the prince in a true partnership
  5. The SistersThis is the newest and perhaps the most interesting category as it is the only one in which the focus is not on the relationship between the princess and her prince, but rather on her relationship to a significant female in her life.
It occurs to me that it would be useful to also define what I mean by 'prince'. Essentially I use this term to encompass the major male lead who acts as the romantic interest for our princess. This character does not have to actually be a prince in the narrative of the story, nor does he have to 'get the girl' in the end. He simple needs to be the male romantic counterpart of our heroine. 

To be specific I am referring to Prince Florian (aka The Prince) of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Prince Henry (aka Prince Charming) of Cinderella, Prince Phillip of Sleeping Beauty, Prince Eric of The Little Mermaid, Prince Adam (aka The Beast) of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin (aka Prince Ali Ababwa) of Aladdin, John Smith of Pocahontas, Captain Li Shang of Mulan, Prince Naveen of The Princess and the Frog, Flynn Rider of Tangled, and Merida's three would-be suitors in Brave.

Wow. Who knew so many of these guys had aliases. For more info on the princes of Disney, check out this page, it's where I got the info on all their names.

Over the next few posts I will dig deeper into each of these categories explaining how each one of the princesses fit in, starting tomorrow with The Bystanders.

Note that this timeline is missing Brave from 2012.
(Sorry bout that. It was still the best one I could find.)

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