After watching Beauty and the Beast last week, rewatching the animated Beauty and the Beast from my childhood, and looking up actual signs of Stockholm syndrome (apparently it needs to be studied more), I decided to write a bit on feminism and princesses. Not real life princesses, but the animated ones kids and adults of today’s society grew up with. I talk from my own personal viewing experience and talk as much as I can about feminism as I’m allowed to with my Y chromosome (I think I’m allowed to go a little further because I’m gay).
I know there are alot of arguments concerning the Disney princesses and how they can and can’t be feminist role models because it took literally ten(ish) princesses for one to NOT get a boyfriend/handsome prince in the end.
I like to think of the Disney princess movies as slowly progressive feminism with Snow White being the worst damsel in distress and Elsa and Moana being able to save their own damn selves.
From Snow White we have Cinderella who takes alot of crap from her evil stepmother and stepsisters and just goes with it because she’s a good girl who feels she will be rewarded for her goodness and kindness one day. She didn’t want to go to the ball to meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after; she wanted to go to the ball to have a good time and to have a night off from her life as a servant to her family. Prince Charming falling for her was just an added bonus. In her live action adaption (which is pretty much a rated G version of Everafter), she’s made an intellect and the ultimate Christian good girl having the ability to forgive the people who wronged her and even let them off with their own happily ever after. Also she has one of the few decent Disney sequels with Cinderella 3.
Aurora from Sleeping Beauty is still a damsel and she longed for someone to marry, but she wanted to date the individual first and get to know him before marrying any old guy. Plus the movie is just the good fairies and Maleficent going back and fourth at each other.
Between the first three princesses and the Disney Renascence we had Princess Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron. She was being held captive along with the protagonist and had some pretty crappy magical abilities at best. She didn’t want a relationship, she just didn’t want to be held captive by the Horned King. At most she kisses the protagonist, but since Disney views The Black Cauldron as a box office bomb Eilonwy, Taran, Gurgi, and Hen Wen and ignored by Disney with DVD releases of The Black Cauldron popping up once every twenty(ish) years. I have a copy.
In the eighties and nineties our princesses started being more proactive. Ariel of The Little Mermaid gets alot of flack because she sold her voice/soul for legs (and a vagina), for the sake of romancing a guy who’s life she had saved. In her defense she could be a “fangirl of humans” and after saving a human, she wanted to experience more human things. As an adult though, Ariel’s efforts to get the attention of a man to make him fall in love with her is an awful message for little girls (and some boys). Fortunately her animated tv show made up for this (I think, it’s been two decades since I’ve seen it).
From there we have Belle, who was the first Disney princess who didn’t want a man in her life. She was literate, and longed for more outside of the jackass illiterate folks in her town who sang shit behind her back. Contrary to what many believe (I was one of them) Belle is not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. For more on that, look at this neat video essay by Lindsay Ellis.
From there we have Jasmine who didn’t want an arranged marriage, she wanted to actually get to know and love a guy and experience life as a normal person. Like Ariel, Aladdin The Animated Series helps her out alot. There’s also Pocahontas, there’s so many things wrong with that movie, but at the very least part of her goal was to prevent a war between Native Americans and English settlers.
Mulan technically isn’t a princess since she never actually married royalty. She got hugged by the Emperor of China though. I feel like Disney watered down her badassness from her original story; in her original story she asked her dad if she could join the army, he said no, she dueled him, won, joined the army, won a shit load of battles. I like her movie too, she isn’t interested in a man and technically doesn’t even get a boyfriend by the end of her movie.
After Mulan Disney took a break from princesses, then for the sake of tokenism we got The Princess and the Frog; it’s a good movie, there’s also alot of stereotyping. Tiana has a goal and that goal is to have her own restaurant. She is hellbent on it damnit! My only issue with this movie is that everyone and Tiana’s mom keeps on telling her “you gotta get a man in your life! COMPLETE YOURSELF TIANA!” At the same time we also have Charlotte who wants to become an authentic princess and is spoiled…spoiled sweet. Instead of getting mad at Tiana for unintentionally making a mess at her party, Charlotte helps her clean up and lends Tiana one of her many princess costumes without a second thought. When presented with the opportunity to break the spell on Prince Naveen via “princess kissing a frog to get a prince,” Charlotte jumps at it because she’d rather see Tiana’s dreams come true than have her own come true. Seriously why isn’t Charlotte included in the princess line with Tiana? She’s the closest we’ll ever have to a Disney adaption to Emma!
After The Princess and the Frog failed to meet Disney’s box office standards, Disney thought they would do a few more princess movies then just stop altogether. Tangled was made with Rapunzel as the first CGI princess, she intentionally didn’t want a man, she just wanted to explore her life beyond her tower. Yeah she got Eugene. She has an animated series now that seems to be following in the footsteps of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.
Then we had Merida, she was a Pixar Princess. She burped, hated fancy dresses, occasionally enjoyed eye candy, and is a badass archer. She also refuses to sing in her episode of Sophia the First. While trailers and marketing wanted to present Merida as a badass who did cool stuff and took names, she technically didn’t do that. Brave focused more on the relationship between Merida and her mother queen Elinor and how both of them needed a better understanding of each other’s worlds with Merida learning to handle a violent situation with pacifism (she ended a civil war in her house with the skills Elinor had been trying to teach her), while Elinor (in bear form) has to resort to action to protect her family from Mor’du and aid in his defeat. Merida is included in some of the box sets for princesses, but she’s usually not in pretty frilly dresses. Her doll at the Disney Store doesn’t even have crowns and jewels, it has an arrow and an ax!
Then came Frozen. Yes I am talking about Frozen, yes I’m aware everyone is sick of hearing Frozen and parents everywhere are TIRED of hearing their children singing Let it Go, but I’m going to talk about it. Briefly. I love Frozen, I saw it the day after a very shitty day (like crying the whole night shitty) with my best friend. The events of the night of my brother trying to calm me down from what drove me to a point of despair and the bond between Anna and Elsa means alot to me and the fact that for the first time in forever an act of true love was sacrifice rather than a kiss. Also Elsa is not a princess, she’s a queen.
Now we have Moana, for some reason I haven’t seen this movie, but I’ve heard very good things. It’s on my to watch list, don’t worry.
Many (myself included), have complained that there is no Mexican princess. Recently though we got princess Elena of Avalor on Disney jr. Some might see it as a slap on the face that the first Hispanic princess is on tv instead of getting her own movie. My thoughts are this; you bitches have to settle for one movie while Elena has a WHOLE SERIES! Haha, SUCKERS!
Princesses who Aren’t From Disney
Not all princesses are from Disney, a few other people have tried to cash in on it though. In some cases even parody the idea of Disney Princesses.
The Swan Princess is a series of movies about a princess who gets turned into a Swan; I haven’t seen it in a while, but from what I recall the princess is a tomboy most of her life. She had acne as a tween/early teen, and hated the prince her parents wanted to set her up with. Then when she was older, beautiful she was forced into a room with said prince and they noticed they became hot. From there she gets turned into a swan, becomes human, and in the span of six sequels becomes a swan again. I presume Princess Odette is as proactive in this movies as her nineties Disney princess counterparts (possibly more).
Anastasia is constantly mistaken for Disney, she’s from a Don Bleuth/Twentieth Century Fox production though (you will never find her merchandise at the Disney Store. Ever. STOP ASKING!) She was sarcastic, didn’t want a man, was going to con her aunt, and is dead in real life from the execution of the whole Romanov family. In the cartoon though her aunt found a way to save her life because she was her favorite niece (that’s kind of a bitch of her). Anastasia’s story has action and explosions though, and our princess killing her foe in cold blood (Tiana had to “kill” her antagonist indirectly and did it with a smile on her face).
Now there’s Fiona from Shrek. I have mixed feelings about the Shrek franchise because I liked the first two movies, then I discovered they want to make more when ending it on the second movie would have been just fine. Fiona was neat though, she and her father and fairy godmother had “planned” her life to follow a very Disney Princess life. Then Shrek comes along and they both just bond over being different from what is expected. Fiona is action oriented choosing to fight after getting frustrated with being a damsel in care of Shrek. In the third movie she stages her own damn rescue mission with the help of the other princesses encouraging them to fight back against Rapunzel and Prince Charming. In the fourth movie’s weird timeline where Shrek never rescued Fiona she decides to save her own damn self and embrace the life as a warrior princess ogre.
Finally we have the princess who didn’t have a frilly dress and would have killed for a damn bra in space. Princess Leia, okay technically she is owned by Disney now and sadly her actress Carrie Fisher passed away last year. But prior to being purchased by Disney, Leia was sarcastic, she knew how to use a blaster, she killed giant slugs with chains. She even ditched the princess status and became a general and we will see more (and probably the last) of her this December.
Princess Peach and Princess Zelda are known to many video gamers as videogame royalty. They’re also saved by Mario and Link. Alot. It has been described that the stories and adventures in the Super Mario game series as “actors in a movie” to help explain why Bowser is friends with everyone in Mario Kart and that he isn’t really evil. He’s just an actor while Peach is an actress and sole monarch to the Mushroom Kingdom.
In 2005/2006 Peach got her own game called Super Princess Peach. In a strange turn of events it’s now up to HER to save Mario and Luigi from Bowser. To save the day Peach uses her emotions and a weapon called the Vibe Scepter/Rodd. Although I admit it’s interesting to see how Peach’s emotions can solve problems, I can’t help but feel that in a way it’s a step back in comparison to Peach the in the Super Smash Brothers series who is kicking ass in all her finery. Princess Daisy and Rosalina also join the royalty of the Super Mario World (no pun intended), Daisy has been described as a tomboy compared to Peach where while Peach would do something like bake a cake, Daisy would like to do an activity like boxing. Rosalina is older and a more tragic character in comparison. She left her family to take care of the Luma for countless years and realized one day her family had passed on.
In comparison to Princess Peach, Princess Zelda of The Legend of Zelda series has always been more proactive, even in her first game. In her first game, rather than let Ganon get his hands on the triforce of wisdom, Zelda shatters it into pieces to postpone Ganon’s growth in power. From then on Zelda has acted more as a chessplayer against Ganon trying to prevent Ganon and other evil forces from destroying Hyrule. A good chunk of the time things do go south, but Zelda and Link still beat Ganon or whatever malevolent force is before them.
There have even been times where Zelda got her hands dirty; Orcarina of Time had her aiding Link in the shadows disguised as Sheik. After being freed from Ganon, Zelda uses her magic to help free Link from the castle falling around them, then create three split timelines and confuse many, many fans and Nintendo employees when it comes to the timeline.
Twilight Princess had Zelda also be more proactive in the defense of her kingdom. Granted she probably should have been more careful when picking a competent militia for defending Hyrule. But she joins Link in the final battle against Ganon because she honestly wasn’t in the game that much. In Twilight Princess we also have Midna, the ACTUAL Twilight Princess who got her hands dirty with Link, had character development, and caused what is known as the most bittersweet ending in any of the Zelda games.
Prior to Twilight Princess The Wind Waker also had Zelda joining Link in the final battle against Ganon firing light arrows while Link fought Ganon with the master sword. Before the final battle Zelda was known as Tetra, a sassy pirate who didn’t know what the big deal was about her lineage. For some reason she becomes nicer after discovering she’s a princess and also somehow changes her skin color too.
Zelda’s damsel in distress status is actually mocked a little in Spirit Tracks where Zelda’s spirit and body are separated and Zelda loaths the fact that she has fallen victim to the same fate as all her ancestors before her. She does step up from there by being Link’s companion for the story and even possessing armor to fight with in the game.
In the most recent Zelda game Breath of Wild, Zelda has become a scholar and could care less about being a princess. She wants to be Belle and put herself to usage beyond “oh I’m a sacred princess with holy powers,” because she can’t access these holy powers. It’s not until that she’s pushed to her limit and her feelings towards Link and wanting to protect him (and probably believing in herself and embracing her scholar tendencies) that this incarnation of Zelda is able to harness the powers of the goddess Hylia that flows through her blood and spends one hundred years fending off Ganon alone and NOT being a damsel. So I’d say Zelda has definitely more proactive than Peach as both a capable monarch and ruler of her kingdom. Plus it seems she always gets better dresses.
Are Princesses Bad?
I suppose they’re not, but we don’t exist in a fantasy world where there’s an abundance of princesses. There isn’t much monarchy left to marry into as well, but there’s also nothing wrong with reality. People (I guess in this case the target audience of little girls) don’t necessarily need to be badass princesses like Zelda fighting off the ultimate evil by themselves, and they can’t constantly have the image of Prince Charming coming to sweep them off their feet (sweeping is a woman’s job 😉 ).
I don’t think princesses are dying any time soon, not with the fact Disney makes an easy 50$ per princess dress and God knows how much more with merchandising. I think things can evolve and with many parents being aware that there’s more to life besides being a princess they can encourage their children to be more independent from what is presented to them in the media. Unless your child wants to be Hermione, always encourage your child to be Hermione.