Some Thoughts on Princesses

And no, I’m not going all Kate Middleton on you at this late date. I was recently catching up on some Disney podcasts and the last episode of Mouse Lounge was focused on the Disney Princesses. It’s a fascinating topic to me because 1) I am a bonafide Disney geek and 2) I was a women’s studies student and a proud feminist to this day. I found myself defending my love of Disney often in my women’s studies classes.

Still from Disney’s Fairy Tale Wedding Line. From Ranker

I never really overanalyzed though until a fellow WS student asked me a few questions about her senior project. She was looking at the Disney Princesses and their effect on young girls. This was just a few days after the first release of the Disney Wedding dress line and she hadn’t heard about that yet so I told her about that and didn’t think about it again until her presentation on her work in class. Her findings were telling if not unexpected – Disney Princesses could give girls the wrong impressions, and those imprssions fell all across the board: If I just wait, he’ll come rescue me (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella); If I change enough, he’ll fall in love with me (The Little Mermaid, might have an argument for Mulan here as well); If I just love him enough, he’ll change and be the man I need (Beauty and the Beast). I’m paraphrasing and certainly hoping I remember this well enough but you get the idea – the princesses are passive; beauty objects to which things happen but they themselves have no control over them. I remember listening and getting progressively more uncomfortable. Did I subconsciously take all that in? I was a kid long before the current Princess craze and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques but maybe, a part of me had taken that in anyway? The more I sat there in class, the more I thought back and wondered.

Ariel was technically my first princess. I vaguely recall seeing The Little Mermaid in the theater when it came out and I loved the music but the story was never my favorite. It was Belle and Beauty and the Beast that ruled my world. I had loved to read already; all I had to do was perfect walking and reading at the same time and I was set. However, I don’t recall pining for my prince. I wanted to go off and have an adventure sure – wander forests, ride in to the rescue in the end, marry the Beast for his library…sorry, off track. The thing is, I never saw Belle as someone who was fishing for a man; the fact she finds one in the end is just sort of a bonus. I think it helped that my dad focused me on how smart Belle was, on how much she liked to read, on how brave she was. He never pointed out that she got to wear a pretty dress and married a prince. It was sort of besides the point in my world. So, I spoke up in class. I don’t think my friend was surprised. I was the girl writing her thesis on Cinderella after all (for WS, I was more into looking at the sexual revolution of women in the 1890s-1920s, but I got Disney in on the English side. Poor Cindy, she needed someone to prove she was a bit more than a perfect shoe model). I talked about my Dad’s point of view and how he presented Belle to me. It was true, I was an odd kid but I was just as inclined to love princesses as anyone. I am a born hopeless romantic but for me, Belle was never just a princess, she was first and foremost her own woman, with or without a man in the picture. My class found this interesting and we ran off into the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. But I’ve never forgotten thinking about my relationships with the princesses.

Fast forward to today and Disney Princess culture is everywhere. Talk about a merchandising mint. But my approach to the princesses hasn’t changed. They have their place, most of them accurately reflect the idea of women in society for when they were created (let’s all have a field day approaching Sleeping Beauty with that in mind) which is why Belle reigned supreme for me even over the more overtly feminist princesses Jasmine and Mulan. Then came The Princess and the Frog.

I had totally gushed over her dress first

I discussed this briefly when I looked at Tangled; Tiana, the princess for my 20s. Hard-working, practical, secretly funny and a dreamer at heart though she tries to deny it, Tiana and Belle run neck in neck for my favorite princess award these days. “Almost There” is a song that gets me through the hardest days, the days when I forget I do have bigger goals, bigger dreams and if I just keep working for it, with a little dreaming for good measure, than I’m almost there for sure. Mouse Lounge focused on Tiana a lot and how she is a more “modern” princess and has the mentality to prove it and I had to laugh because the little girl they were discussing in the podcast still just loved the music, the colors, the adventure of Tiana’s story. She wasn’t thinking about how Tiana is a positive representation of women in animation but about how pretty her dress is in the end. Because, let’s face it, girls will be girls and even those of us who like to think we’re above that stood in line to gush over Princess Tiana’s dress at the Magic Kingdom.

The Princess culture is fascinating but ultimately, I think it is a combination of things that make some girls fall head long into it and others just enjoy the ride along the way. One thing is for sure, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon and I am sure to see many a little girl happily skipping up Main Street decked out as her favorite princess on her way to the Castle for breakfast with Cinderella during my trip in September. And honestly? I don’t see a thing wrong with that.

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A Tangled Review

Image from onlinemovieshut.com

I love when a new Disney movie comes out. I watch every trailer, every clip, read every blog. I know more half the backstory of the movie long before I ever see it. I have mentioned on this blog that I wasn’t as excited for Tangled as I was for The Princess and the Frog. I think deep down I will always adore hand-drawn animation best. I love its feel, its ambiance. There is something about the opening scene of a well made hand-drawn animated film that makes me feel like I’m eight years old again. There is a softness to hand-drawn animation that computer animation has never been able to quite emulate exactly. Pixar gets close; Tangled may even get a little closer if I’m being honest, but it is still missing that magic I associate with the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast, the drama of the fight scene in The Lion King or even the magic Disney animators recaptured with The Princess and the Frog in the bayou scenes especially.

Now that I have waxed poetic about hand-drawn animation, let’s get down to brass tacks. I really didn’t love Tangled as much as The Princess and the Frog. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was funny, clever, with excellent storytelling and just beautiful to watch. The color palette for the film alone was delicious. But, and this is what usually makes or breaks a movie for me, I just didn’t love Rapunzel. I mean, I did love her but not the way I loved Tiana. I watched The Princess and the Frog and found a character I wanted to be more like, who sang a song I adopted as my theme song for my current mid-20s life, a character who immediately became a friend I needed to have in my life. Rapunzel had to grow on me and she did, by the end of the film, she was like girls I knew back in high school. I’ve had friends like her: flaky, fun-loving, slightly spastic at times, willing to take risks and see where life takes them. They are friends I adore and yet they exasperate me, tire me out now. It’s a stage we should have grown out of. And for that, I have to give major props to the storytellers who created an incredibly realistic 18 year old girl. And because of that, I think Rapunzel made me feel old at first. As she grows throughout the film, I came to like her a lot better and recognize the journey the story was taking the character on. But Tiana still wins in my book. I really do think this has to do with my age and where I am in my life. Rapunzel is the dramatic, exasperating teenager on her first adventure; Tiana has been around longer, realized that life isn’t going to be handed to her on a silver platter, that she needs to calm down and get to work.

Which brings me to issue number 2 – in a sense, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are the same story. The heroine on a journey to learn more bout herself and reach a goal; the hero who has to learn to love someone more than he loves himself; the selfish villain who needs something only the heroine or hero can give him. It’s the same story arc, just wrapped in the fabric of a different fairy tale. Now, as someone who has studied fairy tales, and before you all cry fowl, yes, most fairy tales have similar plot arcs but I guess maybe I was just expecting someone more, something new.  Which I will obviously be getting since Disney has said they are moving away from fairy tales for their animated movie plots for now. While I am not exactly happy about that at all, I do need to ask why they thought making two such similar fairy tale movies in a row was a good idea. There are other fairy tale plot arcs. I mean look at the order of the original Disney classics: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi. The next princess movie after Snow White? Cinderella in 1950, 13 years later. All I’m saying is maybe spreading the princess love out more instead of eliminating it all together is a better idea.

However, moving back to the Tangled discussion. And this last issue might really bring out the pitchforks…I didn’t care for the songs. I know right? I am the girl who buys Disney film soundtracks the second she leaves the theater usually and has them memorized about a day later but this one didn’t have me running to iTunes nor do I think I will be unless on second watching they grow on me. It wasn’t Menken’s score; that as always was impeccable. It was the song lyrics themselves that jarred me out of the story a bit. I especially found Rapunzel’s “When Will My Life Begin” a bit over the top and really didn’t hold a candle to a heroine’s anthem like “Almost There.” That song disappointed and the rest of the movie had to win me back. While I enjoyed “I See the Light,” I still am comparing it to the Golden Age songs and finding it lacking.  That said, the songs did fit into the story well and always moved the story forward or told us more about a character so they served purpose (which was not always the case in The Princess and the Frog I will readily admit).

Oh dear, my three issues seem a bit much. It was not that I didn’t love Tangled or that I won’t buy it the week it comes out on Blu-Ray. I will and I will thoroughly enjoy watching it and laughing at the excellent writing again. And it is, without a doubt, another step in the right direction for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It just didn’t thrill me the way The Princess and the Frog did which means audiences everywhere will adore it a lot more than that film probably (I’m not usually that well in-tune with what audiences will like). I think there was just something in The Princess and the Frog that spoke to me, caught me at the right time in the right place that Tangled just didn’t get close to and this is why we have favorite movies and songs. I will always say Belle is my favorite princess but she was also the princess of my childhood. Tiana is the princess of my 20s. I think Rapunzel just came a little too late for me to connect with and that is just fine. Please go and see if she’s your princess. You won’t be disappointed along the way.

Couple of Things

There will not be much blogging this next week or so. Tomorrow, I have a work event that goes all hours for the next three days then Sunday I need to do a massive clean of my apartment and car because my parents are coming to visit for a week. So I will be super busy though hopefully collecting blog ideas to share when I get back.

For now, enjoy the full-length trailer of Tangled, Walt Disney Animation’s next film release. I am not as excited for this one as I was for The Princess and the Frog but still, it looks like a continuation in the right direction for my favorite company.

http://o.aolcdn.com/videoplayer/AOL_PlayerLoader.swf