Tuesday, November 9

Extreme Home Make-Over: Disney Princess Edition

Whether you’re an American, European, tribesman in Botswana, or just general resident of Planet Earth, you’re most likely at least familiar with the Walt Disney Princess franchise, even if you haven’t worn holes in your Beauty and the Beast VHS tape or know all the words to "Part of Your World" in 2 and a half foreign languages...Don't judge me.

If you were living under a rock for the past 80 years and don’t know what I’m talking about, let me just say first of all, that the intriguing pallor of your sun-deprived skin actually really compliments your anti-social tendencies. Makes your eyes pop as well.
"Why, thank you."
In your years of solitude and media deprivation, you missed out on the rise of Walt Disney and his Princesses. Disney movies are magical stories drawn from classic fairytales, literature, and folklore from all around the globe that typically (although not always) revolve around female heroines. Although the Disney Princess roster seems to perpetually fluctuate and redefine its criteria, here are the characters most often grouped into this category:
Mulan is the only character who isn’t officially a princess by lineage, and on rare occasions Megara (Hercules) and the gypsy Esmeralda (Hunchback of Notre Dame) are included in the princess arsenal.  I guess Disney implies that if you have working lady parts and are stamped with the Disney trademark, yo butt is a Princess. I’m Amanda Miller, and I approved that message.

Even in our post-Title IX, "gender-equal" society, we are still so inundated with degrading portrayals of women on Reality TV, in movies, and in rap lyrics that it’s a nice change of pace for women to be held as precious, special creatures and not referred to as ho, skank, slut, or any array of more colorful monikers.

Because belts that say "RAPE" are always in style.
Only Aurora, Pocahontas, Snow White, Jasmine, and Ariel were actually born into royal families. Belle, Tiana, Cinderella, and Mulan start out their adventures as normal gals and somehow luck their way into the Princess franchise by actually snagging a prince or simply working the Mulan route and finding favor with the sovereign deity of White Guilt.  This god is also known to his bowling league buddies by the nickname of “Years of Racial Insensitivity Committed by Long-Dead Old Dudes in Tights and Powdered Wigs but White People Still Feel Kinda Crappy About It.” 
Obviously he wasn't too popular at Hera's annual Christmas party.
 These women are not the only female characters in the Disney repertoire and are most certainly not the only figures that are of royal or noble blood. In The Lion King, Nala is part of the same pride as the future king, Simba thereby making her a princess…and the two lions…cousins?
Kida, in the much maligned Atlantis was the sole heir to the subterranean throne, Tiger Lily in Peter Pan was the tribe’s princess, and Maid Marian in Robin Hood was the King’s niece. All of these characters were considered nobility or royals, but not actually classified as “Princesses.” What gives?

First of all, I’m just going to say that for the purpose of this categorization, anthropomorphic animal characters like Maid Marian and Nala (a fox and a lioness respectively) don’t actually count as Princesses. Real princesses don’t eat you or potentially give you rabies. It’s just not ladylike.

There are two distinct ages of Disney that need to be noted before comparing characters that span both eras. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves fall into the initial era of Disney success under founder Walt Disney and his brother Roy. After they died, Disney lost its direction and had box office lulls during the 70s which ended in 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released in theatres. The age known as the “Disney Renaissance” is delineated as any film that the company released between 1989 and 1999, starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan (although I personally didn’t care for Tarzan and simply cut it off after Mulan in 1998).

But enough of my jibber-jabber. Let’s get crackin!

So you want to be a Disney Princess, huh? There are 7 things that you're going to need:

1. At least one dead parent (evil stepmothers are a plus)

Your first step on your journey to princessdom is to get yourself some parental baggage. Do you have a nuclear family? Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids and maybe even some grandparents? Get rid of at least one, if not all of them. But make sure you do it before the opening credits start so it becomes tragic backstory. Commit patricide on-camera and suddenly you become slightly less endearing and a little more Lizzy Borden. Not a good look for an aspiring princess.

So, let’s see how our contenders stack up in this department:

Belle: Raised by crack-pot genius inventor father, Maurice. Mother presumed dead as I’m pretty sure running away with the pool-boy was not a popular enterprise in 19th century France. Points: 1

Ariel: Raised by an emotionally distant and trident-happy father who was probably a blast to talk about “The barnacles and the barracudas” with. Although not mentioned in the original movie or sequel, the fate of Ariel’s mother was eventually addressed in the prequel, The Little Mermaid III: Ariel’s Beginning. As we see in the opening credits, Queen Athena, marries King Triton, pops out 6 fish baby princesses and then is promptly crushed against the rocks by a pirate ship. I tell no lies. Points: 1

Jasmine: Raised by her father known only as “the Sultan” (like Prince, but less crushed velvet) who would make an adorable replacement if the Snuggle fabric softener Bear ever decided to quit. Mother is m.i.a. which is Disney for “taking a long dirt nap.” Points: 1

Tiana: started out having both parents in possession of a currently beating heart, but it is implied that her father was killed in battle during World War I. Tiana is the only one of the princesses raised solely by her mother. Maybe if the other princesses’ moms were voiced by Oprah as well, they would have been more awesome and less dead. Points: 1

Pocahontas – Raised by her father, Chief Powhatan, but looks to talking vegetation for maternal guidance. Dead mother had a taste for clunky jewelry. Points: 1

Snow White -  Dead parents and evil stepmother who tried to have her ass murdered and her heart cut out. Serious parental baggage there. Points: 1

Cinderella – Living Father decided it was important to replace dead mother so Cinderella would have a lady figure in her life. Living Father becomes Dead Father and now Cindy’s stuck with New Mommy making her clean toilets. Points: 1

Mulan -  has both parents, a senile grandmother, and a cricket. But little Miss ain’t technically a princess is she? The most she ever gets to become is the booty call of an emotionally inarticulate general. Lame. Points: 0

Aurora – Has a set of living parents that she never meets until her 16th birthday. Before then she’s raised under the alias Briar Rose by three questionably competent middle-aged fairies in a witness protection program for princesses who are too stupid to not touch cursed needles. Points: 0

Tagline for Sleeping Beauty the Reality Show: "1 cursed princess. 3 magical moms. A whole lot of trouble."
Does it make for better storytelling if the women are lacking a parental figure in their upbringing? I’ve never been able to see the logic behind this dysfunctional family thing going on. It’s never like the princesses are abused or beaten by their drunk dad, or moved to action because of their lack of a maternal figure so it doesn’t necessarily move the plot along. The only exception is Tiana who is driven by the memory of her father to fulfill his dream of owning a restaurant. 

Personally, I think Disney just gets is kicks committing patricide every chance it gets because even if you don’t mention it, lacking a parent or two suggests inherent drama. If you look at all the non-musical or the non-princess movies, the parents are still often dead. 

Examples: Finding Nemo (Both Nemo’s mom and his siblings get capped in the first 5 minutes), Tarzan (orphaned but had gorilla parents) Jane (no momma), Treasure Planet (de-fathered), Lilo & Stitch (Nani & Lilo lose their parents in a car crash), Bambi (Bambi and his mom are grazing in a field where hunters frequent. What could possibly go wrong?), Pinocchio (Old Pinoc never had a mother. This was like a precursor to a testube baby except specifically for creepy anti-social carpenters).

2. Must be an ingrate, or at least considerably unhappy.

As far as archetypes go, the princesses are all fairly uniform in their desires and motivations. Whether its freedom, a restaurant, legs, something more than this provincial life, or a sugar daddy prince charming to carry them away, they all seem to fall under the Seeker archetype in some way. They are all dissatisfied with their lot in life and are vying for something bigger and better. And although their lack of a mother isn’t explicitly referenced in their behavior, often their actions can be a rebellion against their remaining parent or just against the status quo. True princesses are never content with or thankful for the perfectly comfortable life they have. If they were happy as a clam with their life situation there would be no story and nothing for them to sing about for half of the movie.

Cinderella: Cindy kind of has an out on this one because she was seeking to get out of a genuinely crappy living situation and had the kind of family dysfunction that would merit at least a two-parter special on Dr. Phil just to be able to fit in all the drama. Points: 0

Pocahontas: Wants to know what’s just around the river bend (that’s what Google Maps Street View is for). Basically, she wants to adventure into the unknown and unexplored so much so that she endangers the welfare of her people and gets her boo murdered by Christian Bale. Points: 1

Aurora: This gal has a mixed bag in life because she is born into great privilege and even gets to have both of her parents simultaneously alive (always a plus). When she’s born, she’s gets tons of awesome gifts and more guests to her birthday party than there are people in the nation of Fiji. She is so popular that she even gets people that go out of their way to crash said party and give her gifts. Albeit that gift was a curse that would eventually kill her but nobody said picking out good gifts was necessarily Maleficent’s strong suit, and it’s really the thought that should count anyway. Aurora gets magically spared so that she will instead get ample amounts of beauty sleep in case the curse ever gets fulfilled. So she not only won’t die but she will never be able to get crow’s feet. Pluses all around. Aurora gets to be raised in a quaint little cottage by 3 sweet old fairies and yet all she can think about is finding a boyfriend. Points: 1
Belle : Our belle of the ball has a very simple and comfortable existence in a scenic village in the French countryside. Her dad is kind of cuckoo for cocoa puffs but at least he loves the crap out of her, and they have a pretty supportive relationship. Belle retreats into her books to escape the “poor provincial town” in which she lives and can experience a life of adventure vicariously through the characters.  Points: 1

Jasmine: Jasmine is a beautiful princess with a killer bod, living in a beautiful castle, being courted by…not so beautiful men. Royal law decrees that she take a husband even though marriage is the last thing on her mind. All she wants is freedom from palace life and to be loved for who she is. This is not necessarily unreasonable, but the fact that she’s ornery and hormonal towards nearly everyone definitely adds to the angsty spoiled princess vibe. Points: 1  

Ariel: This kid is both a princess and a mermaid. Those are two things that every little girl at one point dreams of becoming (that wasn’t just me, was it?). Add in the fact that she’s supposed to have the best singing voice in the entire ocean, allegedly be King Triton’s favorite daughter, and have a secret cave full of useless crap and you’re looking at one very lucky ladyfish. Yet this isn’t enough for daddy’s little princess. She will trade life and fin to catch the eye of some boy she stalked. Once. Although arguably my favorite princess because I’ve always had a unhealthy lifelong obsession with gingers, when it boils down to it, I still can’t help feeling that she’s just another whiny, ungrateful butthole teenager. Points: 1

Mulan: The plot of this film is not about Mulan fulfilling secret dreams of cross-dressing. She doesn’t have an aching desire to see what it’s like to wear a jock strap or pee standing up. She just wants to make her parents happy while still maintaining her individuality in a world that frowns upon such a thing. She doesn’t have any plans to run away or feel that grass is greener on the other side but is forced into action when faced with the prospect of her father  being drafted for the war. She agonizes over the decision and finally decides that she’d rather trade in her own life by going to war dressed up as a boy than to see her father meet his end on the battlefield. Points: 0

Tiana: This little lady has the desire to rise up beyond the circumstances of her current state, but when that current state happens to be in Jim Crow Louisiana and you happen to be a woman of color, aspiring for something more is not hard to fathom. She doesn’t want a prince, fame, or a mansion; she just wants to fulfill her father’s dream of owning their own restaurant. However, I never said the desire couldn’t be justified, I just said they had to at least be unhappy and not being able to take out a loan to start your own restaurant due to racial discrimination definitely  falls under the “unhappy” criteria. Points: ½

Snow White: To me, this girl seems like a vapid leaf blowing in the wind. She doesn’t necessarily aspire to do anything; she just passively absorbs whatever happens to her like a mentally challenged sea sponge. I guess her only desire in this movie is to avoid her step-mother and not die, neither of which she manages to do effectively. Points: 0 

3. You must sing.
Every true Disney princess sings. I don’t care who you are. If you don’t have a song to yourself or at least a duet, you’re not a princess. The only exception I can think to this rule would be Princess Kida in Atlantis but she is actually a royal and her mom died to become some giant rock guardian so I guess she gets to keep her princess title even if she doesn’t get listed in the official princess ranks. For this round, to give ample opportunity for the pre-Renaissance princesses to catch up in the running, I’m counting points per song, with half points for duets, ensemble numbers, and reprises (because that’s just a continuation of an earlier song and not a separate song).

Cinderella: “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale,” “So This is Love,” “So This is Love (Reprise).” Points: 3.5

Snow White: “I’m Wishing/One Song” (duet), “With a Smile and a Song,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Whistle While You Work.” Points: 3.5

Aurora: “Once Upon a Dream.” (to be fair she spends a third of the movie as an infant or completely unconscious) Points: 1

Ariel: “Part of Your World,” “Part of Your World (Reprise),” as well as that song she sings when she gives up her voice which is basically just Part of Your World without words so I’m not counting it. Points: 1.5 (Ironic, considering she’s supposed to be the princess most associated with singing)

Jasmine: “A Whole New World (duet).” Jasmine is a special case because she is the only princess on the list who is just a supporting character and not the star of the film, which explains why Aladdin gets to steal the musical thunder. Points: 0.5

Belle: “Belle (Ensemble number),” “Belle (Reprise)”, “Something There (Duet).” I’m going to say that the fact that she shares the opening number with the entire town negates her credit for that song to half a point. Points: 1.5

Pocahontas: “Just Around the Riverbend,” “Colors of the Wind,” “Savages, pt. II (ensemble & reprise),” “If I Never Knew You” (Duet with John Smith on the Special Edition DVD). I’m going to give Pocahontas a quarter point for “Savages” because it’s not only a reprise, but she shares it with the ensemble so it’s only partly considered her song. Points: 2.75

Mulan: "Honor To Us All (ensemble number)," "Reflection," "I'll Make a Man Out of You (ensemble number)," "A Girl Worth Fighting For (minimal dialogue)." I'm going to say that she gets zero points for "A Girl Worth Fighting for" considering a) she speaks the lines and b) it's only like 2 lines. She gets 1/4 of a point for "I'll Make a Man Out of You" because she does sing but she has one line. Points: 1.75
Tiana:  “Almost There,” “Almost There (Reprise),” “Dig a Little Deeper (ensemble number),”  “When We’re Human (trio),” “Down in New Orleans (finale).” Points: 3.5

4. You’ll need to be voiced by a celebrity and/or Broadway veteran.

I noticed that most Disney movies after the success of the star-riddled Lion King which boasted a cast featuring the likes of Neve Campbell, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Matthew Broderick, Robert Guillaume, Nathan Lane, need I say more? Pocahontas featured a pre-Hitlerized Mel Gibson, and a "post-Newsies but pre-Batman" Christian Bale playing Thomas. Hunchback of Notre Dame amped up their roster of renowned screen and stage celebs to quasi Lion King proportions with the voices of Kevin Kline, Tom Hulce (not super-duper famous but the star of Amadeus, another great movie), Demi Moore, Jason Alexander, and the late Tony Jay who was not as well-known as some of his co-stars but will always be a rockstar in my eyes after growing up with his work as Virgil on Mighty Max.

So, how much starpower do these princesses have behind their pipes?

I’m excluding the Pre-Renaissance Princesses from this qualification because the trend of using star power to draw viewers was not as heavily practiced in the Snow White years as it is now and nobody would recognize the actresses names anyway. Old Timey Princesses, you just have to forfeit your points and sit out this round. Kick off your glass slippers, take a long nap, or enjoy an array of non-poisoned fruit. Try a mango or something.

Ariel: this was the break-out role for Jodi Benson, who provided the singing and speaking voice for the mermaid princess. She landed the role because she was in a show directed by Mermaid’s lyricist, Howard Ashman. Points: 0

Jasmine: Lea Salonga who provided the singing voice of Jasmine (as well as Mulan) brings the starpower to the character after originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon on Broadway.  Linda Larkin, who provided the speaking voice, was and still is a relative unknown. Plus, Salonga only gets to sing for the duet “A Whole New World.” Points:0.5

Belle: Paige O’Hara had accumulated a number of impressive Broadway credits such as playing Ellie in 1983’s Showboat revival and Fantine in Les Mis before playing Belle. Points: 1

Pocahontas: Judy Kuhn originated the role of Cosette in Les Mis before singing “Colors of the Wind” for Pocahontas but I wouldn’t say she was a household name at that point. Irene Bedard, her speaking voice, had few recognizable credits to her name aside from playing Alice Starseer in one of the best cartoon of all time, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.Shameless plug? Of course. Does this mean Pocahontas passes this test? Nope. Points: 0
Tiana: Voiced entirely by Broadway vet Anika Noni-Rose who was also known for the movie Dreamgirls where she starred as the one who was neither Jennifer Hudson or Beyonce. Points: 1
Mulan: Voiced by E.R. actress Ming-Na with “Reflection” sung once again by Broadway baby, Lea Salonga. Points: 1

5. Get a shout-out in the movie's title.
Pocahontas (Pocahontas). Points: 1
Ariel (The Little Mermaid). Points: 1
Belle (beauty in the Beauty and the Beast equation). Points: 1
Cinderella (Cinderella). Points: 1
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Points: 1
Tiana (The Princess & The Frog). Points: 1
Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). Points: 1
Mulan (Mulan). Points: 1
Jasmine (Aladdin). As mentioned before, she’s the only princess who is not the focal point of the film. Points: 0

6. Be completely incapable of having well-adjusted interactions with other human beings.

Have you ever noticed that without fail, almost all of the Disney princesses are socially incompetent pariahs? It seems that they can’t play nicely with the other children so they are forced to befriend all sorts of winged, scaled, finned, or furry friends to fulfill their interpersonal needs. If no wildlife is around to talk to, your next best bet is probably a candlestick or any other type of room ornament.

Ariel: Yes, she’s a mermaid so her associates would not necessarily be of human origin but do you ever see her holding a conversation with a fellow merperson that doesn’t end in screaming, tears, or overall contempt for her character? Her best friends are a crab, a flounder, and a seagull with a 3rd grade education. Points: 1

Belle: Belle has absolutely no friends her own age. Belle has absolutely no friends at all. Everybody in the town thinks she’s a pretentious, stuck-up book worm or just a freak. She kindles her closest relationships with furniture and cookware and even her future husband is a beast formerly known as Prince. Points: 1

Mulan: Is considered an odd ball because she doesn’t conform to the traditions of true Chinese femininity. She’s clumsy, awkward and has a dragon, a cricket, and a horse as her best friends until she is able to interact with and befriend her fellow soldiers. Points: 1

Pocahontas: Her only friend is Nakoma and we all know that she was only friends with Pocahontas to get screen time and enough footage to put on her acting reel. The only people who truly understood the princess were not people. They were the hummingbird Flit, the raccoon Meeko, and a talking tree. Except for Grandmother Willow, none of her friends even speak the same language as her. Points: 1

Cinderella: Her sisters and step-mothers were evil harpies so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to interact with them. Cindy is quite the talker though so she decides to babble to anything and everything that moves including a bloodhound, birds, and of course the mice who do slave labor for her. Points: 1

Snow White: Snow White is the only one who actually interacts with other humans on a consistent basis, even if those humans happen to only come up to her knees. The dwarfs become her main form of social support until the prince comes and “saves” her. This is the princess that originated the whole singing to the birds and animals around her even if they didn’t necessarily speak back. For pioneering the path of human-animal relations, she gets props. Points: 1

Jasmine: Jasmine just doesn't plain have many friends. Period. She has a pet tiger who doesn't speak, named Rajah and then she's got Aladdin. That's it. Granted it's hard to make friends when you have a giant wall between you and the land of social interaction. Points: 1

Aurora: She interacts with her fairy Godmothers so she’s not a complete social hermit, even though she lives in the middle of nowhere. Aurora was ostracized for her own protection and when you’re forced to live in the forest, it only makes sense that your friends will be owls and rabbits. Points: 1

Tiana: This is an interesting case because she has friends which means she has decent personal skills but she chooses to bypass nurturing her friendships in order to pick up more shifts at work. When she does cultivate relationships, they are with animals but that’s mainly because, at this point, she is currently a frog and therefore they have something in common. I’m just going to give it to her because technically she’s better friends with her animal friends than their human counterparts and that's all I'm looking for. Points: 1

7. Bag a prince or other adequately hot dude before the end credits. 

Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora NEEDED their princes, Cinderella needed hers to support her financially and free her from her crappy home life (not the healthiest foundations for a relationship to start on), Snow White and Aurora needed a man to kiss them in order to literally save their lives. This pathetic level of passivity and co-dependency on a random stranger basically date-raping them or asking her to marry him based on a weird foot fetish, merits these ladies an extra point but not in a good way. Points: 2   

Tiana and Belle weren’t actively looking for a man or even vying to marry a prince, they were actually very smart and fiercely independent gals who happened to wow princes into marrying them with their gumption and their tolerance for G-rated bestiality. Points: 1

Ariel was already a princess but to become a member of the realm above the sea, she needed legs, to get legs, she had to basically dabble in witchcraft shenanigans. For her to achieve her dreams of becoming human, she needed to be kissed.  Her entire future depended on the physical validation of a man. He just happened to be a prince. Funny how that works? Points: 1

Jasmine didn’t necessarily want the validation of a man but she needed a prince. Period. It was the law. It’s the whole reason Aladdin needed the Genie after he escaped from the Cave of Wonders. To impress her with his princely bling. Even though he turned out to be broke as dirt and not a prince, the Disney gods declared that even though the whole plot up ‘til that point had been contingent upon the fact that he appear to be a prince, it was suddenly okay that he wasn’t and they’d let it slide this time. Points: 1

Pocahontas was already a princess and she didn’t need John Smith to make her life better or worse (although he did make it temporarily more exciting). In the end she gets a smooch but he goes back to England and she stays home, pops in a DVD of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s to celebrate her singleness. Points: 0

Mulan is tricky because although Shang is definitely smoking hot, the terms of their relationship status aren’t clearly defined by the end of the film. There’s an implied interest there but they don’t officially hook up in the end. He just gets invited to dinner. Boo. Points: 0

In Conclusion

League of Super Princesses: I so wish I drew this.
 So for those of you keeping track (although I guess it doesn't matter because I'm going to tell you anyway) the tally for each princess is as follows:

Pocahontas = 6.75
Mulan = 4.75
Belle = 7.5
Tiana = 9
Cinderella = 8.5
Aurora = 6
Snow White = 7.5
Jasmine = 4
Ariel = 6.5

So as you can see, there were some variations on the 7 main criteria I listed for being a Disney Princess but overall, the Princesses fell within the 4 to 9 point range. So if you were rating yourself against this point system, if you scored more than 4 points, congrats, I look forward to buying and accessorizing your plastic princess doll form soon. If not, hey, somebody has to fill the role of Pocahontas's fugly b.f.f. right?
"My daddy says I've got 'handsome features'."
Mind you, all of these princess guidelines are just my personal opinion based on observations; there are no actual hard and fast rules. In fact, the rules of the Disney Princess initiation are somewhat arbitrary at times. I just ran through the math in my head for Megara and Esmeralda and they qualify for as many, if not more points than Mulan so the fact that she is included in the Princess clique and not these two is something you'll have to get a disgruntled French mob with pitchforks to take up with Disney's marketing team.
Or at least get Esmeralda to lay some hurt on that guy's mustache.


Anonymous said...

In wandering the halls of obscurity of Disney films I ran across an unmentioned candidate: Princess Eilonwy from Disney's the Black Cauldron. Now as far your tests go here is how she came out:

1. no parents mentioned 1 point
2. whinny at times but not depressed .5point
3. no singing in the WHOLE MOVIE (it has a lot in common with Atlantis in this regard) 0 points
4. voiced by Susan Sharidan but pre-Little Mermaid 0 point
5. no shout out 0 points
6. makes friends with gurgy 1 point
7. bails her man out of prison 1 point
total 3.5

I'm guess the way the film tanked in the theaters is why she isn't in the Princess lineup.

Annik Miller said...

This is hilarious. You know how I feel about anything longer than 2 paragraphs but it was worth every moment to read it. I especially appreciate the fact that you didn't say it was all their mom's fault!

The Right Miller said...

I'm digging it, too! I shared this one with the Coopers, since Dee is convinced you're going to be writing and acting on Saturday Night Live!

Anonymous said...

old but you realize that belt says 'Bape' right? and that is a brand?