Monday, February 10, 2014

Disney Princesses: Romance Through the Ages

Snow White and The Prince, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937:
Well there's your problem right there. He doesn't have a name. I've heard some sources call him Ferdinand, Florian, or Fredrick, but he doesn't get one in the actual film. You know, he doesn't get much in the actual film. He shows up for his duet with Snow, the appropriately titled One Song, and then disappears until the wake up kiss. This movie doesn't refer to it as "true love's kiss" but "love's first kiss", implying that they haven't quite fallen in love yet.
Do you even remember One Song? It's songs like Heigh Ho and Whistle While You Work that stick out. That's because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not The Prince.
I don't get this girl. Here you are, wishing for the love of your life to show up, and when he does, you run.

Cinderella and Prince Charming, Cinderella, 1950
Oh look, he gets a name this time. I wonder why we use "Prince Charming" as the name for that fictional man we all want to meet. He doesn't have that much chemistry with Cinderella. And he can't be very bright either. Who recognizes their girlfriend by shoe size? It's not like it was a masquerade ball. He saw her face. And did Cinderella really love him-or just his money? Hey, she married up. Got to give the girl credit.
I'm not going to tell you how long it took me to find an English version that wasn't a crappy cover. Seriously, an English song from an American company and all I can get is Greek? Guess Cindy doesn't have much a legacy.

Aurora and Prince Phillip, Sleeping Beauty, 1959
This time I blame the lack of chemistry on the girl. As I've mentioned in a previous post, she's only in eighteen minutes of her movie. More focus is put on Phillip. Like the previous movies, they meet for one brief scene until he shows up at the climax to make things right. At least he slays a dragon to reach his love instead of walking in for a shoe fitting.
Watch Aurora take a leaf out of Snow White's book.

Ariel and Eric, The Little Mermaid, 1989
Eric's statue is just another one of the gadgets and gizmos in her grotto. She loves him because he embodies her dreams of the surface. Even if Ariel had legs, what would she do on the surface? She needs a home, a family, and she wants the royal life she's grown up with. So she goes for the nearest human prince.
Ariel and Eric have more interaction than the previous couples, but it's stunted thanks to her missing voice. Ariel's also more assertive. She saves Eric's life, makes a deal with the devil, and swims all the way to his ship (in her human form) to crash his wedding. They have their reward. In the sequel, Return to the Sea, they have a daughter named Melody, which makes them the only couple on this list to have children.
However, Eric's not that bright. He falls in love with the sound of a voice. Even after building a relationship with Ariel, he goes for Ursula just because she can sing.

Belle and The Beast (Adam), Beauty and the Beast, 1991
The best chemistry of any couple so far. Why? Because neither of them falls in love at first sight. Their movie takes place over the course of several months rather than a few days. And they both have flaws. The Beast's, of course, is his beastliness. He's mean and he's coarse and unrefined. Not at all like Belle's romanticized dream prince.
For the first time, we see Disney mocking themselves. In the opening scene, Belle sings about how she wants to "meet Prince Charming, but she won't discover that it's him 'till chapter three".
I chose this video to represent their love life rather than "Beauty and the Beast". Partly because they sing it themselves, not Mrs. Potts, and it lets us see their relationship grow.

Aladdin and Jasmine, Aladdin, 1992
The first princess to be featured in a movie with a male lead.

Pocahontas and John Smith, Pocahontas, 1995
If you know the history behind this their whole relationship is ick. They aged up Pocahontas and gave John Smith a beauty upgrade. Still, the couple has some good moments. They go on a weird acid sequence of a forest walk, learn to appreciate each others' cultures, and saves his life-before they're forced to part. Don't worry, there's a which Pocahontas meets her real life husband, John Rolfe.

Mulan and Shang, Mulan, 1998
No. Just no. There's no room for romance here because she spends most of the movie being a man. Her interaction with Shang mostly consists of him yelling at her. Only the ending hints that they might fall in love.

Tiana and Naveen, The Princess and the Frog, 2009
So we've had more than ten years since the last movie. In that time, Disney's been listening to critics. Quite a few of their princesses have no goals in life besides finding a prince. Sure, those complaints are mostly directed at the first three movies, but they listen anyways. Tiana is the antithesis of previous princesses. She's career driven and doesn't have time for a man in her life.
Then there's Naveen. He's arrogant, rich, and likes to mess around. Just as the princess in the original fairy tale looks down on the prince for being a frog, he looks down on her for being a waitress. And she despises him because of he was born rich while she had to work for every penny she's got.
They do fall in love, though. Eventually.

Rapunzel and Flynn, Tangled, 2010
In my opinion, Rapunzel and Flynn/Eugene have the most successful romance of any Disney couple. It's their story. Fish and fairies aren't here to distract us. Aside from Mother Gothel, the thugs, and Rapunzel's parents, who have no speaking parts, they're the only people in the movie.

Merida and her unlucky suitors, Brave, 2012:
Let's imagine how this movie was made.
Pixar: We're going to make a movie about a princess.
Disney: Hey, cool. We'll put her in the lineup. We'll make dolls of her and her prince. We'll put her songs on our princess albums.
Pixar: Wait, you mean you want her to be a Disney princess?
Disney: Dude, we own you now.
Pixar: I'll show you! This will be the story of a princess and her mother. The only song she'll sing is a Gaelic lullaby. And princes? She won't have one. She'll have THREE and reject them all. Merida will be shooting for her own hand.

Anna and Prince Hans/Anna and Kristoff, Frozen, 2013
This is where Disney makes fun of themselves. Anna's relationship with Hans parodies (and later deconstructs) the logic of love at first sight. I have to say, their first meeting scene is hilarious and their love song adorable. But my Genre Savviness Alert System smelled a rat from the moment I saw the trailers. He's too Nice Guy. Disney hasn't made one of those for a while.
Then Kristoff walks in. Still high on the excitement of the love song, I was confused. Why would we need two hot, young male humans in one movie? They can't both be the love interest.
Or can they?
Frozen pulled off the first real Disney princess love triangle. Stupid little Aurora thought she was in one because she didn't bother to learn Phillip's name. Gaston pursued Belle but she never returns his affections. Pocahontas falls into one in the sequel, but I'm only examining first movies.
Just as in Tangled, the romantic interest is lovable rogue who accompanies you on your quest. And just like Tangled, we see that love is the most powerful magic of all. But this time it's family love, not romance, that takes center stage.
In recent movies, Disney tried to defy the damsel stereotypes by creating girls who would rather fight a war or start a business than fall in love. And while Merida and Tiana occasionally get praised for that, the memory of Snow White and Cinderella still prevails. So Disney tried a new approach: use the first love trope-but play with it. When the trolls announce that Anna can only be healed by "an act of true love" everyone assumes it will be a kiss. But in the end Anna warms her own heart. Really, that makes more sense. Why should Phillip's love affect a curse placed on Aurora? Why should Belle's love release the Beast from his enchantment? That's about as effective as getting heart surgery to wake someone else up from a coma.

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