I’m a product of the 90’s. What can I say? I love grungy-chic (emphasis on the grunge part) and alt-rock and goth clothes. Oh, and dang I love me some Disney movies! I grew up on those wonderful “Princess” movies, and I still love them to this day.
Of course there are the classics: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, others I can’t think of right now…but I’m going to cast them aside as they rightfully should be. Not because they are bad movies; they are good movies, but mostly for their time. Nowadays, they’re a little anachronistic. Girls today don’t just want a message about falling in love with Mr. Prince Charming. They want the girl who can have it all: Princess, Swashbuckling Action Heroine, Quirky Jokester, and also maybe Believer of True Love.
That’s who girls in my generation, or at least the girls I know/grew up with and including myself, relate to best. So accordingly, Disney made lots of Princess movies where the hero is the heroine, and she is the Protagonist, and good times are had by all while also empowering little girls to be tough and little boys to not feel threatened by tough chicks.
But today, as I was watching Tangled (without distraction) for the first time, I noticed a disturbing trend. Disney Princesses are getting tougher, but their Princes are accidentally proving a life-lesson I wish I’d realized sooner. Men are useless.* Sure, they’re good looking (unless they’re not, but then they aren’t boyfriend material anyway), and maybe they’re kind of sorta helpful, but when it comes down to it, they’re bumbling fools and you can get by just fine without them.
*I mean this in all humor and I don’t actually think men are useless by the way.
So, for proof of my point, here’s the run down on the Disney Princess-type movies I grew up on and still really enjoy today:
The Little Mermaid (1989)
In this one, Little Ariel dreams big…of meeting a man and expanding her hoarder nest. Okay, so she really isn’t the best female role model. But she’s a dreamer, who doesn’t want to be tied down by her family or soul or voice. So she sells it, but her Prince Charming Eric (ha!) has to fall in love with her within 3 days or she’ll turn into sea foam because mermaids don’t have souls. Long story short, that idiot Prince Eric has to get help from a talking sea creature to even figure out her name, and I’m a little confused about when he falls in love with Ariel because as I recall it, first they were flirting, and then he was gonna marry Ursula, and then he was fighting for Ariel but I don’t remember why. Ugh, so he’s pretty, and he can fight, but he also seems kinda indifferent as to which woman he marries. Meh.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Not gonna lie, this isn’t my favorite. Belle is beautiful, and also quirky bookworm who would probably be played by Zooey Deschanel . Even though Gaston has nothing in common with her, she’s hot so eh worth it. Idiot Number One. Idiot Number Two is her dad, although I’m never quite sure why. I think I was too mad at Gaston for getting Belle’s quirky old father locked up in the asylum to remember. Prince Adam (who names these princes?) is the Beast, and he’s sort of Idiot Number Three because he spent ten years locked up in a house talking to housewares but still can’t interact socially past domestic abuse. Idiots Numbers Four through n are all the annoying housewares that sing and dance in fakey French accents. Is that what’s wrong with this movie? They’re all French? Anyway, ChestHair McManly dies and everyone else has a happy ending.
Aladdin is a poor “street rat” who nobody notices until our Princess (not the main character in this story!) runs away from home and is saved by him. Not that he’s not a good guy – he is – but he’s also a bit of a criminal, who tries to lie his way right into her Princess Pajama Pants. Really, Aladdin? Impersonating a prince, when your own self was good enough for her in the first place? I’m happy for you that she’s a more forgiving woman than me. But let’s not forget who the real “idiot man” is in this story: the Sultan. Jasmine’s father never really checks the credentials of the man who wants to woo his daughter, nor does he seem to rule his kingdom closely. He leaves that up to Jafar, the clearly wicked sorcerer with the world’s most annoying parrot. Typical.
The Lion King (1994)
This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s Hamlet, with lions ripped off from an anime! But it’s still amazing, and I love it, and yes, Simba is still that foolish male-type. It’s okay that he ran away; he was but a cub when his mean ol’ uncle lion Scar framed him for murder and chased him off. He’s just fine ignoring his conscience and lounging out in his jungle bachelor pad, but then his hottie childhood friend/betrothed/half-sister shows up, he gets some, and then she leaves when it’s clear Simba won’t come back. Luckily, Rafiki the wise baboon literally knocks some sense into Simba, so he changes his mind to go fight an older, much more experienced lion who is backed by hyenas (some of the smartest animals on the safari, though not in this story). Simba’s backup is a warthog and a lone meerkat – both prey, literally brought into a den of starving lions and hyenas. Simba, I love you, you’re justified in most of your actions, but way to disregard your friends in favor of the “crown.”
Another great movie, but also Pocahontas herself is super sexualized and I’m not sure I’m okay with that. Aside from Slutty Native Earth-Child Princess, we have John Smith who is a great fighter and world traveler. As Pocahontas puts it, “…but still I cannot see, if the savage one is me, how can there be so much that you don’t know?” He calls her a savage to her face, knowing full well that she can fluently understand all the implications of his meaning. Yes, times were different but I think the “savages” were probably pretty pissed off to be called “savage” when these dumbass people come from Nowheresville Europe bringing disease and genocide and not even knowing how to feed themselves during winter. Like, “damn we might not make huge fancy boats, but at least we know how to go all winter without cannibalizing our friends…” So, there you go John Smith. You’re competent enough to look good and fight, but you still need a girl to teach you nonviolence and also to save your neck (literally). Hmph.
Hunchback of Notre Dam (1996)
I took issue with this one because I watched it as an adult, and yikes. This is a mess. Quasimodo, our protagonist, is kind, gentle, witty, sweet, a little naive, and courageous. Oh and ugly, which despite all of his outstanding good qualities means that in the end the main girl Esmerelda falls for the Captain Dumb Jock. Because that guy is good looking. She doesn’t even like him at first! He’s a dick! But apparently all kinda crazy and hot girls like a little danger in their lives, so our poor deformed protagonist doesn’t get the girl of his dreams in the end. And before anyone tells me about how it’s based off a book: don’t bother. Everyone dies. and also Quasimodo sorta ends up with Esmerelda, in a bittersweet and poignant way. So Quasimodo isn’t an idiot in this one; he just gets friendzoned through no fault of his own and the Idiot Girl hooks up with Dumb Jock. Ugh.
This is another of my most favorite movies. Mulan herself is amazing – she doesn’t fit in at home, but she’s brave and committed to the family she loves. Yes, she runs away from home and impersonates a male soldier, and yes she partly does it to find herself. But she does find herself, and she proves herself to be the biggest hero(ine) in China. Excellent. Shang is also decidedly not an idiot or useless. I mean, he could have noticed she was a girl a little sooner, but he also wasn’t expecting her to be a chick. I’ll let it slide. Yeah, he’s a little awkward with words once he realizes she’s an awesome fighter lady, but it’s kind of sweet and endearing. He really likes her! He is a little useless, letting Mulan figure out all that tactical stuff and defeat the Huns in battle twice, but he taught her everything she knows, except for that stuff she figured out herself. Hmm. I think Mulan is poking holes in my own rambling, loosely connected argument. Oh wait. Pretty much all the other men in Mulan (except Fa Zhou/Mulan’s daddy, the Emperor/Mr. Miyagi, and Shan Yu/terrifying baddie) are kind of stupid. Mulan’s friends are obviously just supporting characters to make her look good, Chi-Fu is supposed to be a dumb asshole, and Mushu is comedic relief. It doesn’t mean any of them really helped Mulan’s case much; at least Shang spared her life in a fit of honor. Mulan had to teach them all what’s-what.
**deep breath** how many freakin’ Disney movies are there?!
Princess and the Frog (2009)
Along with Mulan and Lion King, this one’s my favorite. And now that it’s been a decade since I last really loved a Disney movie, we see a drastic change in the style. Tiana the waitress is a hard-working, no-nonsense type of gal. She’s f—ing fabulous. She wants to have fun, she has a good sense of humor, she has dreams (that don’t involve a man!), but she also has a good work ethic and doesn’t want anyone to just hand her all her heart’s desires. On the other hand, Naveen is a day-dreaming playboy who gets caught up in his own greed and sucks Tiana into his mess. Good for both of them that they learn to appreciate the other side, and even fall in love. I love it when Tiana says “My dream wouldn’t be complete without you.” As someone who has no dreams, that really touched my heart because dreams can be more than one thing. Naveen’s still pretty useless though, and that’s the point. All he does is get Tiana into one pickle after another. Louis also is sweet and kinda dim. Oh well. At least Ray has it together.
This is the one I just watched! Rapunzel is innocent, what with being locked up in a tower all her life and all that. So it’s fair that she needs a guide, and aren’t we all just so lucky that her guide happens to be the sexy Flynn Ryder/Eugene (voiced by the very attractive Zachary Levi). Flynn isn’t a bad guy, he’s not really stupid, he’s kind of a trickster, he’s even useful sometimes. But it really struck me how unnecessary he was. Rapunzel probably could’ve done everything she set out to do without him. After all, how does a girl who spends her whole life locked in a tall tower learn to swim so well just like that? She has her shit together.
Okay, I also freaking love this movie. And with this movie, you can see the tides shifting again. Our quirkly heroine Anna has true love not with a man but with her beloved sister Elsa, and that part is the second best (after the Arrested Development references). Anna’s Prince Charming turns out to be Prince Douchebag (spoilers!), and although she develops romantic love with Kristoff, the outdoorsy type who manages to be both hot and adorably boyish, it’s more of a partnership. Anna needs Kristoff to survive and find Elsa. He offers good advice, such as “you can’t marry someone you just met!” He’s a bit silly and childlike, but not stupid and not useless. What Kristoff and Anna have is not a “Handsome Prince Saves Hot Princess” relationship, nor is it “Awesome Princess Self-Sufficiency Rescues Prince Dummy From Himself.” They have a partnership, where they support each other as equals in the relationship (because Anna does stuff, I’m just sure of it) and I really hope that’s where Disney takes its Princess archetypes in the future, because that’s what both boys and girls of the next generation need.
This was really long, and I apologize for the rambling nature to anyone who actually read it. I included my favorite songs from each movie, so I hope you enjoyed that part at least! Please comment with your thoughts, because I love over-analyzing things. If you’re wondering why I ignored the sequels, that’s because the following is the only Disney sequel I’ll accept: