I have seen an increasing level of distaste for the Disney Princesses–many look at the princesses and say that they teach girls that physical beauty is the only thing that matters and that women have no power at their disposal outside their sexuality. I would like to argue. Despite the fact that most of these films are based on stories by the Grimm brothers (who did not seem to have a high opinion of women, primarily because of the view of women in their time), Disney managed to give their princesses varied personalities. Many of the princesses were strong characters who overcame adversity. Disney walked a very thin line of staying true to the stories while giving the princesses character and strength.
The Classic Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora)
The criticisms against these three princesses are valid, in some ways. Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora do spend their days dreaming that a prince will someday come and carry them away from their lives. However, in the mid-1900s, that was the norm. It was expected for girls to grow up fantasizing about their weddings. Isn’t that the case even now? I know that my friends don’t believe me when I tell them that my wedding hasn’t been planned since I was five, not do I currently have a dream wedding envisioned. If that is the thought now, how much stronger was it in the 19030s and ’50s?
Snow White is the flattest of the princesses. Snow White was the first full-length animated film, so its novelty was not in the plot or characters, but the animation (Many of our action films do the same thing: there is a shallow plot and vague character development, but the real entertainment is in the special effects). Snow’s primary personality traits are her undying optimism and cheerfulness. She’s a princess forced to work as a scullery maid? No problem. Her stepmother the queen tries to kill her out of vanity? That’s a bit scary, but she’ll be fine. She moves into a cabin the woods with seven strange dwarves? No worries. She dies and is brought back to life by true love’s kiss? Well, she ended up alive, didn’t she? Her story isn’t about being saved by men (I’ll get to that), but about always focusing on the positive, and doing what you can in every situation. I will grant critics this: Snow White is constantly looking to men to save her. After her father dies, the huntsman saves her life. When she runs away, the dwarves take her into their home. After the queen kills her, the prince comes to her rescue. No matter how hard Snow White works, in the end, she has to rely on a man, which is a rather sad message to send.
Cinderella is a step towards the proactive princess (though in a previous post I have mentioned my problems with her). Cinderella is a hard worker, and, despite her circumstances, she is normally cheerful (though slightly bitter, but who wouldn’t be?) She is rebellious enough to be mentally independent, but not so much so as to be cruel. Another good trait about the film: Cinderella’s primary savior, her fairy godmother, is female, proving that good women can be in a position of power. Many complain that the prince cannot have liked Cinderella because he did not remember what she looked like (he had to go by her shoe size!); however, those same people say that he was only attracted to her by her beauty. If it was merely her appearance that he liked, wouldn’t he remember what she looked like?
Aurora is considered by many to be a step back, and I can understand why that would be. But there are things to be taken into account. Briar Rose was raised in the woods. The only people with whom she had ever interacted were three fairies who were not what anyone would call intelligent. She was put under a curse that was supposed to kill her. So, yes, she was saved by a man. But not some random prince who stumbled upon the palace, as the Grimm story says, but a man with whom Aurora had flirted (were either of the previous princesses so forward in their flirtations? Not that I noticed) and with whom she had decided to pursue a relationship. Prince Phillip is the first prince to have a name (and even a personality!) Philip is witty, headstrong, and brave. He has a quick temper, but is also quick to laugh. Aurora falls in love with Philip, the man she met in the forest, not with a prince who will save her from her life of servitude.
This has turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, and so I will continue with the other princesses later this week.
Is there anything I have forgotten about the first three princesses?