Disney Princesses

Disney is famous for their use of the idea of a “princess” as the lead character in many of their works, ranging from classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to Renaissance era heroines like Ariel and Mulan to contemporary CGI characters like Moana and Elsa. While they’ve often been criticised for their portrayal of princesses as damsels who can’t fend for themselves, I’ve often found that this doesn’t ring true – they are more often than not fairly fleshed out characters with dreams, aspirations, and flaws who have significant agency in their story.

This isn’t to say that they’re feminist icons that break the wheel of the patriarchy but the criticisms are primarily against the “idea” of a Disney Princess rather than the actuality. With that in mind, let’s expand the definition of Disney Princess a little bit for the three discussion points I’m bringing up: We’ll call it “Disneyesque Princesses”.

Three main discussion points are as follows:

Firstly, what are some aspects of Disneyesque Princesses that you genuinely enjoy in a story? Personally, I like the focus on finding one’s identity as the central driver of the plot.

Secondly, what are some elements that you wish would be further explored? Personally, I wish that themes of responsibility would be further explored. It can be pretty jarring to try to connect the fun adventures of princess movies with the fact that millions of peasants could be relying on this person to make decisions for their kingdom at some point.

Thirdly, has anyone ever actually read, watched, or played a story that genuinely takes the princess-locked-in-castle-by-dragon plotline seriously and presents it without irony or subversion? The only piece of media I can think of is Mario Brothers, but over time the series has moved away from that considerably, to the point where in Odyssey, Peach tells both Mario and Bowser, basically, to leave her the fuck alone. Have you ever stormed a castle and slain a dragon to rescue a princess, legitimately, without subversion, playing the trope completely straight?

12 Likes

Gets nerd glasses that I never wear in public from out of their case, puts them on and pushes them up with two fingers

The princess rescue has been one of the founding fathers of excuse plots for rpg. One of the earliest examples being the first Dragon Quest which was literally the hero embarking to battle the dragonlord. You save her from a dragon well before the final battle, but it kicks off the entire plotline. Saving a princess from an evil knight was the whole concept of the first Final Fantasy as well. King’s Quest would also be an example for the first few games where it wasn’t really meant to be ironic and about the challenge of rpgs. Perhaps the most critical example would be most of the Legend Of Zelda games where at some point or another, is rescuing the “wise” ruler of Hyrule from her 642nd hostage taking. Ghost and Goblins and a few Fire Emblem games come to mind.

What always bothered me about the whole tomboy princess though is that it’s supposed to be treated as this sympathetic thing like “I’m a noble with everything they want, but I only want to adventure! Woe is my vast fortune, power, and lack of personal struggle!” which kind of irks me. I want to see a story about a tomboy princess who goes out for adventure…and then realizes that the long standing consequences of not being present to provide stable leadership is way more dangerous than a couple of goblins on the road, ultimately resolving to accomplish change through taking advantage of their political situation instead of treating it like a prison. Sounds like a weird thing, but it actually kind of irks me when having the most influential position of their kingdom, they opt the best way to be helpful is to sneak out and just bash some monsters…but like really hard and stuff.

17 Likes

The closest i had read and play was @Jerieth The Great Tournament, Princess Hannah is a princess with strong personality and she was lock in.a castle , waiting for the MC to win the Great Tournament and rescue her, it was the most emotional princess rescue plotline i ever play … as i anxiously train myself to win the tournament and request the princess’s marriage

I like how the princesses represent the traditional values of their respective time-period and how resourceful and diligent they are when it comes to following their dreams and destinies.

Fa Mulan, for example is very noble and she has redeeming qualities in that she went to war instead of her father so that he would be spared the worst of the Huns’ battlefield, she (as Ping) went through actual training at boot-camp, and when it came to the final test of diligence and strength, Mulan was the only one in that camp who passed it, and even general Sheng was impressed, which shows her true resillience.

For example, Cinderella works really hard in the household and does not complain even when others put her down and is a rather strong protagonist in that she is gracious and kind to all creatures. The animals (that she showed kindness to) repay her in return when they become the horses and the coachman at the midnight ball. Cinderella in turn, is called to her destiny when the prince recognises her at the midnight ball and she loses her glass-slipper, which begins the search for the owner of the shoe…

The words of Cinderella’s mother, “Have courage and be kind” seems to be exemplified in the 2015 adapatation, which I liked a lot because it demonstrates Cinderella’s own qualities.

Belle in particular is rather intelligent and headstrong in that she reads books (and in later adaptations invents new objects, like a washing-machine via cart), when none of the provincial villagers seem to read anything of value and that she knows what she wants, despite Gaston’s insistence on marriage. One thing that I would like to see explored is her own life before arriving at the village and what Belle’s own mother was like, and her influence on Belle.

I haven’t read or played a story where the “princess in the castle” was taken seriously in a modern context, but the oldest fairytales seemed to take this idea rather seriously. Another theme I would like to see explored is how their change in circumstances had changed the princesses after “happily ever after”

5 Likes

You storm a castle to rescue a princess twice in Drakengard 1: once in the prologue and once in the flying fortress, though only in the latter do you actually slay a dragon beforehand, in the former she’s kidnapped by a dragon about ten minutes later.

Of course, here the princess is your sister, though she is also in love with you. You rescue her, but shortly after her feelings being disclosed in the second rescue, she stabs herself and dies. It’s not a subversion at all, surprisingly.

I think the most bang-on are FE2 with the princesses in the final Medeus fight: Elise, Nyna, Maria and Lena. FE6 with Guinevere too. Maybe Tana?

Celica fights, Adean is rescued by another man off-screen and pretty much every other princess fights her own way out, you rescue the prince rather than the princess in FE7, Lillia dies before the story begins in FE9, Leanne is let out by Naesala, Micaiah and Sanaki aren’t princesses but even then they fight. I don’t think Lissa ever gets captured, Lucina fights, the princesses all fight as far as I remember in FE14, you really only need rescue princes. No one’s really a princess in FE16, right?

1 Like

I hate so much Disney’s princess and the machismo they bring that I can’t help this thread. As they have absolutely no virtue in my eyes, the only objective is to reinforce patriarchy and that women are worthless slaves of males that have to accept all crap males throw at them.

“Be pretty, be submissive, be stupid” And if you’re not all will going to shit. They were used to the nuns in my school to express the idea of how a Catholic bride has to behave how has to be pure, virgin and wait for your prince. How you have put pretty for your prince and obey him.

The worst is clearly The belle. as has to directly suffer a toxic violent relationship with a monster. Submissive hoping love makes him behave and not kill her.

1 Like

Coughs. Actually, The Beast falls in love with Belle, not the other way around, and she only falls in love with him after she is allowed to roam freely and leave the castle. He allows her to come and go when she pleases, frees her father, and learns to control his temper for her. They read together and have snowball fights and feed songbirds all before she falls in love with him.

In the end, what we should be looking at the story is the demonisation of a trans-coded, possibly mentally ill character, and the idea that no matter how much you try to be good to people and polite it won’t matter unless you are acceptable to society, as shown by the Beast transforming back into a human in the climax rather than people learning to accept the Beast for what he is.

14 Likes

I have no problem with the beast the problem is how The other guy nd the beast treat Belle. In the Spanish old version He directly abuses physically of her and jailed her until She accepts to marry him.

In The Disney Version, I like the beast .I don’t like Belle as she is stupid and plain. The beast deserve better. Also the beast is more handsome that the horrible human they become

1 Like

Absolutely. And Gaston is shown as the villain, not the hero. It’s okay to show bad relationships and abuse and what have you in a negative light. This isn’t like the older Disney works where the princesses didn’t know who they were marrying because they’re prizes to be won from beating the villain, I guess.

5 Likes

You might be right with the older princesses, like Snow white and aurora, but the newer ones are not that style anymore. Moana for example opposes her father and listened to her granny and her heart and leads everyone even her father to a new kind of lifestyle. Tiana is a nice example, because she gets into problems just because of the prince, not the other way round and solves his problems, she only falls in love with Nazeem when he starts acting more like her and not prince like.

11 Likes

Some aspects of the princess stories that I have always enjoyed was the quiet strength that all the main characters possess. You can clearly see where the Disney studio inspiration came from, starting with the oldest fairytales and continuing to the ones they’re doing now.
What is also an aspect that I love is the message of hope arising from desperate, yet ordinary situations: not belonging, being alone, being mistreated, etc.

What I’d like explored is, as you said, responsibility, as well as the darker, more in depth parts of the original fairy tale. Now, it’s for kids, but children aren’t usually as frightened as grown-ups by certain parts. As someone raised on the very old versions of the stories before getting to see the Disney versions, they were horribly sanitised and stripped of substance.

One of the stories I remember with a dragon clearly kidnapping someone and having to be rescued was Dobrynya Nikitich.

Also I disagree on the idea that they’re not feminist icons. Fairytales in general have always been a feminist type of literature. The problem, as I see it, is that there are only certain formulas of stories being told and being cleaned up for kids (or parents, rather).

I have no idea what the Spanish version is, as there are only two “original-ish” versions: Beaumont and Villaneuve (both French women) and in both Belle is basically pampered until he reveals himself. (with Villeneuve being the better written one). Did someone re-wrote the Spanish one? Or do you have any idea where I could find it?

3 Likes

Just a note here: the Brothers Grimm did not write these stories. They often changed traditional folk tales to be more misogynistic (usually changing the male villain into a step-mother or witch) because of their toxic beliefs. Along with this, the stories they picked were changed to be often more gruesome and depressing than the popular traditionalist version (eg. Cinderella’s sisters having to cut off their toes to fit the slipper, which is not recorded in any version before their Aschenputtel), with perhaps the exception of Red Riding Hood, which started as a cautionary tale about pimps (wolves).

4 Likes

No idea I read it in one of those old books from medieval tales. As many of old children tales have very diverse differences on the base where are told. My grandma and traditional version of Red ridding hood here are that the axeman butchered the wolf and make a dress coat from his skin but also the force Red ridding hood to marry him. Saying I saved you so now You are my wife.

The Mermaid tale. In the old version, I read as kid Ariel end alone suiciding because Prince said I don’t need a mute woman and marry a Beautiful princess instead. It ended up with Ariel looking him going away in a ship with her new bride.

About the toes of Cinderella, I read versions where they got hanged killed or just exiled.

At least in Spanish old tales are famous to be gruesome so In away Grim bros were a sweet version compared old ones here. Where there was directly cannibalism in some. I could try to search if there is an online page with Spanish old version recorded but I doubt it as most are oral transmission and in old books. As today isn’t considered suitable for anyone really.

EDIT I can found several college essays about the domination of women and violence in old fairy tale versions but are in Spanish and are boring as hell. What I see is many pages that directly say that are adapting old tales to be inclusive and all gender friendly so I am happy about that

I know, I read the Grimm ones but also ones that really pre-date them as well as some retelling adapted for different cultures. The most interesting are of Madame d’Aulnoy which is why I stated that it was principally a feminist thing (together with L’Herietter, de Murat, de la Force, etc). I don’t think Grimm retellings are meant to be misogynistic (although I agree that some totally are), it’s just that motiveless malignancy as well as torture/mutilation/digestion(and regurgitation) were a very common theme (especially considering the historical time they were going though. Also, the Cinderella version you mention was the version from the story of a young woman, in Marburg, because they could not convince an older woman to tell it to them. It was considered a vengence story. (I know I had a link somewhere to the history of this but cannot for the life of me find it now. the letters Jacob Grim sent maybe?)

She did commit suicide in the original story, and it was because the prince had already fallen in love with someone else and only considered her a friend. She was offered a chance to murder the prince so she could be a mermaid again, but denied it because she loved him. Not very Disney but eh.

I wonder if the Spanish stories are retellings or just the originals…because those were a lot more brutal. If you’re interested in more modern fairy tales and updates, read Angela Carter. She was a predominant voice in this.

5 Likes

In the old version I know - because it isn’t a traditional folk tale but rather a modern one by Hans Christian Andersen - it ends even worse: she’s so heartbroken by the marriage and she can’t bring herself to kill the prince (to turn back into a mermaid) that she straight up dies.

I mean, it was an allegory for how gay Andersen was for Edvard Collin…

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310604246_The_History_of_Gender_Ideology_in_Brothers_Grimm’s_Fairy_Tales

2 Likes

I don’t think that any European country can say We are the original of the tales. I think that they are shared by all the culture in a no one can say that is the original. Cervantes the Quijote author has a certain subversive version of old tales but were new stories. He also in the Quijote related several with a big cynical view and his defence of women rights. He lived surrounded by women cheated and forced to sell their bodies to live in a machist society. Her women are always even if problems Trying to solve them and proud of themselves.

The most classic example of it I can think of is Saint George and the Dragon Christian symbolism theme meaning and all. You find or Greco Roman mythos too but it normal ends badly for someone and the princess is some kind award. Because this underlying idea of “spiritual economy” prior to rise of that small cult.

If only the prince’s lover had been a dude then it would have made some sense and poor Ariella the victim of making a huge mistake. :unamused:
But then you (almost) never see any LGBT people in fairytales unless we’re coded as the villains and even then you need to read between the lines.

6 Likes

Or not in medieval times at least here but for I see in Kingdom come deliverance in Bohemia too. Blind and some bards related many tales of homosexual relationships. In Galicia, they are common as a hard sarcastic ballad that political rivals pay to be sing. I study in Galician several about abbey headmistresses using tongues and the tired ass on the horse of several nobles.

In fact, our medieval literature is famous for its spicy sarcastic poems and high religious ones. And that’s the ones we still know we have references to censored ones but we don’t know the content sadly.

I think that in medieval times the refences of LGBTQ were very direct to criticize them and demonize them.

For example, in medieval Spain, Romanic and Gothic cathedrals and churches are filled with Erotica and bestiality direct sex in sculptures, etc… Same with paintings El Bosco is very famous for that. It was after Renaissance were any Lgtbq was erased from records.

1 Like

That’s a very big difference with my Calvinist homeland where it is was more of a “subtle” but pervasive dismissal. While being gay has in and of itself had never been quite as illegal (and most of the time not illegal at all) as most other places in Europe gay men in particular used to be coded as some of the villains in our old tales, but never directly or openly as it was one of those subjects we didn’t talk about in “polite company” or the company of children for centuries.

1 Like