Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Princesses and Magical Kingdoms

From: “The Princess and the Magic Kingdom: Beyond Nostalgia, the Function of the Disney Princess” by Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario

Do Rozario talks in her article about the social functions of the Disney’s princesses and argues how their functions have changed over time, but yet kept some on the traditional conventions. To argue this, the author distinguishes two times of Disney: the films produced under Walt Disney himself, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) and the films produced under the Disney Team, like The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), and Pocahontas (1995).

During the Walt Disney era, at the beginning of Disney’s times, the films were seen as part of family entertainment. Disney recurred to nostalgia and innocence in order to obscure or to blur the agencies or politics behind them. For instance, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was made during the Great Depression in the 30’s, yet in the movie they show a very candy-coated world where the dwarves go to work everyday while singing and dancing. Nevertheless, the film also captures the dominant ideologies and put them in the movies. The animated films play with the social conventions of that time and the archetypes of social classes and gender roles. They paint this image of “beauty as a stereotype and good nature as submissive” (p. 34). Drawn by the princesses’ roles at the beginning of the films, where they are seen as housekeepers who wash, spin, clean, cook, and sing to animals (p.37). Females, thus, are found in a world dominated mostly by men, world where kings rule the kingdom.

However, there is a spin to that. Even though the males are the ones that dominate the kingdom, females still have power, although it is less explicit. Do Rozario also talks about the ‘femme fatale’ (p.43), which are usually the female villains of the stories. The ‘femme fatale’ is based on the mythology of a woman that uses her charms to obtain something from others. They usually victimize the princess (p.43) and use them as a tool to achieve their goals, to claim absolute power over the kingdom. Take for example Maleficent, the Evil-Queen, and Ursula. They mount obstacles in the story by interfering with the princess’ ‘true love’ and ‘happily ever after’, taking advantage of the princesses’ weaknesses in order to obtain power. The king fathers, on the other hand, are seem as powerless and unable to save their daughters from these evil women.

Princesses from later times, after being taken over by the Disney Team, learned from the ‘femme fatale’. There was a sudden change in the style and form in the stories. First of all, the animated films were no longer all family entertainment; it became part of the teen folk musical (p.47). Do Rozario quotes Bell “the latest folk heroines tease with the convention of burlesque” (p.47). Princesses start to enter the forbidden world (like how Ariel goes to the dry land, Pocahontas enter the colonizers’ area, etc.). They struggle for autonomy and independence, as they contradict the laws (p.53). Their fathers usually are the traditional, conservative ones who like to keep the nature of things, maintain order and the status quo (p.53). The princesses, on the other hand, represent change, autonomy, and openness (p.53). The image of princess is replaced by the image of the heroine. They seek to choose their own futures and husbands by challenging the world they live in and by transgressing traditions (p.56). In spite of this new movement, some conventions stay the same, such as the slim figures of the princesses, the image of the prince charming, the promise of searching for true love, and the ideal that all dreams can come true.

So in short, the Disney films have evolved from being ballet classical musicals to teen folk musical. The princesses went from being the submissive one to become the heroine of the story. She used to obey patriarchal roles and structures and now she challenges them and questions their roles in the kingdom. She changed from being vulnerable into an active female with a strong character who determines the new nature of kingdom (p.57). Needless to say, as coined by Do Rozario, “the Disney kingdom may still seem a man’s world, but it is a man’s world dependent on a princess” (p.57).

Discussion questions:
1.After seeing three generations of Disney films, are Disney animations really moving away from the traditional ideals and changing the old image of the princess, or do they still stick with the old conventions?
2.If you were to make a Disney animated movie that portrays today’s ideologies, how will you develop the story? Or what would you change from previous Disney films?

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I didn't really see much change in roles of Disney's princesses. Since Snow White they've fought hard (in subtle ways of course) for their freedom. Wasn't Ariel a revolutionary?? She swam her way to meet Prince Eric! lol As well, Jasmine's lil journey to the village? Belle's courage to trade herself for her father's freedom to be trapped at Beast's palace? Yes, the tone has changed, but no, the princesses were not vulnerable.