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Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Princess and a Problem: Disney's Next-Gen Princess Movies (Girlcember Part 1)

Hello hello!

Sorry for the intermittent posts. You do not want to know how many manuscripts I have edited in the last couple of months. No, really, you DON'T.

Tonight, I got the chance to see Frozen with my boyfriend Andrey and his brilliant little sister. I was expecting it to be okay. Probably about Brave good, or Princess and the Frog good--that is, mediocre for Disney but not childhood-shatteringly bad.

What I got was a masterpiece that made my inner feminist jump up and down in glee, made my inner twelve-year-old jump up and down in glee, and my almost twenty-four-year-old outer self curse the bastard who had been cutting onions in the theatre.

Now, this is an analysis, so it goes without saying that there will be


...so turn back before it's too late if you haven't seen the movies yet! 

Right. Good? Good. 

I would love to gush about the movie, its design, and everything amazing, but in order to make sense of why it's so special, we need context. Serious context. Are you ready? Then let's kick off Girlcember with an analysis of why Frozen is so solid, and why its predecessors just didn't work. We're doing this in stages, and let's flash back to 2009.

Source.  So close, and yet so far.

Precursors, Part 1: The Princess and the Fail 

In addition to the numerous equality issues (link) regarding the portrayal of the African American MC--who spent most of the movie as a frog--TPaTF suffers from a mixture of both too much effort and too little. Disney's history with PoC--Princesses of Colour as well as People of Colour, in this case--is noticeably spotty. This movie, for me, had 'try-hard' written all over it. I was nervous but excited for the setting. I love jazz, equality issues, and Disney, so what could go wrong?

Well...everything, I guess. While Naveen was a noticeably excellent and well-developed hero, Tiana was kinda thin. She works her butt off, but the movie's endorsement of workaholic behavior, skirting around equality issues, and her excessively perfect personality just didn't make it gel. As with Ariel, she doesn't really grow or experience a serious challenge that requires her to change. Again, it's not bad, and it's worth marathoning, but the company was so scared of doing something offensive that it managed to be offensively bland instead. I appreciate that she was a hard-working and intelligent young woman, and that she earned everything she got, with the prince basically being a nice bonus. I liked that they had time and fantastic reasons to fall in love, and although it was inaccurate and a bit...ah, how do we put this?...stereotypical in the way it portrayed voodoun, I thought the various kinds of magic were pretty neat. That was a nice change, at least. That's a good description of the movie, though; 'nice'. But that's about it. 

 Source. Again, so close, but so far.

Precursors, Part 2: I Know It's Cheating, but Let's Mention Enchanted Anyway 

Enchanted came out in that really awkward period where Disney was trying to...I don't know, pretend its princess movies weren't a thing, I guess. There were piles and heaps of criticism of the princesses, particularly by White Women's Issues Weekly, but even I've done a post on issues with them.

I admit that I liked Enchanted, especially in the vicious bits of satire--I howl every time the rats and cockroaches and pigeons come up in that animal friend singing scene. I love the fairy tale prince. However, the queen, Nancy, and the single father love interest--I can't even be arsed to look up his name--were bland. The movie makes fun of Disney's heritage, but Giselle never does anything violent or really that subversive. Sure, she holds a sword and sort of accidentally knocks the bad CGI dragon off, but her purity is never questioned. I like the reversals and the satire and the whole-hearted goofiness of its parts, but it leans on tropes, and that injures the whole. I do like that it dealt with divorce, actual work, and differing ideas of beauty--Giselle, for example, sees the beauty in 'ordinary' women and manages to make the 'looking at the world with naive eyes' thing work. However, it plays the whole game too safe and yet manages to be too cynical in the same stroke. So, I like the movie, but like TPaTF, it's uncomfortable with itself.

So, I don't want to cram in too many ideas and mess up the length; let's tackle Brave and Tangled in the next post, and then, finally, we'll talk about Frozen and why I think it's the crowning achievement. 

See you soon!


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 


  1. I agree completely with TPaTF...it could have been so much better. I don't even think it was really that entertaining. BUT I did cry like a baby when the old firefly guy died, and was reincarnated as a star. That scene, to me, made the whole movie worth it.
    I really loved Enchanted, I thought it was adorable, and I loved how Giselle became the hero, and Patrick Dempsey's character became the damsel in distress!

    1. TPaTF was decent, and yes, I did cry over that stupid firefly, but I think Martha Jones from Doctor Who and Tiana suffer from the same problem--good characters shafted by bad writing. I have to admit I think Enchanted was token-y in its use of a female protag, but I really liked its exploration of not-just-falling-in-love-instantly styles of romance.


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