Nov 24, 2012

From Snow White to Ebony Black: the Evolution of a Disney Princess

What makes a Disney princess? Is it the gorgeous hair? Is it the tiny waist? Is is the cute little animals she always seems to befriend? Is it the stunning singing voice? Is it the kind, good-hearted nature? Is it the weakness for handsome princes and other masculine yet noble men? Is it the mysterious ability to attract evil forces to distress her life? Is it the fool-proof guarantee for happy endings?

More or less, it is about all of these. Maybe more about the good heart and less about the tiny waist. Or the other way around, I don't know. Anyway, the concept of a 'Disney Princess' means something, at least for me, and it should for generations of little girls before and after me. While boys had superheroes and ninja turtles and jedi knights, we had Disney princesses to look up to and model ourselves after. (I wish I could say that I was one of those cool, modern girls you pretended to be Donatello in their little make-believe games, but sadly, no.)

When it comes to Disney heroines, some things never change. You can find a few good examples of such qualities above. But some things have changed, parallelling the changing of the world. There's no way there could have been a Mulan or an Esmeralda starring the first Disney feature films, and on the other hand, in this day and age they would not raise a character like Snow White as a protagonist anymore.

I guess I ended up having a bit more feminist point of view to this post than I was originally supposed to, but never mind. Also, it slowly grew to be monstrously lengthy.

Warning: There is a chance your childhood idol gets bashed a little. But don't worry, most of MY childhood idols are quite safe!

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1930s: The One Who Started It All

The first Disney feature film gave shape to the prototype of a Disney Princess, one that would more or less be copied over and over again, decade to decade, until this day.

Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

"If you let me stay, I'll keep house for you. I'll wash and sew and sweep and cook."

Snow White has it all, from the various animal friends to the magical singing voice, and the evil that she attracts. She looks like a doll, with the skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony. She is entirely and absolutely good; there is not a cruel, unpleasant or impolite cell in her body. I'm completely positive that she actually would not hurt a fly. Kind, hard-working and submissive, Snow White was the image of the perfect young woman, the role model for every little girl who wanted to be accepted in the society and attract a potential husband.

For a modern viewer Snow White seems incurably dull. She just has the most boring personality ever. She is naive and way too trusting. "The evil stepmother who hates me and makes me work my tush off suddenly sends me to the woods with an armed, menacing man! Oh well, flowers, ah, pretty!" And... "I just woke up to find seven men watching me sleep, but no, this is no time to panic." And... "A creepy old lady practically forces an apple down my throat, and I let her, because she promises that way I'll get my prince." Aw, you ignorant woman!

The romantic relationships of Disney heroines speak loudly of their core nature, so their princes and their great love stories will naturally also be discussed in connection with each princess. Cinderella started the unquestionably silly tradition of "Love at one sight". You sing a cheesy little song with some stranger, and bam, you know who you're going to marry. Even though you never see them again until they bring you back from the dead with a kiss. This is when the unreasonable expectations towards romance started to build up. Us poor manipulated girls, and the bitter disappointments we're in for...
DEFINING MOMENT: She wonders into an empty little cottage in the middle of the woods, and her first impulse is, yes, to start cleaning and cooking! Like a good little princess is supposed to. (At least she's woman enough to boss the little men around, and make them behave.)


1950s: The Damsels in Distress

It took more than a decade for the next princesses to come to life, but they still very carefully followed the familiar footsteps laid down for them. Like their foremother Snow White, they react; they don't act.

Cinderella in Cinderella (1950)

"They can't order me to stop dreaming."

Cinderella was my biggest idol when I was growing up. I would always imagine to be her when I had to tidy up my room. "Oh, poor me! I always have to work so hard!" Even on my 'freetime', in my little imaginary games, I pretended to be cleaning and being told off by my stepmother and sisters. (One such play has been caught on tape; in one of our ancient home videos you can see me moving some fresh snow around with my little shovel in our backyard terrace, while mumbling to myself. I remember I was being Cinderella.) At some point I had to look at my childhood idol with new eyes, and see that's she's actually not that great, after all. (Although she'll always have a place in the section of my heart which is ever-reserved for Disney.)

Cinderella is stuck in an unpleasant and sad situation in life. Her real family gone, and her stepfamily is downright awful. But she sucks it up. Every morning she puts her brave face on and gets up to face yet another day of hardships and labour. How does she manage that? By never ceasing to dream! She believes that one day a miracle will come along, and she will be saved from her miserable old life. Guess it never occured to her that she might actually try to do something about it herself? This reminds me of the Karl Marx quote that compares religion to opium. Dreaming is opium for Cinderella? It gives her some hope, something to hold on to, a promise that a better time will come if she submits to her sucky destiny for a little while longer; so she doesn't try to do anything about it and the evil stepmother and stepsisters keep roaming around and abusing her. Good thing she lives in a Disney movie and not 19th century Europe, so she does eventually get her reward.

One thing can be said to her favour: That shiny white ball gown with the glass slippers and the headband and the gloves! Prettiest thing ever. (And well, her endless optimism is quite admirable.)

DEFINING MOMENT: Getting her future husband (whom she danced and sung with ONE TIME, and that concludes the length of their relationship (ok, I'll just go with it...)) depends on her getting downstairs. So she stands there crying and gently kicking the locked door. Try a little, love! Make a rope out of your bed sheets and climb out of the window! Saw a hole on the floor! MacGyver it up! What ever, just do SOMETHING! Oh well, the little animal friends will do it for you.

Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (1959)

"Oh, dear. Why do they still treat me like a child?"
Aurora is another princess, who just sort of goes with the flow, waiting for things to happen. For someone carrying the title of the movie, she does very little to advance the plot. Heck, she indeed is asleep for the most exciting part of the story! When I looked for quotes on IMDb, I had to scroll down for five minutes before I even found anything by Aurora herself! The movie looks visually great, and the famous waltz is a legend, but other than that, I have incredibly little to say about Sleeping Beauty and thus Aurora. She doesn't really bring anything new to the table of Disney princesses. She's just repeating the old mistakes...
DEFINING MOMENT: She is supposed to meet with the love of her life (who she, again, once danced with and that, again, concludes the lenght of their relationship (unless you count them getting together "once upon a dream" and you don't), but her godmothers say no, and take her back to the castle. She miserably, and submissively, obeys. Just knock the little ladies out and go get that prince!


1980s: It's Gotta Get Bad Before It Gets Good

I know everyone is not with me when it comes to this next princess. But I also know I'm right about her. Har har.

Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989)

"He's so beautiful."

Ugh. It is not a secret that I loathe Ariel. It is also not a secret that, growing up, I had no bond to Ariel at all, so I am more that free to loathe her. But come on. She's horrible! As far as role models go, she's right there in the bottom with Bella Swan (granted, still on top of Bella; at least her boyfriend is alive). As a recap, here's why I loathe Ariel.

I should be happy that for the first time a Disney princess acts instead of just reacting. But she acts stupidly, so no.

Her life is perfectly fine. She has a loving family, and a safe environment to live in. She has friends. No one makes her clean stuff up, and no one is threatening to kill or harm her. And yet she doesn't appreaciate what she has, not one bit, and just can't stand being who she is, so she keeps dreaming about the greener grass on the other side of the sea level. Like any avarage, obsessive teenage brat. (We've all been there!)

She has a crazy hair. Kind of cool, but crazy. It doesn't have a parting. It just flows there, around her head. Crazy. (Okay, that's not a reason. Let's put that in the "pro" side. And on with the cons.)

Again, love at one sight? Things really haven't changed much in thirty years, have they... She catches one sight of some stupid prince and then risks her life to get closer to him. Ugh. She never even danced or sang a cheesy little song with her prince! She hardly even talked to him. Now that's not love, that's a creepy case of fangirling...

She's such an annoying little teenager who only cares about what her stupid puberty hormones tell her. And she never learns anything. She only gets the affirmation that being yourself is not cool. You need to have two legs to be happy.

I will always feel a bit bitter over the fact that Disney decided to celebrate the year of my birth with such a silly little princess.

DEFINING MOMENT: Coming up with a moment is a bit difficult because, unlike most other movies I'm discussing here, I don't know The Little Mermaid inside out. But I remember when I watched the movie a few years ago, I found her idiotic smile so annoying. Like, after her voice has been stolen by Ursula, she goes to her prince and has to impress her without any words... and she just smiles that idiotic smile and bats her six eyelashes and gazes at the object of her obsessive behavior. And he kind of likes her. Lesson learned, girls! You don't need any verbal talent, or any other talent, whatsoever, you just need long eyelashes. I seriously don't know what was up with Disney that year.

1990s: The Golden Age

Aka From Reaction to Action! One might argue that having grown up in the 90s, I'm biased to call it the Golden Age, and maybe I am, but it's the truth: The best Disney films were made in the 90s! And so were the best Disney princesses. Whether they are leading ladies or supporting love interests, they show more personality and strong, empowering character than old Walt was even able to dream of when putting together Snow White. These damsels don't sit around waiting to be rescued. They save themselves, and sometimes their princes, too.

Speaking of which... If the princesses used to be dull, the princes were even more so! The emphasis now changes from the personal hardships and the rescue of the girl to the relationship between the girl and the boy. When they get their happily-ever-after in the end, it is not just a prize she receives for surviving the struggles and dangers; it is actually a somewhat logical ending to a love story that has had a clear beginning and middle, too.

Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991)

"I want so much more than they've got planned."

Belle is my favorite. I've expressed my love for her before, but here it is once again, in a nutshell:

On the first glance, there are some considerable similarities in the starting points of the stories of (my all time favorite) Belle and (my all time pet hate) Ariel. Netiher of them are content with the lives they're currently leading, and they both dream about another life in a better place. That's where the similarities end, though.

Belle was the first Disney princess who stood her ground, used her brain and didn't just drift around acting like a prop, waiting for her prince to save her. She doesn't fall for the first pretty face (though it can be argued whether Gaston has a pretty face or not) just to get to the safe haven of marriage. She wants adventure, but chooses not to pursue her dreams because she cares about her father. Unlike Ariel, who just ditched her father along with her whole life for no good reason, Belle is actually willing to give up her life to save her father's. She is smart. She reads. She knows that makes her a outcast, but she doesn't want to change just to fit in.

Now, some might call the relationship of Belle and her prince a bad case of Stockholm syndrome, but I just call it seeing past the way someone looks and falling in love with what is inside. It's a horrible clichee, yes, but Disney lives on clichees, and they are allowed that. Belle and the Beast actually share the first logical love story Disney ever brought us: it starts off in a certain way, develops to a certain direction for certain reasons, and when the wedding bells chime, it happens for a reason, because they actually grew to love each other through the adventures they experienced together.

I'd like to say that Belle is the prototype of a modern Disney princess. She still has the best qualities from her foremothers, like kindness, beauty and that mesmerizing voice, but she takes a far more active role in her story, and is actually one heck of a role model.

DEFINING MOMENT: The reprise of Belle (Little Town). After she not-so-subtly turns down Gaston's tempting proposal, and proceeds to run in the hilltops and sing about her dreams of adventure in the great wide somewhere.

Jasmine in Aladdin (1992)

"Then maybe I don't want to be a princess anymore."

I granted Jasmine the priviledge to be the only princess (next to Cinderella) to pose with her prince, for several reasons: 1) I didn't find a nice picture with just her in it. 2) Aladdin just might be my favorite Disney prince. He really is 'rather tasty'! 3) I thought I should make amends, because I only gave her a section of her own here on the last minute. For a long time I just didn't think she's much more than a love interest. But in the name of fair game, here she is.

And now that I think about it, it's silly she hasn't been here all along. She rebels against the system that wants to force her in a certain, oppressed role, and that always earns high points from me. And after all, she's one of the few princesses here who actually is an actual, genuine princess, from the beginning to end.

DEFINING MOMENT: Running away from the palace in the beginning, and rolling her eyes at her rich idiotic suitors.

Nala in The Lion King (1994)

"Pinned you again!"

I was so concentrated on humans (and a stupid mermaid-turned-into-one) that I almost overlooked this heroine. She is kind of a princess, after all, or at least a queen! The role she plays in the story is primarily one of a love interest, but she deserves to be here, because of the awesome character and badassness she shows. And, for a lion, she's quite pretty.

DEFINING MOMENT: When she tries to talk some sense into Simba, trying to convince him to go back and be a King. And of course, everytime she pins Simba, young and adult.

Pocahontas in Pocahontas (1995)

"Still I cannot see if the savage one is me."

As far as favourites go, Pocahontas is right behind Belle in my book. There is just nothing I do not love about her. She has such a great, wild, open spirit. She is one with nature, which is something that has always fascinated me in the Native American cultures. She might not know her path from the start, but there is great wisdom about her, and fearlessness, curiosity.

Instead of reacting to John Smith - a strange, white creature - with hate and fear, she is intrigued by what she has never seen before, and she follows him, and observes him, wanting to learn new things about him and his kind; all this with caution, of course (she's no Ariel (=stupid)). Just think about the anti-racist values she represents! She learns some bad things about the white race, and she knows that some of John's kind are bad and do bad thing (like destroy the forests), but she understands that even though John is white, and shares some beliefs with the mainstream of white people (which she doesn't approve of), it doesn't mean he is automatically bad. She gives him a chance, gets to know him, and introduces him to her own opinions and beliefs. All this with no hate or prejudice. More than a few of us should try and learn something from Pocahontas.

While the men around her shiver with fear and hate and ignorance, and see violence as the only way out, Pocahontas is like the best diplomat in the world! She tries to get the opposing sides to talk instead of fighting. When the stubborn macho idiots still head for battle, she literally throws herself between them and forces them to see reason. She saves her prince, and a whole lot of other people on the side.

Speaking of her prince, I haven't said anything about her romantic undertakings yet. I guess that's because the romance is not the most important part of the story, or even the relationship of Pocahontas and John. Anyway. Pocanhontas' first potential love interest is Kocoum. Very much like in the case of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Kocoum is the bachelor anyone would kill to marry; everyone except for our heroine. But unlike Gaston, Kocoum is a respectable man, and Pocahontas sees this, and mourns for him when he dies. He is a good man, but not right for Pocahontas.

John Smith, on the other hand... Maybe this is not the most epic love story of the millenium, either. The movie doesn't end to the chime of wedding bells, after all, like many/most other Disney movies do. Which, in a way, is awesome. Pocahontas and John Smith share a truly meaningful connection, and they come to care about each other a great deal, through mutual adventures and experiences, but there's none of the "you're the One, the only one for me, my life is nothing without you" crap. And, I mean... Does the spinning arrow actually point at John Smith? Or does it rather point at her destiny, which is to prevent a war and save a bunch of lives? I vote for the latter.

In summary, I just love Pocahontas. She's truly the hero of her story.

Also, without realizing it, she makes the best joke in the movie: "You have a most unusual name too... John Smith."

DEFINING MOMENT: The man she loves asks her to leave her home to go with him. And she says no! Now that's a Disney ending you don't see coming. If only the real-life Pocahontas would've been equally badass. (I'm ignoring the sequel where she actually goes to England. Haven't seen it, didn't happen.)

Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

"So there's ten of you and one of me. What's a poor girl to do?"

Hunchback is a kind of unusual Disney movie with its unusually dark themes (I mean, the Hell Fire scene where Frollo is going mad because he's afraid he's going to Hell for feeling sexually attracted to Esmeralda; would not have happened in Snow White), and Esmeralda is an equally unusual Disney princess.

She is an outcast, an outsider, which isn't news when it comes to Disney heroines, but Esmeralda actually has to worry for her life and hide from the law because of it. She's sexy and she knows it, and isn't ashamed to use her womanly assets. She's strong-willed and witty and fearless. She's the first Disney princess (after Nala, of course; I just keep forgetting about the poor lion) who is more than able to defend herself against physical attacks, because she's got a mean kick and more than a few tricks in her magical Gypsy sleeve.

And then of course there's the more traditinal side to her, best demonstrated in the God Help the Outcast scene. Which is nice, because we don't want our Disney princesses too hardened.

DEFINING MOMENT: The whole Festival of Fools sequence shows all of Esmeralda's best and most distinctive qualities. That shamelessly provocative dance, how she defends Quasimodo when no one else does, and finally the ass-kicking.

Megara in Hercules (1997)

"I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle this. Have a nice day."

I had a hard time choosing just one quote, because Meg is actually quite the ambassador of feminism, haha. ("I'm a big tough girl. I tie my own sandals and everything.") She's so funny with her witty words and ancient pop culture references! Meg would've rolled her eyes at the fangirling Ariel and slapped her in the cheek. She also definitely has a dark side, which is news when talking about Disney heroines. Would Snow White have worked together with the evil stepmother and agreed to manipulate her prince to help the villain destroy him? Bless her, she's too busy not hurting any flies...

 Of course, in the end, falling in love with Hercules turns her kind of Snow White-ish, but she still remains awesome, and her prince only needs to rescue her, because she rescued her prince first. So yay, Meg. Finally, those crazy hips are just... crazy. Like Esmeralda, she's aware of the affect she has on men, and she uses it when necessary.

DEFINING MOMENT: I Won't Say I'm In Love, definitely. No man is worth the aggravation/ That's ancient history, been there, done that! What do you know, not all love stories end nicely and neatly, not even in a Disney movie! Sometimes hearts get broken. Sometimes there are more than evil supernatural forces and stepmothers standing in the way of love: sometimes there are past experiences that hurt too much for a heart to feel free to love again. But it helps to have five sassy muses singing your backgrounds.

Mulan in Mulan (1998)

"You said you'd trust Ping. Why is Mulan any different?"

Next to Belle and Pocahontas, Mulan is the third member of my prestigious Top Three. She's just so incredibly cool and such a badass. (And even though the world of Mulan is so different from the real, modern China, living there for three months made me like her even more. I mean, sympathy, girl! (Kidding. In a way.))

The beginning of Mulan's story is classic Disney: a misfit, who is an outsider because she's so much cooler than everyone else around her, but no one sees it, including herself. She knows she doesn't fit the expected role of a respectable, presentable woman, but she tries, for her family's sake. She doesn't even dream about a different life, she just wishes she could turn into something else, something that would match the expectations of her environment. Her family loves her, of course, but that makes it even worse for her, not pleasing them, and not being able to bring them that famous Chinese honor.

 Like Belle (I like to draw these parellels, as you can see), Mulan goes to have her life-changing adventure to save her father, even though no one asked her to. Her family thinks its the worst idea ever - that is, until she saves all of China. That's usually a handy thing to do if you're in the need of some honor.

There is some charming irony in the way Mulan goes from pretending to be an honorable lady to pretending to be an honorable man; and how she kind of sucks at both. And yet, while she's not always very good at being a man, she sort of finds her place and meaning there, among the smelly, hairy, unrefined dudes. I haven't and don't want to see the sequel, but I would like to imagine that after coming home from war, she will find the happy medium between the two extremes that she pretended to be, and understand (while making her family understand) that is what she is, and it's also the best possible way she can be.

Mulan is wonderfully awkward, thanks to all the pretending she's forced to do, and there is also some really sweet innocence about her: she is capable and ready to kill, but she still makes sure she keeps clean and smells good, and is horrified at the sight of a naked man. And she's so funny, explaning about her 'manly urges', how 'you just gotta kill somethin'... fix things, cook outdoors'... Haha. Best of all, out of the awkwardness and bashfulness grows a leader, who makes brave and wise decisions, and defies the men who don't take her seriously once they find out she's not one of them.

Speaking of men, the love story is not really necessary, but I appect it, because it's not like they get married in the end or anything. He just stays for dinner.

DEFINING MOMENT: Climbing to the top of that pole and fetching the arrow. Now that's girl power for you. She might not have been as physically strong as the men, but she beat them with a little imagination and determination. A classic You Go Girl kind of moment.

Jane in Tarzan (1999)

"I was saved! I was saved by a flying wild man in a loincloth."

Some time ago I watched Tarzan for the first time since... I don't know. Ever? Sure felt like it. It is quite a nice story, but I found the movie too late, so there's no special bond. But I do love 1) the song, You'll Be In My Heart, and 2) Jane. She's such a geek! Not a girly girl, in any way, but kind of a tomboy, who likes to get her hands dirty, and wouldn't bother herself with lipstick or nail polish. She's brainy and science-orientated.

Jane may not be not revolutionary in any way, but she's a nice add to the mix of Disney heroines. And she's funnier than her man; that's something, too.

DEFINING MOMENT: Geeking out over monkies and leaves and all the little wonders of the jungle.


2000s: The New Generation

It was well into the new millenium, when Disney princesses finally made a comeback, after strange, forgettable movies (like Chicken Little), and the merging with Pixar. But it was not a worthy comeback. I know, I just know this is not only about me growing up. They simply don't make Disney princesses like they used to anymore!

Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2009)

"I don't have time for dancing."

There had been a Native American heroine, and a Gypsy, and heroines from China and Middle-East, but for some reason it was well in the '00s when we finally got our first black Disney princess. There hadn't been a traditional princess tale since Belle, so there was almost a 20-year gap. But unfortunately Tiana is just a shadow of what her collegues used to be in the good old '90s. Poor girl.

She's not a completely lost case, of course. There is that "too busy for romance" angle, which always gets approval from me. Tiana is also quite a workaholic, and that's something new. She works her butt off, every day, but not because of an evil stepmother or anything - just because she wants to! She dreams big, but not of a Prince Charming: of a fancy restaurant of her own. So no time for princes. (Of course, in the familiar Disney way, time will be made for a prince. Some things never change...)

DEFINING MOMENT: Singing Almost There.

Rapunzel in Tangled (2010)

"Have some humanity. Haven't any of you ever had a dream?"

The rest of the post is done, finnished, ready to be published, but all it says under Rapunzel so far is: "In an unpleasant way she reminds me of Ariel." Not an awfully good start? However, after trusting Youtube in refreshing my almost non-existent memories of Tangled, I can say I kind of like Rapunzel! Sure, she has some Ariel-like naivety, and sometimes she bats her eyes just like the good old mermaid brat. But what can you expect from someone who's lived in a tower all her life? Her wide-eyed innocence is sort of endearing. (And what they can do with animaton nowadays is just amazing! The visuals in the I See the Light scene are SO beautiful.)

Like with Tiana, I just don't have much to say here. Maybe the new generation problem is that I'm sadly not nine years old anymore... Only it's not that! These new gals just lack something, something that clearly got lost at the turn of the millenium.

DEFINING MOMENT: I'll go with the moment when she goes from blond to brunette, while cutting off 99,9% of her hair, and she's still happy and pretty. I remember that was a twist that I really liked!


The Pixar Princess

90's were awesome, the best of the best, and I will take no arguments about that. The new century hasn't unfortunately done much good for Disney, and the studio's reign as the god of animation is clearly coming to an end. Practically, it already has. Sure, the studio is still called Disney-Pixar, but when today we think about great animation, we think about Pixar. So maybe we should stop talking about Disney princesses and start talking about Pixar princesses. Now, let's see what we have so far on that front.

Merida in Brave (2012)

"I want my freedom!"

Quite famously, Pixar managed to postpone the creation of its first female lead until this year. Brave was long time coming, and Merida should've been created years ago, but at least she has a decade's worth of hair! Seriously, that hair is AMAZING! It's the best thing about the whole movie. I could praise that hair all day, and it still wouldn't be enough. I want to marry it. The animator of that hair should get at least an Oscar. And maybe a Nobel  peace prize for making the world so much redder and curlier and fuzzier, and thus better.

Other than the hair (which I kind of feel obligated to praise even further, because I'm concerned someone didn't get how much I love it; IT'S THE MOST AWESOME HAIR EVER), she has more attitude than all pre-90s princesses put together. You might throw some of the post-90s heroines in there, too, and still be just fine. She's incredibly stubborn and wild, and she keeps gasping for freedom. What makes her stand out among some other, undeniably awesome and wilful animated heroines, is that she never gives one serious thought to the option that maybe she should just submit to her fate and do whatever she's expected to do; Mulan tried her best to be a respectable lady, and Pocahontas didn't immediately push Kocoum aside with a frustrated snort. Merida is constanly struggling against her set future, objecting on every opportunity, always protesting and looking for a way out.

The way Merida puts herself and her wishes before her family, and resorts to hasty, irresponsible and reckless measures to get her way, kind of gives me an unwelcome Ariel-ish vibe (there's the ginger factor, too). But I forgive her for this, because in other ways she's much cooler than Ariel (and her hair is still better because it's curly and more awesomely-animated), and most importantly, her goals never circle around or even include getting a man of her dreams. I very much enjoyed the refreshing lack of a prince or any kind of romance in the story!

A really cool thing about Brave is that it's faithfully female-centered from beginning to end. The story is not about the relationship between Merida and her father, or Merida and one of her brothers, or Merida and a wizard, or Merida and one of the idiotic suitors, who would of course turn from idiotic to a real charmer, and maybe pull off a mask and reveal his dashingly handsome face. I would actually watch that, if the prince would be the chubby one with the dialect that no one understands. Hahaha... Anyway, point was, that it's really cool that the story is about the relationship between a mother and a daughter. That's incredibly rare, if you think about it. Furthermore, both the mother and the daughter kick so much ass it's almost unheard of!

DEFINING MOMENT: The whole film is one huge defining moment, showing the best of Merida's nature, but I guess I have to mention the "shooting for her own hand" scene. That was pretty badass. P.S. I LOVE HER HAIR.

Other Pixar heroines include:

Jessie the cowgirl! Jessie is awesome because she wears PANTS! First time for everything. No wait, Jasmine wore pants. Because that's what princesses do in Agrabah. And Mulan did too, while pretending to be a man. And coincidently, Nala did not wear any clothes at all. Anyways. Bad argument. Jessie can be claimed to be a bit annoying in Toy Story 2, but in TS3 she is much more awesome. Plus she makes a fun, natural and unforced love interest for Buzz Lightyear, who is one of my biggest heroes. So two thumbs up for that. YEE-HAW!

EVE! She's the love interest of the main character of a movie that is essentially a love story, which makes EVE quite a traditional heroine. Of course, her role as a love interest is pretty much the only thing that makes her traditional. She's a killer robot, after all. Wall-E definitely presents the best gender role reversal in the history of animation!


The Shape of Princesses To Come

What should be expected from the future of Disney-Pixar princesses?

I have to mention Princess Leia, of course, since due to the whole Lucasfilm thingy she theoretically is a Disney princess now. (I got the photo here. It's an awesome site, by the way.)

Other than that, there doesn't seem to be any particularly princess-y stuff coming up from either Pixar or Disney anytime soon. So I don't know when the next animated heroine will hit the screens, or what she will be like, but I have my hopes. Maybe the next stop will be... a lesbian princess! Haha, or maybe not... I'll be happy if that happens in my lifetime, but I'm not holding my breath. Also, could there at some point be someone with a bit fuller, less inhuman figure, and a hair that doesn't makes us all bitterly jealous...? Nah?

Anyway, the direction where Brave steered the heroine genre is definitely a good one, and I'd like to think that if in my childhood my imaginary games consisted of household duties, maybe the little girls of 2013 will run around with make-believe bows and arrows.

Brave was clearly and shamelessly about a girl, and what it means to be a girl, and I'm a sucker for that, sure, but maybe on the next level the storytellers should stop making such a fuss about the female-ness of their leading character: Maybe the story should be not so much about the hardships of being a woman, and more about the hardships of being a human, no matter the sex. That being a girl is not the point. The leading character just happens to be female. There's no need for princes or love stories or other unnecessarily girly stuff. The stories could be about old grannies going on adventures with little Girl Scouts, or two gentle female monsters trying to make a living, or a cool racing car called Lightingette McKing, who meets a hick tow truck lady. Girl can be the standard, too.

* * *

As someone might have gathered by now, I am quite passionate about Disney, and those animated, wide-eyed heroines and all that wavy hair has come to mean a lot to me over the years. The business of being a girl can be a tough one, whether you are a pretty orphan with a hellish stepmother, a Scottish princess with a hair to die for, or a Finnish university student with apparently way too much freetime.

More or less consciously, I have always looked for guidance and example from Cinderella, Belle and Pocahontas, and without a doubt have been modelling myself after them like any other young (or older) girl in the Western world. And quite frankly, there are much worse role models, aren't there? Maybe the established Disney princess gives us unreasonable expectations of hair, not to speak of romance and the chivarly of the opposite sex, but the optimism of Cinderella, wisdom of Pocahontas, diligence of Tiana, bravery of Mulan, independence of Meg, and the pure awesomeness of Belle are all attributes from which we can and should gladly learn some valuable lessons. Long live the Disney princess!

Thanks for bearing with me. I'm finnished now!

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