Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Part I: A Critical Analysis Of Disney Princess Films

To date, the Walt Disney Animation Studios canon consists of 52 films, and a little bit of research into the Disney timeline reveals the obvious highs and lows the studio has weathered over the last century. Those of you fortunate enough to be born in the '90s happened to be growing up in the second great age of animated Disney hits, and would be able to respond quickly and confidently to the question "So, which is greatest of them all"?

See what we did there?

This article has admittedly been stuck in the draft room for some time now, as there is so much ground to cover and so many angles to approach an article about Disney films. After much deliberation (and an unfortunate number of scuffles in the break room), our chief editor made an executive decision to avoid any sort of grading system and abandon the search for which Disney movie ought to be considered the "Best", at least for the time being. If there's a demand for a comprehensive analysis of which Disney princess or movie is the "greatest", that may be a post for a future date. For now, we're content with our final product: most people have an opinion concerning which Disney princess movie is the best, but how much brainpower have you devoted to finding out which Disney princess movie is the worst?

**Editor's note: The Disney Princess Canon currently consists of 11 princesses; we'll be structuring these articles in such a way that your favorite will inevitably be bashed at some point. Don't think any less of us because of it, it's just kind of our business to hate on things once in a while.**

1937- "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

So it begins.

Snow White is where it all began. Cutesy animals, doe-eyed princesses, death of parental figures in the opening minutes of the story, thinly veiled racism, and all those other staple Disney characteristics. Snow White is the template that became so many future successes for Disney, and you have to give it a little credit for being the first of its kind. Unfortunately it's also like 70 years old, and this isn't VH1's top 100 rock songs where the top five spots go to songs you've never heard because they "started it all". We don't care if "Snow White" started it all-- it's nobody's favorite, and for good reason.

Now, if this were a discussion about which Disney movie's source material is the most awesome it may be a different story. Unfortunately for the Disney adaptation, though the villain is undeniably creepy (especially in her old hag makeup), the hero prince is awfully bland, and the side characters are all lame except for Doc. To quickly recap the story (in case your parents didn't let you watch movies ever), the evil queen (and Snow White's step mom, because duh) wants to be the prettiest lady around, and when Snow White rises to contend for the prettiest lady title, the witch tries to get rid of her and Snow White flees through the woods to go live with seven adult men in what was the original token horrifying moment of a children's animated film--a tradition that would be carried on for the next 80 years.

Some scars run deep.

It seems the animators were told they couldn't get away with showing the true ending of the tale which results in the evil queen dancing until she drops dead in a pair of red-hot iron shoes, and ultimately decided to just make Snow White's escape into the woods a little extra terrifying instead as a way of sneaking a little childhood trauma into the mix. That's not to say the actual ending isn't any less morbid.

The first of many nightmare-inspired character deaths from your friends at Disney.

1950- "Cinderella"

Cinderella, the classic rags to riches tale. Disney's Cinderella is the core of the Disney empire- dresses, princes, castles, ugly step mothers, helpful little critters, and an utter lack of character development. You know how the story goes, the servant girl Ella has a fairy godmother who goes all "What Not To Wear" on her filthy servant girl clothes and gives her a dream date with the prince. He falls in love with her at the royal prom because she's got more style than the other princesses, she falls in love with him because his royalty is her ticket out of latrine duty, and then Ella's curfew is up and she books it home so Prince Charming (which is his real freaking name) doesn't find out she's from the 'hood. After an utterly bewildering contest the prince devises to find his gold-digging wench, he finds Ella again and the two live happily ever after in a loveless marriage.

"Goodness me, it's a good thing no other girl in the kingdom wears a size 6".

This entire story is devoid of any meaning other than "Fairy godmothers can get you out of a tight spot". There isn't a hint of anything interesting about Cinderella or her prince, and even the villain is pretty boring, and this is Disney we're talking about-- Disney animators usually make the villain the best character of all. The most danger anyone faces the entire movie is the consequences Ella must face when she doesn't keep to her midnight curfew. Even one of the best classic side characters can't keep the bland leads from rendering the entire movie hopelessly dull. Cinderella's prince is the original nameless "Prince charming", and he claims the title "most cardboard cutout prince of all time" (which by the way is an astonishing feat, when you consider the possible contenders for that title).

Jaq does his best to contain his frustration.

There's no moral to the story, no chemistry between the leads, no reason Cinderella should even be the protagonist at all except that freaking demon cat hates her, and the viewing audience automatically sides with any who oppose that demon cat. What even happens in this movie? Cinderella hates her life and feels unjustly treated? Good thing fairy godmother shows up and fixes everything or Ella's fate would be the same as thousands of other servant girls in the kingdom unlucky enough to lack such supernatural help. The climax of this film isn't Ella standing up for herself and gaining some sort of empowerment or self-confidence in the face of her ugly step-sisters; instead she gets carried away in the arms of a stranger she met on the dance floor a few nights prior. Cinderella sucks, and her resulting marriage to the prince has about as much chance of success as any relationship spawned from "The Bachelor".  The only positive thing coming out of this story is the fact that Ella's kids will benefit from a dad who always sends his monthly check on time.

1959- "Sleeping Beauty"

"Sleeping Beauty" is the first major winner in this evaluation of Disney classics. This film excels in all the areas "Snow White" ultimately failed. Yes, "Sleeping Beauty" is dated and paced relatively slowly, but at least it has some things going for it.

Let's start with the princess- Aurora is one of the most underrated princesses ever. First of all, it's a major plot device in almost every Disney film that the princess lead is the most beautiful woman in the land, a plot device that causes issues in both "Snow White" and "Cinderella" because the animation doesn't portray that description all that well. Aurora avoids this plot hole by actually living up to her own hype, as the Disney animators created one of the cuter (and underrated) animated princesses around.

In the Mind Grenades offices, statements like that will get you assaulted 
by the vicious "Team Jasmine" guys.

Aurora isn't a rags to riches story of course, she's born a princess and therefore into privilege. However, that doesn't cost her much favor since instead of finding her way into royalty by arbitrary means like Cinderella, or growing up a spoiled princess all her life like Jas-um, others, Aurora is a rare combination of a woman with actual royal blood and rights to the kingdom, and the grace of a modest upbringing in a cottage surrounded by cutesy animals. Of all the Disney princesses, Aurora might make the most respectable queen at a future date.

But that's not even the best part of the movie, nor is the animation--which is pretty cool even by today's standards. No, the star of this show is the first truly great Disney villain, maybe the best ever. The reason Aurora's growing up in a woodland cottage with a couple of fairies instead of within the castle walls is a terrifying curse from one bad lady.

If you think she's one of those "Just break her staff and she'll lose her powers!" villains,
you're painfully unaware of just how real it got in here. 

Maleficent is what every antagonist ought to be: straight up evil. There's no depressing backstory explaining why or how she became the very mistress of evil incarnate, no insecurity or fear that one day Aurora would rise up and vanquish her, she just is. She's got the attitude of the Joker and "all the powers of Hell" to back it up. In fact, in the Disney film at least, there's no reason why she crashes baby Aurora's party in the first place. She just storms in, places a wicked curse on the child, then peaces out in a flash of green lightning just to prove how inescapably evil she is.

And the only weapon the kingdom has against this is three colorful fairies. 

Alas, despite one of the greatest animated villains ever, if you sit down and watch this movie expecting to see something cool then you'll have to wait for the last ten minutes. This is one boring movie, despite great animation and a cool villain, and even a prince with a name (Phillip) and some actual screen time to establish that he's pretty cool. The opening credits to "Sleeping Beauty" take like 8 minutes to roll and is backed by some sort of old-school chamber choir music that drags on until finally the movie begins. Then you've got to forge through Aurora falling asleep due to the curse, a scene of pointless drinking with the king and some bard, and other slow developments for the next 60 minutes until finally Phillip emerges to kick some butt. You're then rewarded for your superhuman patience with this scene:

"Yeah, we actually hate kids"--Disney 

1989- "The Little Mermaid"


The Little Mermaid. Where to even begin. This was a story apparently written and directed by a bossy fourteen year-old girl. It opens with Princess Ariel suffering from Rapunzel  syndrome, feeling trapped in a boring world devoid of adventure. Except Rapunzel was isolated in a studio apartment-sized tower two hundred feet in the air, and Ariel was confined to the entire freaking ocean.

It's like the walls are closing in.

Everything about The Little Mermaid is just wrong. Let's take this step by step: She sees Prince Eric on a fishing boat (a fishing boat...a fishing boat) and falls in love instantly, which is fine, we understand it's a Disney movie and inter-species love at first sight is totally a thing. Her dad is Poseidon renamed King Triton, and he's understandably unhappy with his daughter's decision to be an idiotic teenage girl, considering his six other daughters are behaving just fine. Ariel freaks out at how totally unfair her daddy is being and sells her voice to an evil octopus witch-doctor, which is bad, since if she doesn't get with Eric like right away, the witch will steal her soul and turn her into a sad shriveled sea plant. In exchange for her voice, Ariel gets feet and then somehow avoids drowning immediately as a human in the crushing depths of the ocean. Ariel washes ashore. The part of the deal where every step she takes is akin to walking on hot knife-points is unfortunately omitted

Which just has to be symbolic of teenage romance in general.

And speaking of things left out of the Disney version, it should be noted that a major reason the Ariel from the original tale wanted to be human was because humans have immortal souls and go to heaven, and merfolk dissolve into foam and cease to exist completely when they die. That part is kind of important. No matter.

Ariel hangs out in Eric's castle. Eric is smitten with Ariel because he likes his women silent, which is weird since he knows his true love saved him and sang to him earlier in the movie. The witch, Ursula, interferes with the lovers in the form of a brunette lady that isn't even hot, but mesmerizes the prince with Ariel's stolen voice. They almost get married, then they don't because everyone turns back into whatever creatures they were at the start of the film. Plot happens. Ursula is made ruler of the ocean when King Triton bails Ariel out of her stupidity and instead offers himself to fulfill the soul-snatching devil-woman's contract (which should've been void anyway since it was signed by a minor without parental consent). 

Ursula uses her new powers to....to grow really big....which is both stupid to a frustrating degree, and yet also (somehow) more frightening than any other possibility. Eric kills her by running his boat into her over-inflated bosom, and then marries Ariel while all of her (totally jealous) sisters look on and a giant pretty rainbow covers the sky. Seriously.

Ariel is irrational, reckless, one-dimensional, selfish, and otherwise terrible at being the film's protagonist. Eric is dopey and boring but he's the prince, that's his job. Princes in Disney movies are the source material for male leads in live-action chick flicks: one-dimensional with zero character flaws and no hobbies or interests that aren't directly related to being the perfect boyfriend. 
This man has made a living with the personality of a graham cracker, and 
a smile that looks like it causes him extreme pain.

And in true Disney form, none of Ariel's character flaws are overcome or explored throughout the film, instead they are pardoned by a daddy who controls the ocean and she gets what she wants in the end. This is a movie about a spoiled rich girl who wants a guy, and that guy seems like he's into another girl for a while but that girl turns out to be a fat ugly witch (naturally) so he chooses the spoiled rich girl instead and they live happily ever after, once her dad bails her out of all the massive trouble she caused. 

Just in case that description alone still doesn't make Ariel sound like the real bad guy, consider the fact that after Ariel and Eric's wedding, sea food is now off the menu unless Ariel is okay with chomping on her musical sea-pals, which means one of two things: 

1) Ariel is a monster and embraces her human side, eating seafood with the rest of her new society.

2) Eric's kingdom is about to take a depressing dive since its entire economy is now at risk

For the sake of attention spans and aesthetics, this article will pick up tomorrow with "Part II: Belle and the rest of the '90s". Don't miss it.



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