Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Part II: A Critical Analysis of Disney Princess Films

Continued from yesterday's article, we now enter the golden age of '90s Disney classics, with the aim to truly think through these various fairy tales and find out if any of them are really all they're cracked up to be.

1991- "Beauty And The Beast"

Let's be upfront about this- "Beauty and the Beast" is probably the best of all Disney Princess movies. We almost don't want to include it in our spree of witty hate we're currently offering the Disney classics here on this blog. Almost.

The movie opens to a disguised enchantress knocking on the door of spoiled prince's castle, offering him a rose for a night's shelter. Upon the unkind prince's refusal, he's transformed into a horrible beast and has until his twenty-first birthday to find true love before the aforementioned rose quits blossoming and he is trapped as a monster for eternity (awesome). Also, everybody is turned into household objects.

Why? Because otherwise Lumiere wouldn't be very cool.

Enter Belle. Belle has the most legitimate claim for the "Best Disney Princess" crown. She's the first Disney princess (the first Disney character at all, actually) who demonstrates a relatable personality, depth of character, independence, bravery, and other queenly attributes. She's willing to sacrifice for her family, so much so that she takes her father's spot in the Beast's prison thus setting off all the events that follow. She runs away, almost gets killed by demon-wolves, Beast saves her, they start tolerating each other, Gaston the super-douche storms the castle and tries to kill the Beast, true love, laser show, and finally *bam* Beast is now a handsome prince and Belle is still Belle, and the household items turn back into people.

"Lumiere, where did we put all of our actual furniture?"

This would be a happy ending for everyone, so long as one ignores the fact that Belle is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome is a "psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors or abusers, sometimes to the point of defending them, and sometimes the feeling of love for the captor shows. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness".

First, Beast imprisons Belle in a castle that no sane villager will ever go near for fear of its dark cursed past. Her chances of escaping are zero, especially considering the fact that all the friendly household objects don't want her to leave, seeing as how their curse will last forever just as Beast's will if he doesn't find love (which is kind of a jerk move on the Enchantress' part, since the castle staff never did anything wrong). So all your favorite Beauty and the Beast characters have secret selfish motives of their own. Next, Beast orders Belle to dine with him and she refuses, so Beast attempts to starve her; a friendly candelabra is the only reason Belle doesn't rot in her monstrous captor's dungeon.

That scene right there was taken straight from the abusive relationship handbook. Woman hides in a closet, drunk dead-beat dad yells at her to come to dinner, upon her refusal he insincerely tries to act like he's not about to beat the living daylights out of her, and upon her continued refusal he throws a tantrum and tells her to die for all he cares. This scene will ring hauntingly familiar to the millions of victims of this sort of domestic abuse each year.

Next, Beast chases her out of the castle and into the wolf-infested woods, which contains as much symbolism as you want it to. In what is supposed to be the turning point of their relationship, Beast rescues her from the wolves and brings her back to the castle. Belle starts to believe the Beast has some good in him since he saved her from the perilous woods that he himself chased her into in the first place. Belle stitches Beast up, and Beast succeeds in winning Belle's heart by catering to her one hobby; her love of books. From that point on, Belle is hooked in her new relationship where she displays every single characteristic of one suffering from traumatic bonding.

"You're so much nicer when you aren't starving me or chasing me into wolf-infested woods".

Which seems more likely: that Belle, the level-headed small-town girl that she is, legitimately fell in love with this selfish, black-hearted, fanged beast, despite her open rejection of any advances from the many good-looking (and less psychotic) men in town in favor of her independence? Independence, after all, is her most endearing quality. Or did Belle's natural evolutionary coping mechanism kick in, as it does in the case of a shocking percentage of kidnapped persons? And for those of you calling foul, thinking Stockholm syndrome wouldn't break the curse, the exact wording of the curse is as follows:

There's no talk of "true love" or a special kiss here, just that he must "earn" the love of another before the rose quit blooming, which contains as much symbolism as you want it to. 

1992- "Aladdin"

We're just going to ignore the rampant racism in this movie, or we'll be here all day.

Jafar is an evil Vizier, and he wants a magical lamp containing a genie hidden in the mystical "Cave of Wonders". By our count, that sentence contains at least three solid band names. Aladdin is the first great male lead of a Disney princess movie. He's a thief by trade, and he's assisted by Abu the monkey, one of the better side characters around. Aladdin meets a disguised princess Jasmine, the first of four consecutive ethnically diverse Disney princesses. They dig each other, and then Aladdin is arrested and Jafar reports to Jasmine that her plucky street thief has been executed. 

In actuality, Aladdin is lead to the Cave of Wonders where he is instructed to "touch nothing but the lamp". Jafar, the cunning man that he is, who barely knows Aladdin enough to know his name, is trusting a convicted thief to enter a cave containing all the riches of the desert and retrieve the most powerful object in existence.

The Cave of Wonders, from your friends at the Disney nightmare factory.

They meet a flying carpet, who has ten times the personality princess Jasmine does despite never uttering a line because it's a carpet, and apparently talking inanimate objects are suddenly beneath Disney, since "Beauty and the Beast" was so last year. 

Raja the tiger appears in like two scenes and gets a name, but "Carpet" and "Genie" is the best
they can do for the carpet and the genie.

Genie helps everyone escape the collapsing cave and Aladdin goes to work wishing for all the same stuff you'd wish for if you had a magic lamp. He is transformed into a prince (which we're guessing was the celebrity equivalent at the time) and amasses an entourage, using his magic carpet as his primary mode of transportation, which was as luxurious as it got back in 11th century Agrabah. Aladdin uses his princely appearance and hype to merit an introduction to Jasmine, who is more into outlaws then princes. 

They share a carpet ride (which seriously must have been the ancient middle-eastern manifestation of a Ducati motorcycle) and she suspects that he is the charming thief she met earlier. Instead of just being like "Yeah that guy you really liked is me, and now I have a genie who grants wishes!" Aladdin instead decides to draw out the movie unnecessarily and makes up some BS about how sometimes he pretends to be a street thief because potential decapitation for being caught is fun. 

They kiss.

Female viewers swoon.

Aladdin is captured by Jafar and thrown into the ocean but gets saved by the genie with wish number two. Jafar gets his hands on the lamp and uses it to do what Maleficent could've done without a genie's assistance, taking over the kingdom and then transforming into a giant snake while Jasmine watches on from inside a giant hourglass, which threatens to suffocate her in a matter of minutes. And we just realized how everything Jafar does is seriously awesome. 

This is problematic.

Jafar uses his final wish to become a giant red genie, who is then sucked into a black oil lamp and chucked into the cave of wonders. The sultan allows Jasmine and Aladdin to be together and everybody goes home happy, especially because Aladdin frees the genie with his final wish. 

Throughout the entire movie, the major wrench in the love story is Aladdin freaking out because first Jasmine has to marry a prince, which he isn't. So he uses his first wish to appear a prince, so he can be with Jasmine. Then Jasmine doesn't want a prince, she wants her street thief guy, which is who Aladdin truly is, which he can't tell her because of no good reason whatsoever. The end of the movie is basically "Hey Jazz, sorry, but I'm not a prince, it was all a facade. I'm actually the guy you wanted to be with all along, assisted by an omnipotent genie, a flying carpet, and a stylish monkey".

There's a lot in this movie trying to distract you from the fact that it's all about a poor boy trying to get into the pants of the vapid, spoiled princess. 

Any of Aladdin's heroic acts are motivated by his desire to be with the princess, and not in an "Aww how sweet!" kind of way, but more in a "broke orphan thief's got to dream of something" kind of way. Considering the rug and the genie do most of the heavy lifting, Aladdin really doesn't prove that he's changed much from the carefree street rat we see in the beginning of the movie. True, he does free the genie with his final wish, but only after he got everything he could've possibly wanted. He doesn't wish genie free out of compassion for a loyal friend in shackles much like the ones he himself wore in a dungeon earlier in the film; Aladdin wishes him free because he's going home with the princess and his life is pretty much as awesome as it'll ever be. 

1995- "Pocahontas"

Disney, tactfully handling potentially racist animation since 1953.

Continuing Disney's formula for box office success re-discoverd in 1989, Pocahontas is about the forbidden love of a princess who longs for adventure, and a man who everyone else in her society disapproves of, in case you hadn't gotten your fill of that yet from "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid", and you didn't want to wait another couple years for "Tangled" and "Brave" to come around. 

Disney took some creative liberties regarding Pocahontas' true origin. The final product isn't really based on any actual events other then "sometimes British settlers and Native Americans didn't get along". For example, Pocahontas was actually 12 years old when she (allegedly) saved John Smith's life by getting in the way of her father's beat-down stick. But that sort of thing never stopped Disney from manufacturing a love story before, considering Ariel was only 15 when she (almost) got married

But picking apart Pocahontas' historical inaccuracy would make for a long and boring read. Instead we'll just walk through what Disney presented us with, which happens to be a long and boring movie.

John Smith is a blonde ken doll of a man, sailing across the ocean to the new world, saving the life of constant plot-furthering device Thomas along the way. Governor Ratcliffe is in search of gold in order to reach a higher station in life, so good for him. He's the bad guy because he's the only fat character in the whole movie, and apparently that's all young audiences need to infer a person's character. Meanwhile, Pocahontas is busy being a Disney princess, starved for adventure and betrothed to the most awesome dude in the entire freaking movie, Kocoum. That's right, poor Belle was trapped between choosing the obnoxious Gaston and the abusive Beast, and Pocahontas is having trouble deciding between the proven warrior alpha male and future leader of her tribe, and a strong-chinned foreigner. 

That sounds so familiar.

Pocahontas hangs out with John and introduces him to "Grandmother Willow" (we're sorry, any actual natives reading this) and the two decide they love each other because Pocahontas believes John to be more exciting than her current fiance. Little does she know that John Smith is the least exciting character in this entire movie, including the raccoon. We sort of get an idea as to why Pocahontas wants an adventurous romance with John, but there's no real motivation given for John's interest in Pocahontas, which just adds to his dull masculine one-sidedness. John risks the lives of everyone in the film as much as Pocahontas does, except he ought to know better, since he's on the side that brought the guns. 

There's a song about painting with the colors of wind, and its lyrics relate hilariously to what it must have been like to experience 17th century acid. Pocahontas sings in an expository fashion, explaining to John the connection all humans share with the world around them and other stereotypical native-sounding beliefs.


The chief declares war on Jamestown, and the movie actually starts getting interesting ten minutes before the end credits. John Smith is saved by Pocahontas, which sounds heroic except that this whole conflict is her fault in the first place, and she already caused her tribe's best warrior to be shot by Thomas the plot-device. 

John takes a bullet for the chief and gets in is good graces, the englishmen mutiny and arrest the governor, and Smith is carried off on a stretcher so he can return home to receive medical treatment. By "home" we're going to hope they mean back in Jamestown, because traveling all the way back across the Atlantic with a bullet embedded in your lung isn't something people generally survive. 

Then again, neither is face-first parachute-less base jumping.

This is the point where Disney knows they're onto something: ethnic diversity, forbidden love that conquers all, animals that follow around the leads to make the story less bland, never ever ever any parental figures, dashes of racism....all these elements that have existed since Disney's first animated feature film are now meshing together to create the same money-making love story again and again. Nicholas Sparks would be proud, if he were capable of acknowledging other people's work. Tool. 

Don't miss what is certain to be an exciting conclusion to this observational adventure, in our next article: Critical Analysis of Disney Princess Films Part III, "Mulan" to "Brave". We can't wait to finally make fun of "Tangled".


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