Thursday, June 27, 2013

Part III: Critical Analysis of Disney Princess Films

In case you're wondering what this is all about, first go here and then here, so that this conclusion to our  critical summaries of Disney princess movies can end with the appropriate amount of catharsis and awe.  Once you're finished with Parts I and II, grab a snack, get comfy, and enjoy the final entry in this systematic trampling of your favorite childhood films.

1998- "Mulan"

Mulan is expected by her society to be a docile bride-in-training, but her personality is too independent and outspoken for that load of nonsense. Instead, after her elderly father is called to the fast-approaching war with the Huns because he is the only male in the family, Mulan literally picks up her father's sword and runs away to ancient Chinese bootcamp, where being a huge klutz repeatedly gets her into trouble. She'll be sentenced to death if she's discovered impersonating a male soldier, but she takes the risk in order to save her father from inevitable death at the hands of the Huns. You'll notice we didn't really make fun of anything about this movie in this paragraph. That's because the only problem with Mulan is the fact that she was somehow considered dull enough to be a "Disney Princess" in the first place. Because Mulan is freaking awesome

Hey, remember that time when Cinderella had to leave that party early before all her fairy magic wore off? Neither do we, because we were too busy watching Mulan kill hundreds of invading huns with an avalanche. "Mulan" is an awesome movie. Solid music throughout, a complete lack of obnoxious side-characters in favor of an Eddie Murphy dragon and a cricket, a legitimately frightening villain, and the second best animated training sequence ever created (first best). Mulan kicks butt, and really our only criticism of the movie as a whole is her dishonorable addition to the Disney princess canon.

You see, "Disney Princess" isn't just a categorization or title, it's actually the name of a media franchise owned by the Walt Disney company, created basically as a way of promoting their most popular heroines and making sure that every little girl in America buys a Cinderella lunchbox (and heck, even some of the little boys, since it's 2013 and we're so over gender stereotypes). The "Disney Princess" is a brand in every sense of the word. So see if you can spot what's weird about this picture:

The first thing you ought to notice is that Belle is the only true Brunette beauty in the whole lineup, 
but that's not really what we're getting at.

Sparkling victorian-era dresses, tiaras, flowing locks of professionally done hair, supermodel posing... and then Mulan, all the way in the back looking around thinking "What the heck am I even doing here?". Seriously, she wears the "Are you serious?" expression of one who is far too cool to be hanging around that lot of girly-girls. In every way, Mulan does not fit the mold of the "Disney Princess".

First, she is the only member of this glittery group of gossips that isn't a princess at all. Out of the current eleven official Princesses, eight are born royalty. Two more (Belle and Tiana) marry into a royal family. Pocahontas is a princess, but also the only other lady in the group besides Mulan who doesn't wear a flowing ball-gown, and is therefore thrust to the back of the line-up and hidden by more colorful and traditional princess stereotypes. Mulan isn't of royal birth, and doesn't demonstrate anything in common with the personalities of those bland rodent-serenading princesses from pre-1989, nor does she demonstrate the desire to break out of her pampered life and have wild adventures like the popular females from the '90s. Mulan doesn't run away in search for adventure, she runs away to blast the villain Shan Yu right in his ugly face with a rocket so her father can live out his days in peace.

Against literally any other princess, we'd be rooting for this guy instead.

Mulan kind of has a complicated relationship with general Li, because things often get complicated when the guy you have a crush on leaves you in the frozen wilderness to die. Nevertheless, a budding romance begins at the very end of the film. Since this is the Disney universe, we'll go ahead and assume they marry (we're told this in fact does occur at the end of a sequel we shall refuse to acknowledge) in which case she still isn't a princess in any way. So we hear you arguing "Well she's still the female lead and any female lead in a Disney movie is a "Disney Princess", right?

Wrong on all accounts.

Without giving away too much of our next article, "The Forgotten Princesses", there are plenty of awesome Disney females who got snubbed by the princess club.

For example, where's Jane? "Tarzan" was released the summer after "Mulan", and Jane wears the dress, has the spunk, and woos the king of the whole freaking jungle. Tarzan was a box office success, unlike "The Black Cauldron" (*sigh*.....poor Eilonwy....we hope some studio buys the rights to "The Chronicles of Prydain" soon, babygirl). The only reason we can think of not to include Jane is that her story parallels Belle's in many ways, and they look kinda similar.

Eilonwy; opinionated and independent several years before Disney decided that was "OK".

But Jane's absence from the elite eleven isn't nearly as shocking as fan-favorites like Esmerelda (who was denied membership on the grounds of her being a whore) and Meg from "Hercules", who was probably offered a spot on the roster and turned it down because screw princesses.

"Do I look like I want to be a part of your little girls' club?"

This is a point we'll have to explore in a future article, but for now it should suffice to simply acknowledge that being a female lead doesn't get you into the club. You've got to avoid having any semblance of a cool backstory, you can't be a box office failure, and most importantly you must  keep the group's ethnic diversity ratio intact. Also, you can't be based off of anyone in real life because Disney won't pay the royalties to add you to their official Princess brand.

So as far as we can tell, Mulan wasn't added to the lineup because she was an actual princess, nor was she added just because she was the female lead of a successful movie for the Disney animation studio. She was likely elected to the elite group to increase the diversity Disney has been trying so hard to achieve ever since clever observers started blasting the animation studio in school projects and uploading their resulting homework to Youtube.

2009- "The Princess And The Frog"

Speaking of diversity. This is what happens when Disney attempts to apply everything they learned in their 80 years of animation into one movie, assuming that if all the right elements are in there, it will be successful. The result was a movie that nobody thought was bad, but was forgettable and only noteworthy for its unique southern setting. Tiana, who is a revamped Cinderella with attitude, is working two jobs so she can open up her own restaurant, just like every girl...uh...dreams. She's inspired by her dead father, which should surprise nobody by now (of the elite eleven, only four princesses have both a mom and a dad. Two of those four princesses are raised to adulthood outside of their royal home by a third party. Mulan only has both parents because she made it so).

A prince comes to town, and a voodoo guy turns him into a frog because the plot demanded it. Tiana kisses him and (SPOILER) is also turned into a frog. They have adventures in the bayou and lots of cajun laughs are had. At the end, the annoying firefly becomes a star and the two frogs get married in a swamp. Then they kiss, and since Tiana is now married to a prince, she is a princess and therefore breaks the froggy curse. Seriously. Meanwhile the evil voodoo witch doctor is killed by shadow demons in accordance with the longstanding nightmarish Disney tradition.

The problem with "The Princess and the Frog" is that we've all seen this movie before, in every other Disney movie ever. It's just not a classic, Tiana and the prince aren't memorable characters like Jasmine and Aladdin or Belle and Beast. It also suffers from being only the second best adaptation of this fairytale.

2010- We Finally Get To Bash "Tangled"

Where to begin? "Tangled" is the Disney adaptation of Rapunzel. You know the story, a helpless princess is locked in a tall tower far, far away from civilization, waiting for the day she is to be rescued by-wait what? She's not locked in the tower at all? She's just up there....painting? Oy. Let's go back to the beginning...

There's a magic youth-preserving flower that only an old enchantress knows about. "Enchantress" here doesn't mean the same thing it does in "Beauty and the Beast", since in "Tangled" the enchantress really doesn't display any magical abilities. Like, at all. The wife of the generic king falls deathly ill and the king searches the wilderness for the fabled magical flower, which he somehow finds and boils into a medicine for his wife, who then gives birth to a daughter with hair infused with the flower's magic. 

The "enchantress" steals the baby girl out of her crib--this being the first of at least three examples of the palace's complete lack of security (#2 crown gets stolen, #3 capital fugitive escapes)--and runs off with her so that she can stay young, prompting a dramatic search for the king's only child and her kidnapper. The king's men, who miraculously located one tiny flower in the vast countryside just thirty seconds prior in the film, are now unable to locate a massive freaking tower, which, as far as we can tell from watching the movie, is about a day's ride from the palace.

It seems like it would be hard to miss.

Rapunzel grows up in that tower, never touching grass beneath her feet or leaving the tower for any reason for 18 solid years. Don't worry though, it's not like she's locked up there in shackles plotting her R-rated revenge on the old enchantress (what disney villain would ever be so cruel?). Instead, she paints and plays games and even sings a song about all the activities she entertains herself with day after day, and never once decides captivity was bad enough to ever just, you know, leave. I'm sure the king and queen will love hearing about all the times the enchantress left her unattended for days at a time and she just stayed up in her tower anyway.

Enter Flynn. Flynn is cool. He points out to the princess that, um, yeah she can just leave if she wants, and they set out to return to the palace, neither of them aware that Rapunzel is the missing princess. There's a really awkward song in a bar that reminds everyone it's trying to be a musical movie even though it's not. Flynn repeatedly out-awesomes everybody on-screen, though Maximus does his best to keep up. 

"Maximus, you and me in our own spinoff movie, what do you say?"

The evil enchantress, who displays no more evidence of being evil than any over-protective mom, convinces the dim princess to go back to the tower where she finally figures out she's the princess, and then Flynn comes to rescue her and immediately gets shivved. Credit the enchantress one thing, she doesn't sit around bantering about how she's going to kill someone, she just stabs them real good and they die. Flynn's dying breath escapes him as he slices off Rapunzel's hair, which causes the enchantress to wither away and fall out of the tower's window. Flynn pretty much dies, fortunately Rapunzel cries unicorn blood tears and Flynn is brought back from the great beyond.

Overall the movie trades back and forth between being a light but forgettable comedy, and a tired played-out musical movie about a girl and a boy who somewhat reluctantly fall in love. But Rapunzel is based on a classic fairytale, and thus the princess was added to the Disney princess canon anyway, since the movie was the third most successful Disney film ever in North America, behind "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast". Tangled made just under 201 million dollars on this continent, just 59 million dollars short of the film's estimated budget.

Wait, what?

Holy crap, making "Tangled" cost $260 Million dollars?! Is that not alarming you? Maybe we should put that number in perspective. "Tangled" is not only the most expensive animated film ever made, it is the second most expensive film of all freaking time. "Avatar" cost about 20 million dollars less than Tangled, and was lauded by all to be a cinematic and visual masterpiece, a technological wonder by most standards. And for twenty million more we got.....Tangled? Seriously? You give Peter Jackson 260 Million dollars to work with, you know what he gives you in return? 


Eleven hours of undeniably epic live-action adventure, an awe-inspiring adaptation of perhaps the greatest fantasy universe of all time, a trilogy of movies laced with A-list actors and colossal battle scenes on a more massive scale than anything ever attempted. The Lord of The Rings movies created an entire elaborate world, based on books that practically invented an entire genre. For the same amount of money that funded the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, Disney brought us.......Tangled. Maybe it's just us, but when we watched "Tangled", we noted a seriously disappointing lack of Balrog.

2012- "Brother Bear"....wait, oops...."Brave"

"Brave" is a "Disney Pixar" film, it says so right on the poster. What that means is over the course of the movie, you'll be able to spot the brilliant glimmers of Pixar's genius unfortunately cloaked by the dull unimaginative storyline dragging the rest of the movie down. Pixar does things a certain way, and before Disney bought them that way was a process that always involved a new original story and a tradition of exceptionally creative movie-making. Disney bought Pixar in 2006, and immediately began pumping out sequels and slapping the trusted Pixar brand on movies like "Cars 2". Disney and Pixar don't exactly get along since the two share very different standards; Pixar relies on creative excellence and an established reputation for being awesome in order to be successful, while Disney manufactures pre-packaged family-friendly movies with less regard for originality, since they've got so much money it just doesn't matter. Pixar is the Indie music scene with the rare real talent, and Disney is the major record label with the cash and the hookups to get their mediocre pop-sensation's song playing on every radio station every ten minutes, whether people like it or not

So when it comes to "Brave", you watch the first fifteen minutes which is both hilarious and exciting, and you think you know where the movie's going; Merida is a princess who would rather be a warrior, and is pretty awesome at rock-climbing and archery and all the stuff she shouldn't enjoy because "she's a princess" (Jasmine, Ariel, and Pocahontas all sympathize). So naturally, you think she's gonna run away and have adventures and kill that seriously possessed bear from the beginning of the movie to prove her prowess as a warrior or something. 

But then it just turns into the plot from "Brother Bear" except for it's Merida's proper mother who is tricked into transforming into a big ol clumsy bear (insert Mother Bear joke here). And then all the hilarity and clever moments from the first fifteen minutes fades into a distant memory and "Brave" ends with a whimper. If there's one member of the elite eleven princesses who doesn't seem like she belongs there, Merida almost seems more out of place than Mulan. We've already established that merely being a princess isn't what gets you "in", so the fact that she's a member of the club was probably in the interest of marketing purposes and nothing else. Brave was cool for a little while when you thought the story was going to actually be clever and hey, scottish accents are always a plus. Brave was just disappointing, for all the things it could have been.

This marks the bittersweet end of our analysis of the various Disney Princesses from the past 80 years, but if you think it's the last article we'll post about Disney movies, worry not; we have projects underway in the draft room that you may enjoy. This series of articles has been our most successful and most viewed to date, so keep telling your friends about this blog and check back soon for more updates.


1 comment:

  1. lol is this serious? Rant on family movies? Comparing a kids movie to to the LotR trilogy?