Unless you have hung out with a little girl during the past ten years, you may not be aware of the Disney Princess phenomenon. Sure, Disney’s had princesses for years, and generations of girls have wanted to be them. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the company got around to creating an official Disney Princess brand, selling apparel, toys, videos and pretty much everything else that they could slap a picture of a princess onto. The New York Times reported that there are 25,000 products in all, and the franchise grosses over $3 billion a year. And that article is three years old.
There’s a lot of be disturbed about here. Some of the older Disney films are pretty retrograde to begin with—Sleeping Beauty meets the prince on her 16th birthday, and marries him pretty much the next day. The newer heroines are better role models, but in the context of the Disney Princess brand, they’re presented as pretty little flowers, not women of action. And I don’t need to point out that all of them make Nicole Richie look fat.
But I’m not going to discuss the feminist implications of this marketing juggernaut. (If that’s what you want, the Times article above does a good job.) Instead, look at this photo of the Princess lineup. Four of the girls are princesses by birth (Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, Snow White, and Ariel). One of them marries a prince to become a princess (Cinderella).
That leaves Belle, who I’m not sure really qualifies.
The very first line of Beauty and the Beast explains: “Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle.”
I have no idea what makes the castle a “shining” castle. Maybe it has the ability to communicate telepathically with Scatman Crothers. Presumably, the faraway land is France. So what is the prince the prince of? Not France itself—I know what Versailles looks like.
Here’s another weird thing: the castle has only been enchanted for ten years (“Ten years we’ve been rusting/needing so much more than dusting”). How has this castle been so completely forgotten in just a decade that no one even remembers it’s there?
I might have a theory. We know the prince was 11 when he was enchanted (he needs to find true love by his 21st birthday). So presumably, his parents are still alive. That’s why he’s the prince and not the king. But where are these parents? They definitely don’t appear in the movie. And why didn’t they answer the castle door when the old woman came asking for shelter?
Well, the prince is kind of a royal brat—maybe his parents sent him away to live in his own castle. It’s not so far-fetched. In the olden days, male children from wealthy families used to leave home for school all the time. So maybe the prince is at this French castle to attend an elite private school nearby. Just like Hamlet going to school in England, he may be the prince of an entirely different country. Norway, for example.
This might actually explain why the locals don’t seem to be aware of the castle. It’s not actually the seat of government for anyone in those parts. It’s just a place for the prince to chillax. So why have the prince’s parents not come to bring him back to Norway? Well, I’m betting that when King Magnusson heard his son had gotten the whole castle enchanted, he said, “Serves that punk right.” There’s probably another, less douchy son in line for the throne anyway.
The issue of whether Belle is a princess hinges on whether the Beast is still a prince. And although we don’t know for sure, I’m inclined to say yes. He was only 11 when he was enchanted, which means his father was probably pretty young too. Sure, life expectancies were shorter back then, but the odds are good that the Norwegian king is still alive.
Of course, Disney doesn’t particularly care whether these women are actually princesses or not. Pocahontas and Mulan are part of the Disney Princess line, even though they’re definitely not royalty. (The irony of including Mulan is pretty rich, since she’s the tomboy who absolutely hates dressing up pretty.) Interestingly, those two are often left out of Disney Princess group portraits. A cynical observer might wonder if it’s because they’re not white. But the New York Times says that:
Their rustic garb has less bling potential than that of old-school heroines like Sleeping Beauty.
Oh yeah. And Ariel’s seashell bra is so glamouous.
Looking at that picture, I’m struck by how same-looking all of the Disney “princesses” are. I get that there’s a style, but I didn’t realize until now just how strongly the Transitive Property of Disney Female Heroines held.
That’s definitely a product of contemporary branding and merchandising. In the old movies, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella don’t look anything like that and aren’t in the same style at all.
Snow White (who has a 20/30s soft, silent movie vibe) – http://www.cartoondollemporium.com/disney/snowwhite2.jpg
Sleeping Beauty (who looks very modern and art-deco, with hard, almost industrial lines. The character design of this movie was really compelling) –
Cinderella (who has more of a 50s actress vibe, more of an hourglass figure and a rounder face) –
Actually, I don’t think any of those princesses look in that picture much like they looked in their movies. They all look younger, thinner, more exotic (except Jasmine), and have had work done (especially collagen injections).
Also, it’s a shame the Disney Princess line doesn’t include the most princessy Disney princesses – Lady, Bianca and Duchess – two of whom were voiced by Eva Gabor.
And here I was, afraid you’d bash my favorite animated Disney heroine.
_Beauty and the Beast_ is another movie where time makes no sense. The “Ten Years” thing got to me even when I first saw it as a wee one. I was smart enough to know twenty-one minus ten equals eleven, and I knew the prince was not eleven when he was turned into the Beast- there are two important pieces of furniture/decor in knowing this, and both show up in the opening. The portrait: his claws rip through it when he’s “ashamed of his monstrous form.” And there is another decent look at it later as Belle is meandering through the West Wing. The person in that painting is NOT eleven years old. No, he looks exactly like the twenty-one-year-old Prince that Belle marries. And there are those stained glass windows. They show a grown man sneering at the gift and turning the old woman away and trying to apologize.
And then there’s the Chip problem. I could talk about that for a while, too.
Oops, that was a spoiler.
Anyhoo, the age thing does explain away how nobody realized the castle was there. Of course, you could also think of the unknown castle as another, unstated aspect of the spell. An implicit part of his punishment is to not have people fawning all over him, so maybe the spell *made* the commoners nearby forget about him, sort of like how everybody in _Sleeping Beauty_ falls asleep. Of course, in the latter, that was intentional, but it still depended on the princess’s state. And of course, this wouldn’t stop the servants from doing his bidding, since they’re stuck there with him, but not holding court could do some serious damage to a kid that reveled in it before.
Anyhoo, if the Prince really *is* a Prince, Belle’s status is just as (il)ligitimate as Cinderella’s.
I’ve also wondered about the political implications of the Beast’s territory being the West Wing.
Crap, I didn’t mean to submit it yet, darn mousepad… Sorry. I guess it (mostly) makes sense if you ignore the spoiler line. I’ll just shut up now.
@Fenzel: Old-school Cinderella reminds me of Lucille Ball a little bit. New Cinderella reminds me of Barbie. In terms of awesome level, that’s not even a close contest to me.
But I guess I’m not really the intended audience here.
Yeah, you’re not the intended audience, granted, but having you on their good side is better than having you on their bad side.
Plus, I think it’s important to feel free to voice your objection to things, even when it doesn’t matter. If you don’t object, your brain perhaps thinks you must approve/condone it, and the critical edge of your mind dulls . . .
Sleeping Beauty was my favorite as a child. The sharp edges you described worked wonderfully in later scenes with the dragon.
I believe they conglomerated the princesses because there were out of ideas for characters and story lines. There are thirteen movies in the Land Before Time franchise, but no Donald in Mathmagic Land II? No wonder I have google 6×8=?
Judging from the second pic, Belle is princess of ample cleavage. Interesting to reflect on the underlying sexuality of early Nineties Disney films (the whole urban myths about “Little Mermaid” come to mind).
@Erin: Point of clarification: Are you bringing up _The Land Before Time_ because it’s a different company (Universal) or because you thought _The Land Before Time_ is a Disney franchise?
Either way, I’d argue having thirteen movies (and a friggin’ TV series, too) shows a LACK of characters and storylines, be it Disney or Universal. And Disney is totally guilty of making pre-/sequels and series out of its movies, too. Not just with its princesses, either. Movies that leave you wondering, “Why?!” get prequels and sequels all the time. And yes, series. _The Princess Collection_ is an old-ish line of tapes with a few episodes from some of these series on each volume. It has since been replaced by original materials like _Princess Stories_, but it was the first to utilize the series format to “conglomerate.”
The Jasmine episodes in _The Princess Collection_ are episodes from the *_Aladdin_* animated series. At least Ariel got her own TV spot- they pulled Jasmine out of both a movie AND series that were about someone else. Actually, out of the lineup, she’s the only one without at least one feature-length movie of her own (and I’m surprised one hasn’t been made yet).
And for the general masses: I just went looking for _The Princess Collection_ and came to the homepage for the Princess campaign. In their lineup, Tiana from _The Princess and the Frog_ is FRONT AND CENTER. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Like with the title of the movie, it seems like a no-win situation for them: if she’s off to the side, she’s being excluded, if she’s front-and-center, she’s being paraded. And I *will* give them this credit: they at least have Pocahontas in her more “native” outfit and not the fancy British dress she has in the sequel…
Okay, so none of that has much to do with the original post.
@Gab – Nice overthinking, in regards to Beauty and the Beast. Yes, there IS a picture of him as an adult in the castle, which makes no sense. And your theory that the spell made the people forget about the castle is interesting. Makes as much sense as anything.
But I don’t see anything questionable in putting Tatiana front and center. They’re promoting the upcoming movie. Besides, she’s the newest princess to join the group – it makes sense to feature her.
The more I think about it, the more I feel like they should be depicted either singly, or all together. Leaving Mulan and Pocahontas out of 80% of the group shots is weak. Are they second class princesses?
You know what I think is interesting? In some group shots, Ariel appears as a mermaid, but in others she’s human. There appears to be no standardization.
Another interesting note from the Times article: the princesses can never interact in any of the pictures they appear in together. In fact, they can’t ever make EYE contact.
I assume that’s because it would cause a rift in the space-time continuum if two princesses from different movies, a la Back to the Future.
Or it’s a Highlander-type thing. Take your pick.
Sorry about the confusion, the intention was to draw a distinction between a series which left me with no long lasting positive effects (Land Before Time) and a series which sought to teach me that the _True Spirit of Adventure_ is learning.
Personally, I disagree with the _Princess Mythology_, but I understand the role of fantasy in childhood. I’m still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts. :)
I don’t know if it’s relevant, but ‘Prince’ is not just the noble title of a king’s son (or His Royal Badness – I wonder if that title is hereditary btw), it is a noble title in its own right. Andorra and Monaco are principalities, where the prince is the head of state. So maybe the beast/prince is a minor nobleman with not much connection to his territory (like Prince Charles, who is technically Prince of Wales, but not governing the country).
Another possibility is that he is heir to the throne, but the 4th or 5th one. He could be the second son to the younger brother to the king or something like that. Noble families used to get those kids out of the way as they could get nasty if there was trouble with succession.
However, both these cases mean that any girl who marries the lucky guy will, like Cinderella or Maxima in The Netherlands, most definitely be a princess. Go Belle!
@Tom: I like the Highlander theory of why the princesses don’t look at each other. It gives me this image of a room of them all standing together, carefully avoiding eye contact lest instinct take over and they attack each other in a gruesome and potentially lethal battle royale to be the dominant High Princess. It’s worth noting that most of these princesses are only children. Perhaps they already killed off the competition at home?
This could be the true source of Aeriel’s desire to leave the undersea kingdom and live in the world above. She’d already challenged her older princess siblings and lost, so she decided to abandon the scene of her defeat and conquer a new kingdom. This was the other reason she was so distressed to find the Sea Witch on land: Ursula was a rival to Aeriel’s previously uncontested position.
@Hazel: “Highlander theory of Disney princesses”
Thank you for reminding me what makes this site awesome. :)
@Simber – Excellent points! I obviously need to research royal titles. I agree with Perich – badass commenters really make this site exciting.
Completely unrelated: how old do we think Ariel is? She’s the youngest of SEVEN daughters, all of whom seem fairly young and probably unmarried – they all lounge around the castle together. Plus, Ariel hangs out with Flounder, who’s CLEARLY a child. Based on that, she could be 14 or 15. HOWEVER, when King Triton learns she’s in love, he’s not freaked out at all (this is before he learns she’s in love with a human). He sits there giggling, “Who can the lucky merman be?” as if he can’t wait to marry her off. So I don’t know.
Disney clearly doesn’t want you thinking about that. In Aladdin, a major plot point is that Jasmine must be married by her “next” birthday. They carefully don’t say what birthday that is (16?).
Of course, it’s a fine old tradition to tell romantic stories about young women just entering into adulthood. At the beginning of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett is 16. At the beginning of Pamela (1740), she’s 15. And of course, there’s Twilight (she’s 17, so an old woman by Disney standards). So I guess there’s nothing necessarily wrong with stories about teenagers in love. It’s just a little weird to see stories about people getting MARRIED at 16, which definitely is no longer cool. But I guess it would be difficult to end The Little Mermaid by having Triton say, “Okay, you and the prince can go to Applebee’s together. But home by nine.”
You have to remember that a lot of the fairy tales are medieval (or at least pseudo-medieval), and people got married YOUNG back in the day. Romeo and Juliet were supposed to be what, fourteen?
Still, out of all the elements of the Disney stories that mesh oddly with modern sensibilities, the age-of-marriage thing is one of the weirdest.
Re: Beauty and the Beast, I haven’t seen that movie in hella long time, but isn’t it possible that the Beast and his servants are all frozen in time at the point in which they’re transformed, so that the Prince was 21 in the prologue and is still 21 when he gets turned back at the end?
Apropos of Beauty and the Beast, this is awesomesauce.
@Belinkie: There is a lot more room for overthinking _Beauty and the Beast_. But because I love it so much.
Now, to clarify. I think Tiana being in front kind of irked me personally because 1) the movie hasn’t come out yet, and 2) when you click on her, her page is under construction (as of yesterday, at least) (http://disney.go.com/princess/#/tiana/). So I should have specified: it’s a no-win situation with whoever has already been harassing them about the movie. Some of the “controversy” already surrounding the movie seemed very contrived to me, so I got the cynical feeling that *somebody* would get upset at least a little, for the reasons I already said (and maybe over her page being unfinished, too). I guess I should have said, “I’m not sure how that will fly because someone will say…,” or thereabouts. I’m personally okay with her being on the site, I’d just, you know, like her page to be working and fully-functional first. And I have been annoyed with how Disney pushes merch. for movies that aren’t even out yet for ages. So I would have been just as annoyed if it were an unfinished page for something/someone else.
Second-class princesses? Well, to be really ass-hole-ee, no, because they aren’t even princesses, technically- they should feel honored that they’re “part of the club” in the first place. As far as Disney is concerned, it’s forced inclusion. It’s the Affirmative Action of marketing. So they get tossed to the side. “You’re here now, are you happy?! Shut up and pose when we tell you to!” They got in, that’s all that was required. They want *rights*, too? Pish-posh.
My personal opinion about the “inclusion” thing comes from having a Native American ancestry, so I don’t know if it should be applied to every other ethnicity- and it actually does sort of sound like ^that^, but the reasons behind it are very, very different. I guess since Disney is going for the Western concept of “princess,” no, Pocahontas shouldn’t be included, and the idea that she “counts” is kind of insulting. There were and are not Native American “princesses.” It’s nice that they tried to put her in there and all, but forcing her into the group as a “princess” overlooks the cultural differences. I think this has to do with why she shows up much less frequently than the more (Western) traditional princesses, too- she’s harder to fit into the formula because, well, she’s part of a different equation. Mulan isn’t a princess either, so same thing for why she’s excluded a lot. Although again, I’m not sure if keeping her out would be a good idea or not- although, I suppose if they want an ethnically Asian princess, they should just write a movie about one. But along those lines, and my solution: if they want to make an ad campaign that incorporates ALL of their female characters equally, they need to think of an overlapping theme to link them all together. So maybe I’m part of that hyper-sensitive, hyper-liberalized part of society that gets worked up over “nothing” all the time. But I just don’t see how successful pushing molds that don’t fit down can be when the goal is equality. It makes the ones that don’t fit stand out more, either by how out-of-sync with the model they are, or by their blaring absence once they were given the ticket in. I do think it’s possible for Disney to have a feminist thing going, but it needs a model all of the characters can fit.
And before I get accused of hating Disney with my heart and soul, I don’t. Quite the opposite.
Oh yeah, Re: Age: Ariel has a VERY clear line, “I’m sixteen years old, I’m not a child any-” and then Triton cuts her off with (I think) “DON’T take that tone of voice with me!” (Can you tell I watch these movies a lot?) And the line in _R&J_ you’re looking for is from Act II.ii, line 9, spoken by Daddy Capulet: “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;”
The suspension of time thing was what I used to think when I was little, but now I’m not so sure. See, if the prince was stuck at ANY age, why would the rose “bloom until his twenty-first year”? The wording implies his aging as an important piece of the spell’s conditions. BUT, if HE wasn’t suspended, it still leaves the enigma of Chip: either Mrs. Potts has some explaining to do on behalf of teapots everywhere, or he was born before the spell was cast.
Beast was prince of the furries.
A position he lost as soon as the spell was broken.
Thus Belle cannot be a princess.
Esspecially not Princess of the furries. D8
Is it worth overthinking to this extent about what is obviously a vague blurry phenomenon with no more definition than is necessary to sell lots of dolls and dress-ups?
1. The time factor in Beauty and the Beast is the one big mistake in an otherwise wonderful film. Why not leave time vague altogether? Why put in that nonsense about his 21st birthday? In the original Beauty and the Beast the Beast gives the impression of being middle-aged, and I think it would have been far sexier to have him enchanted as a young man, and be just a bit grizzled, Rochester style, by the time Belle breaks the spell.
2. Americans don’t understand royal/aristocratic titles and don’t want to. To use them with precision would imply they have any truck with monarchy and anti-democratic rubbish of that sort. Remember Cogsworth yelling: ‘Your Grace! – Your Eminence!’ One title is proper for a prince or duke, the other for a Cardinal!! The vagueness is deliberate.
3. In the Jungian sense, they aren’t wrong. If the heroine of a fairy tale is always ‘a princess’, that is not a political statement, it’s simply fairy-tale code for her being precious, valuable, representing the Anima, the beautiful feminine part of the psyche. Every girl is a princess, every person has a Princess inside them.
4. Which makes the crude commercialisation of the Princess brand, and its massaging with the most ephemeral fashions, a scandal and a tragedy: but let’s not despair! Disney have to make money somehow to make more great films! If we didn’t have Disney Princesses, what would we have instead – even more Bratz?! Count your blessings.
What is the mermaid gestation period anyway? Perhaps multiple births are common. Ariel’s older sisters could all be very close in age, especially if mermaids do that whole fishy spawning thing…
I’m sure someone has already mentioned this, but Hamlet didn’t go to school in England, he went to school in Wittenberg (Germany). However, Claudius did send him to England to die, so I’ll give you credit for that.
Apart from that understandable confusion, I found the post highly amusing. And as an added piece of evidence her really looks more Norwegian than he does French with his very broad bone structure as I recall and flowing blond locks. Can you just see him with a viking hat on? I can.
As a response to Caroline, I too think a more Rochester like look would be very attractive, and probably inspired a lot of his character, come to think of it. But apparently Disney has an age cap for all of their princesses/princes. I can’t remember what it is. But it’s right around 21-ish. It might even be younger for the princesses. So, I’m afraid you’ll never get your grizzled prince for a love interest from Disney. Maybe a villain though. Oh and I am grateful for the princesses. I might actually buy into Disney princesses when I have children, but no child of mine will ever, EVER get a brat.
@Tracy – Ug, you’re right about the Germany thing. Sloppy of me. I also feel bed for missing the slashed picture of the GROWNUP Prince that Belle finds, which REALLY makes no sense. And the obvious point that the Prince might simply be a younger sibling, and therefore not likely to become a king even if his parents are gone. All in all, I probably didn’t overthink this ENOUGH, but luckily this site has the best commenters on the whole internet.
Re: Chip – I could buy him being ten, and thus born RIGHT before the castle was cursed. Although then you’ve got to wonder, how did he grow up? Did he start life as a baby teacup for dolls? An even better question: who’s the dad?
I’m telling you, Chip is a total enigma that throws any age theories out of the water.
In the original, medieval Romeo and Juliet, I believe that the characters were in their 40s or something. Old Bill Shakespeare made them younger for dramatic effect when he rewrote the old Italian story in English.