Friday, April 10, 2015

Evolution of Disney Princesses Part 2

    Yes, yes. I know. It's been over a year since I posted the first part of this series. But you'd be amazed how much graduating college, opening a business, working 35-50 hrs a week, finding housing, and refraining from homicide can interfere with one's blogging life. I really do hope to do a little more with this thing this year, but I said that to myself 4 months ago, so let's not hold our breath.

Anyways, here is the much-awaited (and probably much-forgotten by this point) second part of my look at Disney Princesses and how they evolved over the years. Just a quick refresher, in our first post we looked at the three pre-90's princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, and how they established the template of what a fairy tale princess should be. In this part we're gonna look at how the 90's princesses stormed in and turned things on their heads, expanding the definition of what makes a princess.

You'll notice that I added Ariel from The Little Mermaid as a 90's princess even though her movie came out in 1989. Ariel shares a lot more in common with the princesses of the 90's than she does with her other pre-90's sisters, the latest of whom debuted 30 years earlier. In fact, in many ways, Ariel set the standards for the pattern that the princesses of the following decade would be based on.

The 90's Princesses

      So what made the 90's princesses so different? For starters, starters they were mistresses of angst. While the pre-90's princesses were all sweet, gentle gals who never questioned their circumstances and were content with their dreams of true love, our 90's gals were fiery little damsels who wanted a lot more than their societies (especially their fathers) wanted for them. The first three princesses were up against evil witches or stepmothers who hated them through no fault of their own, while the 90's princesses were fighting against not only evil villains, but against an unsympathetic/out-dated who society who didn't understand them, usually epitomized in their fathers (with the exception of Bell who got along fine with her dad even though he didn't really get her).

     They also had bigger dreams than a prince charming. Ariel dreamed of the world above, Belle dreamed of the adventures from her books beyond her "provincial life", Jasmine just wanted to get out of the palace and not be forced to marry, Pocahontas wanted to run free following the spirits' leading, and Mulan wants to be appreciated for her whit rather than her pretty face.  Belle, Jasmine, and Pocahontas were all dealing with unwanted suitors, and Mulan failed to please the match-maker. Ariel did dream of a prince, but that came out of her dreams of life above. They certainly weren't pining away for a dreamy prince to rescue them.

     In fact, the 90's princesses liked to rescue their guys just about as much as the pre-90's girls liked being rescued by them. Ariel saves Eric from drowning, Belle saves Beast with her love, Jasmine tries to help Aladdin defeat Jafar, Pocahontas literally saves John from being slaughtered by her father, and Mulan saves not just her guy, but all of China. Now admittedly, most of them were in-turn saved by their guys at various points. Eric stabs Ursula with his boat, Beast saves Belle from the wolves, Aladdin saves Jasmine from the hour-glass and from forced marriage,  and Xiang spares Mulan's life after finding out she's a girl. Not really sure that John Smith ever really did any rescuing for Pocahontas, though.  

     Like the princesses before them, the 90's girls get by with more than a little help from their animal and supernatural friends. Most of their allies, however, were unlike the hordes of forest creatures that flocked around Snow White and Aurora, and more like Cinderella's Gus and Jaq. They were actual characters in the story who actually had lines, and their own comical side-stories. Sebastian has to escape from the shed and Scuttle tells Ariel who Eric's bride really is. Belle doesn't have talking animals, but that's ok because the furniture keeps her company. Jasmine's Raja doesn't talk, but that's also because she's not the protagonist of her movie (we'll come back to that in a moment). Pocahontas' friends Meeko and Flick don't talk, but Meeko has his own little adventures with Percy, and Grandmother Willow does plenty of personified jabbering to make up for the mute animals. And Mulan has Mushu, the most-quoted Disney princess sidekick in my family, and the real star of the movie as far my siblings and I are concerned.

      The 90's princesses also continue the pre-established tradition of singing. Belle and Jasmine had duets and ensembles rather than a bunch of solo songs, but they still sang. In fact, sharing the musical spotlight was another common tactic for the 90's gang. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is almost as memorable as "Part of Your World" and more people remember "Be Our Guest," than they do any of Belle's little sung snippets. "Make a Man Out of You" is an all-time favorite for my family, more than any other song in that movie (though I love "Reflection" just as much if not more). While they may have been wrapped up in their own identity-crisis angst, at least musically our girls understood that it wasn't all about them.

     In fact, that was another new trend in the 90's: the heroine's personal struggles rather than being the sole source of conflict, actually intersect with larger-scale conflicts. The only reason Ursula messes with Ariel is to get to her father. Belle's quest to rescue her father winds up leading her to end a curse that Beast had been living with for years. Jasmine's one night of freedom not only winds up giving Aladdin a reason to go to the palace, but also messes with Jafar's plans of becoming Sultan. Pocahontas follows the spirits' guidance and finds herself smack dab in the middle of a racial and territorial land-war. And Mulan's hunt for identity and attempt to save her father winds up saving an entire country.

     As far as style goes, the 90's girls kept the majority of the established style, but added their own flare. Bold, vibrant colors were in. Ariel's fire-engine-red hair made sure of that. All the colors, even the more neutral ones were still much more saturated overall than in the pre-90's princess movies. But they still looked similar enough to their predecessors to not stir up too much of a fuss.

     But the thing that sticks out the most to me about the 90's princesses is just how many firsts there are in their movies. Each one tries to push the envelope just a little bit further in it's own special way. The easiest way for me to develop this point is to tackle each princess in turn and explain her contribution to the evolution of Disney princess movies.

As I mentioned earlier, Ariel really started the ball rolling on the whole 90's evolution thing, so just about all of the trends we've just looked at started in some form or another with her. But in addition to all that, she had some own special features of her own. She was the first princess with a single father, the first red-head, the first non-human princess, the first princess to show midriff, the first princess whose villain sings, and the first princess to have a sequel. She was also the first princess whose prince actually plays an active role in the film (something that thankfully caught on).

Belle is the first princess whose movie is expressly stated as being set in a real-world country( "after all, Miss, this is France!"). She's also the first princess to be shown reading, the first princess to turn down a marriage proposal, the first princess to ride a horse, and the first princess to not become instantly infatuated with her love-interest.

Jasmine is the first non-European princess, the only Middle-eastern princess, and the first Princess to not be the main protagonist of her movie. She's also the first princess to only have one animal/inanimate sidekick, the first princess to wear pants, and the first princess to have her speaking voice voiced by a separate voice actor than her singing voice.

Pocahontas is the first non-fairy-tale princess, the first princess to be based on a historical figure, the only Native American princess, and the first princess to touch a gun. She's also (thanks to the sequel) the first/only princess to have two love interests (John Smith and John Rolfe).

Mulan is both the only Asian princess and the only Disney Princess who is not actually royal by marriage or birth (Pocahontas is chief's daughter and they say that equates to princess). She's the first princess to learn to fight and wield a sword, and the first princess to have Eddie Murphy voice her sidekick (sorry, I just really love Mushu).

And we did it! We made it through part 2! Hopefully it won't take another year to get post 3 up.
Interestingly, while re-familiarizing myself with the statistics for this post I stumbled across an article on the Disney Princess wikia that describes the criteria for the Disney Princess franchise and divides them into the same three eras that I did (the "Original" three, the Disney Renaissance era, and the modern era).

Anywho, thanks for reading and don't get eaten by a were-goblin!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Evolution of Disney Princesses Part 1

     I've been mulling over doing a post on the development of the Disney princess figures and how they've changed over the years ever since I saw Frozen a couple weeks ago. But in order to keep this from becoming a monster post, I'll be breaking it down into a series of three posts, each focusing on a different "era" of princesses (looking at the 11 canonical "Disney Princess" movies and not every Disney movie with a princess):

  • The pre-90's/classic era - Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959) 
  • The 90's era - The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and Mulan (1998). 
  • The 2000's era (The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Brave (2012), and Frozen (2013)). 
   In each post, we'll look at the similarities and differences not only among the three eras, but also, among each individual princess/movie. Keep in mind, that most of these observations and statements are being drawn from memory. I didn't sit down and re-watch all of the movies as research for this series.

The Pre-90's Princesses

     In this first post, we'll be looking at the first era of Disney princesses, the pre-90's era. This includes the first three (and arguably most well-known) Disney princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora/Sleeping Beauty. Strictly speaking, The Little Mermaid, which came out in 1989 would fall into this era, but as I'll explain more thoroughly in the next post, Ariel shares more similarities with the 90's princesses than she does with these first three. So for now let's take a look at our first three princesses and how they measure up with each other and with later princesses.

     The pre-90's princesses are the quintessential fairytale damsels. In fact, I would wager that we owe much of our modern perceptions of fairytales and princesses to Disney's portrayal of these three young heroines. They are pretty, petite, polite, gentle, and oh so happy no matter how dire their situation. They are the very image of the domestic housekeeper, even if they occasionally get help from the local wildlife. To a certain degree, they are medievalized versions of the ideal women of the era in which they were animated. Add polka dots to their dresses, and they could easily be the young, medieval equivalents of June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson. And in their iconic attire, they have long, sweeping gowns which they flourish in a way that would make Loretta Young proud. If you have no idea who June Cleaver, Harriet Nelson, and Loretta Young are, then you should go familiarize yourself with old black-and-white television programming.

     Pre-90's princesses were also musical ladies (a tradition passed on down the Disney Princess franchise to all but one). There was always just as much chance of their lines being sung as there was of them being spoken. They especially seemed to enjoy singing whilst doing housework. Yet their voices was a source of individualization, for while Snow White had a high, almost shrill singing voice, Cinderella and Aurora's singing voices were much more alto-y and sultry. But regardless of vocal range, our princesses almost always had friendly animals as an audience for their singing. In fact, they seemed to be accompanied by friendly, intelligent wildlife wherever they went. Most times these numerous companions did not speak - the mice in Cinderella being the exception - but they still demonstrated enough intelligence and personality to help with the chores, fetch help, and serve as make-shift dancing partners. This is one trait that later filmmakers have had particular fun parodizing (Shrek and Enchanted).

     Our heroines were also allotted the friendship or aid of mythical creatures. Snow White had the seven dwarfs. Cinderella's hopes of attending the ball were rescued by her fairy godmother. And Aurora was raised by three good fairy women (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather). Admittedly, the dwarfs didn't play near as fantastic or magical a role as the fairy godmother and the three fairies, but they are mythical creatures nonetheless, and Snow White would've been in a bad spot without their taking her in.

     The pre-90's princesses were also hated and persecuted by a wicked witch, an evil step-mother, or in Snow White's case, both in one. And this was always at no fault of their own. After all, as I said earlier, these were the sweetest, most polite and thoughtful young ladies you could ever hope to meet. Even under cruel persecution, they themselves never exhibit hate or anger at their oppressors...although Cinderella does privately have an almost snarky moment or two.

     Their inherit loveliness, persistent through undeserved cruelty, must also be what somehow wins the hearts of their princes charming without ever uttering a word. I mean it, not a single syllable. I mean sure, Snow White and Aurora both have brief love-at-first-sight duets with their heroes, and Cinderella sings at the ball with her prince and has a brief exchange as she flees home, but other than that, the princes are practically mute throughout the rest of their respective movies. And since we're heckling the princes anyway, allow me to point out that two of the three make almost no real effort to rescue their princess outside of a kiss or pining away. True, there was the hunt for the glass slipper in Cinderella, but even then the king is the one who came up with the idea, and you didn't see the prince accompanying the Grand Duke on the hunt. Philip is the first prince to fight for his love, and also the first prince to have an actual name. Also, Sleeping Beauty is because of Philip, the first Disney princess movie where the villain is killed by a character. The queen/witch in Snow White falls off a cliff whilst trying to fight off either the animals or the dwarves (can't remember which), and Cinderella's stepmother doesn't die at all.

      And lastly, the pre-90's princess movies shared similar stylistic and thematic elements. Although, admittedly the animation did evolve over the years, all of the pre-90's movies had the same basic style, with Cinderella being the most unique of the three. Outlines were in, as were subdued color palettes. Bright colors served mainly as accents and even then brightness was achieved through using lighter shades rather than more vibrant colors. Again, Cinderella is a bit of the exception, as the colors in it were a good deal more saturated/vivid than the other two. Thematically, all three shared the same basic messages of wishes/dreams coming true and true love overcoming even the most ferocious of evils.

     And this concludes part 1. Now you see why I decided to split it into a series. The next part will look at the 90's princesses and how they changed things up while still holding some elements the same. Until then let me know what you think of my analysis of the first three Disney princess movies. Did I miss any similarities? Were there some major differences that I glossed over? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking at Love

Love has been on my mind quite a bit lately. This might seem odd considering I'm no romantic and thoroughly enjoy my singleness with a vigor, but it really isn't that odd because the "love" I've been looking at is a bit more than the kind you see in the theaters or in love notes.

It all sprang from a conversation in which a friend that frequently bombards her friend with "I love you!" in  playful tones asked if I loved her. I said, something to the effect of, "Yeah. In Christian love," to which she replied that it doesn't count because I'm supposed to love her that way. I was reminded of other conversations in which people (myself included at times) say things like, "the Bible says I have to love them/you, it never says I have to like them/you." I've even heard it explained rather jokingly by a preacher how the Greek wording of the New Testament implies that we have to love people with unconditional love, but aren't required to feel emotional love towards them. Sadly, I've even been guilty of using this line on occasion.

Now according to what I've found from Merriam-Webster, there is some truth to these lines of thought. "Like" applies to an attraction towards something/someone or taking pleasure in something/someone. If you enjoy being around someone, you "like" that person. The Bible doesn't require us to enjoy being around everyone. Enjoyment is largely an emotional reaction to something, the Bible never requires us to have specific emotional reactions, but there are several places (such as passages on anger) in which it expects us to control what we do with our emotions. So my friend was somewhat justified in her indignation, because I didn't say that I get enjoyment from being around her, rather I said I loved her with the love the Bible says to have.
But the other side of the coin is that the Bible requires a much deeper kind of love than "like". It commands us to go beyond physical attraction (eroo) and emotional connection (phileo) and to commit to an unconditional love and acceptance (agapo). It's not a cheat out of love, it's a deeper love. Don't believe me? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-7a
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always hopes, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
How is that a cheat? If that's what the Bible prescribes as Christian love, I'd much rather have that than be liked by all the world. Like as an emotion, can change. The love described above never fails.

I once heard the same preacher who made the Greek word-play mentioned in the beginning of this post discuss how unlike the other words for love found in the NT, agape love - the kind mentioned in the scripture above, the kind we are commanded to - is a conscious decision to love another person regardless of their response. This is why it is commonly referred to as unconditional love. Unlike other kind's of love, it isn't dependant on a feeling or emotion. Like I said earlier, the Bible never commands us to have a certain emotion, it tells us to control how we handle our emotions. The commandment to love one another is a command to ignore how our emotions react to people, and to put their best interest above our own. If that's Christian love, sign me up! Forget about being liked. Sadly, I myself despite the claims I make of loving others in Christian love (which are usually just playful ways of assuring my friends that I'm not romantically interested in them), have failed to have this true kind of Christian love towards other people.

I think the Bible challenges me along with all who are in Christ, to put aside their emotions towards others. To take on the attitude and mindset of Christ, and truly love another just as God loved us through Christ. To stop looking at our relationships with other people in terms of what they can do for us and how they make us feel, and to start asking what we can put into them, how we can be a benefit the other person. That's a pretty tall order, one that I know I personally am unable to fill. I don't have that kind of love in me. But the best part is that I don't have to have that kind of love myself, because God gave it to me when he sent Christ to die on the cross for me. And now his Holy Spirit dwelling in me attests to that love daily. All I have to do is allow the Spirit to express that love through me. By my own power I am uncapable of Christian love, but with God's help I can redistribute the love that he lavishes upon me. Even still, a realistic mindset must admit that perfect Christian love is something that I'll never completely achieve as long as I dwell in this mortal body, but I just think of it as practice for Heaven.

So is it an insult when someone says they love you in Christian love? Is it a cheat that the Bible calls Christians to love others, and not to like us? Hardly! The cheat would be if the Bible merely required Christians to like others. If Christians truly lived up to the Biblical requirements to love others, this world would be one awesome place!

Thanks for reading!!!!
In Christ,