Submissive and hardworking: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora
Walt Disney ‘s first full-length color sound cartoon , Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was groundbreaking in everything except the portrayal of a young girl on screen. Still: the image of the princess was inspired by the on-screen heroines Mary Pickford – innocent teenage girls who were popular in the 1910s. On the other hand, the visual appearance of Snow White was worked by the cartoonist Grim Natwick – the creator of the most piquant cartoon heroine of the time, Betty Boop. His first sketches were even rejected by Disney precisely for being too sexy in Northern Rescue Season 2.
The artist softened this version, removed his plump lips and dressed in a peasant dress and clogs. Thus, the canonical image of an innocent girl in trouble was born, humbly accepting her fate. Snow White’s main virtues are naivety, humility and hard work. She cooks and cleans for gnome men and at the age of 14 dreams only of love, singing her signature song Someday My Prince Will come. The fairytale convention of “Snow White” also completely ignores the age of consent: in the happy ending, the prince kisses the sleeping 14-year-old princess.
The next heroine of the classic period was Cinderella, who appeared in the 1950 cartoon of the same name . Just like her predecessor, Cinderella was distinguished by outstanding hard work and meekness, but unlike Snow White, she was already ready to fight for her happiness. The evil stepmother and mischievous half-sisters with all their might prevented her from meeting the prince, but the girl defeated them not only with the help of the fairy godmother and magical assistants in the form of all living creatures, but also with her determination to pursue her dream in spite of the circumstances.
Following in 1959 came The Sleeping Beauty , visually different from the pastoral Snow White and Cinderella. Artists John Hench and Ivind Earl were inspired by paintings by the masters of the Northern Renaissance, which filled the cartoon with gothic motives. Disney has once again created a work that is innovative in form, but quite traditional in content. Princess Aurora inherited the main features of her predecessor Snow White – naivety, humility and willingness to fall in love with the prince as soon as he appears in the frame. Unless this time, the heroine finally got rid of the mop and other attributes of a good housewife.
According to the plot of the tale of Perrault, the fairies give the newborn princess six virtues, among which was intelligence, but the creators of the cartoon reduced the number of sorceresses and Aurora got only beauty and a beautiful voice. The princess sings just one song while dancing with the prince, and then falls asleep after being pricked with a spindle. Perhaps she can not even be called the main heroine of the film, this gap is filled by other female characters. So the main battle for the life of Aurora takes place between the good fairies Flora, Fauna and Maryweza and the insidious sorceress Maleficent. Men are assigned background roles: the prince enters the fight under the tireless control of good sorceresses, and the king drinks wine at the most crucial moment and wakes up the moment when his daughter gets into trouble.
Young Rebels: Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan
It took Disney a full thirty years to come back with a new story about the princess – in 1989 the Little Mermaid came out . Ariel looked truly revolutionary compared to her predecessors. She no longer dreamed of marriage, but of another life outside the maritime palace of her father Triton. In this light, falling in love with Prince Eric looked like a logical continuation of her teenage rebellion against her father’s ban on getting to know the world of people. In addition, she herself took the initiative, won the heart of her beloved and twice saved him from mortal danger in Vagabond Season 2.
The Little Mermaid was the last Disney princess cartoon to feature a woman as the antagonist. Cinderella and Snow White were oppressed by their evil stepmothers, Aurora became a victim of Maleficent’s curse, Ariel entered into a dishonest deal with the sea witch Ursula. All the villains in the classic Disney cartoons symbolized the male fear of female emancipation: they possessed power and strength as opposed to the gentle princesses seeking marriage, and, of course, in the finale, traditional femininity triumphed.
In The Little Mermaid, this plot was modernized – Ariel herself entered the fray along with the prince. So the studio took a step towards strong princesses who can stand up for themselves. Soon to create the image of the heroine in “Beauty and the Beast”for the first time in the history of the studio, a woman was invited – screenwriter Linda Wolverton, who made Belle look like the freedom-loving Katharine Hepburn from Little Women. She loved reading more than anything else, and instead of meeting her lover, she dreamed of adventure. Belle first saved her father from the Beast, and then the Beast itself from certain death. The image of a princess in trouble finally remained in the past, besides, all the following princesses were not typical white beauties – the eastern girl Jasmine fearlessly opposed marriage to the powerful Jafar, the Indian woman Pocahontas became the first princess to refuse marriage for her people, and the Chinese woman Mulan went in defiance centuries-old customs, proving that a woman can be a real warrior and savior of an entire state.
However, Disney’s Renaissance cartoons also had a downside. In 2016, American linguists Carmen Fult and Karen Eisenhower analyzed dialogues from all cartoons about princesses and came to the conclusion that in the 90s the heroines spoke much less than in Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, where gender balance, and female responses were 50 to 70%. So, in “Cinderella” the prince uttered only six phrases, one of which was the word “Wait.” In the 90s, the studio went on the path of increasing the characters, like in Broadway musicals, and many of them were made by men by default. In The Little Mermaid, male voices were given 68% of the screen time, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, 90% in Aladdin , 76% in Pocahontas and 77%Mulan . Indeed, Ariel had three magical male assistants (the creators of the new film adaptation neutralized the gender imbalance – the Seagull will be voiced by the singer Aquafina), and the only notable women in the story about Pocahontas were her friend, who utters a few phrases, and the talking willow tree.
New generation princesses: Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Moana, Anna and Elsa
An underappreciated cartoon from The Princess and the Frog Studiossimultaneously became the last film created with the help of hand-drawn animation, and a field for experimenting with the plot. The main character, Tiana, is the first black princess in Disney history. She strives to open her own restaurant and start a business, her title song is dedicated to achieving this goal, and not meeting her beloved. Fate still brings her to Prince Naveen – an impoverished spender and a bum, turned into a frog because of his frivolity. The directors of the cartoon Ron Clements and John Musker (together they also made The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) devoted a lot of time to the development of the relationship of this couple and brought the love story into a comedy plane. The fact is that Tiana and Naveen fell in love with each other when both were frogs, only on the way to getting rid of witchcraft. Perhaps the postmodern irony was not appreciated by the viewer, perhaps
Two years later, the cartoon “Rapunzel: A Tangled Story” (Happy Season 3) was released, opening the era of 3D princesses. The studio has returned to the plot of the classic tale of the rescue of a beautiful girl imprisoned in a tower awaiting a deliverer. The story has been significantly rewritten, Rapunzel’s hair is endowed with magical powers, and the girl herself is a fighting character. After Rapunzel, the heroines of the following 3D cartoons looked much more like superheroines than the former charming princesses: Moana ( Moana , 2016) ruled the ocean, Merida ( Brave , 2012) fired a bow no worse than Legolas or Hawkeye from The Avengers , and Elsa from Frozenshe ruled over snow and ice. Braveheart and Frozen were co-directed by women for the first time – Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Lee, respectively.
The stories about the princesses of the classic period of the 30-50s showed primarily the enmity and competition of two women with each other. Cartoons, all without exception filmed by male directors, complementarily drew figures of wise, charming, strong fathers, for whom the heroines often risked their lives (Mulan, Pocahontas, Belle). But they almost completely ruled out relationships with friends, sisters and mothers (in The Sleeping Beauty, Aurora’s quite live mother appeared for several minutes at the beginning and in the end, while her father was an active secondary character, even animal friends, oddly enough , always turned out to be male). Brenda Chapman in “Brave” (original title Brave) first told the story of a mother and daughter (princess and queen), completely eliminating the romantic line. Jennifer Lee in “Frozen” brought to the fore the true love of two sisters Elsa and Anna – the characters very vaguely resembled the Snow Queen and Gerda from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Elsa, originally conceived as an antagonist, has turned into a positive heroine. Thus, the eternally warring archetypes of the evil witch and the good princess finally reconciled, for the first time in 80 years of the existence of Disney fairy tales.
Raya and the latest trends: Disney at a crossroads
Princesses Elsa and Anna, despite the incredible success of the Frozen dilogy, tens of millions at the box office and two Oscars, were not included in the official list of Disney princesses. Technically, they eventually became queens, but, most likely, the reason for their absence in the list lies elsewhere: over the past two decades, the studio has been rethinking the very concept of princesses and is trying to clearly respond to criticism and take into account the audience’s request. So, fans of “Frozen” launched the hashtag #giveelsaagirlfriend, which eloquently indicated that Disney has already managed to attract an older audience.
As a result, it seems that the studio simply chose a different strategy – the princesses became closer to the heroines of comics, along with the female characters of the Star Wars franchise , they save the world and settle political conflicts. This is the heroine that became Princess Raya from the studio’s latest animated multicultural blockbuster – “Raya and the Last Dragon”… The entire main cast of Raya’s characters is voiced by Asian actresses led by Aquafina and Jama Chan. Like Mad Max, Raya travels through the post-apocalyptic desert in search of the last dragon who can restore peace to the fictional country of Kumandra. The three main heroines of the cartoon are women: the dragon Sisu and the warring princesses-warriors Raya and Namari, it is they who will have to resolve the centuries-old confrontation between human tribes and unite five states. Snow White like The Asterisk War Season 3 could never have imagined such adventures.