What I chose to learn from Disney Princesses
I have a complicated relationship with Disney. I am too cynical to be a fanatic, but their media is connected to so many happy memories in my life. I cannot deny the ubiquity in our lives of their media. However, my movie that I watched ad nauseam when I was a young kid was the anime version of the little mermaid where she turns to seafoam at the end. I loved the richness of choice in that one. But that is a post for another time.
Each princess has a bunch of problematic issues, but everything does. You can see the change of zeitgeist through their 100 years of storytelling. Some I am not including because they don’t really fit quite right. Ezmerelda is one, she is more of a side character and I just don’t like the Disney version of that story, far too ‘and now everything is fixed’ for my appreciation. Abandons so many of the key bits of the Victor Hugo original. Though the music is so wonderfully gothic, I love that about it.
For this post, I wanted to look at the positive things I learned from the Disney princesses, the ones I CHOOSE to see and apply to my life to help me be a better and happier person. THis is just my opinion and my thoughts.
I am in no way saying this is the universal truth, our stories speak different things to us according to our own personal experiences, and that is how it should be, that is the power of storytelling.
Snow White: Service and Humility, her beauty was deeper than looks and was not really a part of her personality. Her care of the dwarves was so kind and loving, there is great therapeutic power in service to others.
Cinderella: Kindness through adversity, not letting the knocks that life gives you make you bitter. She still treated her abusive Step family with tolerance and obedience. This isn’t good in her situation, but in a healthy family it is a wonderful trait.
Aurora: Duty, she was willing to sacrifice her happiness for her kingdom. And though it all would work out in the end, she had no idea it would. Also her love for the awkward women who raised her is sweet.
Ariel: Wonder and enthusiasm for life, she sees all the beauty in the most mundane things that we tend to overlook. She has a lot of problems, but I loved how excited everything made her, it made me remember the wonder I felt the first time I saw my upside down reflection in a spoon.
Belle: Loving someone for who they are rather than what they appear to be. She sees the potential in people and encourages it. Also, books, I have collected quite my own library
And there is NO live action version in my house, and I will be taking no criticism on that. I have so many storytelling and pandering issues with it I could write a 10 page report, single spaced in 10 point font, on it.
Jasmine: Independence and Honesty. Honesty with yourself and others. She made the effort to leave the palace, out of curiosity to begin with, but she saw what her people lived like. I like her desire to see the world.
Pocahontas: Not a princess. This is a touchy one for me as I feel very negatively about historic people made into fictional characters. She was a real person and Disney made her life into an inaccurate and saccharine tale. It is a disservice to her memory and all the things she did as a strong and charismatic woman in a time of male dominated society (with all the burdens and trials that entailed.)
Mulan: Care and love of family that developed into care and love for her entire people. It is expected that we love our families (even in the cases when we should not). Mulan, when she saw more of the world, loved her people and was willing to do anything for them, she essentially destroyed an entire army to save them. PS: There IS no Mulan 2, it just undid every virtue she had in the first one.
Megara: Nope, bad story choice Disney. They made Megara such a wishy-washy woman who doesn’t take enough control or responsibility for her actions. All Greek heroes were big part cautionary tales and examples of hubris to avoid. He wasn’t what we think of as a hero, too much dissonance with every story we know outside of Disney. The Muses kick ass though.
Jane Porter (Tarzan): Exploration of the unknown and willingness to give new things, and especially people, a chance. I love this character, I love her fascination with the world, I have always liked the Tarzan stories, I like Edgar Rice Burroughs, what can I say, I like how disney retold this one, alot. I’ll take it for the story it is telling: finding where one fits in the world and the importance of found families. Also, Phil Collins has always had a direct line to my emotional side, his music was so powerful for this movie.
Tiana: Persistence and hard work. I LOVE tiana, she had a dream that was more than a desire for romance, and she was willing to work her butt off to get it. And she shared and taught that willingness to work to others. She was also willing to change her mind about people when they grew into less shallow people.
Rapunzel: Seeing the good in everyone and positive response to abuse. It is too easy to see only the negative in people, especially when you were raised by such a terrible person, but Rapunzel still believed people were, on the whole, good. Just look at the bar scene.
Merida: fearless in the face of criticism. I have always been too sensitive to criticism, so this is inspiring to me. Also it is wonderful to see both her and her mother have a journey, and it ends with the power of forgiveness, which is a trait that is always desperately needed in life and society.
Moana: Deep connection to family and how your self is not a cost or deterrent to your heritage. She learned that the uniqueness she had to give her people Her connection to her grandmother was very touching and personal to me, I was very close with my grandmother and she loved Hawaii. I cried so much during this movie.
Raya: fixing past mistakes and self sacrifice. Everyone makes mistakes and trusts people they maybe shouldn’t have. But learning to believe in people again and working to make things better is an admirable and important endeavor.
Elsa/Anna: letting go of trauma and the priceless importance of sisterhood. I have been lucky enough to have 3 wonderful sisters who have become my closest friends as an adult. It was so wonderful to see that kind of love explored in this day and age of “every love is sexual”. And the song “Let it Go” just wrecked me in the best way. Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, this song just perfectly echoed the moment that I let my anger go an forgave my abuser. Even now just talking about it I feel peace and relief.
Mirabelle: Everyone is special, you don’t have to have an obvious and powerful gift to be pivotally important to your loved ones. I think she did have a gift, she had the gift of unity and honest reflection of the issues that come up in life. I adored her.
Thoughts on live action :
I will be honest, I hate the pandering of nostalgia their live action remakes are. And I think if they really want to be racially progressive they need to tell new stories from the rich and unique stories from different cultures, not just retell their half assed cash grab nostalgia bait retellings.
Coco and Encanto are wonderful examples of a well done expansion of culture. They have their issues, everything will, but they told universal stories that every individual and culture can enjoy: unity, the power of family and tradition, and self worth. While also expanding appreciation and enjoyment of cultures outside of the European standards used before.