Well, that’s it. I’ve done it. I’ve seen all of Disney’s Princess films, and a lot of them with good strong female characters. I’ve seen weak characters I dislike. And I’ve turned off a few films I just cannot stand.
This week I was supposed to look at The Black Cauldron, but it sucked so badly I turned it off. The film was an amalgamation of a series of children’s high fantasy books reminiscent of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but it flopped really hard at the box office. I wanted to watch the film because of Princess Eilonwy, but I just couldn’t stand it. By the time the mis-matched trio of the princess, the farm boy, and the elderly minstrel escaped the Dark Lord’s castle and went searching for an oracular pig with the help of a miniature yeti, I was ready to stab myself in the eye just so i could stop watching it.
Sorry, Disney, but you failed. Bad. Thank goodness a real princess movie came out four years later (The Little Mermaid).
So instead, this week I watched The Princess Diaries because technically it is a Disney film and the protagonist Mia is a princess.
Mia is a regular, unpopular, clumsy intellectual with only two friends, her mother a cat called Fat Louie. She learns from her visiting grandmother that her recently deceased father was the Crown Prince of a small country called Genovia, and that to continue to keep the country in royal hands, Mia must claim her right to the throne and officially become the Crown Princess of Genovia.
Apart from the whole royalty-can-run-a-country-better-than-government, inherited-power-is-better-than-elected-power idea that runs through the film, it’s very enjoyable. It’s Anne Hathaway’s film debut, and Julie Andrews makes for the perfect queenly grandmother. Mia must learn ‘how to be a princess’ – because, you know, it’s SO different to how people are normally. Disney’s princess line up makes girls want to believe that anyone can become a princess. Mia’s movie does deliver that anyone, any young girl, especially from a broken home, can feasibly become a princess – but it’s a lot of hard work. The animated princesses make it look easy. Mia is a shy nobody, hidden behind an unattractive demeanour (well, it’s Anne Hathawy so as unattractive as they can make her while still making her beautiful later in the film) and invisible to or bullied by her classmates.
After a physical makeover and learning a lot of royal ways, such as how to walk, sit, wave, and eat, Mia still has to deal with her normal life of being a nobody-turned-celebrity, dealing with her shallow jerk-face crush suddenly becoming very interested in her, subsequently being overwhelmed and accidentally dumping her friends… and dealing with bullying as well. Which I hate. A lot. And Mia can’t fight back, because she’s a princess.
Because she’s really a normal kid thrust into the spotlight, overwhelmed Mia decides to renounce the throne. Unable to face her decision, she then decides to run away. She only changes her mind when the words of her dead father speak to her through a diary he left her for her sixteenth birthday. She then decides that if she wants to make a difference in the world, she has to become the Princess of Genovia.
Mia is a good representation of a strong teenage protagonist in a princess film. Although the most important thing to her at the beginning of the film is somehow becoming the girlfriend of the jerkface crush who is dating the bitchy blonde cheerleader who bullies her, Mia grows and changes in the film, ready to grow up and accept her responsibilities and all the bad stuff that comes along with the good. Her personal growth is symbolised by her desire to experience a very romantic kiss. The kiss with the jerkface isn’t romantic at all, while at her acceptance speech, the kiss with her best friend’s brother who has fancied her all along (before she turned royal) is much more romantic. Mia makes a full circle with her character development: she goes through a physical makeover, an emotional makeover, and even a mental makeover. She is true princess material at the end of the film.