Disney’s Portrayal of the Feminine Animals: Pre-Renaissance

Just a reminder – voting closes tomorrow at midnight for the Can You Leave Us Breathless contest hosted by Brenda Drake. I’m a semi-finalist and would love your vote!

In this, my last Dissecting Disney post, I want to take a look at the female animals of the more popular and recent anthropomorphic Disney films from before the renaissance (1989). We’ve already done The Lion King. The females in this role are more often than not relegated to caretaker roles. In the rare occasions with a female lead, they are often categorised into one box and do not cross roles with the other females in the movies. Let’s start by looking at:

Dumbo

Dumbo’s mother, Mrs Jumbo, is the demure, protective ideal mother – to make Dumbo an orphan, they had to remove her, and the only way they can justify that is if she overreacts while protecting him. Perfectly acceptable within a film and grounds for her removal. The other female elephants apart from Dumbo’s mother are uppity snobby bullies. All other characters are male.

Bambi

Bambi’s mother is needed simply to give birth and raise Bambi to his semi-independent child self. As soon as she’s no longer needed, she’s killed off so he can be taken in by his absent yet heroic father. Likewise, Bambi’s mate Faline is needed simply so she can be saved by Bambi (from a suitor so Bambi can assert his dominance, and from the hunters so he can assert his heroism), and so the film can end mirroring the way it opens, with the birth of Bambi’s fawns.

Lady and the Tramp

The three female characters in this film are spread into three distinct stereotypes: the virgin (Lady), the mother (Darling), and the whore (Peg). Lady is completely innocent and naive of the wider world, and she needs Tramp, who is a gazillion times more streetwise than her, to teach her the ways of the streets. Darling is only in the film to provide the role of caretaker and provide the baby-replaces-Lady plot point. And Peg, who knows the Tramp intimately, is portrayed in a seductive way both in manner, pose, and voice.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

The four female characters are divided into two camps: caretakers and villain. Pongo leads the rescue and Perdita follows behind, submissively doing everything he tells her to. It is Roger who stand sup to Cruella, not Anita. Nanny is quickly dispatched by the bad guys when they break in to steal the puppies. And do I even need to go into Cruella? Ugly, bloodthirsty, a slave to fashion.

The Aristocats

Duchess is basically a cat version of Lady, and she doesn’t know the streets at all after she and her litter are catnapped. The streetwise tomcat O’Malley takes them in and looks after them, ultimately becoming a part of their family after he saves not only Duchess but her kittens, too, from death, and is responsible for saving them multiple times. Duchess, in fact, is not much use at all except to be a damsel in distress.

The Fox and the Hound

There are three female characters in this film: the caretaker (Tweed), the wise one (Big Mama the owl) and the coquette (Vixey). Tweed’s job is to keep Tod alive and safe throughout his childhood until he can be handed off in adulthood to Vixey via Big Mama’s wisdom. Vixey’s job is to teach Tod how to be a wild fox. The three roles do not overlap.

Oliver and Company

There are also three female characters in this film, and they take on three roles that do not overlap: the spoiled bitch (Georgette), the caretaker (Jenny), and the streetwise token girl (Rita). The two dogs are not important to the plot at all, but Jenny is.

 

Well, that’s it, folks. My final Dissecting Disney post. It sure was fun while it lasted, and I got to view some films I’ve never seen before. Remember, next week I’m participating in NaNoWriMo and will update my blog as often as I can.

Disney’s First White Princess in 20 Years: Tangled’s Rapunzel

imageAs I said in yesterday’s post, I love Tangled. It was initially conceived in 2003, released in 2010, and follows the adventures of a young princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess (Rapunzel), and a decent guy pretending to be a ruffian (Flynn). I never really liked the original fairy tale. I found it boring. In this version they actually explain how it’s possible for hair to grow 70 feet (it’s magic). I find Rapunzel the most human and relatable of all the Disney Princesses: she obsesses over small things, get anxiety and fears the big wide world.

Rapunzel’s Fear

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She's armed, uncertain, wary, and dangerous.

However, Rapunzel’s fear is entirely from an outside influence. She’s been raised to fear the world outside her tower for eighteen years. Her mother figure sings an entire song about all the frightening things waiting for her out there, including men with pointy teeth, poison ivy, quicksand, the Plague, cannibals… not only using the outside dangers, Gothel insists that Rapunzel is too “Gullible, naïve… Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague…” to handle herself out in the real world. And then just to top off her fear and insecurities, Mother Gothel guilts Rapunzel into staying locked up in her tower by reminding her that she’s the only one Rapunzel’s got, that she raised and loved and fed and nursed Rapunzel and that wanting to leave the tower is no way to repay someone who sacrificed everything to keep her safe.

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The most manipulative of mothers.

Rapunzel, being the good, dutiful, domestic daughter that she is, succumbs to parental pressure and submits to Mother Gothel’s will. Even in the event of Flynn Rider climbing her tower and intruding on her solitude, her first reaction is to keep herself safe by interrogating him to find out if anyone else knows her location. This is the blazing start of Rapunzel’s bravery. She locks Flynn in her closet, impressed with how she handled the situation, and tries to explain upon Mother Gothel’s return that she’s been underestimated and she can look after herself. Mother Gothel, of course, scares Rapunzel into backing off, but Rapunzel appeals to Gothel’s motherly nature by asking for a birthday gift that will take some time to acquire. Now that her mother is out of the way, Rapunzel can talk freely with the ruffian locked in her closet.

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Rapunzel negotiates with Flynn.

Rapunzel’s Bravery

Once Rapunzel and Pascal realise Flynn isn’t there to steal, cut, or sell her hair, the unknowing princess comes up with the bright idea that Flynn can escort her to see the floating lights/lanterns she’s watched from her window every year on her birthday for her whole life. Of course she needs a guide: she’s so wary and intimidated by the outside world, and her mother’s disapproval, that she needs any kind of help she can find. Blackmailed, Flynn agrees to escort her. Now Rapunzel is able to take the first step out of her tower in eighteen years. This is where she really begins to shine.

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Rapunzel's first steps.

First she has a crisis of conscious, which I pretty much find hilariously funny, in which she struggles with her desire for freedom and her wish to keep her mother happy. She outwits the thugs who want to claim the reward on Flynn’s head by appealing to their better nature, she escapes when the guards chase her and Flynn through a dam and she rescues Flynn as well. The two get trapped in an underwater cave, and while Flynn now genuinely seems to care for her, she is, once again, the one to save them with her magical hair that glows when she sings. Who needs an escort? Oh yeah, Flynn does. Rapunzel has rescued him numerous times by now, and healed his injured hand. Seriously. Flynn doesn’t do any rescuing in this film at all. That’s how cool Rapunzel is.

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Rapunzel rescues Flynn from Maximus and develops a strong bond with the horse. Typical Disney Princess animal magnetism.

And then they see the lanterns, which is Rapunzel’s lifelong dream. It’s so pretty. It’s been compared to Bell and Beast’s ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. And yes, this is when I start crying. in my defence, it’s because I identify so strongly with Rapunzel and I’m so emotionally involved in the film and also, I only cry when there’s that shot of the King and that single tear running down his face… eighteen years later and he’s still torn up over losing his baby girl.

I'm allowed to be sad at this point!

Rapunzel Returns

Unfortunately, things have to end up going bad somewhere. I mean, a film needs conflict, right? Otherwise we’re watching a film where nothing happens, there are no stakes, there’s nothing to be worried or concerned about… you know, the exact reason Stephenie Meyer wrote James the vampiric tracker into Twilight, so there would actually be something at stake beside Edward Cullen’s virginity.

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Oh yes, I went there.

Mother Gothel is a crafty villain. I don’t often write about the villains in these Disney posts because I focus on the princess, but Mother Gothel often gives the impression she genuinely cares for Rapunzel – I think it would be hard not to care for someone after raising them for eighteen years but hey, some parents here in the real would should be sterilised or licensed or something. Gothel manages to outwit Flynn’s allies/nemesis into working for her to dispose of Flynn, and convince Rapunzel that she was wrong about the world, that Gothel was right, and that everything would be better if Rapunzel just returns to the tower and pretend her little adventure never happened.

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She's wickedly devious and a backstabbing b*tch to boot.

Rapunzel falls into some sort of depression over Flynn’s sudden ‘betrayal’, but she quickly has an epiphany and figures out that she’s the lost Princess the lanterns are lit for… I mean, they share a birthday, a name, the same golden hair and the same enormous green eyes, why did no one else notice Rapunzel was the missing princess? Mother Gothel should have been smart enough to rename and give the princess a new birthday when she kidnapped her, really. I have a hard time Flynn didn’t make the connections necessary but I resolve this by believing Flynn is from an entirely different kingdom and doesn’t know this essential information. When Flynn escapes his captors and comes after her – finally, to rescue her – he is abruptly killed by the very woman Rapunzel trusted her whole life. So yeah… when Rapunzel tries to rescue thing, she’s successful like seventy billion times but Flynn? When he tries a rescue, he gets killed.

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Flynn climbs the tower.

But fear not! Rapunzel can heal injuries with her hair. Cool, right? Except that Flynn, having figured out the entire situation, cuts off her hair before he dies in her arms. Now there is no reason for Rapunzel to stay in hiding, and as an added benefit, Mother Gothel does the typical Disney Falling Villain death. But still, after all the pain and fear and betrayal, Rapunzel can’t help but reach out to her. Because she’s a lovely princess.

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If a little bit daft as the film begins...

Turns out that it’s not just her hair that’s magical. Her tears are, too. in fact, her tears can bring the dead back to life. So Flynn is resurrected – thank goodness not as a zombie – and they go to royal castle and Rapunzel is welcomed back as the lost princess and everyone lives happily ever after.

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YAY KISSING!

A Background on Tangled and Gender-Neutral Princess Marketing

I LOVE Tangled. This is no secret to anyone who wants to talk Disney with me, or hangs out with me on Facebook. I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. I think Disney has taken the best bits about every single Disney Princess film, mushed them all together, learned from their mistakes, and turned out not only their greatest Princess film, but possibly their greatest film of all time.

And that’s saying a lot, because before Tangled came along, Belle was my favourite Princess (5th Princess, Beauty and the Beast film released in 1991), and The Lion King (1994) was my favourite film.

I guess I love Tangled so much because I identify with Rapunzel. She’s been afraid to leave her tower for eighteen years. I didn’t move out of home until I was 21, because I thought it was some kind of big deal and I wouldn’t be able to handle myself out there in the big wide world. Turns out I was wrong. I even moved to the other side of the planet to be with the man I love.

This was me for the first 20 years of my life.

But not only that, Disney learned a lot from their Princess and the Frog marketing campaign, Pixar’s success, and Princess films in general. The problem with Princess films, and the Princess marketing in general, is that it’s primarily aimed at girls, young girls. Sure, there are boys out there who love one or several of the Princess films (my hubs-to-be thinks Mulan kicks butt and often sings to the soundtrack) but the whole marketing campaign is very gendered to appeal to girls. Taking a look at Pixar, which Tangled very assuredly imitates – Pixar films are about boys. They are about male leads and male problems and very much appeal to everyone, boys, girls, adults of all genders, families. Yes, there are girls in Pixar films – that’s not what I’m arguing. All of the Pixar leads are male. Pixar knows that male-led films are gender neutral (!!!) and appeal to both boys and girls (take Harry Potter, for example, which appeals to everyone) and girl-led films primarily appeal to females (take Twilight, for an extreme example, even though it’s a romance). Disney could have marketed The Princess and the Frog as a male-female buddy road trip, but they focused on Tiana as the Princess. Her film sold reasonably well – better than recent films but not as well as any of the other Princess films.

The title changed a few times trying to find the right marketing angle.

Then Tangled came along. Initially titled Rapunzel Unbraided, Disney knew they had to take a step away from their hand-drawn Princess-marketed films and take a step closer to the direction their recently acquired Pixar animation staff were used to heading in: appealing to a bigger audience than just girls. They needed the Pixar animation, and they needed an appealing male co-lead.

Yes, Rapunzel is the film’s lead. But they gave her the best well-rounded male character companion of any Disney film: Flynn Rider. Ten times better than Naveen, deeper than the Beast, more appealing than Eric and more adventurous than Aladdin, Flynn, like Tangled, takes the best of the Disney boys and distils them with an excellent result. And the marketing department was saying all over the media that this isn’t just a Princess film, it’s a boy’s film too. Disney defended their marketing decision, which was criticised, by saying it’s not just a film about Rapunzel.

Flynn and his smoulder.

And guess what? It worked. Tangled spent 6 years in production and cost $260M to produce, which makes it the most expensive animated film of all time. I’m not sure it’s pure coincidence that it’s Disney’s 50th animated feature film, but after 49 attempts (and some very good gems in the meantime), I think they finally nailed it. It received generally good reviews from critics and it is also the second highest grossing animated film ever made by Disney, behind The Lion King, and it’s the fifteenth highest grossing animated film ever made. It’s critically and commercially one of Disney’s greatest films.

I love the Princess films. I love that I’m a girl and can feel no shame in loving the Princess films. But I’m also ecstatically happy that Tangled, which is a Princess film, has finally hit the right marketing angle and the right storytelling angle to appeal to a wider audience. While yes, I do recognise Disney’s desperation to reach for a wider audience, I think they made a better film for it. The only thing – literally the ONLY thing – that I dislike about Tangled is one of the characters – a suggestive geriatric dressed as a baby Cupid. That’s a personal taste thing, though.

Tomorrow I’ll post my Disney Dissection of Tangled.

Disney’s Working Class Princess: The Princess And The Frog

imageI’d never watched The Princess and the Frog before I did so for this weekly Disney segment. I wish I hadn’t left it so long. It was released in 2009, so well after the established 8 Disney Princess franchise had been set up (around 2000-2001). Yet Tiana was easily added to the Princess line up in 2010 more than ten years after the last official Princess film was released (Mulan). Also, I always forget that I love jazz music until I listen to it, so I completely adore the soundtrack as well.

The film is based on a book that is based on a Grimm fairy tale, and the most interesting thing about the film (apart from being set in 1920 New Orleans with Disney’s first African American princess) is that the film is self-referential. The characters interact with the original tale, recognise it, and try to emulate it. This, of course, leads to more problems and conflicts as they then try to undo the spell cast on the Prince by an evil voodoo witchdoctor (voiced by my favourite voice actor, Keith David).

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Scary, yes?

Working Class Princess

Now, let’s make one thing clear. Tiana’s not a princess. The closest thing the United State of America have to royalty is the First Family. Prince Naveen – a legitimate, if dishonoured royal –  mistakes her for a princess because of the clothes she is wearing to a costume party – which is the first thing I hate about Naveen, but I’ll save my anti-Naveen rant for later. However, I love Tiana so much. I don’t know why this film, although selling better than the more recent hand-drawn films (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear) didn’t sell as well as the Renaissance films (from the 90s). I think basically in my opinion, The Princess and the Frog really paved the way for the roaring success of Tangled. Which is sad, because I once again underestimated a film (I refused to watch Cars for years, and it turned into my favourite Pixar film) and when I finally saw it, fell in love with it. Most of it.

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Tiana is not only a waitress at two jobs, but a very competent cook, and shown studying cooking on the commute to work.

I fell in love with Tiana. Tiana is hard-working, a no-nonsense dream-catching go-getter. She’s working hard to achieve her dreams, working two jobs for years, putting up with heaps of negative feedback and being told she won’t achiever her dream from colleagues to real estate agents. There’s even a racial slur in the film which made me fumingly mad. Intentional, of course.  Tiana has to fight against so much: gender, race, and a poor socio-economic background in the 1920s, a father who died in the Great War. She’s the toughest of all the Princesses, next to Mulan, because the society she lives in makes it hard for her to do what she wants.

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The art styles used in Tiana's solo song "Almost There" were just amazing.

Tiana’s Pride, Tiana’s Dream

Tiana doesn’t believe in wishing. She believes in hard work. Her best friend, Charlotte, is a spoiled, shallow (but totally funny!) debutante and Tiana contrasts her so sharply sometimes I almost cut myself watching. See what I did there? Oh, Charlotte’s not all that bad. Tiana’s a good friend of hers. But Tiana still has to work twice as hard and twice as long as any of her friends to achieve her dream when Charlotte could simply throw the cost of one dress at her to help her open up her restaurant. Tiana works hard, and she’s proud of that fact. She tells Naveen, “I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got,” which really resounds with me, and I think it leaves a great message to its target audience. No more Domestic Goddess princesses. No more princesses who do nothing but wait for someone to rescue them. Tiana is on her way to getting what she wants, and she’s only 19. Even Belle (mon amie!) wanted something (adventure) but wouldn’t actively go seeking it of her own free will. Even Ariel (poor unfortunate soul) didn’t seek out Ursula until Flotsam and Jetsam suggested it. Tiana is on par with Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas who all sought their own path without outside influence and who, incidentally, are all non-Caucasian. Perhaps that’s because the non-Caucasian princesses are the most recent films, but maybe I’m sensing a theme here!

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The dream is Tiana’s but it’s also Tiana’s father. Tiana’s mother, voiced by Oprah, has a role in the film. Oh my gosh, a present mother in a Disney film! No way! Gender reversing the films of the 90s, Tiana’s father is the absent parent. But he’s still present in a big way, because he’s the one influencing Tiana’s current dream. All she wants is to open her restaurant, which is exactly what her father wanted but never achieved. So the question is, is the dream really hers, or was it just pushed on to her by her father so often and for so long that she adopted it as her own dream?

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Young Tiana and Adult Tiana wishing upon a star - a rare occurrence.

Frog Time

Yes, Tiana’s a black princess. I think that’s wonderful. I think she’s beautiful, both inside and out. Unfortunately, she spends the majority of her time as a frog, so we lose the visual images of a strong, confident, young black woman doing all these amazing, brave, independent things. I suppose the best thing about Tiana’s representation is that her black voice carries over in to the frog body. You can clearly hear the New Orleans twang. And she still carries over her amazing independent spirit and her strong will. If anything, she learns to become softer, and learns to let go of the dream she has kept tight for so long.

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Naveen: That is new.

Now, I just have to have a Prince Naveen rant. The entire film is his fault. If you ask me, and clearly you asking me or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, the only thing Naveen has going for him is the fact that he isn’t black (I LOVE inter-racial couples, and I’m so impressed Disney put one in their first modern Princess movie) and that he changes from the lazy prince to an honest hard worker by the end of the film. It’s a good character arc, but because of the character he was when the film started, I don’t even like him by the end. Comparing him to Flynn Rider from Tangled, his contemporary Disney ‘Prince’, at least Flynn was also working hard to achieve his dream. Naveen just wants to marry some rich girl. He’s a total gold digger, and the exact gender opposite of some of the earlier Disney Princesses… mainly Giselle from Enchanted, who, despite not being a princess or really anything special at all, still harboured a fantasy to marry a prince.

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As usual, Tiana does more than her fair share.

Sure, Naveen is supposed to redeem himself at the end by refusing to marry Charlotte and choosing to spend his life as a frog with Tiana but still… I’m not entirely convinced. And when they are both transformed back into humans (which is a totally cool loophole, BTW) he’s had the adventure of a lifetime and changed his ways, but Tiana? She’s going back to working hard her whole life despite being a princess now. Tiana doesn’t really have much of a character arc. She starts off independent and strong with a dream, and she ends up achieving that dream and snagging a prince as well. It’s the exact same line Sex and the City is trying to sell: you can be superwoman, you can have the career you want and be sexy and independent AND you can marry the (rich) prince of your dreams. I suppose what Tiana’s got going for her is that unlike her friend Charlotte, she’s not sitting around wishing for her life to happen, she’s out and living it.

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Naveen and Tiana dance together at Tiana's Palace.

Now, I’ve written a lot about Tiana because these posts are a discussion of the Disney princesses, but quite honestly, Tiana was the best thing about this film (and the songs). I didn’t like the supporting characters and the plot had holes the size of my fist. I love Tiana and think the film should be seen on her merits alone. And as usual, I’m ending with a Disney kiss.

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Mmmm... froggy mucas.

PSYCHE! No, really. here you go:

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Kody Keplinger totally tweeted me

If you haven’t heard of Kody Keplinger, I suggest you get acquainted. She’s only like the coolest young adult author EVER. No, seriously you guys. Since most of my favourite authors are dead, I didn’t really have anyone to cyberstalk. Kody is going through that life-altering stage I went through when I learned about feminism at University. She’s written two books: The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)  (out now) and Shut Out (September 5). And she’s only 20!

Anyway, so y’all should know that my favourite contemp series is Vampire Academy. And I’m not really into vampires. In fact, I came to the series late, just before book 5 was due out. And the only reason I decided to buy the books was because the protag, Rose, well her best friend is called Lissa. I guess it’s a vanity thing. When no one over the age of 40 can pronounce my name, I get a bit protective of it.

So I really only discovered Kody when I read the blurb for Shut Out. It’s based on a Greek myth called Lysistrata, and in her modern re-telling, the protag is named Lissa.

Yeah, I know. It’s a totally awesome name. Kody thinks so, too.

Kody Keplinger totally tweeted me!