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.

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Becoming A Princess: The Princess Diaries

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.

Because in no world does pretty = invisible.

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.

A princess learning how to do princess stuff.

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.

SHUT UP!

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.

Royal face nomming!

Atlantis: The Lost Princess

Atlantis was released in 2001.

There’s a reason Princess Kidagakash from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Disney’s 41st animated feature film, was never recognised as an official Disney Princess. Her film falls just outside of the Renaissance. Fantasia, Dinosaur, and The Emperor’s New Groove came before it, and all four films performed less than expected at the box office. Kida misses out on being a Disney Princess, despite being a Disney princess, because her film isn’t a musical and didn’t gross enough at the box office (despite bringing in $186M). I have several theories why it didn’t fare as well as Disney hoped, despite mixed critic reviews and becoming a cult favourite: it was Disney’s first sci-fi, it had a beta male lead (not alpha like Aladdin, Tarzan or Hercules), it looks at first glance at a re-hash of Pocahontas (explorers travel to a ‘new world’ and meet a primitive yet harmonious society), kids who attended the Renaissance films were growing up (I was 14 and not interested in ‘kids’ films’ anymore, interestingly enough: I was too busy going to see films like Moulin Rouge!, and A Knight’s Tale,) but most importantly, it was up against a number of very high-grossing films through the year. The top ten highest-grossing films of 2001 in the US were: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Monsters, Inc.; Shrek; Ocean’s Eleven; Pearl Harbour; The Mummy Returns; Jurassic Park III; Planet of the Apes; and Hannibal. Atlantis never even stood a chance.

It's really hard to find good screenshots of Kida.

So, poor Atlantis. Poor Princess Kida. Sure, she’s in the very first part of the film, when Atlantis sinks (a mere 8500 years before the film proper takes place: don’t even get me ranting on that longevity thing). She re-appears sometime later as a ancient yet youthful-looking woman whom, apparently, her father thinks she will magically learn some lesson once he dies and she takes the throne. I mean, she’s eight thousand, five hundred years old, right? What is she going to learn that hasn’t already been learned? And then she spends most of her time in some kind of crystal-induced trance…

I thought I would be nice and give you an animation because it's AWESOME!

Kida gets to spend some time developing a relationship with beta male linguistics professor Milo Thatch (awesomely voiced by Michael J Fox). For some reason, the ability to read their own language was lost when Atlantis sunk, and now Kida is totes dependant on Milo to teach her about her own history, the knowledge of which she sadly, also lacks. So: an advanced civilisation has effectively been rendered primitive and therefore unthreatening. LOL – they can’t even read!

I wouldn't read this, anyway, it's got sparkly vampires.

Ahem.

Kida is curious, intelligent, and strong-willed, but she also has a softened heart and is willing to change the dying ways of her people. She is also depicted as a warrior princess, which I think is totally cool. When she and Milo rediscover the hidden crystal that powers Atlantis and gives the Atlanteans their longevity, and are betrayed by the dick leading the expedition for profit, not scientific discovery, she fights back. A bit. She gets in a good kick before she is overpowered, and then with Milo threatened, she obliges her captors.

Because by now it's established they care for each other, and evil people like to use that emotion against them.

It’s then that the crystal decides to take charge of her or possess her or something, and she’s pretty much rendered as a glorious glowy crystal being but unfortunately also totally helpless and easily kidnapped… because we all know all powerful beings are easily trapped in small boxes. She’s got nothing to do but sit there and look pretty and be in danger and be rescued by the mercenaries and Milo until… a volcano explodes. Then she snaps into actions and saves everyone’s lives.

Pretty glowy princess!

Look, I like Kida, for the most part. I hate the time she spends passive and helpless, but I recognise it’s so that Milo can have a chance at being a hero by rescuing her, thus proving he’s not actually a beta male and is worthy of her love. Yeah, ‘cause that’s how the real world works #sarcasm. Kida can’t save herself from being kidnapped because she needs to be rescued, even though she’s totally kick-ass and powerful, but she can save the city once she’s been rescued from a fate she could totally have saved herself from if the writers weren’t so keen on writing Milo rescuing her. (Does anyone else’s head hurt?)

Mine only hurts a little...

Oh, by the way, did I mention there is a serious lack of face nomming in this film? Disappointing. Here’s a piece of artwork I found especially for my readers who have come to expect face nomming at the end of every Disney post.

Face nomming!

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Disney’s Tarzan is their thirty-seventh animated feature film and the last film of the Disney Renaissance. It is based on the novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Borroughs. It was a box office success, opening at a #1 spot which hadn’t been seen since Pocahontas, and it was also more successful than its predecessors Hercules and Mulan. That’s not surprising because its budget was $150 million, which makes it the second most expensive Disney animated feature film ever made, second only to Tangled which was released in 2010 to a budget of $260 million.

Once again, this post is somewhat difficult to write, because Jane isn’t the focus of this film. She’s not even considered a traditional Disney Princess by any stretch of the imagination, and her character is a rather accurate portrayal of a 19th century woman – from her completely overbearing costume to her sensibilities. So do I find her interesting?

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All of Jane's problems begin when she dares to sketch a monkey.

Of course. but I’ll explain why at the end.

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Apparently she's ticklish, too.

Jane is first introduced wearing way too much clothing for a trip into the West African jungle. Her curiosity overcomes her and she is separated from her father and guide, before being chased by a pack of baboons. Tarzan comes to her rescue, as any 19th century distressed damsel can expect.

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I didn't exactly find Jane boring, but she's not as interesting as her contemporaries.

The two then bond, because Tarzan’s never seen another human before, and Jane’s never seen a half-naked man before. Presumably. She’s excited to share the ape-man with her father in the name of progressing science. Against the gorilla leader’s wishes, Tarzan returns to Jane’s encampment over and over, so that Jane can teach him English and educate him in other matters. They fall in love.

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"See Jane run. Run Jane, run." Jane not running. JANE NOT RUNNING! RAWR!

The time comes when Jane has to leave Africa for England. She’s completely torn between her love for Tarzan and her need to be among civilisation. Tarzan thinks if he leads Jane to the gorillas, she’ll stay with him. You can educate a man on all matters of the world except the heart, apparently. After siding with the humans when the alpha male finds out about Tarzan’s betrayal, he decides to leave Africa to be with Jane in England.

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Squishy face!

But the genteel English zoologists have been betrayed by their guide, Clayton. He wants to trap the gorillas and sell them for 300 pound a head in England. Jane is captured and the allies are locked up. They escape with the help of Tarzan’s elephant friend. Rushing to save the gorillas, Jane bravely fights alongside the men, even though she totally didn’t have to because what use are women in the 19th century besides to look pretty and be useless? Jane personally saves a number of the gorillas. Yay!

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Huh?

The thing that sucks about Jane is that she’s in the process of leaving Tarzan behind as the new leader of the gorillas, even though she’s totally bonded with him through adventures and life-threatening situations. She even goes so far as to actually leave the beach on a little rowboat. I mean, like, what? Jane! Do you love this man? Why do you have to leave? STUPID GIRL. And the only reason she jumps overboard to go back to Tarzan and live as his jungle wife is because her daddy tells her to. Come on, Jane! No wonder you’re not a Disney Princess, you even put Snow White to shame!

jane rain

Now just stand there and think about what your role is.

Well, except for the fact that you’re the one to kiss Tarzan. But he doesn’t even know what kissing is, so that doesn’t get you bonus points!

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Not even close!

The Spunkiest Of All: Hercules’ Megara

imageDisney’s Hercules is a 1997 film bastardising Hercules’ famous trials and adding conflict by changing pretty much everything Hercules ever did and was. Can you tell I’m jaded? For a start, Heracles is his Greek name, and as the other characters in the film are called by their Greek names (Zeus, Hades, Hera, Hephaestus, Hermes etc) he shouldn’t be called by his Roman name Hercules. And he was a bit of a ladies’ man man whore with over 20 recorded wives/mothers of his many, many children, and “uncountable” male lovers. His mother was a mortal, Alcmene, not Hera, although he was named after her (Hera’s glory). In fact, Hera tried to kill Alcmene because she was jealous she was not Hercules’ mother. It was Zeus that turned the mortal Heracles semi-immortal by placing the infant at Hera’s breast and allowing him to drink while she was asleep. That’s kind of like rape, right? And Hercules was only granted godhood when he was poisoned and commit suicide. His wife (at the time), Deianeira, commit suicide after she realised she’d been tricked into poisoning him. But this is all to grim and dark for a Disney movie, right?

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Bend... and snap!

Now that I’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the safe, happy Disney version. Where Hercules is born to Zeus and Hera on Mount Olympus and turned mostly-mortal by his scheming uncle Hade’s sidekicks. Megara (Meg to her friends – if she had any) isn’t introduced until well into the film, where Hercules rushes to her rescue thinking she is at the mercy of a giant centaur river god.

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She's also drawn in a highly sexualised way with perky breasts, tiny waist and broad hips that sway seductively ALL THE DAMN TIME.

Well, she is a damsel and she is in distress, but she assures Hercules, or “Wonderboy” as she nicknames him, that she can look after herself. And boy, can she! Meg is one of the wittiest female leads Disney ever produced. Not only that, but they make no secret she’s not a virgin – she did, after all, sell her soul to Hades to save her lover, who then promptly ran off with some hussy *shakes fist*.

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She tough, right? She could totally take Hunk-ules. I mean... Hercules.

Now she’s Hades slave, and he’ll take full advantage of her and her womanly wiles. After Hercules rescues her he makes his way to Thebes to become a hero (so he can gain his immortality and go back Mount Olympus – if only it was that easy). This is where Meg steps in. She’s indentured to Hades and must play her part in his little play-act to help destroy Hercules.

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I love Hercules' expression. "Men think 'No' means 'Yes' and 'Get lost' means 'Take me, I'm yours.' That still happens today.

Of course, the film is about Hercules, not Meg. So all we see is how much she hates and disrespects her undead master until she’s of use to him again – seducing Hercules to find out what his weakness is. Turns out his weakness is Meg herself, and Hades realises this before anyone else. He uses Meg as leverage to get Hercules to give up his power even though she tries valiantly to stop him. Now that Hercules is powerless Hades can start his plan to rule Mount Olympus by freeing the Titans Zeus buried eons ago. Meg stands by helplessly as Hercules is beaten up by the cyclops.

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She doesn't even realise the effect she has on him. She just thinks he's normally tongue-tied, nervous and clumsy.

However, Meg redeems herself. She saves mortal Hercules from being crushed by a falling column and is crushed by it herself. This break Hades’ deal: Hercules made him agree that if Meg got hurt, the deal was off. Hercules flies off to Mount Olympus to save the day while Meg dies. Yeah. Great going, kid. But all is not lost. Hercules is convinced he can save her by retrieving her soul from the Underworld. The price is himself, though: the act of saving Meg will kill him.

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That's right: MEG DIES. How many other Disney heroines can claim they went that far for a man? Eh? Snow White was just sleeping!

Unless in the process he proves himself a true hero and therefore becomes immortal. He saves the girl, saves the day, and throws Hades to his ungrateful children (much like Scar and the hyenas in The Lion King or the asylum owner and his girls in Sweeney Todd). Hercules and Meg are taken to Mount Olympus where Hercules is invited to live. But Meg is mortal, and cannot live there. So Hercules decides to give up his immortality and live with Meg on Earth. Awww, how sweet!

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Awwww, immortal smoochies.