Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Side-Blog - Disney Princes

   So first I need to acknowledge that this post is a counter-blog to the very well written piece by Julia Bodiford which can be found here.

   I grew up with Disney films like almost all American children. If movies were not coming out into theaters then they were being released on VHS and DVD. Then, later, these films got released onto TV and can now be found streaming onto Netflix and other service-sites.

What I’d like to counter Julia’s article with is a kind of “companion” piece that discusses the nature of the male Disney characters. Essentially, I argue that Disney isn't so much solely slanted to being pro-male or anti-female as they are simply being geared towards less-complex storytelling, ie: Disney isn't the place to expect depth. I want to explore this through the other side of the Disney paradigm of characters, the princes and other male lead characters.

   The first BIG Disney film I really remember was Little Mermaid, much like Julia. Unlike Julia however I had no gender-centric characters to attach myself to ~ Ariel is literally THE only developed character – she has agency, she has desires, she acts her age ( 16 years old supposedly ), and she has personality. The only male characters are King Triton who is a borderline abusive autocrat ( the scene where he destroys Ariel’s collection still bothers me ), the insane chef in the castle, Prince Eric’s steward, and Eric himself.
   Quick, name something about Eric other than the fact he is handsome.

   Yea, there actually isn't anything about him. His whole character exists to serve as a McGuffin for Ariel so she can learn lessons about life. I’d argue their “love” is infatuation and nothing else. Basically while Eric is rich, European (?), and a noble … he isn't anything else. I find it interesting that I loved The Little Mermaid so much considering I ( as a male child ) had so little to relate with.
I am basically awful

   Eric was nothing however compared to Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty, my other favorite Disney film.

   I should also point out here that I mainly loved Ursula and Maleficent as a kid? Until Scar and Frolo came along they were THE best Disney bad guys and I loved every scene they had.

   Anyway …

   Prince Philip is, quite simply, the shallowest and most emotionally useless character. Which is to be expected as the Prince in the original myth of Sleeping Beauty wasn’t exactly a stand out character in literature either. Disney was not setting out to re-make these famous stories exactly, just slant them. For the most part all the characters in the famous Disney adaptations are much like their folk-tale counterparts.

   So, back to Philip – I liked him when I was little because he slew Maleficent, however that is all he did. He was without any real character at all and I argue is NOT a character ~ like Prince Eric, he is a plot device.

   Turns out most of the famous Disney Princes are actually rather awful and not explicitly good role models for young boys. At all.

   The Prince from Snow White? No personality.

   Prince Charming from Cinderella? No personality.

   “Prince Adam” from Beauty and the Beast? So, this is a questionable topic but I’ll handle this as best I can? I never thought Belle, who is quite possibly one of the best Disney characters *for the most part*, should have ended her Hero Journey by settling down with Adam. Why? Because Adam’s life of getting over his inner-demons had just started. He’d been a monster (literally) for YEARS – he’d locked Belle and her father up in a dungeon – he’d kept his whole staff imprisoned and resigned to their (horrible?) jobs for YEARS. Yes, it is great that he learned about love and sacrifice, but he JUST learned it. Beast simply had too many issues to get past in my opinion before he could be a good ruler, husband, or even FRIEND to Belle/The village/etc…

   Now, to defend Beast and all the above Disney films? These are not Disney’s exclusive stories. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast? All are ageless stories, none of whom were intended to explicitly* be stories about role-models and such. They pointed to bigger things than gender which ( I believe ) conflicts with our modern-day sensibilities for how/why we watch and absorb media these days.

*Some lend themselves to having serviceable role-model characters, but this is not the norm

   One of the things I think that shoots Disney in the foot is that they can’t bring up sexuality in an explicit fashion with children in the same way the older stories/myths could with adults. Tangled, Disney’s recent film? It is obviously based off the Rapunzel story, a story so rife with sexual imagery and meanings that to cut that out leaves a sizable void in the narrative.

   The fact the Disney Prince characters exist in the state they do is because Disney is a company who needs to cater to values for families ( their target audience ), however they are working with source material that is all-age specific and can encompass issues like death, sexuality, human rights, and more.

   Oddly, one of the things Disney has managed to keep in their stories that were important to the nature of older stories ( myth and folktale alike ), is death. Disney is lampooned rather harshly for their portrayal of orphans, dying parents, and more, however this is one of the universal lessons stories have needed to impart since the dawn of time:


   But back the Princes.

   The best examples sadly for “princes” oddly are the ones who deviate the most from their myth counterparts. Aladdin and Hercules are some of the more positive masculine princes since they both embrace stereotypical male characters who start by WANTING male-power fantasy fetishes ( riches and fame ), but in the end disregard those things for other people. Jasmine might be one of the worst examples of a Disney princess in my opinion, but Aladdin goes through emotional and personal growth to learn power/lies won’t get you love. Honesty will, however.

   Hercules is one of the silliest re-hashes of Greek myth ever and I've brought up some things about this story here. Hercules does however start out by wanting the standard male dream – power and the fame that goes with it. He obviously wants recognition from his father Zeus but it’s love for another person that really helps him grow. That is something I believe all young men and boys need to learn over the course of their lives.

Both the Aladdin and Hercules stories are almost beyond being able to be adapted properly. They are from very, very old stories, stories whose topics are rather dark. Especially Hercules. I think it should be brought up as well that the dominant male hero character stable steams from the fact that Disney is using myths from a time that was not female-centric as far as most myths went. Their exclusion of female characters as the hero-solving leads I think comes more from the archaic nature of the source lore and because Disney willingly decided to adapt the myths vs re-make them.

   As I wrap this up I guess I am just left realizing that, as film characters, the "Princes" of Disney serve few purposes ~ they exist to ONLY 'save the day,' they need a woman to complete their lives, and they rarely seem to posses the ability to grow past their mental/personal issues as apart of a whole movie. Still, considering the source material and Disney's older stances on how they wanted to adapt the original myths these characters came from? I guess (sadly) I can't be surprised. 

No comments:

Post a Comment