Musings: Disney Princes and Fairy Tales

Looking at Snow White in several different iterations in the context of bricolage and palimpsest can help contextualize the mythos and conventions of the fairy tale genre. We see Snow White and other fairy tales prevalent in many forms of media and varying degrees of adaptations because of the basic nature of fairy tales being presented as instruction for morality. The characters, settings and plot lines are not developed so it is easy to add on to these elements to create a new story and the fantasy settings have a pre-established audience drawn to these kind of adaptations. Disney as a multi-billion dollar a year business is consistently using princesses-tales to draw the masses into theaters, Disney stores and their theme parks all over the world. These films are highly appealing to children because they embody the ideals of the “typical American values” promoted initially during the implementation of the Hayes code starting in 1930. The classic Disney princess is chaste, kind and receptive (or simply passive) to the advances of the prince. Potential suitors for the princesses often have soft facial features, not overtly muscular or aggressive in the pursuit of the princess.

Although I’m not fully familiar with studies in fairy tales, I wonder if a new avenue into the field might be to look at the prince figure and how he has evolved through the years and through different mediums. For example, in Frozen, one of the twists in the film is that the prince is actually evil, sending a message to children that you should not always trust people who seem friendly at first. The marriageable man in the film is instead, a working class commoner who shows general interest in Anna, instead of her title. We also saw in Mirror Mirror and Enchanted how the traditional prince figure is comically out of date, not knowing what to do with themselves in the face of an active woman. Even the modern live action Disney renditions, Maleficent and Cinderella seem to focus on modernizing the female characters in the films and seem to leave out the princes in the cold, resorting to traditional tropes or comical roles. While the rejection of the prince figure can be subversive (Meridia in Brave and Aurora in Maleficent don’t even get married at the end), it begs to question the role of men in princess narrative as a whole. Princes in general don’t sell on screen and in merchandise like princesses do, but an exception could be made to Flynn from Tangled who is the underdog, married into royalty. Additionally, I wonder how much the race of the character should be considered in this line of thought. Shang, the love interest of Mulan is a warrior and should be appealing to young boys as opposed to a dapper prince, yet merchandising at the time veered away from Shen and onto Mushu, the Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon as the dominated male presence. Would a white warrior have been marketable? Are animals more marketable? Additionally, will the prince figure be doomed to his own accord or is the only way to save the prince is through gender reversals? Although a princely woman would be interesting to see in the Disney universe, I doubt they would be so willing to market “princess pants” to young girls.

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