Monday, May 16, 2011

Welcome to the Fourteenth Century

I am part of a group on Twitter called Tangled Janeites, we found each other through Jane Austen but discovered that we all love Disney movies as well. Every few weeks we watch a Disney animated movie at the same time and live tweet our thoughts and commentary using the hashtag #TangledJaneites (we started with the movie Tangled when it was released, hence the title).

We decided it was be fun to do a mini blog tour featuring posts about our favorite Disney heroes.

Nancy at Austen Aspirations : Flynn Rider (Tangled)
Kaydee at For the Love of Austen : Naveen (The Frog Prince)
Rebecca at a Word's Worth : Beast (Beauty and the Beast)

And I am posting about Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty.

You're shocked right? Totally, absolutely flabbergasted that I chose to talk about the hero from Sleeping Beauty. You hide it well.

Also, if you missed it, I announced the title and release date for my Sleeping Beauty redux here, there is also a synopsis and I'm pretty darn proud of it.

Welcome to the Fourteenth Century

Honestly, girls like me who like Disney princesses tend to get a lot of flak, especially if they happen to be English majors. Most feminist professors are not really fans. Even among the average, every-day "Mom of Girls" there tends to spring up anti-Disney Princess viewpoints. The problem most of these women have with how Disney portrayed these princesses is that in their view the women are weak, unable to do anything for themselves, relying on a man to save them, yadda, yadda, yadda.

There is even a poster floating around that has each princess labeled with the "bad" message she is supposedly indoctrinating our daughters with. I'd show it here, but it would just cheese me off, I'd have to dispute it point by point, and this post would get even longer than it already is destined to be. I'll save that for another day.

This poster even shows up sometimes where it surprises me, and I feel suddenly judged for liking the princess movies, and worse, exposing my impressionable young daughter to them (gasp). I suppose it doesn't matter that her favorite movie is Superman, or that our favorite female heroines are scrappy, tough-talking, kick-butt kinda girls like Mara Jade from Zahn's extended Star Wars universe. I've let her watch a princess dancing about in a dress and singing and therefore my poor sweet girl is destined to play second fiddle to men for the rest of her life.

Here is the main problem with this school of thought: If you are being honest, it's not the women in these Disney stories who are getting short-changed.

It's the men.

Snow White: Say what you will about Disney's first heroine, she's obviously not the strongest of the princesses (likely a result of being the first, we often forget the point of Snow White was that it was the first movie of it's kind, no one had ever attempted a full length animation before), but she at least has several good qualities. She makes friends easily, she cares for nature, she has a name. Not so the big, strong, man who "saves her" with a kiss. First name Prince, last name Charming. So glad a really fleshed out character was important here. Obviously Disney was conspiring to destroy the confidence of a generation of young men, oh wait, I mean women. Yes, that is what I mean.

Cinderella: She needs a man to save her! The poor thing can't do anything for herself (except, you know like persevere in adverse circumstances, while not letting them poison her attitude or change her character) and needs a man to come and save her. Except not. Pretty sure it's another woman that performs the getting out of dodge magic (Cinderella's goal was never to leave her step-mother's house for good, just for the night.) And again here we have Prince Charming. Dear writers, please lay off the steam rollers. I believe this character is flat enough. Oh wait, he doesn't want to get married. Look, there's a slight bump, we need to iron it out some more.

These men exist only to serve the princess and her story line. Without the princess they are just nameless, faceless heirs to a throne no one really sees or knows about. Even with the princess they are still pretty much nameless, although they have faces. Very smooth, expressionless faces. Poor schmucks.

Which brings me to Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. The first really fleshed out prince character in Disney animated movies. Mothers of boys everywhere rejoice. Importantly, we notice he has a name! This is a pretty big deal to me, because, in my opinion, naming connotes personhood. Prince Phillip is more than just the prince, the heir to the throne, the one promised to marry the Princess Aurora, he's also Phillip. And it's as Phillip that he meets the lovely peasant girl in the woods, and falls in love with her, and it's because he's Phillip that he fights an evil fairy in the form of a dragon. I doubt his responsibility to the throne is what's really on his mind as he battles to save his true love.

Another really important aspect of the Phillip character is he is loved by Briar Rose/Aurora not because he is a prince, and not because he can save her. Briar Rose has no idea she needs saving at all. She doesn't realize that she is royalty (although as such she will be elevated to equal footing with Prince Phillip without having to marry him), nor does she's realize that he is royalty, and she also has no idea she is in danger. She doesn't see him as a savior, she sees him just as a young man that she is in love with, a young man that she has dreamed about.

Phillip has some pretty modern views about who young royals (male or female) should be allowed to marry. He is all for marrying for true love, and not overly concerned about defying his father on this matter. "After all, this is the fourteenth century" he tells his father as he rushes off to meet Briar Rose. Even though his views on marriage are modern, he also exemplifies the sort of chivalrous qualities that I hope my daughter looks for in a man, and that I hope my son learns as part of his character. Phillip is brave and courageous, he would lay his life down to save his love.

I don't know any mother who doesn't want that for her daughter. Do I want my daughter to be strong and courageous as well? Of course. I want her to be brave, to be thoughtful, to care about others, to be able to meet life's challenges while never losing sight of who she is. I want her to have all of the qualities that make a truly, fleshed out, complete person. And I want her to expect that from any man that comes into her life.

She should demand a Prince Phillip and nothing less.

11 comments:

  1. Excellent points, Jess! You're right, when we start ragging on the princesses, it's really the men we're expecting less of. And the poor Princes Charming don't really raise the expectations much, do they?

    Then along comes Prince Phillip, with his horse, a sense of humor, and a mind of his own. He's going to marry the girl he loves, no matter what his father has to say about it, and he's willing to fight dragons to make it happen. Now THAT is a prince!

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  2. Huzzah! Wonderful points :o) And I love that they fall in love as "just kids" rather than "because he/she is a prince/princess" - it's beautiful :o) Phillip's pretty rockin' ... too bad I met him after I met Beast ;o)

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  3. I'm with Rebecca--the best part is that he fell in love with her before he knew she was Aurora, and she fell in love with him before she knew he was a prince.

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  4. You bring up some great points. It has been a while since I have seen Sleeping Beauty. Time to go watch it again.

    It's genuine love that he loved her before he knew she was a princess. Go Phillip!!

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  5. Yes. Although I do have peeves about Disney mucking with the story line, because there is a Prince Phillip before she falls asleep, there is no falling asleep for 100 years, just, like, overnight it seems like. Sorta lame story line compromise.

    I think my main issue with Disney princess movies is not so much the stories or the princesses, they are usually pretty competent chicks, but the overmarketing and productization that comes along with being a disney princess... :-/

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  6. Katherine,

    I do like the sleeping for 100 years aspect of the story, but I think they wanted to have a someone she already knew wake her up, i.e. not some guy kissing a comatose girl . . . glad they didn't stick with the original story line of her waking up because she's in LABOR. Awkward!

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