Lots of the time when people talk about the classic era Disney Princesses, it’s never in a very good light. They’re always portrayed as being passive, reactionary, and just ho-hum type of girls. Which to that I say blasphemy! So I’m here to tell you why I think people are giving the classic princesses a bad rap.
Lets start at the beginning, Snow White. I’ve always seen her as being a feminist icon of her time. Think about it, she was only 14 when her step-mother tried to have her murdered and had to go live on her own, only to find out that there was a house that had 7 dwarfs! But remember, at the time she thought the 7 dwarfs were 7 children. But instead of running away or thinking she couldn’t work it out and live on her own, she made dew with what she had! She went from being a princess living in a castle, and even though she was treated like a maid in her own home she still had a confirmed place to live, and still had food to eat every day. And let’s talk about her being a maid; I mean sure growing up we probably all had chores, some more than others, but scrubbing the castle steps? Not being allowed to talk to outsiders? Having to wear rags despite the fact that she’s the rightful heir to the thrown? And still, somehow still remaining positive and hopeful that there’s more out there to explore? Thats a pretty powerful message in my opinion. And think about the history of this movie, it was the first full-length feature animated film, and the first full length color picture! And at the time, it was the great depression and people needed money for food and such yet people still paid the 5 cents to see this movie in a time where 5 cents was the cost of a loaf of bread or like a gallon of gas. If you adjust for inflation, Snow White beats Frozen by $400 million (Snow White with $1.8 billion in today’s money, Frozen with $1.4 billion).
Another thing to think about is what was considered as feminist behavior back then, I think about Ma Joad from Grapes of Wrath, the John Steinbeck novel that showed the harsh realities of the great depression and Ma Joad was the strong captain of this family. However, throughout the book, we see all the men getting jobs and bringing in money for the family and throughout the course of the story the family starts to separate and go their own ways and Ma tries to keep the family together. Now while keeping a family together is good and well, I personally think it promotes the idea that all women do is worry about having a family and once they have a family all they’re concerned about is keeping the family together, as though us women are incapable of jobs and caring about our own personal interests. Now Ma Joad is certainly a feminist of her time, but in comparison to Snow White, who is a maid in her own home, who then is forced out of her own home by a murder attempt from her step mother, and who then goes on to live in her own home at the age of 14 and takes care of 7 other people, Ma Joad pales in comparison. Snow has interests of her own, she likes nature and baking and loves animals! I don’t know about you, but when I was 14 I was barely able to handle the responsibility of keeping my costume for the school play clean! What I’m saying is, she’s called a “reactionary character” but in a way, all characters are reactionary! We as people are reactionary! So why the hell is it a bad thing to make characters that do what us people do?! If we played the movie out a bit more, we would see Snow White being the queen of the kingdom she was destined to rule in the first place, fixing the bad economic and social situations her step mother created. And it’s times like these that show the way she reacts to her situation is what shows who she truly is, which is a powerful young woman who’s able to handle any situation life throws her way. This girl is the human embodiment of “lemons into lemonade”, teaching young women that no matter what life throws your way, there is no storm to strong that you can’t persevere. Remember, your the one who can fill the world with sunshine.
Cinderella has some similar points made in her story, she works as a maid for her step mother and step sisters. Cinderella I see as a very adamant and hard worker. Do people who are older than you ever say “well you’ll have to deal with people you don’t like your whole life so get over it!” well Cinderella had to do a whole lot of dealing with people she didn’t like, but she always thought that despite them being mean to her she never lost faith that somewhere inside of them remained a sense of good, that they weren’t all bad, and despite them not liking her and her not liking them, she knew they weren’t all too bad. Even though lots of us do deal with people who we dislike, it’s kinda hard to take them out of the context in which we know them and think “well maybe there’s still some good in them” and when she asks to go to the ball, she genuinely believes that they still care about her in some way. And when she’s not allowed to go by her step mother, well, nobody is stopping her! Now sure her fairy godmother steps in, but up until then she manages to get all her work done and even had a dress, which by the help of her mice friends is turned into her dream dress! And I think it sends a good message that sometimes you can’t do it all by yourself and getting by with a little help from your friends is nothing to be ashamed of, and by working together you can accomplish anything!
Last but not least Aurora. I don’t hear people complain about her as much but occasionally I do hear the misguided groan of “Ugh, princesses, so boring!” a lot of the time people’s main critique with Aurora is that she has the fewest speaking lines of any princess, clocking in at a measly 18 spoken lines. But that’s not counting her song or her camera time in general. The main theme of this movie is more so the conflict between good and evil. Maleficent is the powerful force of evil while the good fairies try to protect the princess from the evil curse. The 3 good fairies; Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather; act as Aurora’s parents. Which I think is pretty cool in that they’re 3 women who live together and raise a child, which was not all too common in the late 50’s-early 60’s, especially not on film. This film is filled powerful women who are ready to take on the gigantic beasts that lay ahead, weather they are the beasts or if those beast are just a metaphor for the hardships they endure.
To me, princesses have always shown that anything is possible, that no matter what life trows at me, I can handle it. No matter who tells me no and slams the door in my face, I will not just find some other, inferior door to settle for to go through, I’ll have my friends get me the key and push my way through that door! And if a big scary dragon stands in between me and the future I’ve always dreamed of, then I’ll need my sword of justice and shield of truth to equip me with the strength and confidence to take that dragon down. Princesses have always shown me that anything that comes your way, you can take it on. And be nice and have cute hair and clothes in the process!