Tuesday, March 09, 2010

And I'm al-most there...

I love classic Disney movies. The Disney animation style has changed over the years since Uncle Walt was in charge, but the heart, quality and attention to small details have largely remained the same. I'll freely admit that as an adult, I cannot watch some Disney movies without getting blurry-eyed -- simply because they're so beautifully made. The Oscars have officially recognized for nearly a decade that animated films of supreme aesthetic quality are works of art; I've known it since the very first time I saw Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and sat in the theater surreptitiously crying over the beauty of its character design and movement.

There was, of course, one specific aspect to the early Disney movies I didn't like, and that was the passivity of its heroines. Snow White waits patiently for her prince to come and find her (in a tiny cottage in the middle of the deep woods? Good luck with that, sister), Aurora remains in a spellbound sleep until her prince saves the day, Cinderella expects to be found by her Prince Charming only because he has evidence she accidentally left behind. A generation of little girls was raised with the idea, express or implied in Disney films, that princesses -- the most refined among us -- simply do not go after the things they want; they wait instead to be acted upon. In at least some individual cases, this idea was poisonous. I have seen at least one exquisitely talented, capable, intelligent woman of my mother's generation wait in her home for years, hoping a sweetheart would come along and find her, and it was maddening to behold.

Back in the late '80s I wrote an allegory about the dangers of waiting for someone else to fulfill your dreams. It was a direct response to the "waiting for your prince" idea so common to early Disney films, which I found so frustrating.

Even then, though, things were beginning to change at Disney. The Little Mermaid featured a heroine who, although childlike in many ways and still dependent upon the love of her prince to achieve true happiness, actually takes some initiative to go after what she desires. Belle, of Beauty and the Beast, isn't really looking for a prince at all; she sacrifices her own happiness for her father's safety, and as a result of that choice she comes to discover someone amazing. Princess Jasmine of Aladdin is actively trying to avoid princes and being shoehorned into an arranged marriage.

I still haven't seen The Princess and the Frog, and at this point it's difficult to find theaters that are still showing the film, but over Oscar weekend I decided I had to go see it -- because one of the songs from the film, "Almost There," was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. The tiny clip of the song intrigued me enough that I went out to YouTube and looked it up.

I found this.

Now THAT is what I'm talking about. This song is more or less a direct rebuttal to "Some Day My Prince Will Come," especially with the introductory dialogue between Tiana and her mother. This is no passive, demure heroine waiting around for a prince to come along and jump-start her life. Tiana doesn't seem to be against the idea of falling in love, but she has a clear, vibrant dream of her own and she is actively working to achieve it. Finding love is a wonderful goal in itself, but she has kept it completely separate from her goal of owning a successful restaurant.

That's a message worthy of the artwork that conveys it. Bravo, Disney.


Jaleta Clegg said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, either, but my family went to see it.

I agree with your assessment of Disney princesses. They tend to be passive, even the more advanced tend to wait for things to happen. One of the reasons I love Mulan is because she is proactive. And can kick your butt clear outta China.

LDahl said...

I have a huge collection of Disney movies and I get to watch them over and over because I got them for my grandkids... undercover Disney lover!
Did you see Up? My sister and I took a gang of aforementioned grandkids to theater to see 3D version. We all loved it.
My grand-daughter at six was already getting some stereotypical ideas about who could play what. Boys don't play with Ken's or with doll houses... I reminded her that dads live in houses, and dress fashionably and take care of children. (My son does their primary care as mom's job keeps her away from home a great deal)She had a "comes the dawn moment" and suddenly her brother was welcome to play. He likes to design and build shopping centers for Barbie. He dresses Kens for work and off they go to be store managers. :)))
That whole princess thing... remember it was only the ugly/evil ones that went after what they wanted. You had to be a bitch or a witch to be pro-active in your life and expect to be cut down by the 'good guys'. I am so happy to see the change.

Soozcat said...

Yes, I did see Up and really enjoyed it. Also saw Mulan and enjoyed that too. In both cases you have examples of proactive women (though in Up you see her mostly in flashback) who act decisively rather than waiting to be acted upon, and who are portrayed as wonderful people worthy of emulation, not as scheming harridans.