Princess Review

Princess Review: Brave

Jun 29 // Jenika Katz
  Merida is the first-born daughter of the DunBroch clan. Her father, King Fergus, rules over the three neighboring clans, MacGuffin, Macintosh, and Dingwall. Fergus is a huge man and a fierce warrior, and proudly displays the leg he lost defending his family against the enormous demon bear Mor'du. His warlike tendencies aren't exactly useful for ruling a kingdom, so most of the daily decisions and diplomacy fall on his wife, Queen Elinor.   As the oldest daughter in a monarchical society, Merida must marry the eldest son of one of the clans her father rules. Elinor tries desperately to raise her as a proper lady, but while Merida has her mother's wits, she has the aggression and free spirit of her father. She makes it clear that she prefers feasting, horse-riding, and archery to reciting poetry or looking dainty.  When her three suitors arrive to compete for her hand, Merida grows desperate. Stuffed into a tight dress and propped into a corner, she finds a loophole that allows her to choose her own hand, a trait very useful in marriage. This isn't exactly a diplomatic move, and Elinor thoroughly chews out her daughter before going to smooth things out. In retaliation, Merida slashes an intricate tapestry her mother made, and Elinor tosses Merida's bow in the fire. It is a very mature moment for everyone. Merida runs off to the forest to blow off some steam and finds a will o' the wisp creepily beckoning her to the scarier-looking trees. Following the wisp, she finds a little old witch in a house full of bear carvings. She asks the witch for a spell to change her mother (and thus her fate to marry for politics), and the witch hands her one in the form of a little pie, with a warning that previous customers were not entirely satisfied.  Merida arrives home and hands the pie to Elinor, who takes one bite and immediately gets sick. Merida leads her mother to her bedroom, asking incessantly about whether or not she still has to get married. Her inquiries only stop when Elinor falls to the ground moaning and then turns into a bear. Fearing for her mother's life in the fear of King Fergus' bear bloodlust, Merida smuggles Elinor out of the castle and back to the witch's castle. The witch is gone, but she left a note mentioning that the spell would be permanent in two days unless Merida can realize she's been a massive brat.  Merida and Elinor camp out in the woods and enjoy a good ol' fishing trip bond, where it becomes apparent that Elinor is mentally becoming more bear-like. Merida realizes that she has to mend the tapestry to fix her mother, and the two rush back to the castle.  In order to distract the nobles in the castle and get her mother upstairs, Merida tries to announce her decision to marry. Elinor tells her to announce instead that she will be breaking tradition and marrying when she is well ready for it. They get to the tapestry, but Elinor is chased out of the castle before they can mend it. Merida finishes the tapestry on horseback and throws it over her mother just as the sun rises, restoring her humanity and leaving them with a deeper understanding of one another.   In the beginning, Merida is at that point in her teens where, while she knows deep down that her mother really does want the best for her, the overwhelming unfairness of her whole situation keeps her from thinking rationally, instead lashing out at her mother in an attempt to gain some sort of control over her tumultuous emotions. Over the course of the story, she reaches that point in your teens where you realize what an ass you've been to your parents and how much they've done for you, and just as she does, she faces losing her mother forever.   Of course, I doubt any of the young girls watching Brave will get the full implication of this, since the idea of being friends with your mother isn't really plausible until you've matured enough not to be a little jerk all the time. Because of that, they probably won't cry profusely at the end, but they will hopefully get the message that Mom really does love them and doesn't do things to hurt them.  I also happen to be posting this on my mother's birthday, so here's to you, Mom! Please don't turn into a bear. The difference between Merida and most of the other princesses is that she knows how young she is and wants to remain that way. Real princesses have  to deal with the stress of partially ruling a kingdom, and have to take enormous responsibility with their personal lives. They will have the same job forever, and messing up will mean much more than just getting fired. They also have to worry about passing on their lineage, so whether they like it or not, they're going to be having more than a few children.    Merida knows all of this full well. Like many of the other princesses, she has a melodramatic teenage reaction to the things in her life, but it works in this case. Other princesses throw tantrums because they're not viewed as adults, and Merida throws them to prove otherwise.   Interestingly, while most princesses are defined by how much everyone loved them, nobody really seems to like Merida. Her family certainly loves her despite their frustration with her actions, but the townspeople all frown when she passes and the potential suitors seem pretty put-off when they realize what she's really like. Merida's only real friend is her horse, and even he smacks her in the face. It's a fair message to girls that caring only for yourself won't win you any friends. While Merida's spell doesn't have the intended effect, and it takes coming to a mutual understanding to change Elinor's mind as well as Merida's, Merida does eventually get what she wants. Brave is not the most subtle of Pixar movies, but to a young audience, this still may not be completely clear. This is only a slight worry, however, especially in light of the atrocity of the messages in other princess movies. Beauty and the Beast's messages of changing the one you love absolutely ruined the movie in the sense of morality, portraying an abusive relationship as something easily changeable, but Brave's messages are far less damaging. Both Merida and Elinor change naturally, and hopefully it will be clear to young girls that it is one's behavior that changes others, not magic. Brave does not end in marriage. Hell, Brave does not end in dating. While Merida does meet her potential suitors, and does show some slight interest, her casual interest is not pushed for the sake of giving her a fairy tale ending. Merida is not ready for a relationship, and she sticks with that. She does mature enough to know that one day she'll have to take the plunge, and she's open to the idea, but for now, her family is what matters.   The amount of products aimed at girls with a focus on marriage is disturbing, and it's refreshing to see a movie that shows that marriage is a pretty big deal and shouldn't be treated lightly.    Aside from some slight clarity issues, Brave is an absolutely wonderful influence for young girls. Encouraging friendly behavior and familial love while discouraging early marriage and quick fixes to tough problems? Brilliant. The fact that it highlights athleticism only adds bonus points, because archery is a lot of fun. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontasAnastasiaMulanEnchantedThe Princess and the Frog

While Pixar is known for its emotional depth and memorable characters, it has been sorely lacking in female protagonists. There are certainly a few interesting female characters, but they are always in the shadows of thei...

Princess Review: Earth Girls Are Easy

Apr 01 // Jenika Katz
Earth Girls Are Easy starts when two furry, uh, aliens, Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zeebo (Daman Wayans), get a signal of an Earth, well, uh, an exercise channel. They’ve been in space so long that the, ah, weirdly hairless Earth girls look incredibly, um, tempting. They zoom in on one bikini-clad girl in particular, and lose control of the ship in their attempt to, uh, to get a better look. Even their incredibly talented and, uh, handsome co-pilot, Mac (played by, well, the equally talented and handsome Jeff Goldblum), can’t get the ship on  track, and they crash right into an Earth, uh, swimming pool. The crash-causing, ah, babe is Valerie (Geena Davis), a manicurist in a, well, a sexless relationship with her fiance, Dr. Ted Gallagher (Charles Rocket). Normally she might be a bit, um, freaked out at an alien ship crashing in her pool, but as she’d just kicked Ted out for, uh, putting his stethoscope where it didn’t belong, she’s relatively, um, open to the idea of alien visitors. She swims out to see the ship and hits her head, and the, ah, heroic and absolutely fearless Mac bravely rescues her from the water. Realizing that these aliens are not here to - to harm Earth, Valerie sets out to have her pool drained so they can, ah, repair their ship and go home. It’ll take a while, so she takes the trio to her coworker, Candy (Julie Brown) for a, well, uh, a makeover. It turns out that the aliens are, um, super hot under all their fur, especially Mac, who looks fantastic no matter what he’s wearing. Candy convinces Valerie to, ah, take advantage of having hot guys around and to go out on the town. After a night of partying, Valerie realizes that the aliens are, um, charming in their own way, and Mac is an absolutely perfect dreamboat. She takes them home away from the, well, masses of women surrounding them and is getting them ready for bed when Ted comes home to apologize. He tries to attack the poor, sweet alien visitors and is, uh, carted off to jail. Mac soothes Valerie with his - his special alien love touch. You know which one I’m talking about. He used his penis. It’s huge.After an, uh, immensely satisfying night of lovemaking and, ah, odd post-coital alien dreams, Valerie wakes to find her pool drained. Wiploc and Zeebo head out for one last day of fun before they have to go home, with the, uh, the ever patient and valiant Mac following to keep them out of trouble. Ted comes back and, ah, proposes to Valerie, and she almost falls for it. The alien trio get back and see the former couple, um, rekindling the fire. In a desperate attempt to - to make the love of his life happy, Mac uses his, uh, sexy alien love touch on Valerie and Ted. It doesn’t work, and Valerie makes the right choice to run off with Mac to space.Sure, there are plenty of movies out there that, ah, teach girls that aliens are sex gods and clearly, um, superior to humans, but only Earth Girls Are Easy teaches them that- that handsome blue aliens named Mac will always treat them right. Why stay on Earth if there are smokin’ hot, uh, well-endowed aliens like Mac to run off with? Young girls will, um, understand what to do the moment they see a spaceship.Candy does not run off to space with hot aliens. What a whore.There is nothing like the, um, the bond between a girl and her magical blue sex friend.Overall, this is an, ah, ah, an excellent film for all ladies, and extraordinarily empowering. Also, that Jeff Goldblum must have a magnificent dong.  

You know, uh, Disney princesses are terrible role models. What kind of message is it to tell a girl she should be- ah, royalty? She can’t be royalty. There aren’t many princes for her to, ah, marry. No, she needs ...

Princess Review: A Recap

Feb 20 // Jenika Katz
   Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Given that this movie was made in 1937, you might not expect a terribly empowering view of women. Snow White is absolutely obsessed with marriage and doesn't care who it's with, and she spends her time cooking, cleaning, and sewing for seven little men. She doesn't have much of a personality other than being really nice to everyone. She does provide a good example of catching more flies with honey, but other than that, she's not really a princess that you'd want a little girl to emulate. Then again, given the differences between Snow White and more recent princess movies, it's unlikely that a modern girl will be able to stay awake long enough to garner any sort of message from the movie. Cinderella  While Cinderella also spends her time cleaning and singing about it, her situation is much more endearing than that of Snow White. Both women work as servants for their step-mothers and dream of a better life, but Cinderella manages to acknowledge that her life sucks and still remain optimistic. Of course, it would be more helpful if she actively tried to do anything about her problems, but instead she sits back and lets everyone else handle her problems. It's hard to see her as much of a poor influence, though, since she's barely in the movie. Sleeping Beauty Aurora may have to lay back and wait for a man to rescue her, but her situation is better than most. After spending a carefree life chilling out in a forest, Aurora learns that she is a princess. Instead of luxuriating in the idea of wealth and power, Aurora sees past the perks and balks at the closely-monitored life of a politician. Her idea of love is still rushed and superficial, but at least her beau has the same problem. Either way, the movie's art style leaves more of an impression than the protagonist, so there's not a lot to worry about. The Little Mermaid The Little Mermaid is often said to tell young girls that it's totally awesome to sell your voice and leave your family in order to get a vagina. While that particular message is a bit farfetched in the context of the actual story, the messages in The Little Mermaid are still pretty dangerous. Everyone eventually has to grow up and leave their parents, but Ariel is only sixteen when she decides to cut and run. In a society where there's a lot of pressure on young girls to grow up more quickly, seeing a role model do this isn't great. Her relationship with Eric is a lot healthier than the romances in the earlier movies, given that their attraction is based more on their acts of heroism than their appearances, but it's still rushed and shallow. Beauty and the Beast Belle is one of the strongest princesses out there. She has no romantic aspirations, and longs instead for adventure, thoughtful reading material, and intelligent discourse. She stands up to the things she's afraid of, and she sacrifices herself for the ones she loves. Her strength is what makes Beauty and the Beast such an awful movie for young girls. Belle is obviously a good role model, and she stays by a man who screams at her, throws tantrums, and breaks things. After a while, he stops being awful and turns into the perfect man, quite literally. So many women stay in ill-matched, abusive relationships because they think they can “fix” their partner, and when that change doesn't happen, they blame themselves. Despite having one of the strongest protagonists, Beauty and the Beast sends the worst message. Aladdin  Princess Jasmine may need to put some real clothes on, but she's otherwise a pretty good influence. She's smart, adventurous, and more interested in a friend than a lover. She uses her power to get things done, but she never abuses her influence. Her whirlwind romance isn't perfect, but it's surprisingly endearing. The main problem with Jasmine is the Halloween costumes her young fans will inevitably want to wear. Depending on their location, there's a strong chance of frostbite. The Swan Princess While it's not a Disney classic, wasn't highly marketed after its release, and is all-around pretty terrible, The Swan Princess is noteworthy for its introduction to critical thinking. Odette is initially an intelligent, vivacious girl, and she doesn't want to marry her Prince Charming until he gives her a reason he loves her other than a hot body. This message would pack a lot more punch if Odette didn't suddenly lose her spine and her personality once she hit eighteen, but her initial refusal is enough to get the cogs turning. Pocahontas  It may stray further from historical accuracy than Jurassic Park, but Disney's Pocahontas does provide a strong female character. The protagonist seeks adventure and thinks for herself, and when faced with having to choose between a man and her community, she chooses to swallow her feelings and stay with the people who need her most. The romance is quick and mostly based on a mutual fetish for the exotic, but it ends on a high note and doesn't make Pocahontas any less strong. Anastasia Billed as fiesty and independent, Anastasia is really more bossy and snobbish. As an orphan, she values having a family more than finding a lover, but she immediately abandons the one surviving family member she has in favor of a man. Her acidic relationship moves far too quickly and ends in marriage. Basically, Anastasia kind of sucks as a person. She just happens to be in a cool movie with decaying skeletons and shit. Mulan Mulan may have to pretend to be something she's not in order to gain respect, but that's more due to the time period than any character flaws. In an environment where women are only really there to pop out male children, Mulan manages to make a name for herself and gain respect amongst her male peers. Like Pocahontas, Mulan is only very loosely based on real history, but the message the Disney-fied version makes quite an impact. The best part is that Mulan initiates a relationship with the man she's interested in and takes the whole thing slowly. That's a wonderful example for girls to follow. Enchanted Giselle may be a parody of the princesses before her, but her over-sexualized merchandise drew the attention of more than just her young audience. Her overwhelming naivete and Robert's extreme cynicism clash in a manner indicative of explosive arguments down the line, and the fact that her sewing and housekeeping skills were impressive enough to end a serious long-term relationship should be a big red flag. Then again, she does use her newfound riches to start a successful business, so she may not be the worst role model in the world. The Princess and the Frog Tiana is not your typical princess: she works two jobs and pinches pennies in order to start a business. Her marriage to a prince doesn't change her career goals, but it does allow her to enjoy aspects of life other than work. Her friends may help her ascend the career ladder, but she worked hard to get on that ladder in the first place. In the real world, it takes both hard work and strong connections to get ahead, so why not show that to young girls early on in a way they can comprehend? Tangled Disney's newest princess has her fair share of relationship problems, but this time, it's not from a man. Yes, Rapunzel's relationship with Flynn Rider is shallow and based on the spark that seems to come from clashing personalities, but her deeper personal problems are with her mother. Gothel keeps Rapunzel locked away, assuring her that she is ugly, clumsy, and worthless, and that a single step into the world will just get her mugged for her magical hair. Rapunzel does manage to escape, and while that message could be very empowering to girls in similar situations, the main focus of all the merchandising is simply her contrived romance. With a deep conversation about the differences between fantasy and fiction, any princess movie would be acceptable for a young girl, but some are more worrisome than others. I will be reviewing Brave in a few months, but until then, feel free to let me know about any movies you think might be worth a Princess Review.

Princess movies aren't something that generally pop up every year. Disney is well-known for retreading old territory, making a nice profit off of sequels and re-releases, so there isn't a strong push for them to keep coming u...

Princess Review: Tangled

Jan 20 // Jenika Katz
A long time ago, an ancient old woman named Gothel found out that singing to a magical golden flower every couple of days could make her young again. After a few centuries of prolonging her youth, Gothel finds her flower in danger when the Queen becomes really sick while pregnant (with what is inevitably the only child she can have) and sends her subjects out to find this magical healing flower. She drinks some Magical Flower Tea and pops out a toddler with hair the same shade of gold and magical properties as the aforementioned flower. Gothel attempts to steal a lock of the toddler's hair, but cutting it causes the hair to turn brown, the color of non-magic. This does not happen when simply stealing the child, so Gothel makes do with some good old-fashioned kidnapping. She locks the child in a high, remote tower, and tells her that she can't leave because everyone outside will kill her for her magic hair. Meanwhile, the kingdom grieves, and sends out floating lanterns every year on her birthday in hopes that the missing princess will see them and come back. Despite being cut off from talking to anyone but her “mother” for eighteen years, Rapunzel grows into a relatively well-adjusted girl. Her time alone is spent painting, sewing, reading, cooking, cleaning, and pretty much trying not to kill herself with boredom. When Gothel comes to visit, Rapunzel gets to enjoy being told that she's worthless, hideous, and stupid- but hey, at least she's safe! Spending her entire day in a tower makes her rather observant of the things going on outside her window, and she finds that every year on her birthday, there are a ton of magical lights in the sky. To celebrate not being jailbait anymore, Rapunzel asks Gothel to take her to see the lights. Gothel freaks out, reminds her of the dangers outside, and forbids her to ever talk about the lights again. It's about this time that handsome and oh-so-witty thief Flynn Rider needs a place to escape with his stolen royal crown and happens to come across a high, remote tower. He climbs in and terrifies Rapunzel, who knocks him out and ties him up. She hides his crown and promises to give it back if he takes her to see the lights. Flynn agrees, and they have a gaggle of adventures. Rapunzel tells him about her magical healing hair, and Flynn tells her about he's actually an orphan with a dorky name. They instantly fall in love. It can't be easy for them, of course. Gothel follows Rapunzel, guilt-tripping her about leaving and telling her that Flynn is totally going to leave her as soon as he gets what he wants from her (his crown, not sex). She gets Flynn's old partners in crime to lure Flynn away and steal Rapunzel for her hair, leaving the girl to think that she's been abandoned by her One True Love and must go back to her abuser. After a totally wacky escape, Flynn manages to get back to Rapunzel's tower and take away the one thing Gothel used her for (her hair, not sex). Gothel dries up without her magic youth provider, leaving Rapunzel free to return to her kingdom, marry Flynn, and probably have lots of babies. I was not a big fan of Tangled on my first viewing. I thought the plot was weak, the music was worse, and while it did have cute moments, it overall felt more like a decent DreamWorks movie than a full-on Disney princess movie. I've been told many times since that I was too harsh on it and that I really should give it another shot. This was my second viewing, and I have to say: still can't believe Alan Menken did the music for this one. I can only imagine that Disney called him while he was in the middle of family time on his yacht, and he was all like, “Ugh, fine. I'll throw something together. Just leave me alone.” I guess you can't win at everything. “Mother Knows Best” is okay, but it's certainly not the best villain song out there. [embed]206637:37717[/embed] The villain song leads me to the most interesting part of the movie. While other princess movies touch on the topic of an abusive parental figure, they're usually more over-the-top in showing why that parent is evil. Both Snow White and Cinderella have abusive step-mothers, but it's easy for a kid to see that when the heroines are forced to live in rags and do chores all day while the villains luxuriate in riches. That's not the case with Rapunzel. She does not have to work, and she's given most of the material good she wants. She is less of a person than a possession, and after eighteen years of living in the dark, it takes her a surprisingly short amount of time to come to terms with her entire life up to that point being a complete lie. She isn't completely strong about it, either: she only leaves the tower at all in the face of crippling self-doubt, and when her mother dies at the end, she still reaches out to try and save her. Some may say this makes her weak, but it's a complicated situation, and it's nice to see it painted in a somewhat realistic manner that is still accessible to kids. It's obvious to an adult that Rapunzel's mother is horribly emotional abusive, and I can only hope that a child would be able to see the same thing. This is just disappointing. They are not like dogs at all. If they were, I would like them a lot more. Stupid horses. Flynn and Rapunzel's relationship falls under general romantic comedy rules: the boy and the girl have some intense differences at first that overpower their initial attraction to each other. They fall for each other, some wacky misunderstanding occurs that makes one think the other has done wrong, and the inevitable redemption causes the two to live happily ever after. Of course, weak plot doesn't have anything to do with the actual stability of a relationship, but it's not exactly a strong indicator. A lot of princess movies suffer from the fall-in-love-in-three-days formula, but Tangled has it worse: Rapunzel and Flynn fall in love in one day. Just one. What's worse is that Flynn is literally the first man Rapunzel has ever seen in her entire life. The narration right before the credits suggests that the two date for years before getting married, but the movie still ends with them getting married. That means that Rapunzel falls in love with the first man she sees on the first day she meets him (which, coincidentally, is the day before she turns eighteen) and then marries him. Yes, this is a wonderful message for little girls. The two seem to have the same goals of seeing more of the world and neither actively tries to change the other, but when that is the best thing you can say about a relationship, there's certainly a problem. The thing that drew me to write about princesses is the marketing, and something really odd happened in that department with Tangled. Rapunzel is perfect as a doll. She's one of the few animated characters that looks just as natural in toy form as she does on the screen. Her head is slightly bigger than her body, she has big, colorful eyes, and she has incredibly long hair. These are things that draw little girls to buy dolls in the first place. She also mentions that she spends a good chunk of her day sewing dresses, but only ever wears one. Disney doesn't seem like one to miss an opportunity like that, but there it is. There's a fair amount of merchandise out, but not a ton. I've seen a few iterations of Rapunzel and her chameleon and a few Flynns, but unlike most Disney movies, there's no merchandise of the villain. Given how light-handed they've been with the whole thing, it's like they felt awkward about heavily marketing a movie about parental abuse. In fact, that whole aspect of Tangled seems largely ignored. Kind of seems to miss the point. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontasAnastasiaMulanEnchantedThe Princess and the Frog

Tangled is one of those movies that had some very worrisome marketing. What was initially meant to be a strong tale about a girl escaping from a tower ended up with trailers completely centering around her love interest. The ...

Princess Review: The Princess and the Frog

Jan 06 // Jenika Katz
Tiana lives in the poor section of New Orleans with her parents. Her mother often makes elaborate, customized princess dresses for Charlotte La Bouff, daughter of a local sugar baron, and Tiana spends time with Charlotte while her mother works. Apparently custom dresses went for a lot less in the 20s, because the family can barely afford to get by. While Charlotte spends her time wishing on stars and getting everything her rich little heart desires, Tiana's father tells her that real people have to work hard if they want wishing on stars to do anything for them. After Tiana's father dies in the war, Tiana decides to carry out his dream of buying an old sugar mill on the waterfront and turning it into a five-star restaurant. She works two jobs and saves every penny to buy the building. This causes everyone she knows to mock her endlessly, but that is possibly because it's the only thing she ever talks about. Her big chance finally comes when the news hits that the broke Prince Naveen of totally-real Maldonia will be visiting New Orleans. Charlotte has always wanted to marry a prince, so she convinces her dad to throw a huge party and invite him. She hires Tiana to make her a batch of “man-catchin' beignets,” and the money is enough to finally allow Tiana to buy the old sugar mill. She meets up with a couple of realtors, who promise to sign the papers in the morning. Shortly before the party, Naveen and his bumbling man-friend are conned by the voodoo-practicing Dr. Facilier. Facilier turns Naveen into a frog and traps his blood in a fancy necklace that makes the wearer look like whoever's blood is inside of it. Naveen's servant puts on the necklace and rocks that prince swag right into the party, where he easily woos an oblivious Charlotte. While Charlotte is being swept off her feet, Tiana's realtors drop the news that she was outbid for the sugar mill. In her despair, Tiana wishes on a star for something to help her. It's around this time that Naveen escapes from the highly-secure jar he was kept in and sees Tiana. Mistaking her for a princess, he convinces Tiana to kiss him, promising her riches in exchange for making him human again. Since Tiana isn't a princess, the spell backfires and turns her into a frog as well. The two set out to find someone to turn them human again. They meet a bevy of animal companions along the way, and though Tiana's overly serious nature and Naveen's love of partying don't mesh well at first, they (very shockingly) end up falling in love. It turns out that the only way to become human again is to be satisfied with life as it is, but once they're back, Tiana finds that, with new friends on her side, she is able to get the life she always wanted. Okay, so I write feminist articles about the effects of princess worship on the minds of young girls, and I think girls should be encouraged to be strong and independent and not believe that their only value in the world is to look pretty and please men. I stand by that. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy the aesthetic appeal of the whole princess thing. Just look at that lily pad dress Tiana wears for about five seconds. That is gorgeous. I want six. My other reaction is how absolutely stunning the movie is. The Princess and the Frog was Disney's return to classic 2D animation, and between the beautiful art and the awesome music, it's hard not to love this movie, even if the protagonist weren't so strong. [embed]206261:37664[/embed] There's a lesson to be learned in The Princess in the Frog that is a pretty important one for real life: hard work will only get you so far if you don't have friends to back you up. Tiana scrimps and saves for years, but it isn't until she lets other people into her life that she is able to finally fulfill her dream. Naveen isn't necessarily the person to do that for her, either: her alligator buddy threatens the racist realtors who initially denied her. There's something to be said for encouraging violence to get what you want, I suppose, but I think the stronger message is that Tiana wouldn't have had anyone to strong-arm her enemies at all if she hadn't let her guard down long enough to make friends. And while the movie does heavily promote that love and friendship are more important if you want to get ahead in life, it doesn't undermine how much work Tiana has put into her dreams. Her friends may make sure that she isn't a doormat, but she earned all the money that she puts toward the restaurant by herself. In this day and age, it's rare to see anyone who only has to work one job to get by, and given the state of things, it's unlikely to get better any time soon. It's nice for girls to have a role model with a realistic depiction of what most of them will have to do in life. There is the downside that a lot of the problems in the movie seem to be solved by relationships with other people. Sure, Naveen's original way to get money through marrying Charlotte doesn't pan out, but Tiana's restaurant seems to do pretty well. Sure, at that point Naveen isn't looking for a way to continue a lavish lifestyle, but it does seem pretty handy that the girl that makes him want to be a better person also happens to become successful pretty quickly. Yes, Tiana and Naveen have the fall-in-love-in-three-days syndrome so common in Disney movies, but their love is not at all based on attraction. Naveen is something of a lady-killer, and he actually tries to hit on Tiana early in the movie without either of them really meeting, but he begins to actually fall for her when he gets to know her as a frog. He sees her passion about achieving her goals, and she helps him see that he's not absolutely useless. For the first time, he begins to care about someone else more than himself. In turn, Tiana is not flawless. Her determination is very admirable, but she works so hard that she can't enjoy life at all. Were it not for Naveen showing her that it's okay to have fun while working on your goals, she likely would have gotten her restaurant eventually, but what would she do then? With her dreams accomplished, who would she be able to talk to about them? Sure, maybe their personalities are a bit too different for them to realistically get along, but they compliment each other so nicely that it's hard not to be optimistic. Each partner inspires change in the other by simply wanting to be a better person for the sake of the other, but they never try to actively change each other. That's a healthy kind of change. Please take note, Beauty and the Beast. When it comes to princess movies, I usually have a lot more criticism than praise, but The Princess and the Frog is one of those movies that's hard to find a bad message in. It's nice to know that among the movies that tell girls to wait for a man to come along and save them, there's one that lets them know that while it's nice to wish on a star, it will only be able to help you as much as you help yourself. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontasAnastasiaMulanEnchanted

Disney took a long vacation from princess movies, but they took an even longer from traditional 2D animated musicals. The Princess and the Frog was their first attempt in a while (barring some that we're going to ignore), and...

Princess Review: Enchanted

Dec 02 // Jenika Katz
Giselle (Amy Adams) is living the life of a typical pre-marriage princess: she stays in a free cottage in the woods where her animal friends take care of the housework. One night, she has a dream about her ideal prince that will totally kiss her and that's all, and suddenly, she finds him: right when a troll comes to attack her peaceful cottage, Prince Edward (James Marsden) comes to her rescue. How convenient! They exchange names and declare they will be married the next day. Despite her plethora of slave laborers, Giselle is a bit late to her own wedding, rushing in at the last moment. She's stopped by a completely innocuous old woman who offers her a wish on her wedding day. Giselle takes the bait, leans over a wishing well, and suddenly finds herself in a world where dreams don't actually come true, much to the chagrin of many a recently-graduated hipster: New York City. She stumbles blindly around the city until she meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a cynical divorce lawyer whose daughter has much more imagination than he'd like. Robert takes Giselle under his wing in spite of himself, and Giselle, being a hot, young thing, accidentally gives the wrong impression to Robert's five-year girlfriend, Nancy (Idina Menzel). She decides to make it right with her gift of song. [embed]205779:37495[/embed] It might have been the singing, or the red hair, or maybe the cleaning of his apartment, but despite the fact that Giselle cut up all of his nice linens to make into clothing, Robert begins to grow fond of Giselle. She likes Robert, too, since even though he doubts that her prince will ever come to save her, he lets her know that intelligent conversation and actually getting to know someone are kind of important to a lasting relationship. Edward does come to save her, of course, but it isn't easy for him. His mother, Queen Nerissa (Susan Sarandon), doesn't want him to get married and take her throne, so she tries to thwart him every step of the way. Not-so-true love prevails, and when Edward somehow finds his distressed damsel in New York, even though Giselle is less than thrilled to reconnect with the man she thought she loved, Queen Nerissa comes through to protect her power. Since she's the bad guy, she dies horribly. After a long struggle, Giselle and Robert realize that they're perfect for each other, Nancy and Edward run off together, and everyone lives happily ever after. Let's be real: while I was young enough to enjoy Mulan as the intended audience, Enchanted came out in 2007. Sure, a lot of the humor in the movie is for adults who grew up watching Disney's earlier princess movies, and while I enjoy the references a lot, I am not the intended audience for Enchanted, and I wasn't when the movie was released. That doesn't, however, make the movie any less enjoyable. It's a lot of fun to spot the references to older movies, especially the more subtle ones. One of my favorites is “Part of your World” playing softly while Giselle is standing behind an aquarium. It's just a couple of seconds during a scene transition, but it's pretty glorious. I'm a little jealous of people who are able to follow their dreams exactly and make money from it, especially in this economy. Starting your own business is hard work, and if it's this hard to find a good job, I can only imagine how hard it is to get a loan for a start-up. Of course, Giselle's at a slight advantage given that her boyfriend is a lawyer, and affluent enough to afford an apartment overlooking Central Park, but that doesn't mean it takes any less drive. It's nice to see a woman working in a Disney movie, especially if she could theoretically coast off her partner's success. We don't live in a world of single-income families anymore (except for the extremely fortunate), and it's good for young girls to see a role model that enjoys the rewards of working for a living. There's the added bonus of letting girls know that there's a balance between fantasy and reality. The fairy tale world Giselle is from is portrayed as something clearly different from the real world, and it's obvious that she needs a good dose of reality. Similarly, Robert's world is sad and cynical, and he needs a bit more optimism and magic in his life. It's clear, even to a kid, that neither person is completely perfect, and that there needs to be a balance between the two outlooks. Giselle is actually one of the reasons I wanted to write this series. Disney has stopped making many Enchanted items at this point since they have newer princesses to push on girls, but the products with Giselle on them really stood out to me when they were in stores. Despite being comically innocent in the movie, every image of Giselle on backpacks and notebooks featured the sleeves of her dress falling off her shoulders as she gave a sultry look to the camera. What is the point of that? Why can't she just be a happy, silly character? Why does everything have to be sexy? And you know what attracts Robert to Giselle in the first place, other than her being Amy Adams? He is impressed by her cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Yes, really. I know the things she does are supposed to parody the actions of previous princesses, but the only real things one could notice about Giselle are how hot she is, her homemaking skills, and her childlike view of the world. Given Robert's reluctance to encourage his daughter's interest in fantasy, it's certainly not the latter, and let's be real: he's a rich lawyer in New York, so he can probably find a hot woman if he likes. Robert and Nancy's relationship may not be completely stable, as evidenced when her reaction to his changed behavior is an ecstatic “That's so unlike you,” but they've been in it for the long haul, and Robert's planned proposal doesn't seem like an attempt to save a dead relationship. Giselle's attraction for Robert makes sense, since this is not only the first man she's actually gotten to know, but he is her only friend in an unfriendly new world. As for Robert, having a hot young woman fall into his lap and look at him as a hero couldn't be easy to resist, but even if she weren't, in his eyes, completely insane, there's no reason for him to leave Nancy for her. Sure, things work out in the end and all parties are completely happy, but that doesn't change how messed up the whole thing is. While there's the obvious problem of abandoning his serious relationship with Nancy for a hot young thing, there's still the question of whether or not Giselle and Robert make a good couple at all. One of the major turning points in making Giselle more human is that she actually feels anger for the first time, and while it's healthy to feel a wide range of emotions, it's probably not a good sign that her first experience with the feeling was at her new partner. Her overwhelming optimism and his severe cynicism may seem to balance each other out at first, but how long will the balance last before Robert becomes frustrated with Giselle's inability to adapt, or Giselle gets depressed when Robert constantly brings her back down to Earth? Once again, it just leads to “I can totally change him and we will be happy forever!” Yes, people change. People adapt to their partners. But when two people are so radically different from the start, and a lot would have to change in order for both parties to be happy, it's not healthy to expect that the other person will change and everything will be fine. While the movie is a parody, the messages it sends are real, and the positive messages about drive and employment are weighed down by the lessons in awful relationships. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontasAnastasiaMulan

After Mulan, Disney gave princess movies a long break. A full nine years passed between Mulan and Disney's next princess movie, Enchanted. The gap between these Princess Reviews was totally intentional and meant to mirror thi...

Princess Review: Mulan

Jul 15 // Jenika Katz
Mulan lives in a society where women are only expected to get married and raise children. She thinks for herself, speaks her mind, and doesn't always listen to authority. This, of course, makes her an absolutely awful potential bride. Who would marry a woman who thinks? When she attempts to impress a matchmaker, Mulan ends up making a complete fool of herself, and she comes to the realization that she's not much of one for a traditional lifestyle. She doesn't have much time for self-loathing, though. Upon her return to her family's farm, the Emperor's messenger arrives with news that the Huns have invaded China, and one man from every family must serve in the war. Mulan's father is crippled from the last war, and Mulan begs him not to accept the summons. This is pretty embarrassing in front of a crowd, especially for a former war hero, and her father says as much. Mulan is upset at having shamed her family twice in one day, and when she sees her father collapse in pain while practicing with his sword, she makes a decision: she's going in for him. [embed]199669:36879[/embed] Once they find out what she's doing, Mulan's parents would like to stop her, but joining the Chinese army under false pretenses, specifically as a woman, is punishable by death. Given that Mulan has lived most of her life as a tomboy, one might think that she would have an easier time adjusting to life as a male, but she is not a terribly convincing man. After a few well-intentioned missteps and consistently failing at all of the training exercises, she becomes the mockery of the entire camp. Captain Shang, the commander of the troops, asks her to leave. This is enough cause for Mulan to nut up and finish training, and her improvement inspires her peers to do the same. The troops head out soon after to meet up with the main branch, singing all the while about bonin' ladies. Their song stops short when they arrive at the designated village and find it burned to the ground, all the inhabitants lying dead amongst the Chinese soldiers that tried to protect them. Yes, this is still a Disney movie. The soldiers move on, following the Huns, and clash with their army on a snowy mountain. The Huns vastly outnumber them, but Mulan's tactical thinking comes to the rescue. She causes an avalanche, burying the Huns alive. Unfortunately, she's injured in the process, and her fellow soldiers discover a couple of things that make her ineligible for military service. Captain Shang spares her life in return for her bravery, and the troops leave her alone on the mountain. Just as Mulan decides to return home and confront her family, she discovers that Shan Yu, leader of the Hun army, is still alive. Assuming that this means he'll be heading for the Emperor's palace, she returns to the city and tries to warn her fellow soldiers. They ignore her, and feel that they are quite safe until the Huns burst out of a parade float and kidnap the Emperor. Mulan once again comes up with a quick solution, and she faces off against Shan Yu, killing him violently with fireworks. The Emperor offers Mulan a position in his cabinet, but Mulan refuses for the moment, preferring to go back home and show her family how awesome she is. The Emperor leaves his offer standing, and invites all of China to bow to her like the hero she is. At the very end of the movie, the Emperor tells Shang to follow Mulan, since “You don't meet a girl like that every Dynasty.” Of course, I only realized that was what he was saying when I rewatched the movie in high school, and felt a little silly for mishearing the word for so long. Upon watching it again, though, I don't feel too bad. Seriously, listen to him and tell me he's saying that word clearly. While the movie begins with Mulan preparing to go into an arranged marriage, it's clear that it isn't a situation she's interested in. I mean, she has to write notes on her arm about being the perfect wife. Considering that her peers pretty much existed to get married and pop kids out, she must really have her mind elsewhere not to know the basics. The only reason she goes along with it is to honor her family, but she knows it's not her style. Conversely, when she poses as Ping in the army, Mulan is also not completely comfortable with her situation. She acts more like herself once she's proven that she's a badass, but she still has to completely hide her identity. You can tell how much more confident she becomes in the final scenes, hiding neither her gender nor her analytical mind. Her confidence inspires the respect of her peers, and that's a wonderful message for a little girl to get. Of course, the fact that Mulan has to show her strength by trying to become a man is a little out of place with the positive messages in the movie. Seriously, one song instructs the viewer to be a man, and the other talks about ideal women while rejecting Mulan's suggestion for a woman who thinks for herself. If Mulan were allowed to go back into combat after her exploits, I think it would make up for the message. As it is, since the worst offender is also the best song in the movie and I never noticed the implications as a kid, I think it gets a pass. [embed]199669:36877[/embed] Mulan and Shang start off unsteadily, but after Mulan proves that she is worthy of respect, she and Shang become friends. Sure, she has a bit of a crush on him, making their friendship not purely platonic, but let's be real: who wouldn't have a crush on Shang? Plus, if we're being realistic, Mulan is a teenager, so the fact that she doesn't let her slight romantic affection interfere with her respect for Shang is a pretty good mark of self-control. Even better, there is absolutely no romance between them until after their friendship is solidified, and then Mulan simply invites him to dinner. Mark that: she invites him out, and not the other way around. A relationship initiated by a woman and based on friendship? Good job, Disney. More of this, please. Both characters are interesting and likeable, and it seems realistic that they would actually get along together. Unlike most romances that begin with one or both characters disliking one another, Shang's reluctance to accept Mulan is not because of her personality, but because of her perceived weakness and how much harder she makes his job at first. Once she proves herself, however, their mutual respect for one another leads to a strong friendship, and while Mulan's initial deception is quite the blow to Shang (especially considering that, given the time period, the sheer fact that a woman could be so strong would be a hard thing for an army captain to wrap his mind around), he comes around eventually and understands that she really did have good intentions. By the way, did you know who voices Shang in the Chinese version of the movie? No disrespect to Mr. Chan, of course, but I don't think I'd be able to maintain a lady-boner for Shang with this voice coming out of him. [embed]199669:36878[/embed] Mulan boasts a strong, kickass female character, and its flaws are minor enough that young girls probably won't even notice them. This is probably the strongest role model to date, and well worth a young girl's time. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontasAnastasia

Princess Reviews return with the most pink I have put in a header in my life. Unlike some previous Disney princess films loosely following actual historical events, Mulan is based on an old Chinese ballad about a female warri...

The sidelined women of Pixar

Jun 23 // Jenika Katz
The stories in Pixar are mainly about the adventures men have and the relationships they form on the way. Sometimes these are romantic relationships, as with Lightning and Sally in Cars or Linguini and Colette in Ratatouille. More often, they're in the form of friendships, as with Buzz and Woody in Toy Story or Mike and Sulley in Monsters, Inc. I do have to commend Pixar for putting the focus on personal growth and friendship rather than romantic relationships; it's a rarity in movies in general, and especially in ones aimed at children. What I do take issue with is that all of these stories about friendship focus on the men involved, and while some of the women are important to the story, they're often shunted for the more interesting male characters. Take, for example, Bo Peep. Shuffled to the sidelines for the first two movies and serving only as a love interest and moral compass for Woody, Bo was completely written out of the third Toy Story. Realistically, yes, Bo Peep would have been given away by the time the kids were grown, and it makes for a wonderfully dark moment in the film. But why wasn't she adventuring in the first place? Why was it that the only woman in the first movie was made of china, too frail to do anything fun? Look at A Bug's Life. The female royal family stay home while the male protagonist goes adventuring, and the few women in the band of “Warrior Bugs” play support roles for the others. With some Pixar films, there are barely any women in the picture at all. The fact that Colette is a main character in Ratatouille does not make up for the lack of any other women in the movie, and the only living female for the majority of Up is a bird. Luckily, these movies are the rarity. WALL-E only has two female characters and one is a robot, but out of five main characters (and a background of genderless others), this does not feel like a slight. Out of all of the Pixar movies, in fact, WALL-E feels the most equal in that regard. Gender clearly doesn't matter in the importance of the adventure, and everyone feels just as important as anyone else. There are quite a few cases where women were in the picture but left, abandoning the other characters to lives of loneliness and despair. Most people's first thoughts will no doubt go to Emily from Toy Story 2, the girl who grew tired of Jessie and left her on the side of the road. Emily is not the only one guilty of this in the Toy Story series: the oft-mentioned but unseen Daisy from Toy Story 3 led two of the characters to evil by leaving them behind. Even Andy's little sister Molly is guilty of this, as her loss of interest leads to the donation of Barbie and Bo Peep. These latter two girls are not vilified, but there's a sense of betrayal connected to them, like they just gave up on the people who loved them without much of a second thought. Related to abandonment, one of the criticisms I've often heard about Disney movies is the prevalence of the dead mother. The caring female figure that takes care of the protagonist (not necessarily their mother, but someone equally important) is often killed early on or missing from the very beginning. This is not as prevalent in Pixar movies, and while a few mothers are not mentioned, the only actual dead mother is Coral from Finding Nemo. There's one character in the Pixar line, however, that takes the idea to a whole new level: Ellie from Up. This is, of course, no standard case of abandonment. Ellie is heavily involved in Carl's life before she gets sick, and her death leaves his life in shambles. He keeps Ellie's items and their daily routines, and watching his attempts to move on is simply heartbreaking. The film tells us to enjoy life's less glamorous adventures, but we also see the pain Carl goes through when the most important person in his life leaves him, and how much she impacts the remainder of his life. Ellie is an extreme case, of course, but she falls into one of the main roles that women fall into in Pixar films: the love interest. Every single film has a love interest for the main male character, with the exception of Finding Nemo- and, since Dory more or less takes over as Nemo's mother at the end of that one, it could be implied that she is still the love interest. There are certainly some strong female characters in Pixar movies; Jessie from Toy Story and Helen Parr from The Incredibles immediately spring to mind. They are both powerful women who have been through a lot in life and manage to come out on top. They do, however, fall into the same trap as many other female characters: they are the love interests of the protagonists. They are damned fine love interests, but they still are not the focus. Worse still are the worst kinds of women in children's movies: the woman who is there to nag the protagonist into being a better guy. I hate the you-can-fix-him mentality and think it's a horrible message to spread, and fixing a man by being a constant reminder of his moral compass is even worse. Why can't a guy just be decent from the beginning? Why can't two characters fall in love because they like the other for exactly who they are? Brave will hopefully steer away from these tropes, given that they at least have a female main for once, but she will undoubtedly have a love interest. I mentioned Tangled earlier, and while it's not Pixar, I think the comparison bears repeating. Rapunzel's story is about leaving the tower and growing into a new person, but it is completely overshadowed by her love interest. Look at the trailers for Tangled. They make it out to be a story of a cocky man and his adventures with a weird girl, when the original premise is anything but. Why does he have to overshadow her in her own film? Why stoop to the you-can-fix-this-broken-man trope that princess movies seem to love so much? Will Brave fall into the same trap, or will both characters be compatible and experience mutual growth? I'm holding onto my hopes that Pixar can do a good job with making a strong female character in this one, but given their track record with women, it unfortunately does not seem too likely.

Given my main contributions to this site, you can probably guess how excited I am for Brave next summer. A Pixar fairy tale starring a princess that isn't about her quest to find a husband? Yes, please! While there isn't much...

Princess Review: Anastasia

Jun 03 // Jenika Katz
Anastasia begins with the fall of Imperial Russia, which was, of course, at the hands of the evil wizard Rasputin. Young Anastasia and her grandmother, the Grand Duchess, are at a wonderful party when Rasputin bursts in and starts murdering everyone. A servant boy helps the two escape, grabbing a music box that Anastasia wanted before they leave the palace. Rasputin almost catches them, but he steps on a patch of thin ice, cursing the entire family to death before he drowns. The Grand Duchess manages to board a train to Paris, but Anastasia is left behind. Ten years later, an orphanage in the boonies releases teenaged Anya, a bossy girl who conveniently does not remember her early life, save for the need to meet somebody in Paris. The orhpanage hooks her up with a job at a fish market, but Anya decides to travel to St. Petersburg instead to buy a ticket to Paris. She finds that she can't leave the country without travel documentation, but a stranger tells her to look up a man named Dmitri at the ruins of the old palace. Dmitri, tired of simply selling fake passports, is holding auditions for girls who look like the missing Anastasia. The Grand Duchess is still living in Paris, and she's offering a handsome reward for anyone who returns her grandchild to her. None of the girls in St. Petersburg are terribly compelling, and he's about to give up when he runs into Anya, who is twirling around and “remembering” things. She tells him her story, and he offers to take her to Paris on the off chance that she might be the Grand Duchess. Rasputin, caught in limbo, awakes, determined to kill off Anastasia so he can live again or something. While Dmitri and Anya take the long way to France, he sends evil minions off to kill them. This doesn't work, of course, and Dmitri teaches Anya a lot about “her” past. The two start off bickering, but slowly fall in love over the course of their adventure. They make it to Paris and meet Sophie, the Duchess' servant who pre-screens all the Anastasia wannabes. Anya talks about a music box, and Dmitiri reveals (to the audience) that he was the boy in the palace (gasp!) and Anya really is Anastasia (double gasp!). Sophie lets them know that the Grand Duchess is too heartbroken at the long string of fakes to meet any more girls, but if they want to harass an old lady, she would take them to the ballet to meet her that night. Everyone goes to the ballet, and Dmitri tries to convince the Grand Duchess to meet Anastasia. She won't, but during their conversation, Anastasia overhears that Dmitri is a con man and storms out on him. Determined to make things right, Dmitri kidnaps the old lady and sends her to Anastasia's room to talk. Anastasia suddenly remembers everything, and they have a tearful reunion and prepare a grand ball. Dmitri turns down the reward money and starts to head home. The Grand Duchess lets Anastasia know that she should go after him and she'll be there when they get back. Anastasia goes out to find Dmitri, but Rasputin, tired of failed murder attempts, leads her into a hedge maze and tries to kill her the normal way. Dmitri, who did not leave after all (gasp?), appears just in time for an epic battle, complete with a bunch of magic and an evil CGI pegasus statue. Anastasia stomps on the source of Rasputin's evil powers, killing him for realsies, and she and Dmitri run off and elope on a boat. I never thought much about Anastasia herself. Instead, I noticed all the happy people dancing in the streets and singing about gossip. I don't claim to be an expert on Russian culture, but I don't think the events in question led to such chipper attitudes behind admittedly gloomy lyrics. [embed]199168:36728[/embed] I never noticed it as a kid, but this movie is gruesome as all hell. Rasputin is a rotting corpse and falls apart often. In one scene, his head falls into his chest cavity, and there's a shot of it lying in a brown pool of what were presumably once his internal organs. When he dies, his skin melts off, and his irradiated skeleton seizes until is disintegrates. That is awesome. Anastasia never talks about wanting a prince, or a man at all, really. Her main goal is to find the family she always dreamed of. Of course, most of her family died horribly, but she at least finds one person to love. This is unfortunately undermined by the fact that she leaves said family member for a man she finds along the way, claiming culture shock without even trying the potential new lifestyle, but at least she wasn't singing about the man she'd one day marry that would make her life complete. When I was sixteen, I worked as a Counselor in Training at the camp I went to when I was younger. I had two different groups of girls. The first group was the youngest cabin and was an absolute joy. The second group was the second-youngest cabin, one of the most difficult age groups to manage, and I was a bit worried. All of the girls ended up being a delight...except for one. This is because she thought she was Anastasia. All frizzy red hair, freckles, and entitlement, this little girl always stuck with me as the worst example of an only child that I'd ever seen. She was a princess, you see, and she was in a dreary world of commoners who made her work so hard, and one day she would escape and you'd see what you'd done to her! Making her walk up a hill during a hike prompted her to burst into tears about the cruel treatment she was receiving, having to slave away under the hot sun. To understand the irony here, we were at farm camp. Clearly, the main character of Anastasia couldn't be completely responsible for this, as I, too, was an only child and watched the movie quite a bit. Upon watching it as an adult, however, I can easily see where the little brat got some of her ideas. Anastasia is constantly argumentative, bossing around anyone who doesn't do things her way. When she gets what she wants, she's sweet, but she's absolutely hellish until then. Given that other characters describe her as fiery and independent, qualities that young girls are told to aspire to, this is a big problem. Independence does not require snobbery. Thinking back, many little girls I knew who thought they were princesses acted in a similar way, figuring that their pampered treatment meant that they were actual royalty and others should bow to their whims. Dresses and make-up certainly aren't the worst things a girl can adopt when obsessed with the princess phenomenon.  This is also one of the first movies where the characters reference the weight of the heroine. Dmitri mentions that he doesn't find Anastasia attractive because she's too skinny, and other characters, as well as Anastasia herself, echo this sentiment. It's nice to show larger women in a positive light, but singling out any body type as unappealing in a movie aimed at little girls is pretty sick. I've never understood why so many romantic comedies start out with people who absolutely hate each other. Why can't they like each other and have some sort of obstacle to their relationship? That's realistic! The use-the-woman-for-personal-gain-and-then-fall-in-love-with-her plot has been done to death, and it's no more original in Anastasia. And you know how they eventually fall in love? Dancing, of course. They have absolutely nothing in common and spend most of the movie yelling at each other. Nothing good could come of this. In all, Anastasia is one of the worst princess movies in terms of messages, teaching young girls to act like the princesses they idolize by being horrible children. The story is weak, the romance is terrible, and most of the characters are dull. On the plus side, the music is really damn catchy. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan PrincessPocahontas

Much like Pocahontas, Anastasia tackles historical characters and takes them drastically far from actual events in history. The main difference lies in the approach: while Pocahontas portrayed a very sanitized, skewed version...

Princess Review: Pocahontas

May 13 // Jenika Katz
In Disney's version of the story, adventurer John Smith journeys to a mysterious New World. He spends his time on the ship being heroic and talking about how many natives he'll murder, winning the admiration of his shipmates. Governor Ratcliffe, the totally-not-evil leader of the voyage, notices this comradery, and bemoans his unpopularity. On the shores of this suspiciously mall-free New World, the local tribe's Chief Powhatan has returned from battle. He promises the hand of his daughter Pocahontas to his finest warrior, Kocoum. Pocahontas isn't terribly thrilled about this arrangement, preferring the freedom of adventure to a steady life with an overly serious husband. She takes a canoe ride to discuss this dilemma with a tree, and notices the sails of the colonists getting closer to land. She decides to investigate. As soon as they get ashore, the Englishmen set about singing, digging, and blowing up trees. Pocahontas sees John Smith break away from the pack to go adventuring, and decides to stalk him. After a while, Smith notices that he's being followed and confronts Pocahontas. After some confusion, Pocahontas learns Magic English, and the two teach each other about their cultures. Pocahontas is excited to hear about the outside world, and Smith realizes that he's quite the tool. The tribe and the colonists don't get on nearly as well as Smith and Pocahontas. The natives' mission to observe the newcomers is mistaken for an ambush, and the colonists are convinced that the natives are hiding gold and precious gems. Pocahontas and Smith continue to see one another, but both have to hide their relationship from their people. One night, they sneak off to make out in the forest, but both are followed. Kocoum sees Pocahontas kissing another dude and attacks, and Smith's follower shoots Kocoum for attacking. The Englishman rushes off, and natives take Smith back to their village to be killed in the morning. Ratcliffe seizes on Smith's popularity to encourage the men to wage war, and the tribe takes the murder of their best warrior as a chance to get rid of their unwelcome visitors. The colonists march to the site of Smith's execution, but Pocahontas refuses to let Smith die. Ratcliffe attempts to shoot Powhatan to avoid making peace, but Smith takes the bullet and strengthens the resolve of both sides. Smith must go back to England for medical treatment and invites Pocahontas to come with him, but she decides to stay with her people. Let's first address the accuracy issue of the whole movie. No, it's not accurate. I remember hearing so when I was a kid and looking up what really happened. Many other people my age looked up the real story, too, and we all talked about the differences between fact and fiction together, which was pretty advanced discussion for children in the first grade. While Disney may not have kept the story accurate, they certainly did a good job at creating a likeable female character. I remember looking up Pocahontas in a book, excited to read about her wonderful adventures and tearful reunion with John Smith, and the feelings of disappointment when I found out what her life was really like. The sequel three years later just made it worse. My friends and I quietly ignored the findings of our research while playing, vastly preferring the fantasy version. One of the other major complaints about the movie was making Pocahontas into a fully-grown sex symbol. Interestingly, this was one of the first movies that made me upset about my appearance. It wasn't that the main character looked like a swimsuit model, which I didn't notice at all until I was much older. No, I was upset that my hair wasn't that long. Way to make me feel bad about myself, Disney. Every princess movie ends with the hero and heroine being together forever, but Pocahontas does away with that one. I'm pretty sure historians would have an aneurysm if Disney had gone for that ending, of course, but it still made an impact on me as a kid. Much like Odette not wanting to marry Derek in The Swan Princess, Pocahontas' decision to stay with her people was very confusing to me as a child. Clearly, everyone who was in love spent the rest of their lives together, so why didn't she immediately go away with him? Instead of the usual ending of a princess movie, Pocahontas shows devotion to her lover while ultimately choosing her family. Pocahontas herself is an interesting character, and grabs the attention of younger audiences. She has all the spirit of adventure that Ariel does with less of the daddy issues, and her absolute lack of fear isn't seen often in female characters. Her likeability makes her decision of romantic independence all the more powerful. This may seem a little far-fetched, but I grew up in Hawaii and people did this all the time. Did you know that Pocahontas goes over waterfalls three times in this movie? It's ridiculous! That is far too many times to go over waterfalls! I mean, the first time we meet Pocahontas, she jumps off a waterfall to save some time, and then does so again during two more songs. That's very unsafe behavior for a role model! [embed]198902:36644[/embed] [embed]198902:36645[/embed] Pocahontas and John Smith have the super-quick few day romance going on, but their attraction is understandable. Both have a taste for adventure and danger, and both are interested in new worlds and other cultures. They seem like they'd get along well enough. History disagrees, of course, but in the context of the movie alone, they seem okay. Pocahontas saves John Smith instead of the other way around, which is a refreshing change of pace. It seems like it would be a good match overall, but it just feels like there's something missing. Maybe it's knowing the real story, but it just doesn't feel quite right to see them together. While the historical accuracy and racial matters may be up for debate, Pocahontas shows an interesting female character choosing family over romance, and the message that a man isn't everything is certainly a good one for young women to hear. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin The Swan Princess

Despite being relatively successful in theaters and winning a number of awards, Pocahontas is not a terribly popular Disney movie. Critics call the historical inaccuracies everything from misleading to full-on racist, and oth...

Princess Review: The Swan Princess

Apr 27 // Jenika Katz
King William and Queen Uberta have kingdoms on either side of a river. When William's daughter Odette is born, the two make plans to have her spend the summers with Uberta's son, Derek. If the two fell in love and got married, the kingdoms could be combined.This doesn't go exactly as planned, of course: Derek doesn't want a girl around, and Odette is quite the bully. As they grow older, Odette bullies Derek less, trying instead to impress him with her intelligence. This frustrates Derek, and he likes her even less. Things aren't looking good for the two of them falling in love until one summer, when Odette shows up at Derek's place and is suddenly hot. They have a falling-in-love dance and Derek asks for the wedding to be arranged. This is quite a shock to Odette, who asks why, exactly, Derek now loves her. He tells her that she's beautiful. Odette thanks him, and asks what else he loves. Derek, ever the poet, answers with, “What else is there?” After William and Odette leave, Derek admits that he's just terribly stupid, and decides to prove his love to Odette somehow. He gets his chance when a wounded soldier stumbles into the room and says that William's carriage has been attacked. Derek rushes to the scene in time to catch William's garbled last words, which imply that a “Great Animal” kidnapped Odette. The creature in question happens to be Lord Rothbart, an evil sorcerer exiled from William's kingdom years before after an attempted takeover. Since he couldn't take it over by force, the clear choice was to wait until Odette was old enough to marry and legally acquire the kingdom. Odette does not like this choice, so Rothbart transforms her into a swan in an attempt to change her mind. She can become human again at night, but only if she's on a certain lake when the moon hits. The only way she can go back forever is for Derek to make a public vow of everlasting love. A few months later, everyone but Derek assumes Odette is dead. Derek has been training obsessively and searching the library for hints about the Great Animal, and when he finally gets a clue that transfiguration is involved, he heads out to search for the guy. During all this time, Odette has not tried to fly away and get help, instead choosing to wallow in self-pity and talk to animals. On the day Derek sets out, she finally thinks to look for a map and go find him. This is poor timing, since Derek is looking for a Great Animal masquerading as something innocent.  After several hours of trying to murder his intended bride, Odette manages to lead Derek back to the lake and let him know what’s going on. He invites her to his mother’s ball the next night, intending to make his love vow there. Rothbart overhears their exchange and sends a crony in Odette’s place, locking the swan in a dungeon. She escapes just in time to see Derek vow his love to another. When he realizes what he’s done, Derek rushes to the lake, kills Rothbart, and finally tells Odette why he loves her as she’s dying, breaking the spell and allowing them to live happily ever after. As a child, I absolutely could not figure out why Odette initially turned Derek down. Everyone else in movies got married as soon as they were in love and the bad guys stopped attacking! I mean, Derek was a prince. What exactly did Odette expect? Despite the terrible script and jumpy animation, I love this movie, and it's mostly because it made me think about the types of relationships presented in children's movies. Certainly, I didn't recognize any of the more disturbing elements in some of the films as a child, but I did start to wonder why everyone else got married so fast. The princes in those other movies barely ever say why they love their princesses, and the women don't even ask. After The Swan Princess, I started to think that there should be a bit more to those relationships. As an adult, I can only look at how ridiculous this movie is. How did a script this terrible get made? I mean, check out the lyrics in the villain song. Really now. [embed]198754:36562[/embed] The best message in this movie is a bit obvious. Odette wants someone who loves her for her personality, not just her looks. Given that most princess movies have relationships completely based on physical attraction, this is a pretty good message to send. Odette started to take notice of Derek when they were both in their teens, but it was only once she filled out that Derek realized she was pretty cool. If Derek had also been less shallow, this would be a very interesting relationship, but that's a lot to ask for with this script. Unfortunately, Odette completely changes once she's been kidnapped. Suddenly, Derek has been perfect all along and they're meant to be together. Her former spunk is gone except in her interactions with Rothbart, and the intelligence she shows when she's younger disappears in favor of becoming a helpless damsel. She's a shadow of her former self. Granted, she'd just seen her father murdered, but given how desperate she is to see Derek, one would assume that she would pour her grief into flying away and saving herself, something she only attempts after several months of isolation. Also interesting to note is that Odette doesn't have any human friends. Derek has a best friend and talks with many of the other characters, but the only conversations Odette has are with Derek, Rothbart, and a bunch of animals. No other human can talk to animals in this movie, so Odette either has a connection from being a swan or is completely insane. The movie ends with their wedding, where Odette sits outside alone and chats with her animal friends. Do you know how hard it is for a bride to find time to be alone at her wedding? Odette must be super weird if nobody wants to talk to her. Other than Odette's initial refusal to marry Derek, this romance doesn't have a lot going for it. Derek is boorish and uninteresting other than his bravery. Odette becomes more of a stereotypical princess as time goes on. They certainly spend more time together than many couples in princess movies do, but they only start to enjoy it at the very end. Derek never apologizes to Odette for almost murdering her several times, and she never apologizes for beating the crap out of Derek as a child. Their relationship, like so many others, seems like it will fall apart as soon as the spark dies out. Overall, The Swan Princess doesn't go far with its message of romance based on more than appearance, and goes even further to idolize the idea of a damsel in distress. For little girls inundated with Disney movies, however, the trickle of doubt shown is enough to get the ball rolling to a healthier mindset, and that's something worth some celebration.  Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdin

The Swan Princess is not a Disney movie. You probably haven't even heard of it, but it was supposed to be The Big Thing in the early 90s, judging by the success of earlier princess movies. John Cleese accepted a role in The S...

Princess Review: Aladdin

Apr 13 // Jenika Katz
Aladdin begins with Jafar, royal vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah, attempting to find a lost treasure at the well-hidden Cave of Wonders. He is thwarted when the Cave says it will only allow entry to the “Diamond in the Rough.” This “diamond” is, in fact, a young homeless man named Aladdin, who spends his days stealing food and singing about it while trying to escape. This is not the stealthiest approach to thieving, but he seems to do well enough. Aladdin soon meets a pretty woman in the marketplace. He helps her escape the authorities after her botched attempt at stealing an apple. She doesn't seem to have any concept of money and is wearing a suspicious amount of jewelry, but they get along pretty well and he invites her home to sit on the floor. Their deep conversation is interrupted when the guards arrive. They grab Aladdin, but as they're about to take him away, the mysterious young woman reveals herself as the princess Jasmine, who recently attempted to run away from her arranged marriage. The guards have instructions from Jafar, and drag Aladdin off to jail while Jasmine protests. The boy isn't in jail long; a creepy old man (revealed as Jafar in disguise) breaks Aladdin out of jail after he promises to help him hunt for treasure. The old man leads Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders and tosses him down, warning him not to touch anything but the old lamp he needs. Aladdin meets a magic carpet along the way, and manages to grab the lamp right before the Cave tries to kill him. He doesn't make it out in time, but the lamp contains a wise-cracking Genie who helps him out and promises three wishes. Aladdin wishes to become a prince in order to court Jasmine, and they head back to Agrabah. Jasmine believes that Aladdin was sentenced to death, and isn't in the mood to meet the flashy new prince in town, especially not after he talks about her like a piece of property. She comes around when the new prince offers her a ride on a magic carpet. He looks an awful lot like the boy she met at the market that day, and she asks him to tell her the truth. Aladdin suavely says that he often dresses like a prince to escape the pressures of royal life, and having pressed the right buttons, Jasmine decides that she trusts him. Jafar has realized at this point that the new prince is Aladdin and he has the lamp, so when the lovers arrive back from their rendezvous, Jafar's goons grab Aladdin and toss him in the ocean. Genie comes to the rescue, and they head back to the palace to confront the Sultan about Jafar. Their return is all Jafar needs to seize control of the lamp, send Aladdin far away, and turn himself into the Sultan. Aladdin manages to make it back alive. He and Jasmine trick Jafar to wish himself into slavery, and then they're free to be together. Seriously, how upset were you when you first learned that you could not physically hold a cloud? Watching Aladdin and Jasmine grab huggable puffs of cloud and give another one a swirl like frozen yogurt was one of the coolest things I'd seen. I daydreamed about cloud castles with cloud trees and cloud gardens. After learning the truth, I remember sitting on an airplane and glaring at the clouds, wondering how they could lie to me so. As an adult, I adore this movie. There's the perfect combination of action and humor to keep me interested for more than just the nostalgia. Also important, of course, is the amazing drinking game that accompanies it. It's a wonderful film on its own, but the game makes it a truly magical experience. Aladdin has a problem with lying to people to get ahead, and it's a problem that's immediately addressed in the movie. Even as a child, it's obvious that Jasmine likes the boy she met in the market and not the endless parade of princes she sees, and the rewards of being honest are clear. Jasmine, as a whole, is a pretty good role model. She's very intelligent, hard to deceive, and a quick thinker in high-pressure situations. She's honest about her own faults, admitting that palace life has left her with no real-world experience and few friends. She isn't terribly happy with her lot in life, but makes the best of her situation with what she has the power to do. Despite being a princess with an awful lot of power, she only commands people when it's absolutely necessary. Her reluctance to marry the rich, handsome men she sees on the basis of their personalities is a good thing for young girls to see, but it is undermined a bit by her eventual choice being so good-looking. You may have noticed at this point that there is no “Worst Message” bar. There are bad messages in the movie, certainly. The portrayal of Middle Eastern people makes them seem scantily-dressed and barbaric, and the royal family seems to live in the Taj Mahal. Aladdin manipulates his friends on multiple occasions, tricking Genie into a free wish and using his knowledge of Jasmine's distaste for royal life to make his fake prince story sound more believeable. My main focus in these articles, however, is the effect of the messages on little girls. Jasmine is a very strong role model overall. My one complaint about her behavior is that her main defense against Jafar is her sexuality, which is never a good message, but even that works in terms of her options at the time: Jafar has her dressed up like a sex toy, and she doesn't exactly have a lot of ways to hold his attention. In the same vein, there's also the issue of the outfits that most of the women (including Jasmine) are wearing, but that seems to be more of a product of the aforementioned Middle Eastern misrepresentation than anything else. This particular description may seem like a cop-out, but bear with me. Aladdin and Jasmine have the typical whirlwind romance, barely knowing one another before agreeing that marriage would be a good idea. Aladdin is a very likeable character overall, but he's a bit shallow, initially lies to Jasmine to get in her favor, and he's manipulative of both her and the Genie. The two don't have a lot in common other than wanting a different life and being generally decent people. The main turning point in their relationship is that Jasmine really likes Aladdin's car(pet). Despite this, though, I can't dislike their romance. They may not be terribly compatible and I don't like the deception so early in the relationship, but there's something about the two of them that's very compelling. I may mock Jasmine for being entranced by Aladdin's ride, but if someone gave me the opportunity to fly, I'd probably swoon, too. Their relationship is not purely based on physical attraction, and while I do think that the class differences would be a pretty big wedge between them, their quick wits and similar senses of morality would greatly help that divide. [embed]198639:36522[/embed] While some questionable themes exist, Aladdin really isn't the worst movie out there as far as female role models go. It also helps that Aladdin and Jasmine don't marry at the end of the movie, though one might argue that that was just to draw out the franchise. Still, Jasmine is an interesting character, even if she needs to put on some clothes. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast

Aladdin is the first movie in this line of reviews to have the actual princess as a secondary character. Early princesses certainly seemed like secondary characters at times, with the camera focused on the antics of their wac...

Princess Review: Beauty and the Beast

Mar 29 // Jenika Katz
Belle is a young woman who loves to read in a small town full of illiterates. She lives with her father, a lovably incompetent inventor. The townsfolk aren't terribly fond of them, given the inventor's general nuttiness and Belle's tendency to think. Local legend Gaston, manliest of men, ignores the town's poor perception of Belle and decides to marry her because she's the hottest girl in town. Belle's father heads out to the autumn market with his latest masterpiece, leaving Belle at home. He loses his way and is forced to seek refuge in a spooky castle nearby. As is often the case with spooky forest castles, this one is inhabited by a monster and enchanted furniture. While the talking objects are glad to have company, the Beast, ruler of the castle, isn't terribly happy about it, and he throws Belle's father in prison. Back in the poor, provincial town, Gaston decides to pop the question publicly. Belle rejects him. Gaston is humiliated, and vows to get Belle no matter what. This is the least of Belle's problems; when her father doesn't come back from the market, she goes out to search for him. She tracks him back to the spooky forest castle and heads on in. When she is inevitably discovered by Beast, she asks him to let her father go in exchange for herself. This is convenient for the castle residents, since the Totally Secret spell on the castle will be broken if a woman falls in love with Beast, so they agree, tossing Belle's father back out in the cold. Beast turns on the charms, but he doesn't have many. After some mutual life-saving and a few months of cohabitation, they begin to grow fond of each other. Beast becomes calmer and learns to care about someone other than himself. They have a romantic evening, complete with candlelit dinner and ballroom dancing, and Beast tries to express his feelings. Belle admits that while she's mostly happy, she misses her father. Beast lends her a magic mirror, through which they find that her father has been spending the last few months searching for her and getting sick. Beast lets Belle go to find her father, giving her the mirror to remember him by. Belle brings her sick father back to their house, where Gaston is waiting with his revenge. He locks Belle and her father in their house and storms off to hunt the Beast. Belle and her father escape, making it to the castle just in time to see Gaston and Beast battle. Beast prevails, but not before being badly wounded. Belle gives him an emergency dose of Magical Love Tears, breaking the spell and turning him and the rest of the castle human again. As a young brunette who loved reading, I didn't have much of a choice but to love Belle. The movie had the perfect combination of serious moments and funny side characters to keep me entranced. Beast's huge library seemed like a wonderland, and using dogs as foot rests was clearly the best idea in the world. Rewatching this movie as an adult really brings in what a silly villain Gaston is. He's a terrible person, of course, but his complete lack of intelligence makes hims somehow appealing, and his villain song is one of the most hilarious ones out there. [embed]198451:36432[/embed] Note the wink- every last inch of him's covered in hair. One could, of course, make the same assumption about Beast. Belle is an interesting character, and a lot stronger than some previous princesses. She's still clearly very young and quite the dreamer, but she keeps her head in tense situations and actively tries to defend herself. She's looking for a friend, not a husband, and she has ambitions beyond being a kept woman. Interestingly, she's also the first princess to eat something on screen that isn't poisoned. She's not perfect, of course, but seeing a woman actively fight off wolves and yell back at an imposing character is definitely a strong message. While Gaston is handsome and Beast is pretty horrific, Belle judges them on their personalities. She's not completely angelic, given that she shies away from Beast the first time she sees him, and she's reluctant to admit that she has feelings for him. One could argue that her reluctance is due less to his looks and more to the fact that he's technically an animal, but I'm sure the former didn't help much. Still, she realizes that she loves him over time, regardless of his appearance. There is a song in this movie about how people who serve others for a living feel completely empty inside without someone to do things for. It's certainly catchy, but that's pretty messed up. [embed]198451:36433[/embed] But that's not the worst message. The castle was cursed because Beast refused entry to an enchantress ten years ago. His transformation and those of the others was a punishment for judging appearances. Given that Beast meets Belle shortly before his twenty-first birthday, this means that he was eleven years old when it happened. Not having any new contact for ten years means that, emotionally, he is still eleven years old when he meets Belle. He is used to getting his way, and screams and storms out of the room when things go wrong. He doesn't think of others of their feelings at all. When he meets Belle, her acceptance of him changes him completely. He puts her needs before his, controls his temper, and becomes the perfect gentleman. She fixes him. And that, right there, is why this movie is so dangerous. Belle is strong enough that little girls know she's a good role model, and if they're trying to be like her, then they, too, can fix a guy. I don't know a grown woman who didn't try to “fix” at least one guy she was with. Some never stop trying to fix them, constantly searching for a guy that's “good enough” and attempting to make him “better” over time. I was guilty of this, too; helping an immature guy grow up was clearly the year-long responsibility of a seventeen-year-old girl, right? Disney would do well to have more relationships based on accepting and loving a person as they are. “What?” you say. “This is a classic romantic movie! The male in the relationship doesn't only talk, but also grows significantly as a character! How could this be 'awful'?” Even ignoring the horrible message Beauty and the Beast sends about the ability to change people, Belle and Beast don't have a great relationship. His anger issues and childlike behavior make Belle into more of a mother than a partner. He yells at her and threatens violence. Yes, he calms down, but what about when the infatuation phase is over? It's not enough for him to be gentle most of the time. To their credit, though, Beast and Belle have one of the longest relationships shown in princess movies. Getting to know someone over the course of several months is certainly preferable to a three-day romance, and they aren't shown getting married at the end. I loved Beauty and the Beast as a child. I still love the music and art style and watch it pretty frequently. This doesn't change the fact that it portrays a horrible relationship as the ideal and gives girls some terrible expectations. Can we also mention how creepy it is that the characters drink out of Chip, a ten-year-old boy in the form of a teacup? He mentions how much it tickles when people drink out of him. Seriously. His transformation back at the end just makes it worse. “Do I still have to sleep in the cupboard?” Yes, Chip. Nobody likes you. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping BeautyThe Little Mermaid

Released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast was the first princess movie in the soon-to-be saturated market of the 90's. Belle is often thought of as one of the strongest women in these early movies: she values education and would...

Princess Review: The Little Mermaid

Mar 16 // Jenika Katz
The Little Mermaid starts out aboard a fishing ship, where Prince Eric of a nearby seaside kingdom learns about King Triton, the underwater king responsible for the tides, from the sailors aboard his ship. He's a bit incredulous- mermaids certainly don't exist! Meanwhile, King Triton tries to enjoy a concert by his royal composer, Sebastian the Crab. Triton's youngest daughter, Ariel, is singing for the first time, and he's excited to see her debut...except Ariel chose to investigate a shipwreck instead. To her credit, she does get a totally awesome fork out of it. Ariel rushes back to her father to apologize about missing the concert, but lets slip that she went to the surface to identify her new treasures. Triton forbids her from going to the surface again: if a human saw her, he'd murder her! Ariel huffs about being sixteen and able to make her own decisions before storming out. Triton is suspicious and sends Sebastian out to snoop. Ariel unwittingly leads the crab back to her junk-filled grotto, where she sings about how awesome legs and fire are. Sebastian reveals himself, and just as they're arguing over whether or not to tell Triton about Ariel's secret hobbies, the mermaid is distracted by a shadow overhead and swims to investigate. It just so happens to be a ship on which Prince Eric is celebrating his birthday, complete with jig-dancing and appropriately-timed violin. Ariel is immediately smitten by his dashing looks and off-screen smoking. While Ariel is staring at Eric, a surprise hurricane hits. Eric and the crew evacuate to lifeboats just as lightning his the ship. Eric climbs back into the flaming wreck to save his adorable dog, who he is able to throw overboard right before the fire reaches the gunpowder supply and the ship explodes. Ariel finds Eric, drags him back to the beach, flops suggestively on top of him, and sings. Her obsessive song is interrupted by the arrival of other humans. She sings a bit more on a rock further out to sea, makes a pact with Sebastian not to talk about the whole affair, and then swims home. Triton immediately notices that she's acting strangely, and when he squeezes the truth out of Sebastian, his first action is to destroy all of Ariel's stuff. Ursula, the resident octo-villian out for Triton's throne, takes this opportunity to convince Ariel to trade her voice for a pair of legs and a trip to the surface. If Ariel can't make Eric fall in love with her in three days, Ursula will take her soul. Ariel takes advantage of this totally fair deal and heads off to the beach to seduce her man. She and Eric spend some time together, but without her voice, Eric doesn't know that the Hot Mystery Lifeguard he's been looking for is right there with him. He slowly falls for Ariel despite (or because of) her silence, and just as they're about to kiss, Ursula's goons step up to interrupt them. [embed]198289:36364[/embed] Deciding this was just too close, Ursula disguises herself as a brunette Ariel, complete with stolen voice, and hypnotizes Eric. They plan a hasty wedding that Ariel's animal pals crash at the last minute. Ariel's voice returns to her, but it's too late- she and Ursula change back to their regular forms and plunge back into the sea. Triton comes to the rescue, trading his soul for Ariel's, and Ursula briefly becomes the queen of the ocean before Eric stabs her to death with a ship. Triton realizes it's time to sever, so he turns Ariel into a human and hangs out in the ocean while Eric and Ariel have a boat wedding of their own. I absolutely adored The Little Mermaid as a kid. I grew up on islands and pretending to be mermaids was The Thing To Do. Many beach and pool trips involved having imaginary adventures with sea creatures and deciding what colors our sea shells would be. In retrospect, an obsession with being a mermaid is a pretty interesting reaction to a movie about a mermaid who is obsessed with being a human. Ariel is also pretty easy to relate to as an only child. Having a huge cavern full of stuff and wanting more? Right there with you, girl. Triton is totally against the idea of Ariel looking at a human, much less dating one. He refuses to listen to any good qualities that humans may have, instead sticking to his preconceived notions. By the end of the movie, Eric's actions make Triton think twice about his prejudices, and he not only allows his daughter to become human, but also gives his blessings. This is a pretty big gesture on Triton's part, given that Eric's kingdom thrives off of murdering Triton's subjects and eating their corpses. [embed]198289:36363[/embed] Maybe they'll turn back to farming after the wedding. A lot of the princess movies have involved marriage at sixteen, but Ariel constantly refers to her age as proof that she can do anything. Her young marriage certainly isn't the worst of it. “I know I missed the concert that everyone was depending on me for, but I'm sixteen! You keep saying that those people are dangerous, but I'm sixteen! I know that this octopus lady is totally evil, but I'm sixteen!” Granted, this is how most sixteen-year-olds feel, and teenage girls were rebelling far before 1989, but it's not a feeling that needs encouragement. The message that most people disagree with in the movie is Ariel's decision to leave her family forever for a man. And, while I can see that objection, I don't think that's the message the movie is sending. When Ariel trades her voice to Ursula, she's just had a huge fight with her father, and she's still very hesitant about the whole thing. She knows that it's a big sacrifice, and even after they fought, she still loves her father and doesn't want to leave him. It's pretty clear to the audience, even a young audience, that signing her soul away is not the best decision that Ariel could make, and one that she only makes under extreme pressure. Ariel's final transformation is the biggest factor in her departure from the sea. Triton mentions before he transforms her that he'll miss her, but given that he and Ariel's sisters are in full view of the humans attending the wedding, one gets the impression that their parting is not forever. His little girl won't be living with him anymore, but they'll still visit and have a relationship with each other. This parting from her family is much like the standard parting that happens when people move in with their partners: it's sad, but it's not like they can't ever see each other again. Given that prior princess romances were based on walking past each other, Ariel and Eric easily have the strongest relationship. Ariel's attraction is, at first, just superficial...and then she sees Eric save his dog. Eric climbs back into a flaming boat to save his dog. He sacrifices himself for the dog. That is awesome. You know he's worth it if he'll do something like that. Hell, I want to marry him after seeing that. On Eric's half, he wants to marry the woman who saved his life, but the only knowledge he has of her is a vague recollection of her face and the sound of her voice. He searches for weeks without finding out a thing. When he meets voiceless Ariel, he finds her charming despite her silence, and eventually figures that his dream woman isn't a realistic goal. This is a bit of a confusing message: on the one hand, Eric is letting go of his unrealistic expectations of his dream woman in favor of someone real, but on the other, he's settling for someone he thinks less of. Neither are ideal. Despite depicting a somewhat healthier relationship than previous Disney movies, The Little Mermaid has a few messages that are a bit dangerous. Ariel's independence and sense of adventure feel like a big improvement on the meek princesses from earlier films, but combined with other outside influences, her assertion that she is a capable adult goes a bit over the edge. The media is vocal about the possible problems in marketing Princesses, but few people object to the products encouraging little girls to be teenagers. It's absolutely everywhere, from TV shows to toddler toys, and combined with the idea that one is completely independent once reaching one's teens, it's a pretty horrible message to send out. I know I was definitely affected by it, and friends agree that, as children, they had many of the same obsessions Ariel did: acquiring items from a glamorous world inhabited by people above them...and, you know, saving drowning sailors. Basically, if an only child is watching this over and over, she might need a few talks, and perhaps a demonstration about chores and tax forms. Otherwise, a kid could just enjoy the sweet sounds of musical sea cockroaches. Previous Princess Reviews:Snow White and the Seven DwarvesCinderellaSleeping Beauty

Time for another Princess Review, freshly moved from the community blogs to right here. If you missed the first ones, there's an introductory post here, as well as earlier reviews of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beaut...

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