Sunday, February 23, 2014
I knew about the Disney Princess phenomenon before I shotgunned the films in January, although that experience and blogging it did make me more keenly aware of it.
The Disney company and Fairytale Princesses have gone hand in hand for years now. Their first animated feature starred Snow White and from that time on people tended to think of the Disney version when they heard the name, rather than the Brothers Grimm one. The same thing happened with Cinderella (Charles Perrault) and Sleeping Beauty (Perrault and/or Grimm. It could also have come from Basile), although it should be noted that Sleeping Beauty failed at the box office on its initial release.
Despite being associated with the Princesses and them being as popular as they became Disney didn't do a 'Princess' film between 1959 and 1989, when The Little Mermaid was released and kick started the era that is commonly referred to as the 'Renaissance'.
There was possibly a hope that Eilonwy from 1985's The Black Cauldron may become a Disney Princess, but she never really worked out. They give a few reasons for that these days: the film wasn't a musical (all Disney Princesses seem to be able to sing) and she was a lot like Sleeping Beauty in appearance. and dress. The real reason is that the movie wasn't successful. It also didn't help that she was, in my opinion anyway, blandly presented and didn't have the best of sidekicks (a luminous floating magical ball called 'bauble).
While Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) may have been popular it's hard to start a franchise with 3 characters. By the late 1990's when the Disney Princess franchise really came into being the company had a veritable pantheon. The original line up consisted of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine (Aladdin), Pocahontas (Pocahontas) and Mulan (Mulan). Four are royal by blood (Snow White, Aurora, Ariel and Jasmine), two who married into royalty (Cinderella and Belle) and two more who fit into the 'Princess mythology' (Pocahontas and Mulan. Pocahontas is technically royalty as she's a Chief's daughter and that can be looked at as a form or royalty. Mulan isn't royal either by birth or marriage, although Li Shang may have been related to the Emperor).
They later added Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, married into royalty), Rapunzel (Tangled, royal by birth) and Merida (Brave, royal by birth). It isn't official yet, but it's widely believed that both Anna and Elsa from Frozen will also be added into the Pantheon and both are royal by birth.
There's been a push to include Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, as she is royal by birth, but the film flopped at the box office and she doesn't sing. Although her look (facial markings, dark skin and a cute outfit) is distinctive and marketable. They'd probably argue that being Atlantean she's not precisely human, but Ariel's a mermaid and she qualifies.
I didn't really know how big a deal the whole Princess thing was before I started watching the films one after the other. I knew it was something that was popular, but when I researched the films a bit it became clear how big a phenomenon it is and how passionately people follow it.
I became quite interested in the concept of the Princesses and how Disney portray them. If you look closely at the pictures where they're all gathered you'll note that they don't actually ever look directly at each other. This preserves the idea that they exist independently in their own mythologies. That will of course alter if both Anna and Elsa are added, as they're sisters. There's also a brief cameo appearance by Rapunzel in Frozen, so that suggests that Arendelle and Corona are trading partners.
At about this time I discovered the idea from many fans that the Princesses do in fact know each other and associate. This is best captured for me by artist Amy Mebberson with her Pocket Princesses idea. If you've never seen it before, they're little Ghibli style sketches of the Princesses day to day life as they all share a house together.
The idea intrigued me. It also intrigues Bronwen; the bright green plot bunny I have spoken of before. She insisted I write something on it. From time to time I'll post an occasional chapter of this as it unfolds.