Blog Post 9a: The Politics of Marriage in Disney Princess Films   5 comments

There is, in fact, a canonical list of Disney Princesses, a who’s-who of Disney characters as it were:

Snow White (Snow White)
Cinderella (Cinderella)
Sleeping Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)
Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
Jasmine (Aladdin)
Pocahontas (Pocahontas)
Mulan (Mulan)
Tiana (Princess and the Frog)
Rapunzel (Tangled)

Clearly the superior princesses managed to get their movies named after themselves! Heck, Jazmine’s movie was named for her love interest! For shame, Jazmine.

See more on Know Your Meme, and know that I was tempted to link to, like, sixteen of these.

Ten princesses is way too many for one blog post, so we’ll see how I do at three per entry (I haven’t seen Tangled…yet). Tonight’s entry is the big three: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

Snow White (1937)

Blatant lack of nose aside, Snow White is Disney’s take on the old German Fairy Tale, Sneewitchen, or “Little Snow White”, not to be confused with Schneeweißchen of Snow White and Rose Red, obviously. Rather annoyingly, the Disney version skips over the interesting part, where her mother pricks herself on a needle and wishes for a beautiful baby girl. Then she dies after giving birth to the baby. Then her father, for some insane reason, marries this woman:

The movie doesn’t say whether or not the father dies. Certainly if the woman can go scurrying off into the woods selling poisoned apples, she’s probably not running a kingdom, so I’d say, probably he is still alive. This is where the movie picks up. Snow White is forced to be a scullery maid and dress in rags, but she somehow manages to win the heart of…somebody good-looking.


I would like to say that, for the Record, we never find out how Snow White knows he’s a prince. We just assume, because we all know the fairy tale. And Snow White just assumes he’s a prince, because he’s a good-looking guy, and good-looking people back then tended to be either nobility (or demonically possessed). Snow and the Prince never actually talk. She’s singing about how much she wants to meet her true love; then he shows up and talks about how he has one song for her (creatively entitled “One Song“). She runs away before they have a chance to, like, tell each other their names.

Skipping forward to the end,

People talk about the Prince like he’s a necrophile, but actually this was a common thing to do at funerals, as a way to say goodbye to the dead. The ritual was practiced up into the 20th century. It…it very rarely ended in the princess waking up and marrying you though.

So that’s the situation. We have a young man, who may or may not be a prince, marrying a young woman, who may or may not be a scullery maid. Now, she’s definitely a princess. And he’s a prince. The story appears to take place in medieval-era Germany, judging by the outfits the characters are wearing. This would mean that the story takes place during the days of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1802), which was when Germany was a loose confederation of princedoms under the nominal rule of an elected Emperor.

What is an almost-king doing running around the backwater provinces, checking out scullery maids and attending funerals? That’s what I want to know.

Cinderella (1950)

Not to be outdone in the swishy dress department, Cinderella came roaring along in 1950, to prove that you could be a princess AND maintain a nose. Seriously. The nose thing bothers me.

The opening narration of Cinderella merely states that Cinderella father was wealthy and devoted to Cinderella. He remarries, in order to give Cinderella a “mother’s touch”, and then dies an untimely death. Her stepmother then squanders the family fortune and forces her to be a slave in her own house. At least this time we got to see some of the action, even if only in a brief montage!

Also this time, we know the person she ends up with is definitely a prince.

He’s in a palace and has a nose and everything! In fact, his father is a king sort of king, and is looking to marry him off! So he arranges a ball in the big fancy palace, and whoever the prince sets his eye on, he’s going to marry!

Excellent point, Agatha Heterodyne! How does Disney justify this complete lack of political brains? Why, by making the King absolutely baby crazy!

Grandbabies! They’re like regular babies, but GRAND!

If you read Disney’s version of “Extended Edition” or “Word of God” or “Behind the Scene Notes” you know that the stepmother’s name is Duchess Tremaine, implying that Cinderella herself is probably some manner of Duchess as well. This would make her fairly high up in the nobility. GOOD SAVE THERE, DISNEY. Of course, given that Cindy herself has very little to her name — her stepmother probably fired all the servants so she could save a little money to spend on her daughters, which is probably what led her to force Cinderella to do all the chores. The house is therefore a wreck, and she has no money, or clothes, and probably a horrible upbringing. Cinderella needs a little bit of princess school, and a lot of luck, to keep this marriage politically convenient.

She needs to have a boy. That’s what I’m saying.

A horrid, horrid little boy.

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

What can I say about Sleeping Beauty? They cover all the angles here. The marriage between an actual prince and princess was politically arranged between two intelligent, friendly kingdoms. Or is it princedoms? Both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem to take place in a weird French/German nation. Cinderella’s home is described as a “chateau” and the Duchess’ name is “Tremaine”, yet that castle is totally Neuschwanstein, in Bulgaria.

At least we get a sense of geography from Cinderella: southern Germany somewhere, or possibly France or something. Heck, people in France didn’t speak French until nationalism was invented in the mid-1800s! So either way works. But Sleeping Beauty manages to be really really vague: “Aurora” is actually a Spanish/Italian/Portuguese name. But those kingdoms weren’t really unified in any sort of manner until Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon hooked up in the mid-late 1500s. Philip specifically says, in the greatest line uttered in any Disney movie until Emperor’s New Groove:

Now, father, you’re living in the past. This is the 14th century!


It’s the 14th century, so teenagers can make out in the forest now!

5 responses to “Blog Post 9a: The Politics of Marriage in Disney Princess Films

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  1. What always bothered me (apart from all the questions these movies tended to raise like “what’s the prince’s name?”) was the designation of princesses. Belle is not a princess. She is the daughter of a scientist. I’m pretty sure he’s no prince, and that he never could have attracted the affections of a princess. Mulan? Not a princess. Tiana? So not a princess that they even made that part of the story and a major plot point! And yet she makes the list, while poor Princess Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron gets ignored completely. Cinderella baaaarrreelly squeezes onto the list, but in original stories she IS a princess, I believe. Original Rapunzel wasn’t a princess, but becomes one in Disney’s version. It’s mind boggling, but oh so ethnically correct. I rather like that bit, but at least make sure they’re proper princesses first if you’re going to promote them that way!

    • I believe I read somewhere that Snow White’s Prince was such a non-entity (they hated drawing him) that they didn’t even bother giving him a name. Canonically, Cinderella’s prince is Prince Charming, like, that’s his literal name, which they use in the sequels. From what I’ve read, they hated The Black Cauldron as well, just the whole entire thing, which is why they never mention Princess Eilonwy anywhere, not even as an honorable-mention princess.

      For the most part, the characters either start out as or marry princes in the course of the story, except for Mulan, who is a member of the ruling class and later dates a member of the ruling class, but is not a princess. But she’s still high up enough in the heirarchy that it’s more acceptable than, say, Belle, but I’ll get to that in a later entry.

      • I heard it from Belle herself that she and the Beast are not yet married. We had dinner at Cinderella’s Palace in Disneyworld two years ago, and the Princesses all came to visit each table, and we asked each one about their Prince’s name, and Belle got a little jibe in at her nameless man. No ring!

      • Ooohhhh, scandalous!

  2. Pingback: My Comments – updated 3/26/12 « Elaine Ziman

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