There is, in fact, a canonical list of Disney Princesses, a who’s-who of Disney characters as it were:
Snow White (Snow White)
Sleeping Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)
Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
Tiana (Princess and the Frog)
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. This entry is dedicated to analyzing their marriage in a historical and political context.
As a note, I won’t be covering Tangled, as I have not seen that film and have no idea if she even gets married in it.
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 do something as simple as 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.
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.
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!
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 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. 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, “Now, father, you’re living in the past. This is the 14th century!”
It’s the 1300s, so IT DOESN’T MATTER. PRINCESS AURORA COMES FROM NOWHERE. HER MARRIAGE IS FINE.
It’s the 14th century, so teenagers can make out in the forest now!
I know it feels like I’m giving Princess Aurora a short shrift in this analysis, but honestly, everything is perfect to start out with. There’s so little conflict that I feel that it kind of ruins the story somewhat. A lot of other analysis going into the movie has noted that the true heroes of the story are not Aurora and her Prince, but the three fairies, who are working to defeat Maleficent. Aurora and her beau act as mere props for the true story in that case.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is pretty much the cover page for “bowlderization” or “Disneyfication.” Their Snow White tossed the evil stepmother off the cliff rather than forcing her to dance to death, and had Cinderella burst into the room before the stepsisters could cauterize their feet into submission. In the original Hans Christian Andersen
tail tale of The Little Mermaid, it pretty much opens with Ariel and her sisters celebrating Ariel’s new womanhood by singing bawdy songs while watching storms sink ships, the Prince is in love with a Beautiful Land Princess, and it ends with either mermaid suicide or a heavy Christian parable, depending on your interpretation.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid has the story end happily. The Beautiful Princess is the (now evil) sea witch in disguise. Eric (the first Prince with an actual name!) murders the Sea Witch, King Triton sees that Eric is not a Bad Dude, and grants Ariel her legs for reals now, and everyone lives happily every after until the sequel.
I actually have no idea what Eric is the Prince of. I’m pretty certain his parents are still alive, although that’s based on a foggy memory of a line early in the film, before his ship sinks. He lives in a castle by the sea, with an alarming amount of windows.
Not that I can even tell what the time period is. Puppets are the height of entertainment, so that’s probably a hint. Ariel’s decked-out dress is a little too decked-out for me to figure. However, Grimsby’s cravat screams the first quarter of the 1800s. So probably, the story takes place in the early 19th century. What country had its own prince in the early 1800s, and had a castle by the sea?
I have no idea, but any kingdom by the sea could probably use all the sea help it could get.
We got it all worked out. In exchange for never eating fish again, and having to take on the burden of importing all their protein and the loss of their fishing industry, we’ll give them safe passage through the seas. I think the sea kind of won out in this venture. Thanks, sweet tits! I mean, daughter.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
There are so many things wrong with Beauty and the Beast. So. Many. Things.
1) The Prince is cursed at eleven. He’s freed from his spell at twenty-one. This guy?
No one has ever seen this person before, ever, because this person did not exist before.
2) Stockholm syndrome. Everyone mentions it. Yes. That is probably what is going on. However, there’s a theory going around that the story was invented to help girls get used to the idea that they’re not all going to marry handsome, charming princes. Why, they may marry men who are downright beastly!
3) This story takes place in, like, provincial France. Sometime in the 1700s, according to the Internet. Assuming that this takes place before the revolutions of the last quarter century of France, that means that people have completely forgotten about a direct relation to the King of Absolute France. King Louis isn’t demanding that he attend court? Where are his tributes? Where do the dancing dishes get the food to dance with?
I find all of that more weird than the fact that Prince Adam (he has a name btw) married a fricking peasant girl. I think the only reason he’s getting away with it is because everyone important assumes he’s dead.
I know that Jasmine ends up with the Hero, Aladdin, and that is all well and good because it’s True Love, and also Aladdin is an actual Prince. Think about it: his wish is “Make me a Prince”, not “Make me look like a Prince”. So all those dancers and singers in the show-stopping “Prince Ali” actually exist, and are actually Aladdin’s loyal subjects.
Jafar is obviously a creepy bad guy (“so old”) who is up to no good, but I imagine that, in most cases, marrying off royal daughters is a politically savvy move.
Apparently Jazmine is the Sultan’s only child — out of a harem? Really? One child, and a daughter at that? Did some wife get smother-happy or something? Or maybe he only married once, and then never bothered with any mistresses, because he loved his wife so much. Maybe.
Anyway, if you only have one child, therefore one heir, do you really want to set your country’s future on the whims of that one person, with no sense for the politics? “Only a Prince can marry a Princess” doesn’t mean a whole lot, considering that Prince Hypothetical would be getting all of the Princess’ asset, namely your entire kingdom. What if that prince’s country wants to ruin your country, or enslave your people? What if the prince she chooses is in a country that is at war with an ally? Do you ruin your alliance and risk war? What if there aren’t any princes available? What if you need to tie yourself to a local, powerful family?
Let’s not ruin this with words.
Or…you could marry her off to your grand vizier, who’s had you and your country’s back for so many years. A trusted advisor, with links to your country and its people. You know. A princess is a pawn, whose purpose to marry well enough to raise the family’s fortunes without risking the loss of the family fortunes. Marrying her to a grand vizier to ensure his loyalty is a good way to do that.
Pocahontas holds the record for Disney Princess with the most publicity photos of her hair blowing randomly, the most geometrical face, and also the least amount of marriages. She does, however, follow a long Disney tradition of not having a nose.
She gets married in the sequel, to the man she married in real life, John Rolfe.
I’m not going to lie: the only Disney sequel I’ve ever seen was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, which I think was called The Littler Mermaid but I’m probably wrong (it was Return to the Sea). According to the Wikipedia synopsis, John Rolfe and Pocahontas fall in love while she acts as ambassador to England, trying to prevent a war between the Powhatan tribe and England; hijinx ensue, lessons are learned, Ratcliffe is a jerk, etc. The love story between John Smith and Pocahontas is not forgotten, but apparently the story ends with Pocahontas saying that it’s time to move on.
In real life, Pocahontas and John Rolfe met on April 5, 1614, when she was about 19, and he was 39. He was a tobacco farmer, looking to introduce Spanish tobacco into the area. She was a Powhatan princess. They were married (his second marriage), she was baptized, given the Christian name “Rebecca”, and eventually had a son, Thomas. Unlike in the Direct-to-Video sequel, she was received as royalty on her trip to England. So she was viewed as a princess, and she married a tobacco farmer? Hm.
Now wait a second! Mulan also doesn’t get married at the end of her movie! Did Disney go through a weird period of deciding that marriage does not, in fact, make one a happy and complete person? No wait, according to Wikipedia, she and Shang got married at the end of the second movie. Hey, that’s faster than Jazmine, who waited three movies to get married.
Hijinx ensued before Mulan and Shang got married. Not just the cross-dressing part, or the extremely short war against the Hun/Xiongnu, but also in the sequel, where they have to escort three princesses to their arranged politcally-advantageous marriages. Unfortunately, the three princesses fall in love with Moe, Larry, and Curly on their way to the wedding.
Mulan and Shang make sense. In that time period in China, the gentry was split between military families and gentleman scholars, who pursued painting and calligraphy. Mulan and Shang are both from prominent military families; it makes sense for them to marry. But Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po are conscripted men — peasants, most likely, whose military service is a form of taxation. While it’s noble to marry for love, it’s hard to stay in love when you’re so far down the totem pole your father-in-law could have you executed in the square, and no one would care. Their lady loves can read, write, maintain family accounts, and have been trained as international ambassadors and diplomats since they could talk. The three stooges can bring in a crop, maintain mulberry trees, and count on their fingers. They come from such opposite worlds, I can’t even see their love lasting, much less being allowed in the first place.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Disney covered all their bases with this one. Yes, a poor black girl from New Orleans married a prince, like a real prince kind of prince. It’s stated in the movie that Prince Naveen such a hopeless layabout, constantly spending his cash and causing political scandals, that his parents have cut him off from money and political interests, in favor of his little brother.
Who may be starting on some scandals of his own pretty soon
So essentially he’s royalty enough to magically make
poor girls frogs into princesses when they get married, but not royal enough for the secular world, so he can kick back and help Tiana run her restaurant without worrying about the rate of taxation in Maldovia. A princess in name only, in other words.