Saturday, January 1, 2011

Damsels in Distress (Disney Films: Part I)

As a fun little dynastology topic that I have been putting off, I want to analyze all the canon Disney Theatrical Animated Features released since Snow White in 1937 and each film's monarchical style. I hope you enjoy and I promise, my critique of the dynastological aspects of the films do not have any baring on my enjoyment of the film. I am a huge fan of Disney's canon and hope one day to have the whole series.

This first set of analyzes will revolve around the first twenty-two episodes up through The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The majority of Disney films in this period do not have monarchical concepts, but a few do including some of the most famous princess films. Note: Numbers beside film-names represent that films sequence number according Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Princess Snow White

 1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)The first in a long chain of Disney princess films that continue to this day, Snow White also sets the stage for one of the two modes that a "princess" becomes a princess. For Snow White, her method is ancestry. Snow White is the (apparently) only daughter of the late king. When the king died, it seems that her step-mother, called the Queen, usurped the kingdom from Snow White. All was well and good until Snow White became "fairest of them all". The Queen attempted to murder Snow White and she fled into exile. A while later, the Queen discovered Snow White still lived and, through a power struggle, both were killed. Snow White, however, was rejuvenated following the kiss of a rather mysterious man simply named Prince. Snow White and the Prince ride off toward the castle and "live happily ever after". Talk about stereotypical and unhelpful. The only thing that can be assumed at the end of this film is that the Prince is going to become the King suo uxoris—by right of his wife. That wife, it is assumed, is or will be Snow White. This is all left out, though, as is the identity of Snow White's parents and why Snow White didn't become queen after her father's death. Also, who ruled the kingdom once the evil Queen was gone? Surely some time passed and, it was assumed, that Snow White was dead either by the woodsman's axe or the Queen's poison. Surely someone would have claimed the throne since the Queen's passing. So many things left unsaid that this film, unfortunately, does upset me due to its simplicity. Other Disney films fare much better in the end. 

Bambi, Prince of the Forest

 5.  Bambi  (1942) – Throughout this film, Bambi is called a prince. His father is known as the Great Prince of the Forest establishing some form of monarchy. With Bambi being the Great Prince's son, he is established as the heir to the dynasty. This concept is little expanded on throughout the film, but the Great Prince does come to the rescue twice to save Bambi from danger, suggesting that Bambi is important to the continuity of the dynasty. The story ends with Bambi overlooking the birth of his children with his father, and then his father turning and walking away, suggesting that Bambi will soon be established as the next Great Prince. The dynastological undertones of this story are extremely strong, but the lack of conversation and depth in the film constricts its ability to tell its dynastological story.


12.  Cinderella  (1950) – The direct contrast to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella tells the tale of a maiden-turned-princess, Disney's other favorite form of "princess" to princess story. Basically, Prince Charming needs a wife because he currently shows no interest in getting married. The king wants a son, dosh garnit! So he invites every maiden in the kingdom to flaunt themselves in front of Charming. Dynastologically, this is already becoming improbable. Royalty-peasantry marriages are generally taboo even today and were much moreso back in the Middle Ages, when this story takes place. Even marrying nobility could be seen as damaging to the legitimacy of a dynasty, certainly marrying the gentry or peasantry was just ludicrous. Generally, that lot was reserved as mistresses or simple concubines. Anyway, Charming meets Cinderella, the wealthy heiress of a man whose widow and step-daughters treat the young woman as a common household servant. Cinderella's fairy godmother enchants Cinderella into basically becoming a noblewoman, but only until midnight! Upon her midnight flight, Cinderella leaves behind a glass shoe that Charming uses to find the young woman again. How only one woman in all of the kingdom fits Cinderella's shoe size is beyond me. Buying shoes for her must really stink. After some quarreling with the family, Cinderella finally manages to try on the show, which fits, and become a princess through her marriage to Prince Charming, a prince by blood. Thus, as Charming's father wished, Cinderella fills in the role of wife and mother to Charming and the many children she will undoubtedly have to fulfill her husband's and father-in-law's wishes.

The King and Queen of Hearts 

13.  Alice in Wonderland  (1951) – In Alice's imagination, she falls into the Kingdom of Wonderland, as it is eventually established. Wonderland is ruled by what appears to be a Queendom. Upon further analysis, though, there is a king and, since this was written in Victorian times, it is likely that the king was the suo jure monarch while the queen was just a heavy-handed consort. In either case, the Queen of Hearts is quite obviously the power behind the throne. The only other possibility, and it is a stretch, is that the king and queen are co-monarchs much like William III and Mary II were, but this seems unlikely. The parallels between the large Queen of Hearts and pompous Victoria and the twitchy King of Hearts and powerless Prince Albert are hard to miss. No further description of the monarchy can be found in the film.

Princess Aurora 

16.  Sleeping Beauty  (1959) – Disney's third foray into princess land returns the princess technique to that of Snow White: the hereditary princess. Unlike Snow White and Cinderella, however, Sleeping Beauty demonstrates a high amount of dynastological information. Aurora is born as the only child to her parents, King Stefan and Queen Leah. Soon after her birth, she is betrothed to Prince Philip, the son of King Hubert, in a dynastic alliance to unite the two kingdoms together. Thus, the story establishes that Aurora is the heiress of Stefan and implies that she will become Queen suo jure—in her own right. It also makes clear that Philip is the heir of Hubert and will become King in his own right. Thus there will become a dynastic union between the kingdoms, hopefully made permanent once the couple produce children. Years later, when the two meet, they fall in love, but Philip believes Aurora to be a peasant girl rather than the princess in exile. This suggests that the love is not meant to be, since, as mentioned in the Cinderella critique, royalty did not marry peasantry. In fact, Hubert brings this up when Philip reveals the news that he no longer wants to marry Aurora but rather this strange peasant woman. Hubert denies Philip the right to marry the peasant, for reasons mentioned above. Meanwhile, as with Snow White, Aurora is killed by a spinning wheel but may be revived if kissed by Philip. The evil fairy, Maleficent, captures and locks up Philip (why she did not just kill him, I know not). Philip escapes and kills Maleficent and then awakens Aurora, and they all live happily ever after. Out of all of Disney's princess films, this one is probably the best at properly portraying dynastic laws. There is a prearranged marriage for dynastic purposes. Hubert denies Philip the right to marry outside his class (or his betrothal). Both parties are already princes(ses) in their own rights. Frankly, I like the story too, even though Aurora is a really two-dimensional character. Definitely a well-done dynastological story.

Arthur, King of the Britons

 18. The Sword in the Stone (1963) – The treatment of the King Arthur story is bound to be controversial since there in all likelihood was no historical king by that name. Regardless, the story behind this version of the legend is that England is in the Dark Ages because Uther Pendragon died without naming his heir. When he died, a magical sword appeared in London embedded in a stone and anvil. The crux: who ever pulls out the sword becomes king of England. Quite an odd succession technique if you ask me. Regardless, Wart (aka Arthur) eventually pulls out the sword and becomes king. The story pretty much ends there, with a short epilogue explaining how Arthur becomes king and brings England out of the Dark Ages. Nothing is explained about his parentage (like that he is Uther's son), nothing about why he wasn't king to begin with, and nothing about his continuing legacy, except how famous he will become. Honestly, for a film about King Arthur, I would expect more regarding monarchy and less about preteen angst.

Mowgli and King Louie 

19. The Jungle Book (1967) – Besides the context of British India during the reign of Queen/Empress Victoria, "King" Louie is the only other monarchical figure in this allegorical story. He acts more like a kingpin—a Jabba the Hutt-like figure—rather than a literal king, making his placement in the dynastological context that of a non-dynastic leader and nothing more.
Richard I the Lionheart, King of England

John, Prince of England
21. Robin Hood (1973) – This film's dynastological context is quite obvious. Prince John is the little brother of King Richard the Lionheart. Robin Hood, a local outlaw, wants to ensure that Richard's rights in England are retained against the king's usurping little brother. He does this by "stealing from the rich and giving to the poor". John, whenever reminded of his mother, cries "Mother!" and sucks his thumb. Basically, all this is fun but completely contradicts history. Richard wasn't in the Holy Land by this time but imprisoned in Austria. John had usurped the regency of England in this time but the high taxes that Robin Hood fought against were because John was raising funds to ransom his brother from Austrian custody, a fact that Robin Hood would probably have known. When Richard left again in 1196, he left the government in the care of John, who he had named his heir despite the fact that John had a senior-line nephew, Arthur, the son of his elder deceased brother Geoffrey. Richard, in the end, trusted his youngest brother more than his nephew to lead England. Concerning Prince John's constant wailing about his mother, all was well and good. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was still alive and well, although quite old. She acted often as John's ambassador and served as Richard's regent prior to John usurpation. John only made a grab for the regency after his mother had left to negotiate for Richard's release in Austria.

The films 2. Pinocchio (1940), 3.  Fantasia (1940), 4.  Dumbo  (1941), 6.  Saludos Amigos  (1942), 7.  The Three Caballeros   (1944), 8.  Make Mine Music   (1946), 9. Fun and Fancy Free   (1947),  10.  Melody Time   (1948), 11.  The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad   (1949), 15.  Lady and the Tramp  (1955) , 20. Aristocats (1970) and 22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) do not appear to have any significant monarchical figures or dynastological concepts. 14.  Peter Pan   (1953) also does not show any significant concepts but initially takes place in Edwardian Great Britain (1901 to 1910) placing it in a monarchical context. Likewise, 17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) takes place during an unknown time in British history, probably sometime in the reign of George V from 1910 until 1936 but shows no other monarchical tendencies.

Limited Edition Thomas Kinkade painting of Peter Pan & Company soaring over Edwardian London to Neverland


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