Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Rulers of the Disney Renaissance (Disney Films: Part II)

Continuing my series on Disney dynastological analyses, today we will be reviewing the films from The Rescuers through Tarzan, which means we will be encompassing the majority of what has become known as the "Disney Renaissance". Again, any critique on the dynastological aspects of the films in no way lessens my appreciation and enjoyment of said films. This period especially is one of my favorites in Disney's history and I hope it is returning as it seems to be. Let us begin...

Princess Eilonwy

 25. The Black Cauldron (1985) – Often known as one of Disney's darkest and least-known films, The Black Cauldron tells the story of Taran and Princess Eilonwy, two Welsh heroes who fight to end the conquering desires of the Horned King and his minions. While the monarchical aspects of the film are generally downplayed, two different types of royalty are represented in this film. The Horned King, the evil enemy whom all must defeat, is portrayed as a tyrannical conqueror of unknown origins but who has destroyed the beautiful countryside. Princess Eilonwy, in contrast, is a legitimate princess, the daughter of a common man and a daughter of the Sea King. Little further is explained on this matter, however, and Eilonwy mostly brushes off her ancestry as burdensome to recount. In the end, the story focuses primarily on the pig, Hen Wen, and Taran rather than the monarchs and, while the defeat of the Horned King is important to the overarching story, little is discussed in relation to the future of the lands the Horned King once ruled over.

Princess Ariel and Prince Eric 

28. The Little Mermaid (1989) – Disney's first masterpiece in the series of films that became the "Disney Renaissance", The Little Mermaid tells of how Ariel, the daughter of Triton, King of the Oceans, fell in love with a human and forfeited her life as a mermaid for life on land with a man. Disney chose to use two blood royals in this story to place both characters on the same grounding. Ariel is the youngest daughter of the Sea King, a man who apparently has no (legitimate) sons since none are mentioned at a pageant near the beginning of the film (nor in any subsequent sequels or television episodes). Eric, the man she falls in love with, is a prince as well but nothing is discussed of his background. Whether he is a sovereign prince, as in a reigning prince, or the son of a monarch is unclear.  It is highly possible that since Eric seems to live as the ruler of a large castle on the sea with no parents ever mentioned in the film, he is the actual ruler rather than simply the child of the ruler. In either case, his hereditary royalty is never in doubt from the time of his first introduction throughout the film.

Belle and Beast 

30. Beauty and the Beast (1991) — A "tale as old as time", this film focuses on an imprisoned and scholarly peasant woman who is captured by an evil beast in his massive castle and inevitably falls in love with him, redeeming him in the process. The beast is in fact a prince turned monster by a sorceress. While he was yet a mid-teenager at the time of his transformation, no mention is ever given to parents in the film suggesting that the Beast was in fact a sovereign prince in charge of the castle and the lands around it. The townsfolk nearby seem to know of the beast but not of his dominion, suggesting that either the castle is much farther away than portrayed or that it does not rule the lands in which Belle once lived. In all likelihood, Cogsworth and Lumière were probably stewards and maybe even regents for the prince in his youth and continued as advisers as he reached maturity. At the time in the film, the Beast was supposed to be around 21 years old, with only one year to break the curse from his 21st birthday.

Princess Jasmine

 31. Aladdin (1992) — The classic tale passed down from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Aladdin tells the tale of a street urchin who finds the lost genie's lamp and becomes a prince. He does so through his (eventual) marriage to Princess Jasmine, the daughter of the Sultan. However, this film actually has three different forms of monarch portrayed in it. As with the previous three films, Jasmine is a legitimate princess, the daughter of the ruling monarch: Sultan. Aladdin becomes a prince jure uxorious, "by right of his wife", when he eventually marries her (which doesn't actually happen until the third film: Aladdin and the Prince of Thieves). But do not forget the Grand Vizier Jafar, who temporarily uses the power of the genie's lamp to become the Sultan of Agrabah. His claim to the throne is sheer conquest, but that is a style of succession long tried and supported. And while Jafar ultimately fails in his quest, he does manage to change succession law in Agrabah by convincing Sultan than Aladdin, as a hero, is worthy of marrying his daughter, despite the fact that Aladdin has no royal blood. In reality, royalty in Arabia has often married non-royals to cement alliances between tribes, and heroes are certainly good marriage material.

King Simba of the Pride Lands

 32. The Lion King (1994) — One of Disney's most remembered and loved films, The Lion King is also the one of only three films to feature a title of royalty in its title. The "Lion King" in question is Simba, initially the son of Mufasa, king of Pride Rock and the Pridelands. Mufasa is the legitimate king of the lands and that is something his younger brother, Scar, despises. Scar is eventually able to orchestrate a coup against his brother with the help of a band of hyenas. They kill Mufasa and attempt to kill his son, Simba, but eventually allow him to flee into the savannah in disgrace. Scar takes over the pride despite resentment from the lionesses while Simba settles in at a watering hole with Pumba, a warthog, and Timon, a meerkat, both outcasts of their own. Fate eventually catches up with Simba, though, and his once betrothed lioness finds him while going on a long hunt. She convinces Simba to return and challenge his uncle for control over the pride. Simba does so and wins the fight, with angry hyenas finishing the task of killing the deposed usurping Scar. The film ends the way it began, with Simba and Nala having their newborn child blessed and presented before the residents of the Pridelands. The dynasty continues.


33. Pocahontas (1995) — In contrast to The Lion King, the monarchical roles in Pocahontas seem downright subtle, but they are still there. Pocahontas is a princess of an Algonquian Native American chieftain named Powhatan. Lacking a son, Powhatan is in negotiations with a mighty warrior of the tribe to wed his daughter, who is trying her utmost to make herself scarce. Eventually Pocahontas falls in love with an English explorer named John Smith, but circumstances halt their romance. The monarchy in this is a hereditary tribal chiefdom. While the chief is able to pass his claim to leadership on to his children, bravery and leadership qualities are expected of the leader. Little is explained about how the monarchy works and it remains a background topic throughout the film.


35. Hercules (1997) — One of the lesser films of the "Disney Renaissance", Hercules deals with a non-monarchical issue but one that is surrounded by monarchs. Thirteen to be exact. That is the number of gods and goddesses there are on Mount Olympus and Hades. The film is played out like a dynastic struggle for leadership of the Olympian Gods, a struggle fought mostly between Zeus and Hades, using Hercules as their tool. Hades and Zeus are brothers, but Zeus is god above while Hades god below. This angers Hades and so the underworld lord leads a rebellion by releasing their gigantic and wrathful parents, the Titans, upon the world. Hercules, through his bravery, is able to stop both the Titans and Hades' attempt at conquest by rescuing his love from what appears to be a Well of Souls. His immortality defeats Hades and Olympus is saved. Zeus became god of Olympus when he defeated the Titans the first time around, and thus this film is really about a dynastic struggle between two brothers who both feel like they should rule their siblings, a topic oddly similar to that in The Lion King.

The Han Emperor 

36. Mulan (1998) — Mulan follows the journey of Fa Mulan as she joins the Chinese army disguised as a man and falls in love with her captain. Two aspects of the story suggest royalty. The obvious one is that the story takes place in Imperial China during the Han Dynasty that lasted from the 3rd century BCE through the 3rd century CE. The emperor plays a fairly prominent role at the end of the film as he is  captured and nearly killed by the Hun leader, Shan Yu. The Chinese monarchy was a agnatic (Salic) primogeniture system prone to periodic succession by conquest. This film follows one of those attempts, as Shun Yu, the leader of the Huns, leads a campaign of conquest over the Great Wall and toward the Imperial City. Shan Yu is most likely a tribal chieftain who rose to his rank through deeds rather than by heredity, although some hereditary descent may have occurred. Had he conquered the Chinese capital, he would likely have adopted the manners of China as did the Mongols in the 14th century and the Manchurians in the 18th. It should be added, however, that Mulan, at no point in this story, becomes or is implied to become a princess. She remains the daughter of a soldier and marries a soldier.

Of the remaining films in this period, nearly all have a trace of monarchy in them despite the fact that no monarchs or their children appear in the films. Basil: The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Tarzan (1999) both take place in Victorian England or with a Victorian English cast, with the former mentioning the Crimean War periodically and the latter featuring modes of Late Victorian dress in both the character of Jane and many of the slides she shows to Tarzan. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) takes place during the reign of King Louis XI in the 1400s, and the king appears once in the novel but not in the film. As a stretch, The Rescuers Down Under (1990) takes place in contemporary Australia, which means Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also the Queen of Australia via the Commonwealth of Nations. That leaves only Oliver & Company (1988) without any monarch whatsoever, either implied or otherwise, featured in the film since it takes place in contemporary New York City. Coincidentally, though, the novel upon which Oliver & Company was based, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, took place in London during the reign of King William IV. Thus the "Disney Renaissance" is also a period in Disney's history rich with connections to monarchs and, most surprisingly, legitimate female rulers whose husbands are the ones not royal. Indeed, only Belle from Beauty and the Beast becomes royalty through her marriage, all the rest already are royalty. A kind switch from earlier Disney films.


[brief] (102) female monarch (31) Capet (26) [abbreviated] (19) Roman Empire (17) Great monarchs (16) Japan (15) Papacy (15) England (13) saints (13) France (11) Portugal (11) [Missing Deaths] (11) Habsburg (10) Sweden (10) Byzantine Empire (9) Carolingian (9) China (9) Hohenzollern (9) Oldenburg (9) Holy Roman Empire (8) Japan (dynasty) (8) Aragón (7) Austria (7) Denmark (7) Electorate (7) Ethiopia (7) Hungary (7) Navarre (7) Norway (7) Romanov (7) Russia (7) Saxony (7) Scotland (7) Wettin (7) Wittelsbach (7) Bavaria (6) Burgundy (6) Egypt (6) Italy (6) Lorraine (6) Luxembourg (6) Persia (6) Poland (6) Sicily (6) Spain (6) Valois (6) Capet-Burgundy (5) Franks (5) Germany (5) Plantagenet (5) Prussia (5) Quraish (5) Solomon (Ethiopia) (5) Tuscany (5) Anjou (4) Aquitaine (4) Barcelona (dynasty) (4) Bohemia (4) Brittany (4) Burgundy-Aviz (4) Burma (4) Capet-Valois (4) Castile (4) Constantinople (Patriarchate) (4) Habsburg-Lorraine (4) Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov (4) India (4) Ireland (4) 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