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Dispelling Disney Princess Myth

Cinderella, the Front Runner of Disney Princess
The Most Famous Disney Princess
according to Wikipedia

What is in your mind if I mention Disney princesses? You probably will conjure images of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and other princesses. They all belong in a realm of American popular culture that is so hegemonic, even in Indonesian culture. We have been so accustomed to these characters that we take them for granted. Once we consume a popular culture product, we also consume the ideology embedded within. What do these princesses teach us, or teach your daughter?  

Can I say that Cinderella is a bad girl? Or Snow White as an evil character? No, surely not. They all belong to the ‘good’ girl. They are the protagonist of the story. Then, what are the characteristics of a ‘good girl’ according to the princess above? First of all, a good girl is so kind hearted. She is indeed too kind. Why does Cinderella obey all of her step mother’s request? She can say no for once. If she says no, she will not be kind. Consequently, she will not be a good girl. Then, a good girl, is a helpless girl. She always needs savior that will come to the rescue. She will wait for ‘Prince Charming’ to come.  They meet in short time, they fall in love in an instant and then … they live happily ever after. That’s a good girl. She does not need to know more of the Prince’s background. He is always looked as a perfect man in front of the
Disney princesses. Kind hearted, helpless, submissive are some adjectives that define the Disney princesses. These adjectives are consequently transformed to be the characteristics of a good girl, at least according to Disney. These are the myth of good girl, according to Disney. This does not include the physical feature of Disney princesses that adheres to Western myth of beauty: white, blonde, blue-eye. Well, at least these are the basic formula in Disney princesses’ narrative since its early establishment until the late 2000s. Thus, they are so hegemonic. However, the recent animation movie that I watched, Happily N’Ever After, does not promote or strengthen the Disney princess myth.

Happily N’Ever After was relased in 2006. It is NOT a Disney movie, so it dares to twist the formula. It tells about Frieda, Ella’s step mother (as in Cinderella), who takes over the control of wizard power that controls the balance of good and evil in fairy tales land. Ella fails to get her Prince Charming. She tries to beat Frieda by asking for the help of the Prince because she thinks that what Prince ‘should’ do. In the journey, she is assisted by Rick, the Prince’s dish washer who falls in love to her and by two magical creatures. During the plot, there are many ruptures to Cinderella story, consequently to the Disney princess narrative itself.

Ella ... Short dark messy hair does not represent Disney Princesses
The first is perhaps from the apparent physical appearance of Ella. She is not depicted as ‘Cinderella’ who has white skin, long blond hair, and blue eyes. Instead, she has short dark messy hair, black and green eyes, and white skin. She does not look like the typical Disney princess yet she still looks beautiful as compared to other female characters in the movie. This physical appearance at a glance wants to challenge the myth of beauty that is perpetuated by Disney princess. To be beautiful, a girl does not need long blond hair and blue eyes, although still has white skin. Disney is often accused for perpetuating Western myth of beauty. Thus, Disney often features princesses from other cultures that have different racial appearance such as Pocahontas, Mulan until the recent movie, Princess and the Frog. Yet, these princesses cannot attain the same status as Cinderella and her friends. In Disney Land, Orlando for example, the main attraction to meet Disney princesses are still Cinderella, Snow White, and a girl form Beauty and the Beast. They all meet the standard of Western beauty myth. 

Buffy, handsome, tall yet moron. Prince Humperdink also
deconstructs Disney's prince representation

The next rupture of the Disney princess in the movie lies in the characterization of Ella. At first, she is depicted as a ‘Disney good girl’. She obeys her step mother. She falls in love to a prince. Yet, her character transforms. As long as the journey, she knows that the Prince is not a perfect man. Indeed, the Prince in the movie is depicted as a moron character. He is handsome and tall. He has blonde hair and muscular body. He is ‘perfect’ in terms of physical appearance. He is the one that girls will drop their jaws for. Yet, the movie exposes that the Prince is a complete moron. He follows a guidebook of how to be a prince. The book gives instruction of every detail of the princes live. He lives according to what the book says. He gradually does not look perfect in front of Ella. Then here it comes, Rick. He is not very muscular. He does not have blonde hair and charming eyes. He is not a prince! Even, when Rick says he wants to defeat Frieda, Ella stops her by saying “you’re not the prince!” Well, after the Prince surrenders because the book says so, Ella then looks for Rick for the only remaining hope. 

Rick, A Dishwasher, A Hero
Rick may be not a prince, but Rick surely is a hero. In various occasions in the movie, he performs his heroic actions i.e. saving lives of others, risking his own life. He is more heroic that the Prince. Thus, Ella gradually falls in love with Rick. In the end, they get married. Ella may not be a princess. But, she is happy! Surely it dispels the Disney princess myth about a good girl should wait for the “prince” to come. Ella probably will marry the Prince if she does not get involved in a journey with him. Ella knows more about the prince, so as Ella knows more about Rick. It completely debunks the Disney princess myth are always waiting for the perfect Prince to be happy. Ella seems like to say that ‘I am happy even though I marry a dishwasher!” In the end, she does not need a prince to make her happy. She is STILL a good girl although she is not submissive to the Prince. 

The last rupture is that the movie challenges the notion that a good girl is helpless, weak and submissive. In several scenes, Ella is depicted exploiting her skills in combat. She is not scared and crying. She is depicted as a fierce girl. In the end, it is Ella who really defeats Frieda. It is not the Prince nor Rick. She is not being submissive to her step mother in the very end. She chooses to get rid of her since she knows Frieda is the source of the evil. Her physical appearance, having short hair, supports the idea that she is not a typical weak woman. She is STILL a good girl although she disobeys and 'kills' her cruel step mother. At least, she no longer becomes a 'fool' girl.

Well, however, the movie is a box office flop. It gains 4,5 points out of 10 in IMDB. It does not gain positive review in Rotten Tomatoes. It is not successful commercially. Why? It is not made by Disney! It completely destroys Disney’s formula. Surely, when it is marketed in US, it will flop. The low rating suggests that Americans still love their Disney princesses. It is still so hegemonic for them. The movie tries to dispel the Disney princess myth, and it FAILS !! It can be suggested that the Disney Princess narratives will still reign for the next decades. Disney princess narratives are still the source of escapism for many Americans. It is probably true. 23 Millions Americans watch Prince Harry and Kate Midleton wedding! It was broadcast by six different US television channels [1]. Well, it shows that although they hate monarchy, they are still in love in Royal Wedding ala Cinderella story. It’s a country of paradox after all… 



  1. yep, i'm so agree with your argument Riz..

    and i want to add something, in my opinion after watching this movie, i think this movie is not so amazing.. and less entertaining of course..
    maybe it can be one of the reason why this movie fails..

    and how bout Shrek?? it deconstructs the myth as well, but it's successful. what do you think??

    P.S. from Disney princesses which one do you like most?? Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, or Belle ??
    honestly, i love Ariel, cos she looks like a redheaded b***h.. LOL

  2. May be, it is related to the genre, Shrek is a comedy, while Happily N'ever After does not focus on the comedy. Shrek is able to convey the deconstruction through jokes and satires. This is what Happily N'ever After lacks of.

    Americans probably love Shrek more because it does not assault directly to their Disney princess myth. Dreamworks is brilliant in conveying the idea. I think nowadays, Americans are more open to the 'Other' issues. Shrek 3 which is criticized negatively by movie reviewers gained massive profits. Americans love more their green princess.

    Try to watch the Princess and the Frog. Although Disney tries to put Black princess in the film, she somehow lacks the 'blackness'.

    And I think I love Ariel too hahaha

    ps. come to Aya's examination next Monday at 9 ya!! And come to my examination on July 18, at 9 also :) Dankeee

  3. ahh i see.. Shrek is funnier that this one..

    Princess and the Frog?? it's Princess Tatiana right?? haven't watched it..

    yup, i'll be there on your day..
    gud luck for it Riz.. :-)

  4. Shrek "does not seem" to challenge the myth. When one watches it, s/he will find it only as a joke. This movie is in contrary. It is never meant to be a joke. That is why, perhaps, it is more offensive to the Disney princess myth.

  5. u have the movie?give me a copy then...

    my fav is cindy, but I like Mulan for being different with the other princess, but she isn't as popular as the other princess, r8?

  6. i dont have it unfortunately :D u can rent it in nearby VCD rental

  7. What I don't understand is what Americans have against redheads. Ariel in the Little Mermaid is my FAVORITE princess, when I was little I wanted to be Ariel so bad, haha.
    But a lot of the items in the little girl's section of clothing and toy stores don't include the picture of Ariel along with the other princesses. Sometimes they do, but it's not as common as the popular grouping of Belle, Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White.

    My husband and his friends like to crack jokes about "gingers" it seems like redheads are apart of the 'cool kid group'. So I think that plays into Ariel not being one of the major princesses.
    I don't understand it, I see "gingers" as being so beautiful, but the rest of the US obviously doesn't...

  8. "Why does Cinderella obey all of her step mother’s request?" Um, because if she doesn't do as her mother says, her stepmother will throw her out and she'll have nowhere to live? It would be too "grim" for children. Also you are wrong about Cinderella waiting to be rescued. She -chose- to go to the ball. By wishing to go to the ball, this meant that it was her initiative to change her fate.

    Also she is kind that way because in the original fairy tale her mother instilled values of kindness in her. What kind of parent doesn't want to teach their kids to be kind and listen to their parents?

    Maybe you were looking for Sleeping Beauty instead?


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