Showing posts from 2014

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 10: Beauty and the Beast

For who could ever learn to love a beast?

The "Beauty and the Beast" story is, indeed, a tale as old as time. The myth of Cupid and Psyche, "The Girl Who Married a Snake" from India, and A Midsummer Night's Dream are some of the early precursors to the French versions with which we are more familiar. The French "Belle et la Bête" was first written by Madame de Villeneuve, but the condensed version which is more popularly used and adapted was edited by Madame Leprince de Beaumont. Interestingly, this is to date the only fairytale Disney adapted which is most popularly attributed to women writers; though, of course, most if not all of the Grimms and Perrault's versions were told to them by women, the names of these women are largely lost to history. "Beauty and the Beast" retains its link to female storytellers, and to this day it is one of the most often-used fairytales in feminist retellings, such as Angela Carter's "The Courtsh…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 9: The Little Mermaid

But who cares? No big deal. I want more.

The trope of silenced women in folklore and fairytales is one with a very long history. Women's speech in general has long been denigrated, talkative women reduced to gossips, demanding women to nags, even the term "old wives' tales" that goes hand-in-hand with folklore and fairytales is often used to dismiss fantastical or unbelievable stories as simply the talk of women, unimportant and unworthy of regard. In the 16th century play, "The Old Wives' Tale" by George Peele, a woman who says "A woman without a tongue is as a soldier without his weapon," ends by being struck mute, much to the delight of her husband. Women's words are feared, loathed, and generally found annoying and/or unnecessary.
Arguably the most talked-about aspect of The Little Mermaid is the loss of the mermaid's voice. In the Disney film she loses it by magic, but in the Hans Christian Andersen original story her tongue is ac…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 8: Sleeping Beauty

You'll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream.

It's interesting to look at which fairytales are the most popular, the most enduring, and the most adapted. When there are stories all over the world of women and young girls fighting forces of evil and magic, saving themselves and their families with their intelligence, strength, cleverness, and steely resolve, why are the ones with passive female protagonists so popular? And particularly, what it is about sleeping beauties?
The history of folklore is absolutely full of women in long and/or enchanted sleeps awaiting men to awake them. Some of the oldest are Brynhildr of Norse mythology and Sittukhan from "The Ninth Captain's Tale" in The 1001 Nights. Giambattista Basile's "Sole, Luna, e Talia" or "Sun, Moon, and Talia" very clearly influenced Perrault's "La Belle au Bois Dormant," which the Grimms cleaned up considerably for their version, "Briar Rose." Bas…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 7: Cinderella

If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.

I don't know if it's just that there are more versions of Cinderella out there or if that's just what I've stumbled upon most, but I've definitely read more versions of Cinderella than any other fairytale. The oldest recorded Cinderella-type stories we have are the Greek/Egyptian "Rhodopis" and the 9th-century Chinese "Yeh-Shen," and Cinderella stories can be found in almost every culture around the world, many almost as old as Yeh-Shen. Cinderella is also one of the most-used fairytales in modern reimaginings and revisionist fairytales; a quick run through your local bookstore's young adult section will probably turn up no less than 20 Cinderella re-writes, including but not limited to Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, Malinda Lo's Ash, and Marissa Meyer's Cinder. And in this world absolutely saturated with versions of Cinderella from China to Scotland to Russi…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 6: Snow White

Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is more fair than thee.

Among tales of cannibalism, violent murder, and all manner of unpleasantries, the Grimms brothers' "Schneewittchen," literally "Little Snow White," manages to stand out as a rather gruesome tale. The Disney adaptation, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is largely pretty bright and happy, though some of the grittiness of the source material made it in. 
The earliest versions of the story feature no stepmother; in the 1810 and 1812 editions, Snow White's own mother grows jealous and fearful of her daughter's growing beauty in contrast to her own waning attractiveness. The prologue including the mother's death and the introduction of the stepmother was added in the 1819 edition in order to preserve the sanctity of the mother figure. Evil stepmothers weren't exactly unheard of; higher mortality rates, particular…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 5: The Princess and the Frog

There is no way in this whole wide world I would ever, ever, ever, I mean never kiss a frog.

Disney's The Princess and the Frog is loosely based, foremost, on E.D. Baker's The Frog Princess, which in turn is based on the Grimms' story "The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich," known more recently as "The Frog Prince." (For those playing at home, the German title is "Der Froschkönig oder der eiserne Heinrich," which I include because it is really fun to say and I would not keep that from you.) Though the movie is a few steps removed from the Grimms' tale, there are still elements present in the movie that can be traced back to the story.

There are two different routes that "The Frog Prince" stories take with their heroines. Some of them have a strong-willed heroine who at first despises the frog, and the rest have a sweet-natured heroine who submits to the frog's requests without protest. Tiana is derived more from the former type. La…

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 4: Heroines

Um, sorry it's been almost a month since my last post in this series. Part of the reason it took me forever to get this post out was that I wasn't really sure if I wanted to talk about each heroine in her own movie/fairytale post or if I wanted to talk about them all collectively in one post on the character type. I kept writing half a post and then going "nahhhh I'll do it the other way" and rewriting a new one and then changing my mind again over and over. All of which is to say I've decided to do both, so I'll talk a bit today about fairytale heroines in general, and Disney fairytale heroines and the concept we have of them independent from their individual stories. I'll talk more about the characters themselves in the upcoming posts focusing on one movie at a time.

When we think of women and girls in fairytales, we don't often think "heroine" is the term for them. Princesses, sure, victims, almost definitely. The fairytales that prob…

soldiers in petticoats: a disney ladies fanmix

I didn't write a Disney, Fairytales, and Women post this week, but I have an excuse! I made this enormous beast of a fanmix with 62 songs, each one for a different Disney lady.

soldiers in petticoats from verhexen on 8tracks Radio.

Tracklist behind the cut!

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 3: Witches and Magical Beings

"Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"  - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Not long ago I was listening to a review of Brave in which the reviewer said he didn't like that he didn't know if the witch was good or bad. In Disney, of course, witches are almost always evil, and if they're good, they're called something else (hence the title of this installment). In folk and fairytales, witches are often neutral or even helpful, though of course bad witches still exist. In fact, there's a pretty even mix of alignments in magical beings. Simply expecting a witch to be either "good" or "bad" is something that's almost entirely Disney's doing, as even in the more modern editions of the European fairytales from which Disney movies come the magical beings come in all points on the morality spectrum.

When you think of a Disney witch, you probably think of the evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film version of the Queen after her t…

womp womp

I intended to post the next part of my Disney, Fairytales, and Women series today but I forgot to take my meds last night and I feel absolutely wretched. Learn from my mistakes, kids. I'll have it up either tomorrow or later this week. In the meantime, have an apology photo:

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 2: Mothers and Stepmothers

I think I had a mother once. What was she like? I forget. - Peter Pan (1953)

Mothers in fairytales are often absent, dead, or missing without even a mention of them being gone. Considering mothers are pretty much everywhere, their absence is glaring to the audience. A major impetus for many fairytale plots is the death or absence of a parent, which accounts for many of the missing mothers, but many of them are hiding in plain sight; in subsequent editions of the Grimm brothers' Kinder- und Hausmärchen, cruel and abusive mothers were often changed to stepmothers to avoid depicting mothers as capable of doing harm or evil to their children. Victorian fairytale anthologies kept these changes, and most modern fairytale translations and adaptations continue the stepmother trend, and of course the Disney fairytale films are based on modern editions, not the originals.

In the Grimms' 1810 and 1812 editions of "Schneewittchen," the heroine's own mother is the queen pursuing…