Wednesday, May 14, 2014

tales as old as time

My own definitive ranking of all the official Disney princesses, ranked from worst to best.  That's right, only the 13 official Disney princesses are being ranked here, though there is certainly plenty to be said for the likes of Alice, Wendy, Megara, Nala, Esmerelda, and the rest. 

13.  Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)

In her defense, poor, naïve little Snow White is a victim of her time period.  Had Snow White been made even ten years later, its titular character might have been more fleshed out, more developed, more active, and less surreal.  But 78 years' hindsight leaves much to be desired in her character.  Homegirl spends her entire movie simpering as she scrubs floors for her wicked stepmother, cooks and cleans for seven men, and talks to woodland creatures.  If she could do any of those things with her eyes actually open (seriously, unless she's frightened, her eyes are almost completely drooped shut for the whole movie), I might like her a little bit better.  Unfortunately, her purity and sweetness combined with the feminism (or lack thereof) of the 1930's make for one thoroughly weak, passive princess who remains remarkable almost solely because of her status as the main character of the first ever full-length animated feature.  If she had shown any sort of spunk, rebellion, wit, or desire to do anything other than cook, clean, or marry a prince, Snow White might have received a higher ranking.

Best quote:
"I'm awfully sorry.  I didn't mean to frighten you.  But you don't know what I've been through.  And all because I was afraid.  I'm so ashamed of the fuss I've made."

12.  Merida (Brave, 2012)


I honestly did not particularly like both Brave as a movie and its lead protagonist.  I appreciate how fiery and independent Merida is, and I certainly admire how she had the guts to fight for her freedom from cultural paradigm and avoid a completely undesired marriage.  But I spent most of the movie thinking she was mostly just a brat.  Yes, her mother should have been more understanding of Merida's personality and desires and who Merida truly was, rather than trying so hard to transform her into a "proper princess."  But on the other hand, Merida needed to understand that everyone has to make sacrifices for a greater good than their own wants and desires, whether they are a princess or not.  And putting a spell on your mother just so she will stop telling you not to put your weapons on the table is really going TOO FAR.  Legitimately, Merida's brattiness very nearly caused her mother's death.  I liked that Merida so does not need a man to make her happy, she merely needs to be allowed to be herself - but if she could have matured and learned to be herself without turning her mother (and brothers) into a freakin' bear, I might have liked her a little more.

Best quote:
"Call off the gathering.  Would that kill them?  You're the queen.  You can just tell the lords the princess is not ready for this.  In fact, she might not ever be ready for this, so that's that.  Good day to you.  We'll expect your declarations of war in the morning."

11.  Aurora/Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)

This one is so not Aurora's fault.  If she had spent more than 18 minutes of the movie as an awake 16-year-old, she might have been ranked higher as well.  However, she manages to make those 18 minutes count well.  Aurora's playfulness is charming, as shown when she teases her aunts and dances with the woodland creatures who are pretending to be her prince.  And her wide-eyed shock and shyness when she first meets Philip belie an underlying desire not for a prince necessarily, but for passion and romance, which are things she's never known before.  (Side note: it is my firm opinion that Aurora and Philip have the all-time best Disney meet-cute.  It had to be said.)  The grief, anger, and fear of her true identity as a princess threaten to choke her, as this glimpse of a new life is torn away from her (or so she thinks...since she doesn't realize Philip was a prince and she's actually already betrothed to him anyway!).  It's such a shame that after this point, she spends the rest of the movie in a trance, then asleep, and even when she wakes up at the end, does not utter a single word of dialogue.  Again, Aurora is a product of her time, and if she had been allowed more than 18 minutes of *awake* screen time, she might have ranked higher on this list.

Best quote:
"Oh, we walk together, and talk together, and just before we say goodbye, he takes me in his arms, and then...I wake up.  *Sigh*  Yes, it's only in my dreams.  But they say if you dream a thing more than once, it's sure to come true.  And I've seen him so many times."

10.  Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989)

I might get some heat for ranking Ariel so low, as she is arguably the most popular Disney princess.  I admit I see the appeal.  Ariel is the youngest of many sisters, yet she is completely unique.  Her huge blue eyes combined with her amazing red hair and skimpy (yet classy!) outfit make her one of the most beautiful Disney princesses, and her spunk and rebellion mark her as the first proactive, rather than reactive, princess.  But ultimately, The Little Mermaid suffers from flawed storytelling, and therefore so does Ariel.  I get the teen angst and anger at her father that caused her to accept Ursula's incredibly tempting deal - sell your voice, get legs, and become a part of the human world for three days.  I love that she made her own choice, which is so not what her predecessors would have done.  But I hate the choice she made.  She gambled her entire life as a mermaid, her father, her sisters, her friends, her kingdom, on a three-day stay in an entirely new world where she knew no one and could not communicate.  This empowering, free-woman choice Ariel makes for herself makes her an absolute feminist icon to some, but to me, it just makes her appear naïve, and not in a good way.  (Her naivete also appears to her disadvantage while she is human, as evidenced by her enthusiastic combing of her hair with a fork, and her noticeable failure to employ her ability to write as a means of communication with Eric.  Flawed storytelling, seriously.)  I like Ariel's spunk, I truly do.  And Prince Eric is a total hottie, so I get why she's crushing on him and why she would want to become a human to be with him.  But her naivete (which sometimes borders on plain unintelligence) combined with the flaws in her story rank her low on this list.

Best quote:
"What would I give to live where you are?  What would I pay to stay here beside you?  What would I do to see you smiling at me?  Where would we walk, where would we run, if we could stay all day in the sun?  Just you and me, and I could be part of your world."

9.  Elsa the Snow Queen (Frozen, 2013)

Another choice I'm SURE I'll get flak for, ranking such a newly beloved character this low.  Believe me, it was a hard choice to make.  And again, it's not particularly Elsa's fault - her character suffers from extremely bad advice from others, plus some serious flawed storytelling.  Had Elsa's parents tried to oversee their daughter's gift, offer her some help and support as she learned how to use and control it, she might have never had to shut herself away.  Or had she herself reached out, even in fear, to her parents or Anna or anyone, things might have been different.  Had she done anything other than hiding in her room for over a decade, she might have been able to enjoy her life.  She might have been able to avoid harming her sister.  She might have truly blossomed as a princess and then a queen.  But instead, she spends her life shut away from everyone, hating herself and living in fear, thinking her powers are evil and bad and she must spend her whole life concealing, not feeling, who she truly is.  Had she even attempted to explain to Anna why she was always shutting her out, I probably would have ranked Elsa much higher. 

Best quote:
"The cold never bothered me anyway."

8.  Anna (Frozen, 2013)

I liked Frozen, really I did, but am I the only one that thinks it's really overrated?  Still, I do think that Anna is pretty adorable.  She's playful, curious, awkward, speaks before she thinks, and loves her sister more than anything.  Yeah, she's given flak for agreeing to marry a man she'd only met hours previously, but she only did that because she was insanely lonely from having been pushed away by her sister her whole life.  Ultimately, her love for Elsa saved both sisters from death.  I also love that even when Elsa's powers are discovered, Anna remains firm in her belief that her sister is not dangerous or a monster.  She sets out to find her sister and try to convince her to return, always believing (accurately) that her sister just needs some help and reassurance.  Plus, when Anna wakes up in the morning drooling and with her hair all lumpy and frizzy - as opposed to Cinderella, being awakened by birds and with her hair in perfect cute braids and singing beautifully - well, Anna's kinda legit.  She's a very modern Disney princess, yet overall less memorable than many of the others.

Best quote:
"This is awkward.  Not, not you're awkward, just, I'm awkward.  You're gorgeous.  Wait, what?"

7.  Cinderella (Cinderella, 1950)

I absolutely LOVE Cinderella, and in fact she's probably my second favorite Disney princess overall.  But, as another victim of her time period, she is ranked only as #7.  Cinderella is gentle, kind, graceful, and never allows her stepfamily's horrible treatment of her to squash her dreams.  Amazing, really, as her stepfamily is literally THE WORST.  Cinderella's main fault is that she doesn't really do anything in her movie, short of demonstrating her lovely voice, ability to waltz, and refusal to give up her dreams.  Everything just sort of happens to her; use, abuse, fairy godmother saving the day, and her prince (who I absolutely REFUSE to refer to as "Prince Charming," because that is NOT his name) falls in love with her on the spot.  Yet she still seems like a real person (something Snow White never achieved) as she is quite witty and even a little bit sassy at times.  All she wants in life is happiness and a better life, and she never loses sight of that.  The late Ilene Woods' vocal performance as Cinderella is the perfect blend of girlishness, maturity, grace, and a touch of sass, and Cinderella remains just as memorable as ever after more than sixty years.

Best quote:
"Oh well.  What's a royal ball?  After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and boring...and completely...completely wonderful."

6.  Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992)

Jasmine has a unique position among the Disney princesses, as she is the only princess who is less important in her movie than her prince.  Still, Jasmine makes her screen time count.  She is every bit as spunky as Ariel, and while she is naïve, she is by her own admission a "fast learner."  She has her head on straight, knows exactly what she wants, and refuses to live her life on any terms but her own.  She is clever, quick-thinking, and completely unafraid to stand up to the men in her life.  Jasmine never hesitates to show her complete and utter disdain for Jafar, never puts up with arrogance from her suitors, and is able to not only recognize but vocalize the fact that she "is NOT a prize to be won!"  I absolutely love Jasmine's complete confidence in who she is and what she wants and deserves from her life, even if she is a princess and a sheltered one at that. 

Best quote:
"How dare you!  All of you!  Standing around, deciding my future?  I am NOT a prize to be won!"

5.  Pocahontas (Pocahontas, 1995)

Let's ignore the fact that this movie is rife with historical inaccuracies, and instead focus on Pocahontas as a Disney princess rather than a real-life person.  She's beautiful, intelligent, brave, open-minded, able to see past differences, and willing to make any sacrifice in order to do what's right.  She doesn't hesitate to stand up to her father, even if it means she might be killed, and she ultimately enables him to look past his own prejudices and make peace with his enemies.  What's more, she has the strength to let her love interest do what he needs to do and leave her behind.  Plus, she can paint with all the colors of the wind.  (It had to be said.)

Best quote:
"Look around you.  This is where the path of hatred has brought us.  This is the path I choose, Father.  What will yours be?"

4.  Rapunzel (Tangled, 2010)

Seriously, Tangled is one of the best Disney princess movies out there.  The animation is stunning, the story is incredibly entertaining, and the characters (in particular the non-human characters of Pascal and Maximus) are wonderfully developed.  Rapunzel emerges as a Disney princess filled with life, spunk, beauty, and a desire to see the "lights" as she calls them, so that she can understand what's missing in her life.  Sure, she's sheltered, but her time shut away in her tower has not been wasted, as she is shown to be incredibly talented at baking, sewing, astronomy, and most of all, art.  Her determination, even through her fear, to go and see the lights and accomplish her dream, is wonderfully refreshing.  And her inner strength and self confidence once she has seen the lights is truly inspiring.

Best quotes:
Rapunzel: I've been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky.  But what if it's not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider (possibly the freaking BEST Disney prince EVER, btw): It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is?  What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: You get to go find a new dream.

Flynn Rider: Rapunzel?  You were my new dream.
Rapunzel: And you were mine.
^I really just can't even handle how romantic and wonderful and perfect this declaration of love is.

3.  Mulan (Mulan, 1998)

Mulan is so awesome.  She tries, truly she does, to do what is expected of her and what she knows will bring her family honor: she gets all gussied up and presents herself to the matchmaker, truly attempting to become a bride.  Her heart is SO in the right place.  But this really shows when she decides to save her ailing father and go to war against the Huns in his stead.  Masquerading as a man, Mulan pushes through army training, becoming super badass along the way, and manages to save not only her father, but her fellow soldiers, captain, the Emperor, and all of China as well.  Seriously..this chick ROCKS.  Girl power!

Best quote:
"Just because I look like a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one."

2.  Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)

Tiana ranks this highly because she knows.  She knows!  She is the only Disney princess to have been given the truth by her father: that she can wish on a star all she wants, but in order for her dreams to come true, she has to work hard to achieve what she wants.  And this is exactly what she does.  Sure, she actually focuses a little too hard on work and forgets how to have fun and really live, but enter her fun-loving prince Naveen, and together they work together and teach each other important lessons.  Tiana's head is squarely on her shoulders, and she knows what's up.  In fact, she knows what's up so much that she is able to resist Dr. Facilier's temptation to give her everything she thought she wanted in exchange for Naveen's life.  What an awesome Disney character.

Best quote:
"My daddy never did get what he wanted.  But he had what he needed.  He had love.  He never lost sight of what was really important.  And neither will I!"

1.  Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1990)

Seriously, I just love Belle.  She's insanely beautiful, but she doesn't really realize that, and more importantly, she doesn't care at all.  She wants knowledge, adventure, a better life, a meaningful life.  She doesn't care about beauty, or status, or getting married, or anything like that.  And she's able to see past all those things to what's really important.  She's brave and self-sacrificing, as shown when she gave herself up for her father, and she's not afraid to tell it like it is, as shown when she and the Beast argue while she bandages his arm.  Belle has so many moments that show her quick mind, her store of knowledge, her courage, and her refusal to let a man dictate her life, that I won't list anymore.  I'll just tell you to go and watch Beauty and the Beast again.  Best.  Movie.  Ever.

Best quote:
"I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!  I want it more than I can tell!  And for once it might be grand to have someone understand - I want so much more than they've got planned..."

So there you have it.  My ranking of the Disney princesses.  #theimportantissuesinlife

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