Friday, Disney will release their 53rd animated feature film, “Frozen.” This is a huge fun deal for all of us girly girls who grew up wanting a fishtail so that we could, in turn, want feet (did a lot of things just start to make sense about girls? You’re welcome.) And unless I’m mistaken, the amount that ladies love Disney princesses is in direct inverse proportion to how much men find them equal parts boring, stupid, and cliched.
But THAT is where you’re missing the bloody, lusty opportunity of a lifetime, fellas. Because the source material these cavity-sweet stories are based on is like, um, well . . . it’s like if you smushed “Call of Duty” and “Red Shoes Diaries” together and everyone learned something at the end.
These stories possibly originated thousands of years ago, and parents back then didn’t really have parental controls on their oral traditions. When folklore and fairy tales were the primary means to teach kids a lesson, a surprising amount of sex and murder was used to raise the stakes. For instance, “Frozen” is “based” (I mean, extremely loosely) on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Since a major plot point of “The Snow Queen” involves a shard of evil mirror getting lodged in a boy’s eye, it is completely understandable that Walt Disney might take some liberties. NOT LIKE THIS THOUGH. Scroll to the end of this to see how badly badly badly they botched this one.
In the meantime, here’s why you need to bone up on the Disney princess thang:
- You might find yourself chatting with a lady soon who has Disney-fever anew with the impending release of “Frozen.”
- Maybe she’s just super into Disney princesses from childhood.
- Maybe she’s going to run the Princess Half Marathon this February and wants to tell you all about it.
- Or MAYBE she appreciates “The Great Fairy Tale Tradition” (collected and annotated by Jack Zipes, check it out. This is my jam.) and enjoys the political and social history embedded in the original works and their incarnations over time, and is enraged at Disney white-washing the gore and female agency out of these stories.
Dude, don’t freak out. I have all your bases covered. Here’s a helpful reminder of some of the major Disney ladies, and how their fate may have differed in their original stories:
A BRO’S GUIDE TO THE DISNEY PRINCESSES
“Snow White” (1937)
The basics: Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ink, weird bodice dress. Sings to birds.
The Disney version tells us: She’s the fairest of them all, and totally content to clean and cook and be completely passive, so her Evil Stepmother sends her out into the woods to be murdered. The Huntsman charged with doing the deed takes pity and sends her even deeper into the forest, where she is adopted by seven little men. Snow White is completely happy to cook and clean for someone new, and takes care of the Dwarves’ house while they go work the mines. The Evil Stepmother is not going to let this fly, so she sends a poison apple out to do Snow White in for once and for all. Snow White gets the apple lodged in her throat until a Handsome Prince wakes her with true love’s kiss.
Except they left a couple things out from the Grimms’ version . . . like how the Evil Stepmother wanted Snow White’s heart, lungs, and liver delivered back to her so she could eat them. Also, when the Prince rode up to the comatose Snow White, he was all, “I gots to get this corpse back to my castle for necro-sexing.” He threw Snow White on the back of his horse, where it’s actually the galloping that dislodges the apple from her throat. Princes: The sleazy frat boys of fairy tales.
Extra Credit: Pretend “Snow White and the Huntsman” never happened.
The basics: Blonde. Sparkly blue dress. Sings to mice.
The Disney version tells us: Cinderella’s life is sad because she has to cook and clean and she doesn’t even have a real name, just a mean nickname from hanging out in the fireplace all day. Her evil stepsisters won’t even let her go to the ball, until her Fairy Godmother shows up with a dress and a carriage. Boom. Guess who cleans up well and snags herself a Prince?
Only in Charles Perrault’s version . . . payback was a bitch for those stepsisters when some pigeons pecked their eyes out. Also: Cinderella doesn’t have a Fairy Godmother, but instead? A tree. Growing out of her mother’s grave. That drops dresses down to her.
Extra credit: Impress her by pointing out that every culture tells some variation of the “Cinderella” story. Invoke some lesser known versions like “Donkey Skin,” “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” starring Brandy and Bernadette Peters.
“Sleeping Beauty” (1959)
The basics: Blonde. Amazing technicolor dream dress. Sings to forest creatures.
The Disney version: Oh man, Angelina Jolie is super mean to Aurora and puts a curse on her when she isn’t invited to her big christening bash. Aurora sleeps for a hundred years without aging until a prince comes and fights vines and Dragon Angelina Jolie to save her.
Only in the Grimm brothers’ version . . . let’s just say the Prince doesn’t just fight vines, if you catch my drift. If you don’t , he roofie bangs her. And let’s just say it’s not true love’s kiss that wakes her up but twin babies gestating in her roofie-banged womb. Oh, also, Prince is married to another lady in another kingdom and is all, “I’ll totally come back for you and the kids” but then probably just doesn’t tell his first princess wife about his other family and when the kids are 16 they find out daddy has a secret family in Massachusetts. Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” actually credits Charles Perrault with the story of “Sleeping Beauty.” However, the movie follows closer to the Brothers Grimm’s “Briar Rose.”
Extra credit: Talk about how Sleeping Beauty is the literal epitome of the passive female.
“The Little Mermaid” (1989)
The basics: Redhead. Shell bra. Sings to fish.
Disney’s version: Ariel is a mermaid who gives up her voice in exchange for legs so she can get all up on Prince Eric. SHE LITERALLY GIVES UP HER VOICE. TO IMPRESS A BOY. THERE IS NO SUBTEXT HERE. Of course, she defeats Ursula the Sea Witch, gets her voice back, and ends up married to the Prince by sacrificing her whole life and identity to be with him.
Except in Hans Christian Anderson’s version . . . Prince is in love with and ends up marrying another woman, despite the Little Mermaid trading her tail for excruciating pain every time she uses her new legs. Her mermaid sisters encourage her to kill him, even handing her a knife and chanting, “Do it, do it, do it.” Since she can’t bear to see him married to another girl, she gives up and throws herself into the ocean, where she promptly turns into sea foam.
Extra Credit: Watch a film that better depicts a young girls’ coming of age and struggles with love–“Mermaids,” starring Winona Ryder and Cher.
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
The basics: Brunette. Yellow dress. Sings to inanimate objects.
The Disney version tells us a dotty inventor has to trade his bookworm daughter Belle for a flower he picks from a mysterious castle. Seeing as how women are just property anyway, TOTALLY EVEN TRADE. Oh, but a prince turned into a beast owns the castle and is cranky all the time, even though teapots sing at him. Belle falls in love with the beast because she sees him for what he really is on the inside, and not just a cranky unshaven man who just wants to play Xbox in his underwear–I mean, uh, a beast. Note: It is still important the girl is pretty on the outside.
Except in the version Madame Le Prince de Beaumont wrote . . . Belle has some sisters who think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the beast to eat Belle. They attempt to sabotage the situation so that happens.
Extra credit: Take a look at Angela Carter’s beautiful retelling, “The Tiger’s Bride.”
“The Princess and the Frog” (2009)
The basics: Disney’s first African-American princess! Sparkly green dress/blue dress. Sings jazz to crocodiles and frogs in da bayou.
Disney version: Did anyone see this? Was it cute? Someone get back to me.
I’m positive it didn’t include the part in the Brothers Grimm version . . . where the frog gets the shit beat out of him for being handsy, and that’s what turns him back into a Prince.
The basics: Blonde until (SPOILER) her haircut turns her hair icky brown–gross! Purple dress. Sings to a lizard.
Disney version: You might know this one is vaguely based on “Rapunzel.” A girl with magic super long hair and no knots gets locked in a tower by a witch until robber-with-a-heart-of-gold Zachary Levi shows up and takes her on a magical floating lantern adventure.
But in the Grimms’ version . . . When the witch can’t miss that a dude has been in the tower because Rapunzel HAS TWINS NOW (fairy tale pregnancies always result in twins), she cuts all of Rapunzel’s hair off and sends her out into the desert. When the Prince finds out, he is so upset that Rapunzel has a pixie cut (even though guys say they like that), he hurls himself out of the tower right into some thorny brambles. He goes blind and wanders the desert until Rapunzel finds him and cures his blindness with her tears.
Extra credit: Compliment her pixie cut.
The basics: Ugh. They messed this story up hardcore.
Disney Version: There are two princesses. The bad one gets pretty carried away with turning everything into ice and snow. The good one has to enlist the help of a handsome man, a reindeer, and a snowman to melt her sister’s icy heart. Meanwhile, Mel Evans simmers quietly that Disney has ruined her favorite fairy tale until she is even angrier than she was at “Brave” and finally writes a Bro Jackson post about the liberties Disney takes with fairy tales.
Hans Christian Andersen is spinning in his grave because . . . “The Snow Queen” is about two best friends Kai and Gerda who are separated when an evil goblin shatters a magic mirror that only allows one to see bad. A shard of it pierces Kai’s heart; another gets in his eye (yes! he’s a boy). He spurns Gerda and takes off with the Snow Queen. Gerda takes off to save him, and along the way, she gets help from a robber girl, two crows, and a reindeer. She finally saves Kai with tears and spelling.
Extra credit: “The Snow Queen” is actually a beautiful story about love and devotion and the lengths a young girl will go to in order to save her (male) best friend. It’s weird–even without the talking snowman–and I highly recommend picking up the book and spending an evening reading it, or watching the excellent “Faery Tale Theatre” (“Hi, I’m Shelley Duvall.”) version of it starring Melissa Gilbert, which is available in its entirety on YouTube. Better yet, if you really want to impress a lady, just suggest you watch any episode of “Faery Tale Theatre.” Start with the “Pinocchio” starring Pee Wee Herman.
Fairy Tale Bonus: If you want to really wow a lady, get out your copy of Anne Sexton’s “Transformations” in which she retells lots of classic fairy tales through surly, pop culture laden poems.
You’re sure to keep a lady interested if you know a little about these Disney princesses and their origins, but if all else fails, just invoke the best princess of all: Kate Middleton. And I bet you’ll live happily ever after.