Three’s Abandoned Princess Appreciation Post

This post is a thing Three wrote months ago and then abandoned. Apparently she abandoned it because she was under the impression that she had already posted it. It doesn’t have a conclusion but I’m posting it anyway because it’s pro-Princess and why not, we could use more of that always.


For most of my life, I have been confused and fascinated by “Baby On Board” bumper stickers. My primary concern is this: If you do not, in fact, have a baby on board, is it then okay to crash into you? No? Then isn’t the sticker a little redundant?

I suppose I can forgive the existence of these stickers since they are well-intentioned – they mean to remind people to drive safely. I’m okay with that. However, every day when I get to work, I park next to a car which has two crown-shaped bumper stickers.

The blue: “King on Route.”

The pink: “Princess on Route.”

I’m sorry, I have to ask. Assuming that these do not refer to legitimate royalty, why does your son get to be King and your daughter is a mere Princess? That was obviously a deliberate marketing decision made by someone, somewhere. Do we not like the word ‘prince’? Or, worse, do we mistrust the word ‘queen’?

Or… are we using the traditional patriarchal monarchy in which your son is the Crown Prince (still not King, but anyway) and therefore your daughter will be Princess for life because she’s not entitled to rule unless your son dies with no heirs?

Gotta say, since this isn’s a real monarchy (again I’m making an assumption, but if these people really are royalty, why do they work in the same building as me?) why can’t you stretch reality just a tad further and make your daughter a Queen?

Thus, every morning, I am reminded about Princesses and all the rules and regulations that come with being one. And this is where I’ll begin.

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“SHE DOES NOT DOODLE”

A Princess Is a Role Model

I’m the princess. I’m the example. I’ve got duties, responsibilities, expectations. My whole life is planned out, until the day I become, well, my mother. She’s in charge of every single day of my life.

The requirement for Princesses to be Role Models goes beyond the lessons Merida gets from her mother in Brave. Indeed, when Brave was released, we were inundated with criticism about Merida and her suitability as a role model for girls. Clearly, these people either didn’t watch the movie or just completely, embarrassingly, missed the point. But I digress: Today is about Disney.

While Disney certainly relies on traditional female narratives more than it should, it is also not afraid to unpack those narratives. As the Disney Renaissance rolled around, we saw princesses begin to participate more actively in their stories, and Disney began to provide some gentle commentary on the patterns we tend to see in our female characters.

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G:”And you know who that little wife will be?”/B: “Let me think.”

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Gaston is the best thing about this movie. He, and the way Belle reacts to him, hit way too close to home.

While Ariel pursues a dream of her own, and Jasmine plays a side-role in someone else’s adventure, Belle’s story has the most poignant animate metaphor ever for all Patriarchy who marches into her house and tells her that she’ll be marrying him. And as we all have at some point or another, Belle rolls her eyes and then tricks him into leaving her house so she can get on with her life.

Four years later, this happened:

Pocahontas

“Is all my dreaming at an end?”

Pocahontas, like Belle, is faced with a traditional narrative: Marry the man who we’ve deemed good enough for you. In fact, Pocahontas’ narrative is a little less on-the-nose than Belle’s, because her father is in on it – and because Kocoum seems to be perfectly nice, if serious. Despite this movie’s (many) flaws, it opened the Disney Door to the idea that even if a man is decent and good looking and  your dad likes him, a woman might not want to bone him and shouldn’t have to. HMMMMMM IMAGINE THAT. And it isn’t even because she’s after John Smith instead, because she hasn’t met him yet. She just doesn’t want the future she envisions when she imagines herself married to stoic warrior dude.

Now, this isn’t groundbreaking stuff. These are tropes in themselves that belong to many female characters outside of the Disney and Fairy Tale realm, where they don’t go for the one guy and instead go for the other guy (see: every Romantic Comedy ever). So let’s get into the real deep-fried tofu of the discussion with my three personal favourites.

Mulan and the Female Narrative

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“Can I just-“

There she is. You knew it was coming.

Mulan depicts an extremely strict cultural narrative for women, referenced again and again in song, dialogue, and imagery like this:

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Literally painting her face to look like “a perfect porcelain doll.” There’s a reason why many complaints about the tendencies of women in Disney end in: “Well, except Mulan.” Also, I could watch this GIF all day. I wish I had those liquid eyeliner skills.

Self-image, or “reflection,” is one symbol the movie uses to not-so-subtly talk about the female narrative and how it doesn’t quite suit all of us. While Belle and Pocahontas lamented being expected to marry men they weren’t really into, Mulan didn’t even mention the that they were attempting to marry her off – she sings about the fact that her personality is at odds with the role she is expected to play as a woman, wife, and daughter.

Mulan

“Can it be, I’m not meant to play this part?”

The crux of this issue, of course, is that being who she is would “break [her] family’s heart.” While it’s clear that she feels conflicted about who and what to be at this stage in her life, the choice is taken away from her when her father is summoned back to the army – now that she has to save her father’s life, she grasps the opportunity to escape as an added bonus.

That reflection imagery comes back when Mulan goes to chop her hair off, in this genius sequence which is only more genius with soundtrack:

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Thus, Mulan solidifies her commitment to rejecting her narrative that society is trying to impose on her because she is female, while taking one last look at her own face in the reflection of her father’s sword. Symbolism.

Tiana and the Female Narrative

Tiana

“Look out boys, I’m coming through!”

We discussed this one recently (erm’s note: haha, recently), touching on how Tiana rejects the idea of fairy tales and wants to gain everything through hard work. We can try reading this through a feminist lens as well. Shall we?

The traditional female narrative we like to criticize Disney for involves a lady like Cinderella sitting pretty while the plot happens around her. Some ladies, like Belle and Mulan, get dragged into adventure because they have to save their fathers, and in doing so manage to become self-actualized. But they didn’t do it on their own – they were compelled by circumstance.

Tiana is also technically compelled by circumstance once the frog stuff happens, but the difference between her and her fellow princesses is that unlike Cinderella, Belle, and even Mulan, she isn’t waiting around at home passively dreaming about how nice it would be if things were different, which is what Cinderella does before starting her day and in between her chores, and it’s what Belle does after Gaston proposes to her, and it’s what Mulan does before the conscription notice happens. Not that this sort of passivity is inherently bad, because it’s not. It’s relatable, for one thing. A lot of life is being a little patient and dreamy. But it is nice, for a change, to have a female character out there taking charge and actively trying to make her dream happen as soon as we first see her as an adult working two jobs. Ambition. It’s a scary thing for women to have, apparently, but Tiana has it in spades. (erm’s note: we should really talk about how the movie is a little really weird about Tiana and her ambitions at some point but for now just take it for what it is.)

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“Prince? But I didn’t wish for any -“

Fairy tale circumstance only slows her down, if we’re pretending that the main narrative is Tiana getting her restaurant (which… it kind of is). Between froggy princes and racist realtors, it seems like everything is working against Tiana’s Palace.

But even though she has to temporarily stop chasing her restaurateur dreams and fall in love real quick, the role that Tiana plays in her fairy tale is a role often held by a man.

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“Yep, I’m used to it. Guys, I want a castle.”

Like this man, for example.

Tangled is a traditional story of optimism VS cynicism, in which optimism wins out because Disney and also because Children’s Lit. We have our beautiful, virtuous, wide-eyed optimist Princess, and then we have Flynn Rider, who is just too good for all of this fairy tale stuff. Or so he thinks.

The new renaissance princess of The Princess and the Frog is probably this lady:

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Tiana is held in stark contrast to Lotte throughout the film:

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“I’d really like to help you, but I just do not kiss frogs.”

Tiana is no thief, and she’s not a “heartless” “cynic,” but as far as she’s concerned at the beginning, she is definitely too good for this fairy tale nonsense. The movie sets out to prove her wrong about love and magic and fairy tales, and in doing so, it completely turns Disney stereotypes on their heads by letting the princess change her own mind rather than her dude’s.

Elsa, Anna, and the Female Narrative

Here’s another movie that deliberately set out to deconstruct female narratives.

Let’s talk about Anna first.

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“We would like your blessing of our marriage.”

So Anna is supposed to be the traditional princess in this movie. She checks all the boxes – cooped up with no social life to speak of, gets compelled to go on an adventure to save someone else, falls in love immediately and decides to get married right away… Every part of her story mimics the Renaissance princesses.

Until:

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“If only somebody loved you.”

*Glass shatters* This isn’t a Renaissance movie, folks.

Now, I think we all saw the Anna/Kristoff thing coming, so I doubt many of us were completely shocked by this reveal. However, it was the first time in any Disney film that a Princess has it wrong about her Prince. Until now, we’ve been very reverent toward the idea of true love, but Frozen argues that it’s a little more complicated than that.

But this isn’t about romantic, prince/princess love, it’s about women. So what does Anna tell us about women in Disney?

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“Some people are worth melting for.”

From the beginning, this was a movie about sisters in particular, but Olaf’s love for Anna makes an important point: Love isn’t all princes and princesses. Sometimes it’s family. Sometimes it’s animals. Sometimes it’s snowmen. And all of it has power. In other words – the romantic story arc for women is not all we’re good for. Women have plenty of other stories to tell:

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Like when we throw ourselves in front of a sword to save our sisters.

Elsa is a whole other thing. First of all, is she the first Disney Queen? She is, right? I mean, the first Disney Queen who isn’t a villain. (erm’s note: she’s forgotten Nala and Nala counts OK I don’t care that she isn’t human.)

So she’s got that going for her. She’s also got a bit of a Mulan thing going on, except where Mulan is bad at being ladylike, Elsa is bad at not killing everyone around her with her ice powers. She knows that if she were honest about who and what she is, she would be letting an entire kingdom down. She puts a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to keep everything as it should be.

And then:

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While Mulan had to take drastic steps to save her father, Elsa reveals her magic in front of the whole kingdom, so she flees. It’s simply time to face the storm inside of her.

She has already broken the mold at this point, but I also want to take a quick second to discuss the following:

Let it Go as a Source of Female Empowerment

As evidence, I present all the little girls who sang this song for like a year straight. It wasn’t annoying at all. Okay, it was annoying.

Only because I hate kids.

But anyway, let’s break this thing down, shall we?


That’s where it ends.

Because she wrote a whole separate post about “Let it Go” which is here.

 

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Disney Work Part 2

Here are some more mundane tasks that Disney movies jazz up.

*Disclaimer: I went through YouTube to find all of these clips I wanted to talk about, but at some point, some of these videos may be removed abruptly from YouTube because, well, Disney. Posting straight clips like this doesn’t count as fair use because they aren’t transformative… but they’re so short I personally doubt that they cause any financial harm to the behemoth that is Disney. But. Copyright law is important. 

Anyway, if one of these is missing but my hilarious descriptions of what goes on make you want to watch that clip RIGHT NOW just search YouTube. Someone will probably have reuploaded it by then. Or, if you’re like me, you already have access to all of these on DVD or Bluray or something, so hakuna matata.*

Cleaning outdoors/drawing water/being rudely interrupted

It’s always nice to take a break from cleaning to talk to woodland critters and daydream a bit. Even better, I think, if it’s outside and there’s a well involved. On the other hand, when some jerk comes up suddenly behind you that’s a bit less stellar.

In real life this would suck. Large. But hey, good for Snow I guess. It’s what she said she wanted, after all.

Cleaning the floor

Snow and Cinderella could stand to invest in a mop.

But also, this scene is fabulous. And it’s cool how Lucifer ties it all together as he does. There is nothing more magical than a cat ruining your clean floor – because at least it’s not a dog. Dogs are worse.

“Doing your chores” while finding time to “study”

Dogs are worse.

Little Brother may be one of the top three Disney dogs. Also, Mulan’s a genius for saving time by cheating and by tying chicken feed to her dog. Although she still ended up late. But hey, she’d be much later if she had actually studied thoroughly enough to not need her notes, and if she’d carefully fed the chickens herself.

Dig dig dig dig dig dig digging in a mine the whole day through/commuting

Mining is awful. Don’t ask how I’d know, because I don’t. But I’m assuming it’s awful. It’s probably not as glittery as this. Also walking to and from work is less than ideal.

Street performance

It’s rough being a street performer. Don’t ask how I’d know, because I don’t. But I’m assuming it’s rough. Here, it’s not as though Esmeralda has it easy, but on the other hand, until the stupid guards show up and apart from the occasional glimpse of hereditary bigotry, it seems like it’s going OK. Except maybe don’t have Djali be the one in charge of carrying the money.

Washing someone else’s stupid dishes

This is a better method. Why we don’t all just do it this way is beyond me.

Also the way Merlin says, “Rubbity scrubbity sweepity, flow,” makes me laugh. I think he’s a little too into it.

“Gathering corn”

The magic here is in having a friend that doesn’t drop you when you a) only pick one thing of corn, and b) didn’t tell her about the invader you met and befriended the other day so that she’s stunned when he shows up and you run off with him like it’s nothing and ask her not to do anything about it. Please.

Cleaning someone else’s ridiculous mess

This is a little too much fun to truly be a parody of Snow White at the dwarves’ house. It’s more of an updated version that acknowledges its relentless cheeriness but doesn’t apologize for it.

I know I’m a little out there with my lack of hatred for cockroaches but still, I’d be thrilled if a cockroach/pigeon/rat team showed up to help with the housework.

Cooking

Remy loves cooking but I’d prefer if the food would just magically appear on dishes that would magically clean themselves afterwards. But this, and all of the other Remy-cooks-something scenes, make me appreciate the actual act of cooking.

Still. If Remy wants to invade my kitchen and become my personal chef, that’s more than fine with me.

Making gumbo

Princess and the Frog focuses less on food preparation than does Ratatouille, but it still makes cooking seem magical and not tedious by highlighting the “good food brings people together” thing that Tiana is obsessed with as an adult without quite understanding what it means to her now that she’s grown.

Making gumbo as a frog in a swamp

Cooking is annoying enough as a human with opposable thumbs and… appliances, and stuff. But again, the movie shows it as being something that connects people, even if Tiana’s the one doing all of the hard work, like figuring out how to heat a pumpkin. In the middle of a swamp. As a frog.

Being forced to appreciate art

This is a bit much. They’re kittens.

Indulging in every hobby

Even though Rapunzel is just feverishly trying to give her life meaning, I admire her daily productivity and aspire to it. An achievable goal, if ever there was one.

Indulging in your hobby with just a dash of self-loathing on the side

“No face as hideous as my face was ever meant for heaven’s light.” Aw, come on, Quasi.

The whittling of the Esmeralda figure is the best thing. And it’s much better than the smoke version of her that Frollo conjures up, because Frollo is and will always be the worst.

Indulging in your totally normal, not concerning at all hobby

Lady.

Why can’t you make skiving snackboxes or something.

Disney Work

Here’s a handy but incomplete list of mundane tasks that a Disney movie makes look like magic.

*Disclaimer: I went through YouTube to find all of these clips I wanted to talk about, but at some point, some of these videos may be removed abruptly from YouTube because, well, Disney. Posting straight clips like this doesn’t count as fair use because they aren’t transformative… but they’re so short I personally doubt that they cause any financial harm to the behemoth that is Disney. But. Copyright law is important. 

Anyway, if one of these is missing but my hilarious descriptions of what goes on make you want to watch that clip RIGHT NOW just search YouTube. Someone will probably have reuploaded it by then. Or, if you’re like me, you already have access to all of these on DVD or Bluray or something, so hakuna matata.*

Getting up in the morning

The upside of dying in your sleep is that you never have to get up in the morning ever again. Getting up is terrible. Everything you have to do during this new day has yet to be done. Some days, the worst part about getting up is that you have to do all of the things and can’t sleep again until they’re all done, but some days are much worse. Sometimes you wake up to a cat violently vomiting – but at least she’s vomiting off the side of the bed, so whatever. Just don’t step in it, I guess. Sometimes you wake up to a giant centipede crawling up your wall. Sometimes you wake up and you were supposed to be at work ten minutes ago. It’s great.

Cinderella just deals with it. The various clothed animals help, I guess. None of them are vomiting. My goal in life is to be as chill about having to get up as she is. She’s just a tad disgruntled and sort of tells off a clock. I’ll get there someday.

Baking

I like pie but making pie is terrible. The crust is finicky. The filling is sometimes a soup. If you want lemon meringue but you’re a vegan you need to open a can of chickpeas and whip up the slop they come in for upwards of ten minutes and it’s weird. If you want tourtierre but you haven’t eaten pork in ten years you also need chickpeas, and some mushrooms. There are too many steps and too many dishes to wash and all of the counter space gets covered in flour.

But this little scene is awesome. To be as serene as this while making pie? Snow White must be a saint.

Packing

Why can’t it be this simple?

Also, Higitus Figitus and Madam Mim are the only reasons for this movie to exist.

Cleaning up someone else’s ridiculous mess

This may be the highlight for a scene that makes cleaning look like fun.

Hunting/Gathering

Well. Maybe everyone’s in a good mood just because the warriors have returned. But still.

Being trained on a new job

Being a new hire sucks. Colette’s training style would not help. However, as time goes on and as both Linguini and Remy listen and learn from her, she gets friendlier. She just needed to be sure that she would be treated with the respect she deserves.

Working two jobs

Plain and simple: when she falls into bed only to have the alarm go off seconds later? That is my nightmare.

Tiana’s life looks busy. Stimulating, enjoyable much of the time, but also miserable in a few significant ways. This scene manages to show the mix.

Working out

Working out is stupid. But there’s something quite satisfying about watching Herc pick up that giant arm statue by the fingertip.

Working out

… working out is very manly, and… tough.

Seriously though, this is my favourite progression scene. The Hercules one is also a lot of fun, and the Ratatouille one is great in a subtler way. Maybe it’s easy to make hard work look great when you can also show the results.

Poisoning your elderly employer’s cats

This… is my favourite part? He’s awful and all, but that dish looks so good. Even if all it is is cream, various spices, and way too many sleeping pills.

The Irony of Wanting: The “I Want” Song from The Lion King On

Last time we celebrated the “I Want” song, taking it for what it is: a sweet, fun little through-line into being invested in our protagonist.

But Disney movies began to do a strange thing with their “I Want” songs right around the heart of the Renaissance. Rather than set up our protagonist’s happily-ever-after, the songs instead set up a cruel life-lesson for our characters to suffer through. As always, there’s a bit of a spectrum for this; not all ironic “I Want” songs set up our heroes to get badly hurt, but a couple of them do.

We are intrigued by this trend and have decided to talk it through. Let’s start at the beginning.

(and be warned that we use the phrase “learn him” or “learned them” a couple of times and we don’t know why. Learn us some explanation for why we used that phrase please.)

(screencaps AS ALWAYS from disney screencaps dot com)

I Just Can’t Wait to be King

Simba sings this very fun and carefree song early in The Lion King. You might suggest that it doesn’t count as an “I Want” song, and sure, its not as explicit as Ariel’s “I wanna be where the people are,” or Belle’s “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” but Simba’s little romp through imagining how great it’ll be to finally become an adult with a frightening amount of responsibility fits in with some of the others, like Snow White’s “Someday my Prince will come.” She isn’t explicitly saying, “I want my prince to show up,” but it’s still clear that’s what she wants, even with the indirect language. She’s just being demure about it. (It’s important to note this because a lot of the “I Want” songs use indirect language, and we’re just going to go ahead and assume that when Disney protags say things like, “I just can’t wait,” or “When will my,” or “For the first time,” or whatever, they actually mean that they want those things, and not just vaguely speculating about the possibilities.)

Simba wants to be king. He imagines a carefree existence in which he can go desecrate burial sites with Nala without supervision, and he can fight hyenas from dawn until dusk with no one to send him home out of parental concern for his safety. Oh Simba, our sweet summer child.

Simba gets what he wants. And how. Mufasa is murdered after Scar sings his version of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” which includes a lot more death threats than Simba’s does. This of course makes Simba the rightful king, and then he is chased away by a physical threat of death and the unfair, unwarranted guilt he is made to feel. He still has Sarabi, but Scar deliberately severs the tie by manipulating and scaring the cub. “What will your mother think?”

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hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

(can we take this opportunity to despise Scar for a second)

So two things: One, Simba is the king. It doesn’t matter that Scar pretends that he’s dead. He’s alive, and that makes him the king whether he’s eating grubs with Timon and Puumba in the rainforest or roaring on Pride Rock. It’s easy to forget this, because Hakuna Matata is so fun and also kind of ironic. But when Nala shows up and ruins everything by saying, “And that means, you’re the king,” even Timon and Puumba acknowledge the truth of this statement. Puumba does so with reverence and incorrect diction. Timon, cynical, cynical Timon, doesn’t believe it for a second, but then he cements it for the audience: “I can’t believe it. You’re the king? And you never told us?”

Simba’s like, “Look, I’m still the same guy.”

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Timon, apparently plotting something: “But with power!”

So it’s settled. Simba is the king, and he has been since Mufasa’s death. Add this to the fact that Simba has believed since then that his father’s death is his own fault, and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” is suddenly pretty horrific.

As for two, Simba now has no one telling him to do this, be there, stop that, see here, but it’s not at all the way he imagined. It’s not all bad, of course, because meeting Timon and Puumba means that he also meets the concept of not ever worrying about his problems, but we know that this is unsustainable. Everything Simba wants in “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” comes true, but his freedom and carefree life is a lie, and is built on the murder of his father. Even before Nala shows up to ruin everything, something as simple and supposedly nice as looking up at the stars reminds him of his painful past. You’re the king, though, Simba! Remember when that was all you wanted?

We don’t think the movie is punishing Simba, but if not, why put this retrospectively cruel song in there at all?

Partly, we think, is the ever present need in Disney films to speak to and about other Disney films. Disney loves itself some Disney. So they’re making a movie, the formula demands an “I Want” song, and it definitely makes sense for a crown prince to be excited about his future. But remember how Ariel gets the legs she wanted, but it’s also a trap? Why not take it even further, and have Simba’s wish come true in the most horrific way possible?

The other part would be how well it fits in to the rest of the film. The theme is leadership, male leadership in particular, and our villain really wants all of the perks of kinghood without any of the actual responsibility. Simba sings a fun little song about doing whatever he wants once no one can question him, but he grows up and becomes a good king, fighting a difficult battle (mostly against himself) because his kingdom needs him to. His arc is just magical to watch.

Simba’s cruel “I Want” song serves his characterization. Our hero learns. He starts from a place of naivety, and when confronted with the horrors of adulthood and leadership in extremes that no one should have to face, especially as a child, he devolves into a carefree layabout in order to cope. And when he roars at the tip of Pride Rock, we know how far he has come.

Out There

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Quasi sings about wanting to go outside. Ultimately it seems that this wish is fair and fulfilled, since Esmeralda pulls him out into the sunlight after the war on Notre Dame, and he is accepted by the crowd.

Unfortunately for Quasi, before this happy ending, his venturing outside teaches him something: he is never going out there again. No sir.

When Paris gets a taste of his face, at first they don’t know how to react, and then Clopin’s like, “Dude, this is exactly what we asked for,” so they celebrate, but then the second some bozo guard decides to throw fruit everyone’s suddenly like, “Yeah, cool, that’s actually a better idea.” The cruelty of this scene, which may actually be the standout for a Disney film, makes us wonder about the happy ending. Sure, everyone is being nice to him now, because Es and that little girl are accepting of him, but in five minutes when someone throws some rotten tomato at him it’ll be pandemonium all over again. Or maybe we’re supposed to believe that Frollo’s reign of terror learned them all some lessons about prejudice and things. Fine. We can buy that. But only because of the scenes showing people refusing to turn Es in, and Frollo trying to burn the miller family alive in front of horrified witnesses this is a children’s movie.

Quasi wants to be “like ordinary men who freely walk about,” which could be interpreted as his wanting to look like everyone else, but we prefer to see it as his wanting to be able to walk around and, we suppose, not worry about having fruit thrown at him – which would be a perfectly reasonable request if not for the guards.

In theory the Feast of Fools should provide that perfect opportunity for Quasi to be accepted among the crowd because he can go in disguise. It does at first, but because people behave badly in a crowd it turns poisonous pretty quickly. Not to mention that manipulative Frollo can go on and on about how he’s protecting Quasi at the beginning of the movie, but he has many an opportunity to stop the crowd torturing Quasi and refuses, in order to teach him a lesson. The audience learns two things through “Out There” and the complementary torture scene: Quasi really wants to go outside, but we know why he’s not going to do it again, until it becomes absolutely necessary; and we learn that Frollo is the worst. Which we already knew. But it’s nice to have a reminder, we suppose.

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yup, that pretty much qualifies as “it is now necessary for me to go outside”

In the end, Quasi being accepted by the crowd is more powerful because we know that’s all he wanted all along, and we also know how badly wrong this could have gone because THEY SHOWED IT TO US OMG WHY

It’s kind of like if Snow White riding off to the Prince’s castle at the end was preceded by the Prince showing up briefly near the beginning but he’s terrifying OH WAIT

Go the Distance

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So, first thing’s first. Lindsay Ellis made this:

(watch this 37 minutes of EXCELLENT for a thorough look at Hercules as well as its want vs need and Clements and Musker and “chosen one” stories and other 90s Disney about men and. Just watch it)

Hercules is no The Lion King. Or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So the ironic “I Want” song is a little less poignant, but it exists so whatever, we’ll discuss it.

Herc feels like an outsider because he’s constantly endangering the lives of everyone around him with his supersonic strength. He just wishes like he felt like he belonged. We could get with this a little more if his parents aren’t shown to be such sweet and supportive people, but, sweet and supportive parents are a nice change. Right, Lady Tremaine?

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Partway through the song he decides that the gods probably have the answers, and talking to them will learn him how to find where he belongs. He’s right (for now) – Zeus spills the beans, and Hercules learns that he can and should become A True Hero™ so that he can rejoin the gods and his bio parents, thus, belonging.

His reprise is basically about how that’s what he’s going to do, by Jove.

But in the end he decides he belongs in the human world with Meg.

This is ironic, not like rain on your wedding day, but instead like getting the certification you need to finally get into Mount Olympus but it turns out that in order to get that certification you accidentally had to fall in love with someone and then you decide that you actually belong with the person you fell in love with instead of the gods and the bio parents on Mount Olympus. It seems like we could have saved Herc some time and just signed him up for eHarmony or something. Except not, obviously. We like this movie, ridiculous as it is.

And Meg is the best. EVERYONE belongs with Meg.

Huge Interlude: it has not escaped our notice that all of these ironic “I Want” songs are sung by men. Men, you aren’t allowed to want something and just get it, no questions asked. That’s just for us women types.

Reflection

Mulan

Here, one by a girl. Mulan sings “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” – a sad little ditty about not being able to pass as a dutiful bride even though she looks exactly like one. Mulan is worried that the person she truly is inside is not capable of making her family proud, and as much as she tries, and she puts the dress on and the makeup, she just isn’t that person.

She’s not entirely angry at herself for failing, of course. What she wants is a little bit more complicated than just, “I wish I could be exactly the way I’m supposed to be according to these people.” She wants to be allowed to be herself and be accepted as she is. But how, with such rigid gender roles?

Shortly after this song, Mulan gets to feel more like herself by disguising as a man. As a man, she can be true to herself by rescuing her father, which is all she cares about once Chi Fu rides in with conscription notices. As time goes on she starts to excel and seems to be enjoying herself as well.

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heh

But the whole time she’s still hyper conscious of being a woman disguised as a man. Her reflection still isn’t showing who she truly is. When she’s finally revealed as a woman, coincidentally enough at the same moment that she should be being celebrated as an intensely heroic hero, she finds herself rejected once again, even though she’s done everything right this time. And really we could argue that her meeting with the matchmaker was going fine as well, but Cri Kee ruined everything. And it isn’t even Cri Kee, really. She can’t just say outright, “Hey, there’s a cricket in your tea, ma’am,” because she’s a woman and must be silent. And even when she’s saving her commanding officer in a battle she just single-handedly won, she’s not even allowed to be there because she’s a woman and can’t impersonate a soldier.

In the end, as with Quasi, it seems that Mulan does eventually get her wish. The Emperor of China offers her a very important job right after he and everyone else bows to her for being AWESOME. But all she wants is to get home. She presents all of the gifts she received for saving China while dressed as herself, no bridal makeup, no cheat sheet on her wrist, no armour and very bad man-impersonation voice, but her dad’s just like, “Literally all I care about is you.”

So she gets there, but she wouldn’t have been able to without drastically changing her appearance and pretending to be a whole other person. Semi-ironic.

Almost There

Tiana

No you’re not, Tiana.

Tiana’s “I Want” song is only ironic because it’s not even an “I Want” song.

What?

OK, just bear with is.

We’ve said the vague, indirect language still ultimately means “I want,” but in Tiana’s case, she’s not vaguely saying she wants something. She’s saying, “I’m doing it. It’s happening. I’m making it happen.”

As a typical “I Want” song, it wouldn’t be ironic at all. It would be more like Rapunzel’s “When Will My Life Begin,” which explains what she wants and sets her up to get it, which she does. Tiana gets her restaurant at the end, as well as a bonus prince on the side. But “Almost There” isn’t about wanting, not really. She’s celebrating getting what she wants prematurely. She isn’t almost there, because of unhappy circumstance, racist realtors, voodoo madness, and froggy princes. These are things completely out of her control. Fairy tale adventure Disney movie things (OK not the racism and realtors) (OK maybe the racism a little bit because we remember Peter Pan and Dumbo) (but still).

When all seems lost right at the beginning because the realtors are going to sell the place to someone else, she gets a sad reprise, “People would have come from everywhere, and I was almost there.” This is the moment where her logical, driven, determined self has given up, and afterwards the last vestiges of hope compel her to wish on Evangeline. It’s only now that she gets to make wishes, when her drive and determination and hard work just couldn’t beat out random rich buyers and racism.

Tiana is an interesting princess because she basically has to be tricked into participating in her own fairy tale. That stuff is for Lotte, after all. She is 110% against this frog prince story. She doesn’t kiss frogs, as a rule. But she does kiss frog-Naveen, and she does eventually participate in the fairy tale. But first, before she can do the fairy tale thing, she needs to watch all of her hard work NOT pay off the way it was supposed to for arbitrary and random circumstance reasons.

As a child, her father tells her, “That star can only take you part of the way.” He encourages her to wish and dream, but she has to help her dreams on with a bit of hard work. His words are “a bit of hard work.” Tiana apparently takes this to mean she should only get two seconds of sleep daily, and also she shouldn’t do anything not related to hard work ever, even if she kind of wants to.

She goes to a Masquerade Ball and makes beignets. WHAT. (We know she was doing it for the last of the down payment but still. It makes it hard to believe she ever goes to a party and doesn’t just serve or cater or whatever. Juggle? DJ? Make balloon animals?)

Tiana is the princess who openly challenges the “Cause if you’re good and you’re attractive, no need to be proactive, good things will just happen to you!”* aspect of Disney protagonists. But her song shows that hard work is just another form of wishing, one that we value more as a culture because of individualism and stuff. At the end of all of that hard work is supposed to be the shining reward, right? Because you didn’t just hope and dream, you backed it up. But it doesn’t here, not for Tiana. She did all the work, but now she has to find a magical princess-kiss for Naveen or she’ll just be a frog forever. “Almost There” is not ironic because she doesn’t get there eventually, it’s ironic because of where she has to go to get there – down a road of magic and voodoo and dancing and love. And it’s only when she gives up completely on her restaurant that she gets what she wants, by getting what she needs: love. Even while frogging.

Tiana’s mantra: you can’t just kiss frogs and expect your prince charming to show up. You have to work hard. Wishing on stars is for kids.

The movie: You have to work hard, but even then someone is likely to stop you for arbitrary reasons, and then you befriend an enforcer alligator and kiss a frog and suddenly you’re good. The wishing and dreaming is what keeps you centered through transforming into an amphibian. So there.

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We have a lot to say about this movie and will probably do it at some point, but for now, this: “Almost There” is the crown jewel of Tiana’s fool-proof “get what you want by getting it yourself” plan, but it’s foiled because Disney would like to take the opportunity to reinforce the Disney ideals of wishing, magic, love, and getting a LOT of help from singing animals.

For the First Time in Forever

Elsa, we believe, doesn’t get an “I Want” song. That’s because in this song, she’s just singing a personal mantra of “DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO TO MAKE SURE NOBODY KNOWS.” There’s also “Let it Go,” but this time she’s talking to herself about what she should do now that she’s “free.”

Also! Anna sings to Elsa, “Do you want to build a snowman?”

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We can surmise that Elsa does, in fact, want to build a snowman, as it’s one of the first things she does once she’s alone.

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But it’s Anna who sings about it. It’s really cool to us that Elsa’s songs are her addressing herself about what she has to do, what she’s finally allowed to do, and there’s one that belongs to her sister asking her if she wants to do something that she definitely does want to do. That in itself is a really interesting twist in the whole “I Want” thing with the princesses and just one of the billion reasons that Frozen is not “the worst Disney movie ever and so overrated they should just go back to making stuff like Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Side note: people who say these things? Yeah, you. Quasimodo would love Anna and Elsa, and he would make really cute wooden sculptures of them, and he would be saddened by your unnecessarily aggressive and anti-intellectual approach to movie criticism. Thank you for listening.

It makes sense that Elsa doesn’t have an “I Want” song, because it’s Anna who really is the new renaissance princess in this movie, so she’s the one who gets to wish for something. And what Anna wishes for is to enjoy the party, meet a bunch of people, and fall immediately in love.

Here again we’re in “Just Can’t Wait to be King” levels of cruelty. Anna does meet “the one,” she does embarrass herself in front of him, they do “laugh and talk all evening,” and because she knows “it all ends tomorrow, it just has to be today,” she accepts Hans’s marriage proposal.

First, Elsa’s denial of what Anna supposedly wants most in the world leads to Elsa’s accidental big reveal and the subsequent freezing of Arendell and its fjord. Then, requiring Hans to save her life with True Love’s Kiss™, he reveals that he just manipulated her. Because she was so easy to manipulate, wanting to find love so badly and all.

Anna, like Simba, is being naive. Scar and Hans are terrible manipulators. But Simba learns to be a good king who takes responsibility in spite of the horrors he endures. What does Anna learn from this cruelty?

She is sad, of course, right after Hans’s betrayal, saying to Olaf, “I don’t even know what love is.” But soon afterwards, she’s ready to accept the possibility that Kristoff might actually love her enough to save her. She doesn’t lose her ability to trust, which is nice.

What’s also important, REALLY important, about her sad but strong reaction to Hans’s betrayal, is that it serves as a smaller version of what’s going on between her and Elsa. Anna comes to Elsa’s palace hoping to be able to connect with her sister, now that she knows the truth. Nothing should come between them at this point, right? But Elsa is still terrified that she will harm Anna, so she throws her out via Marshmallow. And before this, she accidentally strikes her in the heart, which Anna later learns will kill her if she can’t find an act of true love to thaw it.

This is mirrored by Hans’s betrayal: she comes to him in need, not even suspecting that he will refuse to help her (because she is an optimist, she was positive that she and Elsa could work things out as well). Hans refuses, reveals he doesn’t love her and was just using her, and as if that wasn’t enough hurt to dole out, he mocks her and her optimism – striking in the heart.

Hans is cruel to Anna. He deliberately hurts her. Not kissing her is one thing, but mocking her, being cruel in what he says to her, could have potentially ruined her for being able to be open-hearted to other people, which she needs to be in order to commit the act of true love that will save her life. But she is still able to be optimistic, and she is still open to the possibility of maybe loving some other guy. So we know that even though Elsa hurt her, not deliberately but in a much more harmful way, Anna will be capable of and willing to forgive her, to the point of sacrificing her life for Elsa’s. It’s because of “For the First Time in Forever” that we know how much Anna has learned about love and herself in this short amount of time, or perhaps what she sort of already knew about it without knowing she knew.

Conclusionary Words

Imagine The Lion King where Simba sings solemnly about how he thinks he’s ready to take on the tough responsibilities of kinghood, and Anna sings a ballad about how she wants to be close to her sister again. That would be OK, but we’re digging the ironic “I Want” songs. We like how they’re really easy ways of rounding our characters, giving them room to grow, and how they still allow for us to connect to them and root for them to succeed in their endeavors.

If erm sang an ironic “I Want” song, it would probably be called, “I Wish there were More Vegan Restaurants in Close Proximity to Me” and the movie would end with her having no money because she spent it all on food.

If three sang an ironic “I Want” song, it would be called, “I Just Want a Raise Thank You Sir” and the movie would end with her getting a $500.00 raise and subsequently wanting another raise and being eternally dissatisfied.

Ta.

*Starkid. Twisted. Hilarious. And they come around, in the end.