The picture above shows the typical Disney prince. He’s sure-footed, brave beyond reason, and ready to battle any obstacle or creature to save the one he loves. Cute story, right?
I am not here to mock or denounce the traditional knight fairy tale. This was not a Disney creation–it’s been a tale as old as time, and it probably always will be. Sure, there are female twists thrown in, and that’s great. I’d love to see more of them. But what’s really important to this post isn’t the actions the Disney prince actually does, it’s the characteristics he has that make him so “charming.”
Plenty of people complain about the weakness of Disney princesses, but what about the princes? Take some of the best known Disney princes of old:
Take a good long look at these two princes, and then tell me one simple piece of information: What are their names? Do you honestly believe that Cinderella married someone named Prince Charming, and if so, does he actually have a first name, or is that not important as long as we know he’s a prince? Meanwhile, we assume Beast was not an eleven year old kid named “Prince Beast,” but what was his name? Well, for those curious, in the script his name was Adam, but as it was never mentioned in the movie, and Belle apparently never asked, all we know is that she’s going to keep calling this debonair chap “Beast” for quite some time.
Which brings me to my point: In most of the Disney princess films, the prince is there as a plot device. He has no name, little personality, but a shiny title to enjoy. So while the women are not a very flattering view, what does it say about the men?
Many of the princes suffer from extreme stubbornness and foolishness as well. Take Prince Charming from Cinderella and Eric from the Little Mermaid. Both have met their loves once briefly, both will not settle until one particular thing they remember (shoe size/voice) is satisfied. Whatever girl in the world that shows up with these things will be the one they marry. Sure, they try to fix these flaws in later movies, but I’m focusing on the tried and true classic “firsts,” and in those, the men are not known for their cunning.
But then take the Princes of New. I introduce, Prince Naveen–the first prince to have a name, personality, and distinct character transformation.
He is also the first, I would argue, that was specifically modeled as a positive influence for boys, much like Tiana was modeled to be a positive influence for girls.
(Beast arguably also had all of this but the name, but seeing as it gets into the debatable holding-a-girl-hostage-to-make-her-fall-in-love-with-you-and-break-a-spell-thing it gets a lot harder to defend him as a strong male role model. Yes, he was a much stronger Disney prince than the rest, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call him ready for children to take after him. Kidnap is NEVER the answer, kids.)
Anyway, back to Naveen. Naveen begins the movie as a flirt and a chronically lazy, spoiled prince. The amazing thing is that he isn’t insufferable with these traits and he’s not oblivious–he fully recognizes that he’s these things, and he thrives in being them. It’s not until he meets Tiana that he realizes that while having fun is good, resisting all forms of responsibility isn’t winning him favors with anyone. From there he decides to buckle down and really comes into his own. He does all he can to help Tiana and he shows a new respect for both her and Charlotte throughout the rest of the film. It’s also interesting to note here that Naveen does not save Tiana. Arguably, Tiana (with the help of Ray, and Louis) saves him. Even so, he is no less masculine, no less of a “prince charming,” and yet shows some remarkable character.
Then there’s the newest prince, Flynn Ryder, aka, Eugene Fitzherbert.
Flynn is the newest Disney Prince, and to be entirely honest, if I was to pick a fictional character I’m most in love with, it’s probably him. Flynn uses the thief who marries a princess stoyline (Aladdin, anyone?), but entirely makes it his own. He’s not a “street rat” dreaming of a home, he’s having a ton of fun just doing what he wants where he wants. Much like Naveen, Flynn has a lot of character development. He’s forced to look at what his priorities are, why they are like that, and what he’s willing to do for the things he wants most. Rapunzel may have her whole mess of problems going on in the movie, but Flynn is every much as big of a character as she is. That’s partially why the movie is called “Tangled” rather than “Rapunzel.” Disney was trying not-so-subtly to have their princess movies appeal to boys as well as girls.
Did it work? Maybe, but when you come down to it, it’s still a Disney princess film, so the boys willing to watch it will watch, and the others will complain as they secretly watch anyway. One great thing about this movie is that it CAN appeal to boys as well as girls, though, because the male protagonist isn’t some lifeless, too-perfect-for-reality guy. He’s an exceptionally funny guy who makes mistakes, but ultimately is a good person and a good role model.
In case hte pictures haven’t given it away, the end is another place Disney showed its growth in gender portrayal. The end of Tangled makes me cry (and VERY few things make me cry) because it’s just so touching! Flynn gets stabbed, and Rapunzel is willing to suffer the rest of her life to save him. That’s true love right there, but it doesn’t stop there, because that wouldn’t be a happy ending. Instead, Flynn turns around and saves Rapunzel by cutting her hair, thereby killing Mother Gothel. Okay, so we’re one-for-one, but then since it’s Disney, and there’s got to be a happy ending, Rapunzel’s magical tears save Flynn.
So where does that leave us on gender portrayal? I’d say tied, which is what makes this ending so perfect. Rapunzel essentially gives up her freedom, Flynn gives up his life–both to save the other. In the end, they also save each other, so everyone’s a winner. What’s great about this is that Flynn can be “Prince Charming” and rush in to save the day, but Rapunzel is just as willing to save him. It’s a partnership, a true love where it goes both ways. And that’s what makes this ending special, because they save each other.
Ultimately, Disney does not make their movies to provide good role models for children, they make them to make money. But what’s wonderful about Disney is that in order for them to be successful, certain things are expected of them now. They are expected to have a happy ending, they’re expected to have a love story, and in today’s society, they’re expected to have both women AND men who can think for and defend themselves. Whether Disney wanted it or not, they have become a platform for millions of children to learn what it means to love, to fight, and to believe. Their stories touch millions of lives.
I grew up watching the Disney princess movies of old, and I like to think I came out as a strong, independent young woman. Just imagine what will happen if Disney continued their trend and the Disney princess movies featured nothing but strong men and women. Imagine a world run by the new Disney generation.
I don’t know about you, but I like the image.