For the first few pieces I have written for my blog on The Palette I discussed a foreign language exclusive bookstore in Brooklyn. The following is my breakdown of a popular topic that is, with one exception also completely foreign language exclusive… the Disney Princesses!
The Disney Princesses in order of appearance
1. Snow White
Original Name: Snow White
Author: Brothers Grimm
Original Title: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Date of Release: 1937
Snow White was the first feature-length animated movie Walt Disney decided to make. The original fairy tale is not all too different from the actual original Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale. The queen seems to be just as sadistic in this movie as she is in the tales. (She orders the huntsman to bring Snow White’s heart to her, and cackles heading back assuming she has killed the young Snow White.
I assume since Disney was doing this as its first foray into feature length works there was a concern about getting away from the original format of the story. Also it was all perfect in a little bow. They needed to . It also set the precedent that most of these features should be about 30 minutes longer than they needed to be. The formula laid out was a few minutes of tension, a lot of time in wandering about the woods with the animals and some high quality 1937 animation.
The Disney version basically uses the characters as a way to mark when a scene is getting a darker treatment. Darker colors and more sinister imagery is used when the queen is in the picture, whereas when we see Snow White there are bright colors and the music becomes much less ominous.
It is quite odd though that this year there are two live action Snow White movies set to come out: Mirror, Mirror a week from today and Snow White and the Huntsman on June 1, 2012. The new iterations of this story coming out are not just markers of the lack of creativity in Hollywood, but they show how versatile the story can be.
Snow White and the Huntsman
In Mirror, Mirror there is a more playful tone the movie takes, whereas in Snow White and the Huntsman there is a much darker more serious progression.
Original Name: Cinderilla
Author: Charles Perrault
Original Title: Cinderilla, ou La Petite Pantoufle de Verre (Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper
Original Language: French
Date of Release: 1950
I don’t know how much money Charles Perrault would have made in royalties from Disney had he been alive but I imagine I could take just a portion and be a very rich man. Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Stories or Tales of Times Gone By), a collection of Perrault’s fairy tales accounts for two of the most popular titles in the Disney Catalog: Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
Cinderella was a much older tale, but gained a new level of popularity when Perrault introduced the pumpkin, the fairy godmother, and the glass slippers. These are arguably the pillars of the story.
The Disney version doesn’t actually differ too much from the original of Perrault. It does differ somewhat from a version by the Brothers Grimm.
Also, in a trend that seems not to be too surprising there will be a Cinderella live-action movie starring Amanda Seyfried coming out at some point in 2013.
Author: Charles Perrault
Original Title: La belle au boit dormand (Sleeping Beauty)
Date of Release: 1959
An entirely new homelife was invented for Aurora. Instead of living with her family like in the original, Disney decided to have here be raised by homely fairies who put down their wands for 16 years to raise the young girl.
Some might have thought it more than a little creepy, not sweet, to have a more than 100 year old woman being kissed by a 20-something prince, so Disney decided to have the young prince slay a dragon in order to get to the young beautiful princess what seems like the very next day.
Original Name: Ariel
Author: Brothers Grimm
Original Title: The Little Mermaid
Date of Release: 1989
The Brothers Grimm too, had multiple entries in the Disney Princesses vault, including: Snow White, Ariel, and most recently Rapunzel. Though Ariel of the Little Mermaid was nothing like the original character the Brothers Grimm had envisioned in their fairy tale.
Ariel is decidedly more upbeat, maybe more naïve in the movie than in the book, where she has a very pessimistic tone. In the original she is betrayed by the young prince and pretty much commits suicide at the site of the prince and princess sleeping in bed. So, you are telling me the writers thought that was too tragic? Well, I’m shocked.
In the Disney version the prince just looks like D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend. The ending is a little bit more upbeat, with Ariel and prince Eric living happily ever after, and she has her voice.
Yes, the castle on the VHS cover of the movie does look like a phallic symbol. No I don’t believe it was intentional.
Fun Fact: Ursula’s appearance in the movie is based on a drag queen named Divine.
Original Name: Belle
Author: Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont
Date of Release: 1991
Part of the Disneyfication of these fairy tales, which is fundamental to the storytelling, is the music. The transitional outbursts are imperative, because without them the mere acting out of the fairy tale would take half the time, wouldn’t be a feature and would be forced to fundamentally abandon the structure of the original. I say this because there is a ton of great music in this movie including “Be our Guest” by Lumiere (french for light) the candlestick and a theme song by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, which you can listen to below.
Gaston plays the misogynistic douche-bag type. Belle plays the nerdy bookworm type, and the “beast” who ends up with the girl is a not-so-good-looking, well-meaning guy. I know, how unrealistic right? It seems like a cheap rip off of an 80s high school movie, actually it sounds like a rip-off of EVERY 80s high school movie.
Within Beauty and the Beast there is a phenomenon that is particularly popular among screenwriters when the turn the fairy tale into a Disney film. Disney likes to eliminate parents, siblings, whomever else to just have the one character. That is unless of course these siblings are absolutely crucial to the storyline like the evil stepsisters in Cinderella. I would love to see the scene where Gaston tries to propose with Belle’s three burly farmhand brothers in toe to greet him at the door.
6. Jasmine from Aladdin
Original Name: Princess (She is not named in the original)
Author: Unknown, Comes from a series of tales translated into English as the Arabian Nights.
Original Title: One Thousand and One Nights, Arabian Nights
Original Language: Arabic
Date of Release: 1992
Most striking to me to find out is that actually Aladdin and the Lamp, the original, is a combination of Aladdin and Aladdin II, The Return of Jafar from Disney. So how does the young Jasmine evolve from the original Arabian Nights series to what she is in the Disney version we see? There are myriad differences, chiefly that she is more fiercely independent in the movie from 1992 than she is in the original, something that will become part of a theme for other Disney Princesses as well.
The courtship between Aladdin and Jasmine, who is called simply Princess in the original, isn’t clear enough in the Arabian Nights version. In the Disney incarnation they have a montage of singing on a very romantic magic carpet ride, but in the original it is not made clear she really loves him until he comes to save her from capture (which is in Disney’s second movie, Return.
She is much more subservient in the original, something that affects her feelings for Aladdin greatly. Aladdin in the original is actually a slacker living with his mom, but for Disney they made him an orphan and gave him the voice of D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend from Full House.
As with Belle, Disney gave Jasmine a bumpkin for a father. His bumbling got him lost in the woods and in trouble with the beast. In the original tale the beast wants Belle as a sacrifice. In the Disney movie she comes to rescue her father and lays out her slavery as a way to free her father, something that gets away from the independence theme of many of the Disney princesses.
Throughout the story the beast woos Belle and the people who have been banished to a life of servitude as furniture come to life. It may be the best ending to a Disney movie.
7. Pocahontas from Pocahontas
Original Name: Pocahontas or Matoaka then Rebecca Rolfe
Original Title: Pocahontas
Date of Release: 1995
I don’t exactly know where to begin with the egregious liberties the folks at Disney took with this film. It should be said, however, the history I have received about what happened at Jamestown is more than slightly anglo-leaning.
From what I gather Pocahontas was, like Jasmine, not nearly as independent and curious as the Disney version portrays her to be. In reality she was captured by the settlers and had a Stockholm Syndrome-like conversion and fell in love with her captors. They took her to England as a poster girl for what civilization could do for the “savages”
In the movie she is a curious girl who runs around and, “Goes wherever the wind takes her.” She also, “lived a life of freedom.” Haha, cheah, right. She was lovely and all but I mean come on. The movie makes there love seem like a Romeo and Juliet thriller with the Capulets and Montagues feuding all the while. Obviously this belies also the fact that there was a massacre of most of these people and she actually ended up with a completely different historical figure than John Smith (She married and lived with John Rolfe in reality and took the name Rebecca Rolfe)
Original Title: The song of Fa Mulan
Date of Release: 1998
Mulan is the oldest adaptation of all the Disney princess stories. It comes to us from the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534). The original piece is actually a song, a ballad or ode to the great warrior Hua Mulan(hyperlink). She is detailed as a masculine leader. She leads people into battle and until the end it isn’t revealed to her followers that she is a woman. (The reader knows throughout because of the pronoun usage of she and her.
The movie is feature length so the details need to be fleshed out and it seems impossible to make a feature length movie out of a poem but they do it. They fill in the cracks with overwrought stuff and
Original Name: Emma
Author: E.D. Baker
Original Title: The Frog Princess
Date of Release: 2009
Tiana starts out in the Disney version the daughter of a seamstress who caters to a wealthy member of the New Orleans Jazz Era southern gentry. She saves her money to start what her father and her had always dreamed of, a restaurant.
In the original story, The Frog Princess she is already a princess. I get that it would be hard to cast a black princess in Louisiana in the 1920s and make it believable, but nevertheless, I find it a bit disconcerting that a legacy such as Walt Disney’s, with such sketchy racial dealings, would present its first black princess as a Jazz Era southern ebonic speaking daughter of a tailor. It seems off-putting to me.
Maybe they decided they would try to buck the trend and make a bold statement with this but they seemed to fall a little short in a few aspects: The prince is a mulatto mix from a false country with a French accent, and the protagonist is stuck in a frog’s body for the entirety of the film.
Fun Fact: Alicia Keys contacted the studio directly to be the voice of Tiana. Later Anika Noni Rose was tapped for the spot.
Original Name: Rapunzel
Authors: Brothers Grimm
Original Title: Rapunzel
Date of Release: 2010
If a fairy tale were made into a pop song it would be Rapunzel in Tangled. The trailer is actually set to a song by Pink. The newest version has the good-looking prince cast as an edgy thief (Flynn Rider) who is particularly cunning. Of course he is no match for the wits and quirkiness of Rapunzel. He gets tangled up in her, if you will. (see what I did there)
In the original she is banished from the tower she is supposed to spend the rest of her days in, her hair cut off as a consequence of plotting an escape with the prince. In Tangled they both escape and in the end it is a tear from her eye that saves Flynn Rider. Just before he is thought to be dead he saves her from the bad guy, Mother Gothel.
There are a few variations on the ending depending on which one you read. In one she is trapped in the tower forever, in the other she lives with the prince happily ever after. I know, I was surprised too, when Disney chose the happy one.
Oh Yeah, and it is computer animated. (Cheating if you ask me)
(Video): Notice they take a Pink song for the trailer.
It seems odd to me that something called a “fairy tale” should need to be changed and in some cases completely rewritten. I understand the Disney motivations