Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Belle

Hello, everyone!  First, let me apologize for my lack of updates, this summer.  I was a little busy getting married.  We also made several moves, so our internet often wasn’t that dependable.  Hopefully, you’ll forgive me as I get back into the swing of this blog.

I’d like to start back up by taking a look at some Second City Network videos with a fairy tale twist.  Many of you may be familiar with my favorite Second City Network character, Sassy Gay Friend, wherein a sassy, gay guy stops literary characters from making huge mistakes.  Their new series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess,” features a woman who dresses up like princesses from various Disney films, then points out the negative messages these movies depict.

My goal with this recurring feature is to pick apart these videos, documenting which of the negative messages appear in the original tales and which can only be found in their modern versions.  The first video I’d like to discuss is about Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”  For easy reading, I’ve divided my response below into criticisms that only apply to the Disney version and criticisms that apply to both.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • The video’s first criticism of this French fairy tale is that the Beast is violent, but rich.  It suggests that Belle stays with the Beast because she feels that she can change him.  Interestingly, this is not a problem that can be seen in the tale’s original version.  Although all versions of the story depict the Beast as ugly, the original never suggests that he is in any way violent or threatening toward her.  This element was added later, most likely to make the story more exciting.
  • The second criticism relates to the Beast’s orders that Belle must eat with him or not at all.  This is almost a direct quote from the Disney film and does not appear in the original story.
  • Second City Network cites the Disney character, Gaston, as a “hot, successful man who was very goal-oriented and wanted to marry” Belle, but suggests that she resisted his affection because it was not a challenge.  This character does not even exist in the original story.  As far as I can tell, the character was added so that the film would have a clear antagonist.
  • Belle’s imprisonment by the beast is also pointed out.  Interestingly, the original fairy tale handled this quite differently.  Belle’s father steals a beautiful rose from the beast.  When the beast sees this and threatens to kill him, Belle’s father pleads for his life, saying that the flower was meant as a gift to his daughter.  The beast agrees not to kill him, and actually offers the man great riches in exchange for sending one of his daughters to live with him.  The beast specifies that he will only accept the trade if the girl comes of her own free will; he does not want to imprison her.  If none of his daughters will return, the man must come back to the castle himself.  Belle, who is the least selfish of her sisters, offers to go because of the great benefit to her family.
  • The video points out that Belle’s only friends are inanimate objects.  The original tale, however, contained invisible servants, not talking furniture.
  • The princess in the video says that Belle tolerates everything the beast does to her.  This obviously only applies to the Disney movie, seeing as the beast in the original story is never mean to her.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • The video summarizes the story by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as long as the woman is good looking.  This is a flaw that can be seen in the original version of this fairy tale and many others; while women consistently fall in love with men who have been transformed into hideous creatures, the opposite is rarely true.

Overall, it’s clear that the Second City Network is specifically targeting the Disney version of this story rather than the fairy tale itself.  Although many of today’s fairy tales have been censored because of their potentially violent or disturbing themes, it’s obvious that these changes were accompanied by questionable messages of their own.  At least in the case of “Beauty and the Beast,” the uncensored original seems to be the more appropriate version.

A Transgender Fairy Tale

Many of the stories we were told as children are built on a foundation of traditional gender roles.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White (among others) all need to be rescued by strong, sword-toting young men.  Although they are less well-known, however, there are transgender fairy tales out there.  A perfect example of this is “The Girl Who Pretended to be a Boy,” which can be most easily found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.”

Since this text is out of print, I’ll summarize. The story starts off a little like “Mulan.” A great emperor takes over a lesser kingdom and offers the king peace on the condition that he send one of his sons in for ten years of service.  The king, however, has three daughters and no sons, so he tests the girls to decide who to send.  Although all three of the daughters try, only the youngest is enough of a “manly” warrior to pass the king’s test.  She goes into the emperor’s service.  After proving her worth to the emperor in many ways, he selects her to go on a difficult quest to bring him the woman of his dreams, the beautiful Iliane.

After being rescued by the disguised princess, however, Iliane falls in love with her.  The princess, who reciprocates these feelings, wishes she was a man.  To make a long story a bit shorter, they eventually run away together.  A hermit who tries to stop them curses the princess, changing her gender.  The princess, however, is glad to finally be the man she wanted to be all along.  The text reads “when the princess suddenly felt she was really the man she had pretended to be, she was delighted.”  Obviously, they get married and live happily ever after.

Although the story is pretty lengthy, I actually find it more engaging than many of the fairy tales I heard as a child.  It certainly beats hearing about helpless heroines.  Maybe, with more publicity and encouragement of tolerance, this tale can find its way back into bedtime stories.

Steampunk Fairy Tales

Steampunk and fairy tales are two genres that really seem to mix well together.  As the steampunk subculture of cogs, goggles, and zeppelins becomes more popular, more and more artists are combining the two.  Examples of this can be seen all over the internet, but I would like to share a few of my favorites.

“Steam Piper of Hamelin” by Timothy Terrenal

 

This steampunk rendition of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is absolutely gorgeous and takes advantage of what steampunk does best, combining magic and clockwork/steam technology.  The children’s tiny goggles and top hats show that Terrenal has done his steampunk research and is not simply a fan of soul-sucking robots.  I admit I would love to read a Pied Piper retelling based on this amazing illustration.  To see more work by Timothy Terrenal, visit his DeviantArt gallery.

 

“Steampunk Fairytale” by ~AkaiSoul

What a fantastic version of Little Red!  I sometimes get tired of fairy tale heroines who are little more than damsels in distress; this one, however, looks like she can defend herself.  In fact, one of her hands is behind her back, so she might even be holding some kind of steampunk weapon just out of sight.  Although this style is a little less realistic than that of the Pied Piper, I love the attention to detail and the air of whimsy.  I know I said this about the last drawing, but it would be incredible to read a retelling based on this image!  More of ~AkaiSoul’s work can be viewed at her DeviantArt gallery.

“Steampunk Cinderella” by ~HelleeTitch

 

Deviant artist ~HelleeTitch does steampunk princesses in a different way; instead of focusing on fairy tales in general, she works specifically on steaming up the classic Disney girls.  Although I generally prefer my steampunk (and my fairy tales, for that matter) a little darker than this, her work is fun and lighthearted.  Plus, it’s interesting to see what she does with all the different characters.  To see her other princesses, check out her DeviantArt gallery.

As time goes on, I hope to see more crossover between these genres.  Of course, plenty already exists, as can be seen above.  There are some especially lovely renditions of Alice, from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  Too bad that’s not actually a fairy tale; they’re gorgeous, and I would have loved to include some!

Disney Princesses No More?

The L. A. Times reported in Nov. 2010 that Disney will no longer be producing their famous retold fairy tale films, as many of today’s children find them uncool, and the films have little appeal for boys.  Although this statement was later retracted, Disney’s potential discontinuance of their fairy tale movies could have a large impact on fairy tales themselves.  There would be potential for results both negative and positive.  I’ve broken these into pros and cons for easy reading.

Pros: Although it is perfectly natural for fairy tales to evolve over time, many of the fairy tales Disney has tackled over the years may have been changed a little too much, and many of the most interesting details have been lost.  All of the gore has been edited out of these stories for today’s children.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think if Ariel survives and marries the prince, then she isn’t actually “the Little Mermaid,” and a version of “Rapunzel” where no one gets blinded hardly seems likes Rapunzel at all.  Generations of children have missed out on hearing these stories in their entirety, and the end of Disney fairy tales might mean a return to the originals, either through reading or through another film company willing to more honestly tackle the classics.  Not only that, but the Disneyfication of stories like “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Peter Pan” has led to many people falsely classifying them as fairy tales when, in fact, they are not.  Perhaps, if these beloved stories were less closely associated with actual fairy tales like “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” this confusion could be avoided.

Cons: Disney princess films have done a lot to further the fairy tale genre in our modern society.  Certainly, these tales are a part of shared cultural knowledge leading to constant remakes, but how much of that can be attributed to our exposure to them in their Disney versions?  These movies have been part of childhoods across the globe since the 1937 release of Disney’s “Snow White.”  Certainly, many of these stories had lasted for hundreds of years before Walt Disney ever got his hands on them, but these movies certainly impacted the genre and did their part to extend its already lengthy shelf-life.  I hope that these stories are ingrained enough in our society to be passed down to children long after Disney stops producing fairy tale movies, but it’s possible that Disney has done more to further them than we might imagine.

Blog Preview: Upcoming Post Ideas

I’ve been brainstorming about my upcoming posts and decided to post a list of them, as a sort of preview.
1. Fairy Tales in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  I’ve compiled a list of “Buffy“/”Angel” fairy tale references and will post them along with some analysis.

2.  Fairy Tales in “Harry Potter”

J. K. Rowling shows us, in her Harry Potter books, that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  In fact, she found them so important that she created a whole book of wizarding fairy tales (“The Tales of Beadle the Bard“).  After all, each culture has its own, unique legends and fairy tales.  I will take a look at what these mean in the world of Harry Potter.

3. The Path: A Contemplative Fairy Tale Video Game

I will review “The Path,” a contemplative video game based on the popular fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

4. No More Disney Princesses:  Is This Good or Bad?

Disney has decided to stop producing its famously retold versions of classic fairy tales.  I will analyze the situation, discussing its positive and negative effects on the fairy tale medium.

5. Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books

Although these books are out of print, I am lucky enough to have a bunch of them.  I will describe these books and their origins, comparing them to some of their original sources, and updating their sparse Wikipedia story synopses.

6. What are Fairy Tales, Anyway?

In this post, I will explain why “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are not fairy tales.  I will also explain why the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame D’Aulnoy are “half fairy tales.”

7. Fairy Tales in Popular Music

Fairy tales, as part of our shared cultural knowledge, are more ingrained in pop-culture than we often realize.  Using song lyrics and clips, I will show how fairy tales have made their way onto all of our mp3 players.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

Many of us are familiar with director Guillermo del Toro‘s haunting 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”  This beautiful film was deeply inspired by fairy tales.  This post will take a closer look at del Toro’s inspiration.

9. King Arthur and Robin Hood as Fairy Tales

In this post, I will show how stories based on actual historical figures can and have evolved into fairy tales.

10. Sondheim: Fairy Tales and Urban Legends

Stephen Sondheim has based several of his hit Broadway musicals on fairy tales and their close cousins, urban legends.  In this post, I will detail the ways in which Sondheim was clearly inspired by these stories, as well as what he did to further and expand them.

My plan is to create all of these posts on my blog, but I can not promise that they will all appear.  If there’s anything on this list that you’re particularly excited to see, feel free to let me know.

Bizarre Disney Princess Wedding Gown

I am getting married this June.  That being said, I understand why a woman would want to look like a princess on her wedding day.  Childhood fairy tales tell us that princesses are usually beautiful and kind, and the Disney versions suggest they always get their happy endings.   With this in mind, it makes sense that Alfred Angelo, the designer who created my wedding gown, has teamed up with Disney to fashion a line of Disney Princess inspired wedding dresses.  In this collection, each gown is modeled after a specific princess.

Most of the gowns are lovely.  One of them, however, has some confusing associations.

Most of the princesses included in the line make sense.  Even in the original versions of their tales (or, in the case of Tiana, the story that inspired her tale) all of them got their happy endings.  Yes, there was some violence; for example, Cinderella’s stepsisters got their toes chopped off.  One of these princesses, however, is not like the others: The Little Mermaid.

In the original Hans Christian Andersen version of this story, the princess many of us know as Ariel has anything but a happy ending.  In fact, she fails to win the love of the prince and dies.  I am aware that the dresses are specifically based on the Disney versions of these tales, but the connotations from the original story still exist.  Do so few people know the original version that they actually want to look like the Little Mermaid on the day they get married?  If they do know the story, why do they want to look like someone who is unloved and dead?  Frankly, I’m a little shocked and a lot confused.

Despite this, many of the dresses are lovely and not bewildering.  Click here to see the full collection.

Disney Comparison: Twisted Princesses

Many fairy tales started out as grisly stories containing deaths and violence.  The versions most people are familiar with today, however, are the heavily edited Disney-fied ones that can be seen in a plethora of animated film, in which the villain meets a just (albeit often nonviolent) end, the prince and princess get married and, perhaps most importantly, all the main characters survive.

Although it’s the nature of fairy tales, as a genre that was long sustained by word of mouth, to evolve over time, the comparison between the Disney versions and the originals is fascinating.  Maybe that’s why I always love to see someone give the universally recognizable Disney girls a makeover.  This series by artist Jeffrey Thomas is one of the best examples of that I’ve seen.

Snow White is my favorite, but they’re all fantastically grim.  Ariel comes in at a close second, and Jasmine and Rapunzel are vying for third.  Not only does the artist create these gorgeously dark fairy tale images, but he makes creepy story profiles for each princess.  What’s not to love?

 

Snow White is my favorite of Jeffrey Thomas' twisted princesses.

 

To see the rest of this amazing series, check out Jeffrey Thomas’ gallery on Deviant Art.

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