I think we can all agree that Disney can be seen as a pretty accurate weather vein of social change. As this summer I was lucky enough to go to Disneyland Paris, or Euro Disney as the kids now seem to call it, with a small mob with a toddler as our excuse nucleus, I decided now was the time to properly get into how I think Disney has successfully come a long way since the devolutional disaster that was ‘The Princess And The Frog’. Since this poor excuse of a film, that was really little more than a publicity ploy to create a more ‘culturally diverse’ Disney, we can see that Disney has essentially started again in many ways.
Since Pixar and DreamWorks updated early with animation instead of cartoons with ‘Shrek’ and ‘Toy Story’ (originally), Disney at last got onto the scene with ‘Tangled’. Not only the graphics but also Disney has, in a few hop skip and bounds come forward socially. In ‘Tangled’ we saw a heroine save a hero, at last! ‘Brave’ threw out the idea that a Disney story needs a hero all together, with Merida actively refusing to marry anyone, a change from Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ merely demurring to wanting to ‘choose’ her partner, and ending up half naked in a time turner for her trouble.
We have all seen the media frenzy over ‘Frozen’, so I won’t spend too long how fantastic it was to see Disney throw in realistic ideas about love and the reality of relationships, with ‘Fixer Upper’ being the second most catchy tune to come out of the musical phenomenon and Ana’s whirlwind relationship with Hans ends up in a near death experience for all (a bit extreme perhaps Disney but way to support the memo to the branding department to ‘change image!’). However I thought that this message was reinforced in the much-underplayed revolutionary and much needed ‘Maleficent’.
OH MY GOD. Here we get to the meat of Disney’s modernization. I cannot stress enough how exited I am for the new generations who get to grow up with these role models. Not only do Maleficent and Aurora show independence comes in many various forms, with both of them demonstrating fairly polar personalities, but we see possibly Disney’s first heroine who is also an anti-hero. As Angelina Jolie huskily intones (its worth seeing this film just to revel in her austere brilliance) ‘Maleficent’ is the story not of a hero or a villain but of someone who is both. HOORAY! As she is not a classic Disney princess I think we can see that this film is also aimed at boys, which is also refreshing as, for the first time, a female protagonist exists who men can also gleam insight from. The men in the film, much like the women in previous Disney animations, are decidedly at the backseat, rather than how they are usually portrayed; like America in WW2, coming in a bit late but generally saving the day. Indeed, the main male role flips the original story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on its head by creating the King as the villain.
I thought that this was once again a step up from ‘Brave’ as the main relationship of the film, the prince is decidedly dismissed, isn’t between mother and daughter, the mother is also ‘dealt with’, but one between women. I thought this was good for Disney as it acknowledges, much like in ‘Frozen’, the often-dysfunctional roles parents can play in building children. We are shown, much like in real life, that our role models are not often those that society would deem favourable, the fairies are just plain idiots, but that by casting about we can actually become agents within ourselves for social change, rather than puppets. As originally Aurora simply becomes Queen with her husband presumably ruling for her, in this new classic Aurora decides not to marry but to live with Maleficent and, in time, unite both kingdoms under her own ruling. The idea that she marries has not been dismissed but rather just left out demonstrating that our ‘happy ever after’ needn’t come from marriage but from our own independence.
Overall I can’t say how happy I am that I can now re-visit Disneyland like I did when I was three, completely unaware of any disparity between princes and princesses. As someone who has had Disney with them through childhood I know that it’s not feasible to say it hasn’t affected our generation, my sister is so institutionalized that that she has been five times – at five, eight, eleven, twenty one and now twenty three, so I can’t say how brilliant it is now to enjoy it without any of the angst we saw in ‘how Disney ruined your life’. It’s just how it was once upon a dream.
P.S When I was at Disneyland it was also lovely to see little girls dressed up as Elsa, Ana and Merida. Overpriced costumes yes, but at least they aren’t costumes that put the wearer in a gender role!