Reading Fables put me in a fairy-tale minded mood, so I finally sat down and caught up with both Tangled and The Frog Princess.
I thought Tangled was fine, if not entirely remarkable, particularly in its condemnation of beauty obsession. “I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady,” coos the witch who’s kidnapped Rapunzel and given her an extreme case of Stockholm Syndrome. “Oh, you’re here too!” It’s interesting to see the idea that people will go through extreme things to make themselves beautiful externalized. Rather than subjecting herself to surgery or extreme dieting, the witch hurts someone else. And the ending’s interesting: in a sense, it’s a reverse of the pretty-ugly girl takes off her glasses and everything changes moment. In cutting off Rapunzel’s hair, Eugene frees her from the thing that makes her valued for her looks rather than herself. But he also eliminates a source of strength and adventure for her. Presumably, she doesn’t need hair that she can rappel down now that she’s living in a palace, but the end of the movie did strike me as domesticating our heroine a bit.
By contrast, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog wants something other than to get married, or to get a man, and she doesn’t have to give it up, even to the businessmen who tell her, “A little woman of your…background would have had her hands full trying to run a big business.” By the end of the movie, the worthless Prince Naveen’s been transformed and galvanized by the force of Tiana’s dream, not just for her restaurant, but for life. When she snaps at him that “the only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work…I’m not a princess, I’m a waitress,” it reads as honest, not like she’s a scold — being a handsome gadabout hasn’t worked out particularly well for him. And ultimately, they build the restaurant together.
Someday, I think we’ll see princesses without the prince as the prize that’s waiting at the finish line. If there was one part of The Help, I liked it was that Skeeter’s dreams are totally independent of her useless oil-drilling boyfriend and she doesn’t have a moment of doubt (in the movie) about which is more important. And it sounds like with Brave Pixar’s giving us a movie where the princes are even more of a distraction. I’m not saying we have to do away with love stories, but that doesn’t mean that falling in love is the only thing princesses can do. And until we get a long-overdue Dealing With Dragons adaptation, I’ll settle for this.