I did an audit on my spending last week. I wondered if I had just started to use the ‘rising cost of living’ to explain what was actually unnecessary spending. Turns out, things are certainly more expensive, but I’ve also become tap-happy and have very little need for the number of iced coffees to which I’ve become accustomed. I was also struck by how much my streaming subscriptions cost.
The accumulated outgoings of Netflix, Disney+, Hayu and Amazon Prime really add up. I decided to cut two of them but, wanting to get my money’s worth before I left, I binge-watched movies from my childhood. Many of them, I hadn’t seen at all in the intervening decades and, to be frank, they haven’t aged well. I admit I’ve grown more woke, and cynical, as I’ve settled into my millennial self — so let that be a caveat for the following observations on the ridiculous, prurient, and regressive narratives I noticed.
Before I get into specifics, the overwhelming message I gleaned from the princess movies, in particular, is that handsome men (who have very little else outside of their looks) are needed to rescue women and, that (always ugly) older women are the enemy. Let’s begin with The Little Mermaid, because why not start with the most egregious of the movies and work our way up out of the depths, like Ariel does?
As a kid, I watched this film with a wide-eyed yearning for my hair to look like Ariel’s when I was in the bath, and not like some sort of damp swamp monster. I used a fork as a hairbrush and was jealous of my red-haired friends.
As an adult, however, the message of the film is wild. So, Ariel lives under the sea with her fish pals and controlling father who won’t let her go on land. You could argue that he’s right because, well, she doesn’t have any legs — being a mermaid and all — and so maybe he’s just looking out for his child — who, by the way, is 16! Fast-forward to Ariel breaking the surface of the water one day where she saves a handsome, but comatose, prince from drowning and falls in love in the process.
The movie continues from there with Ariel sacrificing her biggest talent, her voice, for a pair of legs so she can pursue this relationship with a man she has never spoken to. The prince falls in love with mute Ariel, and her legs, establishing a central moral lesson: the less a woman talks, the more lovable she is. I think the 1989 movie-makers who adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s 1836 story hoped the take-home message would be that you should follow your dreams. However, you can’t help but see a man with power (a prince) falling in love with a mute child who has sacrificed her talents and her family to be with him. But it’s fine because there’s a singing lobster, so…
Next, I watched Snow White because I had genuinely forgotten the plot. In short, Snow White has an underdeveloped fear response. She moves in with seven men she doesn’t know, takes food from strangers (who poison her), and, again, has to be saved by being kissed by a prince who has never spoken to her. Who are these men who go around falling in love with mute women? Are all Disney men creeps?
Next up: Cinderella and her prince. He literally has to go door to door to try a shoe on every single woman in town because he remembers that little about her. This is in spite of having danced with Cinderella until midnight at the ball. How charming.
Moving on to Aladdin and the peak of my disappointment. This was one of my favourites as a kid, and I was sure it couldn’t be as bad on rewatching as the others. I was wrong. Aladdin lies to Jasmine for the entire film! He’s an irresponsible, immature street urchin who spends his days stealing bread. He catfishes Jasmine with the help of a genie and when she finds out, she finds it loveable. None of that even touches on the cultural and racial issues with how Arabs are depicted in the film’s song lyrics, but that’s for another day.
There was Mulan, who had to hide her identity and save China for her father’s approval. And Beauty And The Beast where, in spite of singing to Belle that she is ‘a guest’, she is, in fact, a prisoner who develops a serious case of Stockholm syndrome.
Is it any wonder our generation have the issues we have after being raised on a diet of Disney princesses? On the upside, it did make me feel less bad about ending my subscription!