How many times have you read a story or fanfic or watched a movie and you knew the lady was going to be badass because she ordered a beer/hard liquor and not a Cosmo and because she doesn’t give a shit about her hair or makeup or clothes? Introductions like this make for an easy shorthand that ‘this character is a hardass and worthy of your respect’ but they also reinforce the stereotype that for a woman to be respected, she has to perform stereotypically masculine gender roles. Continue reading
Disney movie heroes and heroines are good people. Like really good. I mean, like, woodland creatures help them do chores, for cripes’ sake. And so it would be really out of character of them to start straight-up murdering people, even if those people happen to be the bad guys.
So how do the bad guys get dead then? Well, in a lot of Disney, movies it seems as though some sentient force of nature itself reaches out and snuffs them out. Whoever’s running these universes really has a habit of picking sides, and it’s pretty clear who they’re rooting for. Let’s look at a few (I’d warn for spoilers, but seriously, you guys you should have seen these movies already):
In Up, the bad guy Charles Muntz catches his foot on some balloon strings while trying to attack our heroes and falls to his death.
In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as Frollo is dangling from one of the gargoyles of the cathedral, it actually comes to life in total defiance of the established physics/magic of the world and growls at him, frightening him so much that he falls to his death.
In The Incredibles, Syndrome is sucked into a plane engine by his cape.
In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston loses his balance and falls off the Beast’s high balcony.
In Oliver and Company, Sykes’ car is hit by an oncoming train and he dies.
In Tarzan, Clayton falls from a tree and is strangled to death by hanging vines.
Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective gets caught up in Big Ben and falls to his death.
(Dang, that’s a lot of falling to death. Crappy way to die.)
It’s interesting that, in universes where, for the most part, there are no actively acknowledged gods or God, (save Hunchback, where they talk about God and damnation a lot), that divine retribution or intervention via uncannily timed accident seems to be the go-to way to get rid of a bad guy. Is it that bad for a Disney hero/ine to get some blood on their hands? Most interesting is that this handy plot device isn’t something that’s gone away with age—it spans movies as early as Snow White to as recent as Up.
There are plenty more examples—feel free to name some in the comments.
So on Saturday I went with my family to see the much-hyped Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the eponymous roles.
So we all know the plot of Snow White: evil stepmother takes over a kingdom, princess escapes, goes into hiding with seven dwarves, poisoned apple, magic coma, true love’s kiss, happily ever after. This movie attempts to lend the titular princess a little more agency—she attacks her captor (the evil Queen’s brother) to escape; she storms the castle to take back the throne clad in armor and wielding a sword; and she slays the Queen herself before ascending to the throne. The movie ends with a coronation, not a wedding. It does succeed in a lot of ways, and it had some really great ideas—it just didn’t put them together very well.
Let’s start with the dialogue. There were long scenes, it seemed, without any. Each character got a rousing monologue at some point throughout the film that was really emotional and great, but in between those what lines they had seemed stilted.
The only character who was really well-developed was the Huntsman, who doesn’t actually get a name (he was even The Huntsman in the credits). He has ups and downs and memories and reactions. Snow White is fairest of them all, but it’s unclear whether she’s fairest because of physical beauty (which the Queen seems to think) or because of her kind heart, which is pretty much her only distinguishing feature. I don’t blame this on Kristen Stewart, by the way—I thought she did pretty well, given the script she was working with.
Her boyhood friend William is blander than white bread, and the dwarves are all just steretypically dwarfy in a way that’s not new or exciting. The Evil Queen (name of Ravenna in the movie) has one of the character types that pisses Lady Geek Girl off more than anything: the “I’VE BEEN EVIL SINCE I WAS BORN AND I JUST WANT POWER” type—she has no relevant character motivation or background besides “I am beautiful and want to rule things and kill people.” Also, her brother was annoying, unnecessary, and had truly atrocious hair. Like seriously.
The world-building was sketchy for me; there’s magic, and faeries, and Faerieland; it’s unclear whether the Dark Forest is magic or just filled with hallucinogenic dust, and there are also medieval-era-looking Catholic priests, and one of Snow White’s first lines is the Lord’s Prayer. Are the dwarves an actual different race of magical people, or are they just short miners? Is this the real world with magic, or a completely different world? There’s some sort of weird symbolism about three drops of blood, but what does it mean? These things are addressed late or not at all.
Finally, it seemed like they just tried to shoehorn all of the plot elements of Snow White into the movie whether or not they were necessary. The movie was fine without dwarf sidekicks or faeries; especially tedious was the poisoned apple bit. First of all, the queen leaves her castle to tempt and trick Snow White into eating it, which completely ruins the whole idea where she had to send the Huntsman after the princess to begin with.
And then Snow White is comatose, and not awakened by the kiss of her boyhood friend William as we’re supposed to expect, but by a kiss from the Huntsman, following an anguished monologue that actually makes you feel for his character. (Whether the cure for her coma is actually true love’s kiss is up in the air; this isn’t addressed at all for the rest of the movie, except in the final scene, where she doesn’t seem to be happy at her coronation until she realizes the Huntsman is there.) Hemsworth delivers a great performance of the Huntsman possibly realizing he’s in unrequited love with this girl, but Stewart’s character doesn’t give me any rationale for his loving her. But anyway, I was still annoyed that she had to be awakened by a kiss rather than, I dunno, overcoming the curse with her latent healing magic or something? She seems to have that in this world, so that could have been a thing.
It’s just, she attacks her captor and escapes, but barely scratches him and is caught by the Huntsman as soon as she gets into the woods. Okay, that’s fair. She’s been locked in a tower for ten years; she can’t have been doing battle training or learning woodsmanship in that decade. But she travels with him and other warriors for a while, and you’d think she’d try to learn some fighting, but even when she finally carries a sword and rides into battle, she never really fights anyone but the Queen. There was a moment right after Snow White meets the Huntsman where he teaches her one defensive move, and since we never see her training or learning to defend herself in any other way, it’s obvious from that scene forward that this will be the move she uses to kill the Queen an hour and a half later.
This movie was a step in the right direction for strong princesses with agency. She abandons her dress for first leggings and then plate armor; she fights her own way out of the palace, and rouses the country’s small rebel force to regain her throne. And when she finally does, she’s crowned queen with everything that entails—she’s not a consort or a trophy, but a ruler in her own right. And although there is the hint that she might love the Huntsman too at the end, they 1) could totally just be platonic friends, and 2) actually have been through hell and back together and could arguably have romantic feelings for each other if you wanted to interpret it that way. The important thing is that marriage is not the wonderful, perfect, and obvious end result of being a princess in a story.
Snow White is always going to be a problematic fairy tale for any number of reasons; Euro-centric beauty standards, women who are either evil or damsels in distress, and cure-all marriages to perfect princes are just a few reasons why. This isn’t a standard-raising example of feminist princessdom, but despite all my complaints, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening. (I’d still recommend seeing The Avengers again instead—I’ve seen it six times already and it still hasn’t gotten old.)