We’ve written a lot over the years about Disney princesses and how they all seem to be thin, pretty, and morally good. And while a lot of princesses do have these traits, many others do not. Sadly, those are the ones that popular media rarely talks about. Enter today’s web crush: Rejected Princesses.
About a month ago, I was lucky enough to go to Medieval Times with my family. For those who don’t know, Medieval Times is a dinner theatre franchise that gives its attendees an ‘authentic medieval experience’. They make you eat with your hands while watching knights swordfight and joust and ride ridiculously well-trained horses and whatnot. The show is styled like an old-timey tourney, and the seating arrangement decides which of the six knights you’ll be rooting for. Eventually the tournament is interrupted by a rogue knight or an evil warlock or some other unfortunate menace, and the champion of the tournament must take up arms and defeat them. They switch out the scripts for the shows every four years or so—over the course of my life I’ve seen (I think) three of the different plots. This evening’s plot featured a sinister herald from a northern king, who threatened the tourney’s king with war over a disagreement.
Although an evening at Medieval Times is always fun, I have a few beefs, both feminism-based and general, with the show.
First of all, women have very little place in the show. The Princess’s part is simpering, inane, and two-dimensional, and it grates on me. The knights’ squires can be boys or girls, but their parts are silent and entail mostly setting up obstacles and picking up horse crap. I’d have loved for this year’s new show to have included a female knight, but the heteronormativity built into the show (knights give tokens—flowers and sashes—to their chosen ladies in the audience, and it would just be gross if it was a girl giving it to another girl) really doesn’t allow for it.
Outside of that, I have a few other complaints. First, the King at our show was a terrible actor. Most of the actors either put on a British accent (despite the show being apparently set in 11th century Spain) or speak in generally posh-sounding Standard American English. This King sounded like Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride. The touch of Brooklyn accent made it hard to suspend disbelief that this guy was an 11th century lord.
The other thing that bugged me was the show’s plot. These shows often have trouble deciding whether they’re part of a fantasy kingdom or an actual historical place. As I mentioned, the setting is apparently Spain—the knights all represent Leon or Navarre or Castile or whatever—but the mysterious Northern emissary looked like a mix of Shan Yu from Mulan and Ned Stark from Game of Thrones—a fur-wearing, menacingly broad-shouldered warrior from some far-off and frozen land. I’m probably just wildly over-thinking it, but I feel like in the 11th century people who lived so far north of Spain that they dressed like Winter is Coming weren’t just going to ride by themselves hundreds of miles to treat with a Spanish king. /overthinking
Medieval Times is a fun experience if you’re willing and able to shell out the dough for it. Just don’t go in expecting Masterpiece Theatre on horseback and you should have a good time.
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.)
It’s Trailer Tuesdays, let’s talk about Brave!