The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer may not have caused as much public excitement as some of the other female-led sci-fi/dystopian YA series of the past several years, but it doesn’t mean it’s less deserving of our attention. In fact, it’s a very solid series, led by a team of awesome kickass teen heroines. The plot is engrossing and action-packed and has an intriguing twist to boot—the main four books of the series offer loose, but still recognizable, retellings of four well-known fairy tales: Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty.
Spoilers below for Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter (the main four books of The Lunar Chronicles).
The first thing to know about feminism is that it’s concerned with women’s well-being, and the well-being of all. The second thing to know about feminism is that it’s incredibly complicated. There are many, many forms of feminism, including ones that directly conflict with one another. One of the things that all feminists can agree on is that we need good role models for young girls. But what kinds of role models are we talking about? Disney Princesses are a source of love and contention for many feminists. We can’t seem to agree on which princesses are the best; these two different rankings both claim to be done through a feminist lens, yet they’re completely different. In one, Mulan is at the top, the other she’s near the bottom.
On one hand, we see lots of little girls so excited (excited is putting it mildly) to watch Disney Princess movies, wear Disney Princess costumes, meet Disney Princesses at theme parks, and pretend to be Disney Princesses. Many of the popular Disney Princesses exemplify traditional Western standards of feminine perfection, and what’s wrong with wanting to be feminine? On the other hand, some of the Princesses are treated like objects instead of people; their agency is limited to going about their lives until a man (usually a Prince, but not always) swoops in to rescue them. They’re also drawn as unrealistically skinny, and I’m certain that barring a few height differences, every single one could swap outfits with each other. It’s a bad message to send to girls who are already subjected to a lot of body image issues. Other more modern Disney Princesses do have strong personalities and dreams of their own, and send good messages to kids. So which ones really are the good princesses, and are there any redeeming qualities to the seemingly not-so-feminist ones?
So I’ve only seen Frozen a couple times by now—five or six, but who’s counting?—and yet I’m still struck by how amazing this story is. Sure, it has some problems. I mean, nothing’s perfect, but Frozen has so many progressive themes that it’s hard to ignore what a great movie it truly is. Additionally, while being caught up in its awesomeness, it might be a little hard to articulate why certain parts of the movie are so great. I knew that I didn’t really like Elsa’s and Anna’s parents when I first saw the movie, but it wasn’t until the second or third time through that I realized I disliked them because of how abusive they were to their daughters.
A friend of mine and I were discussing Tangled recently, and when I asked him why he hadn’t liked the movie, he replied, “It was just too dark to be a kids’ movie.” It took me a while to understand what he meant by that—surely a movie about a princess and her animal companion friends wasn’t dark? Then I realized that while the characters themselves may not have been particularly bleak, the theme of the story was. The driving force behind Tangled is the twisted relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel, and understanding it is key to understanding why Tangled was such a great movie.