Beauty and the Bait beauty as a motivator in Disney

What girl hasn't, in one time in her life, wanted to be a princess?

The princesses have it pretty good. Sure, their lives aren’t that great at the beginning of their movies, but by the end, all evil has been defeated, their princes have come, and everything else is happily ever after. It’s a perfect life with little to no work involved!

Unfortunately, real life doesn't work out so perfectly.

One dad, Andy Hinds, chronicled his battle to keep his daughters from developing this false mindset on life. Despite his best efforts, when he told his daughter being a princess was not a real career, she responded with the sassy retort "but I don't want to have a real career" (which, in the midst of college exams, sound alright to me).

So even with parents actively working against princess obsessions, children are still getting the idea that for a princess, everything works out without much effort. This then leads girls to believe that a career and hard work are unnecessary.

But where are the girls getting this idea? What exactly is it about the princesses that makes their lives work out perfectly without much of their own effort? What causes stepmothers to enslave their stepdaughters and princes to destroy evil?

On reason common to Disney movies is beauty. Beauty is the power that princesses have, and this power seems to motivate all: villains act of lust or jealous, male heroes act out of honor for a princess's beauty, and even the adoring animal companions seem to flock around a beautiful princess.

Not convinced? Let's look at a few examples

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White was the first Disney princess when her film was released in 1937. Snow White’s physical appearance seems to be an essential throughout the movie.

First, her beauty is what drives her evil stepmother, the antagonist of the film, to attempt to murder Snow White. And when her first attempt fails, the evil Queen even transforms her own body into to a creepy hag to trick Snow White, simultaneously making the Queen’s exterior match her evil motives.

But the Queen is not the only one to notice Snow White’s looks. The seven dwarfs are instantly captivated by Snow White when they stumble across her sleeping in their beds and don’t even mention her home invasion. The way the men trust her even before they first speak to her shows how their love her is initiated by beauty.

Their preoccupation with her looks continues even after her sleeping-death. The dwarfs put her in a glass coffin so to keep watch over her and her beauty. As such it is Snow White's beauty that gives her seven guardians from her evil Stepmother and the outside world even after her death.

Beauty and the Beast

Though many years older than her Disney sister Snow White, Belle of Beauty and the Beast (1996) invokes similar responses to her beauty

Take her relationship with the villain Gaston. The self-obsessed manly-man seeks to make Belle his wife and will stop at nothing to achieve this goal. He claims that "in town there's only she who's as beautiful as me" and this idea inspire him to pursue her despite multiple rejections.

The Beast is reformed thanks to Belle's help

Belle’s beauty is also essential to the Beast’s change. As soon as Belle arrive at the Beast's castle, the house servants all are given hope that the spell can still be broken. And Belle does not disappoint: the Beast, who once crawled on all-fours like an animal, begins to stand up straight and eat with a fork and spoon thanks to Belle’s patient teachings and the initial spark of hope she gave him.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Although she's not technically a Disney princess, the gypsy Esmeralda plays a similar role to the other princesses in Hunchback as the initiator of action.

Take the way the male protagonists (and the antagonist Frollo) fawn over Esmeralda. Phoebus, the Captain of the guard, leaves his job to help fight for her cause. And let's not forget Quasimodo, who breaks chains to dramatically rescue Esmeralda in the scene below.

And on the villain side, we have Frollo, who has an odd lustful longing for Esmeralda. Although Frollo despised gypsies before meeting Esmeralda, catching her becomes a personal vendetta of his. Follo begins to burn down most of Paris in search of Esmeralda, as his unquenchable and almost animalistic desire for Esmeralda transforms his actions into a truly evil tirade.

Tangled

The last and most recent example of Tangled (2010) puts a new spin on the old concept of beauty as a motivator

To start, look at Mother Gothel, the villain of the tale who is obsessed with Rapunzel's beauty (albeit indirectly). Mother Gothel is after the magical powers of youth and beauty that Rapunzel's hair has. But since those powers are manifest in Rapunzel's hair and beauty, it is really Rapunzel herself that Mother Gothel is obsessed with.

On the other hand Flynn Rider (aka Eugene Fitzherbert) takes note of Rapunzel's beauty and not her magic powers. He is so inspired by Rapunzels beauty along with her passion and kindness that he changes his thieving ways to be with her. The once selfish Flynn who only wanted money end up saving the day by cutting Rapunzel's hair and freeing her of Mother Gothel's control.

So it seems Disney has a problem with the way its characters are motivated. In many cases like the ones detailed above, a beautiful princess is essential to the plot of a story.

And while its true that a movie starring an "ugly princess" is out of the question, there have been recent changes in the role that princesses play in their films. Take, for example, the newest princess Moana.

MEET MOANA (and Maui)

Moana is revolutionary as her story contains no male love interest and stars herself as the hero. Clearly she is not motivated by her own beauty but by her dedication to her island and her people.

Fan responses to the film site that they are thrilled by the new heroine. Many have shared their love for the kick-ass new Disney woman .

Just a few of the many empowering responses to Moana.

So it seems there's hope. While historically the princesses haven't real given young girls a good model to base their lives off of, new Disney princesses like Moana are proving that girls should chase what they want and be the heroes of their own stories. Now that's a kind of princess all girls should aspire to be.

Created By
Gina Kovalik
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