Recently, friends and I were hanging out and the discussion came around to Disney movies, as it often does, when you get a bunch of twentysomethings together who lived through the Disney Renaissance.
People don't give us enough credit sometimes. Yes, we were aware that these were fairy tales, that they were unrealistic, fantastical, and whimsical. No one I know with half a brain grew up on Disney movies believing that at any moment, a Prince would swoop in, or the Princess would appear, giving them unrealistic expectations about love and happily ever after.
I never appreciated the backlash about them either, and I equate it to people villainizing Video Games, believing them to cause aggression and more violent children and teens. You shouldn't have to be sat down and told, "Happily Ever After doesn't happen. Life's not a Disney movie."
We all know that. And we love that. It's what makes Disney movies fun to watch, and makes us remember them fondly years later.
But our discussion soon involved a serious examination of which movie best constituted a pure love story. Which one ultimately had the best? The one that taught something positive about love, where the characters were only influenced by themselves to fall in love, and that maybe taught a lesson to the lovers at some point or another?
And by that, we eventually landed on the following criteria:
- The characters fall in love with each other for who they are, not for what the other character thinks they are, or for anything specific about them.
- Neither character changes who they essentially are to be with the other person.
- The love story does not have any sort of weird undertones, mostly from our reality, as opposed to the reality of the story. I'll explain what I mean in a bit.
- The love story, by all accounts, is accepted by everyone except the villain, who in classic storytelling fashion, attempts to keep them apart.
Really, these reasons for failing to meet our expectations arose as we went through each movie one-by-one and realized some inherent flaw with the love story.
Let's take a look at the big 3. Of them, only one of them succeeds.
The Little Mermaid
She goes to the Sea Witch who grants her people legs, so that she may meet him. But she must give up her voice to do so.
Eric falls in love with her anyway (I mean, she is the prettiest), but lo, the Sea Witch is playing them all for fools. Her charade is brief however, and she is thwarted. Ariel and Eric live happily ever after.
Why it fails:
...They stay on land. She becomes not-a-mermaid to be with the one she loves. They don't discuss it, she just does it, which I guess is cool, but she changes something that is inherently part of who she is for someone. A stunt that works out for absolutely no one. It may be overthinking it, but the idea is to hold these stories up for scrutiny.
Ariel's falling in love with a statue first makes it verge on idealization, but it is actually the likeness of the statue that she meets, so I guess it evens out.
The story is fine for our reality, although it does bring up the Mermaid Problem. But this is Disney, so we'll pretend all they ever do is kiss in the Ever After.
And Urusla actually tries to marry the prince herself. Everyone else is cool with the prince.
But the characters are each living on a falsehood. Eric loves a girl who has legs, and Ariel is not a girl with legs, she's a mermaid. Therefore, it falls just short for the criteria.
Beauty and the Beast
But lo, the Beast is a man, cursed for his arrogance and selfishness. When Belle goes to rescue her father, she unselfishly trades her life for his and the Beast selfishly accepts her offer to be a prisoner instead. Because nothing improves your reputation like taking away the life and innocence of a young girl.
But the talking appliances have a plan. If he keeps the girl, he could get her to love him and break the curse. They have until rose-wilts o'clock to do so.
Of course she slowly gains an affection for the Beast, and soon realizes she is in love with him, especially as he learns to change his ways. But the townspeople try to kill him and only true love's kiss brings him back, and double brings him back, because he turns back into the Prince, who if I'm not mistaken is named Steve. Belle and Steve live happily ever after.
Why It Fails:
Shouldn't be too hard to explain. I mean, he's a dog. Sure, he's human underneath, but what good does that do? There's a lot of shady implications to this story as a whole: Belle could be under some sort of prisoner shock, Belle's into bestiality, the Beast is into really, really angry fetishes...
It's all a lot to ignore: the way in which they meet, the whole sequence of courting events, the suspension of disbelief...Beauty and the Beast pushes the envelope. And because everything talks, the envelope says, "No."
Now, I hate to go on an unrelated rant here, but on a side note, how does no one in the town remember the prince/the beast? The rose blooms until his 21st birthday. So, what is he in the prologue, like 18? Maybe, 16. Even if he's younger, let's say 10...That's only 11 years later! Now, when I was 21, I don't think I could have told you about everyone I'd met when I was 10, but I think I'd certainly remember THE PRINCE. That's the equivalent of forgetting who the president was when you were a kid.
And if he's a prince, where's the king and queen!? Why is that castle abandoned? Why do the townspeople who live right next to it, and I must assume were once governed by it, talk about it like it's been under the ownership of a heartless beast for a half a century? Almost like it's haunted?
I give the town no respect. They're adults, they should remember. But even Belle should probably vaguely remember they once had a prince in town! She was 6!
What the H, France? What the H?
Princess Jasmine is a beautiful princess who tires of the palace life and goes on the run. The two meet and there is a spark between them, but it is soon revealed she is the princess and Aladdin accepts that he has no chance with her, falling into the same pit of despair me and every other guy feels about a girl at every moment of our lives.
Aladdin is sent into the Cave of Wonders where he rescues a magical genie (you know, as opposed to all those non-magical genies out there) who turns him into a prince.
Prince Ali goes to win the hand of Jasmine, who is unimpressed, until one fateful ride on a magic carpet (you know, as opposed to all those non-magical carpets...oh wait). But when he's revealed as simply Aladdin, all hope seems to be lost. Until it's not, because Aladdin is smart and scrappy.
Jasmine convinces her father to change the law so she may marry anyone she chooses and Aladdin and Jasmine live happily ever after.
Why it SUCCEEDS:
Just follow the criteria:
- Characters fall in love for who they are, not for what the other character thinks they are, or for anything specific about them. Aladdin and Jasmine initially fall in love and stay in love with each other regardless of revelations. When they initially meet (if we are going off the idea that all Disney love stories are love at first sight) then Jasmine meets Aladdin as a street rat, and though Aladdin meets Jasmine in disguise, she changes nothing of her personality and eventually reveals herself, without having lied about who she is.
- Neither character changes who they essentially are to be with the other person. Aladdin initially pretends to be a prince because of a law forbidding Jasmine to marry anyone not of royalty. But not only does this fail, he also learns an important lesson: to beeeeeee himself. Seriously, he does what Little Mermaid does, being somebody he's not, and then learns that it's BAD. At the end of the story, he's himself and Jasmine loves him.
- The story lacks weird undertones, mostly from our reality. No bestiality, no idol worship, they're of a reasonable age as far as we know. They meet under normal circumstances, there's no creepy stalker vibe from Aladdin, and Jasmine has no daddy issues (I'm looking at you, Cinderella).
- The love story, by all accounts, is accepted by everyone except the villain, who in classic storytelling fashion, attempts to keep them apart. Jafar is the quintessential villain, who finds Aladdin's secret and drives the two apart. The Sultan has no qualms about Aladdin, except that he's at first bound by the law, which he soon realizes he can change.
Cinderella - Remember, Daddy issues?
Sleeping Beauty - If she's asleep, she can't say no!
Hunchback of Notre Dame - At least it teaches us that the ugly guy never gets the girl. That's the most realistic lesson you will ever, ever learn.
Pocahontas - Remember that she was 14 when the story is supposed to take place. Let's ignore the fact that the whole thing is grossly inaccurate, historically. But also, they don't really end up together at the end.
Hercules - Hot girl falls for the big guy. Sounds like high school to me.
Tarzan - Hot girl falls for the big guy and changes him by making him join society. Sounds like college to me.
Princess and the Frog - I have a problem with this one because the whole movie tends to lean the way of teaching us that if you go after true love, everything else will sort itself out, rather than going after your dreams and letting love sort itself out. While the romantic in me always says to go with what your heart says, if we're talking about the criteria and teaching a strong lesson, then Tiana should not have lost sight of what was actually important to her, because it had been important to her her whole life: owning that restaurant, fulfilling a dream, making her father proud.
Tangled - Can't really fault Tangled. The characters don't change for each other, they love each other despite revelations, and brunettes are better than blondes.
Rescuers Down Under - Bernard and Miss Bianca get engaged! Mice understand true love!