We often talk about the Disney Princesses and how god damn stupid they can be wanting to marry some guy they just met, but let’s take a second and shift our attention to the princes. Looking at them over time, I think it becomes clear that they become more complex over time and in a way that makes them more nefarious than their simpleton predecessors who just shared a song in the woods with their leading lady.
First, let me be the one to say I think the smartest prince is actually Hans. I know, I know, “but he’s such a total DICK,” and he is a dick. I’m not disputing that, but as we all well know there are plenty of brilliant but douchey people out there. What’s Hans supposed to do when he’s 14th in line for the throne and really wants to be a king? Sure his plan of killing everyone ahead of him in the line of succession could’ve worked in his own country, he didn’t need to bring it to Arendelle, but killing 13 people is a lot more suspicious than two sisters having a terrible tragic accident. You have to admit, he seemed like a totally decent guy (except for finishing my sandwiches because that shit don’t fly with me). Handing out cloaks, free food, and opening up the castle to cold people who were suffering at Elsa’s hand? Maybe he would’ve been a good ruler! Maybe just like Elsa’s lady status shouldn’t preclude her from being queen, Hans’s birth order shouldn’t stop him from ruling a country. But Hans is able to maintain two sides to his personality, he’s complicated, and that’s what helps him deceive Anna so well.
Aladdin follows a similar, albeit less nefarious, path of deception when he courts Jasmine as Prince Ali. Part of their relationship, though, could be seen as rooted in Aladdin’s desire to be less “street rat” and more “sultan’s palace.” His unwillingness to surrender his status as a Prince despite Genie’s assertions that it will never work out shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially when he knew about Jasmine’s rebelliousness and desire to slum it in the streets. What’s a guy to do when he wants to climb the socioeconomic ladder?
Second, let’s take a closer look at the Beast/Prince Adam or whatever the fuck his real name is and Gaston. Gaston’s the non-magical villain that no one really knows how to categorize him and I would posit that he and the beast are basically the same person and the moral of Beauty and the Beast is that when you have to choose between two douchebags, you pick the one with the castle and servants over the guy with the poor provincial town version of Kimmy Gibbler. Both of these men/animals/manimals use Belle’s father to try and coerce her into a relationship. They’re psychologically and at times verge on physically abusive. The only difference between the two of them is that the Beast does it first, so while Belle has the ability to say no to Gaston on multiple occasions and Gaston proves he’s more a jock than a reader/intellectual, the Beast comes out of the gate with “I have your father hostage, stay here and learn to love me. Also, stay out of the West Wing.” Belle essentially is inhabiting a world dominated by men and there are very few female characters outside Gaston’s fangirls and the inanimate objects that are gendered female and just about all of them are manipulating and trying to control her. Which then leads me to wonder, what’s so damn special about this chick?
Prince Phillip, God bless him, he’s more a traditional chivalry guy who saves the damsel in distress without first coercing her into a relationship or actively trying to deceive her in an attempt for a power grab. They met over a shared song in a forest surrounded by woodland creatures, this sounds pretty benign compared to Hans and the Beast and like something you might picture being a good idea in a fairy tale. But he’s not one of the brightest bulbs. Personally, I probably would’ve assured Maleficent that I really just met this chick, it was one song in the forest and nothing more, I mean, I’m willing to move on to someone else in lieu of fighting a giant dragon. But he’s simple. There’s nothing else to Phillip except what you see right at the start. The same can be said for Prince Charming; except when you think about it, Cinderella’s story depends on him but… not on him as a character. Just like women are in scarce supply in Beauty and the Beast, men are kind of lacking in Cinderella. Aside from the male gendered mice, Cinderella gets little to no exposure to men and instead has her life dominated by women. Aurora similarly spends the bulk of her time surrounded by women and the men are necessary but to some extent expendable. Phillip is a pair of lips to wake her up and Charming is a pair of hands to slip a shoe on her foot.
These early princesses both need men but their stories revolve around female protagonists (Sleeping Beauty is more about the fairies that shape that narrative than anyone else), not the men, which I find somewhat interesting. Men are necessary but entirely interchangeable and lacking any kind of distinction. One’s just as good as the other, which is why we can so easily forget their names or distinguishing features.
So basically, I need to spend less time thinking about Disney.