All right princess?
Pleasing all of the boys all of the time? Tara Brady on how being a Disney princess just got tougher
And Oscar-nominated composer Alan Menken on how Joni Mitchell was his muse for Rapunzel
ONCE UPON a time, you knew were you stood with a Disney princess. Pale, passive and rarely the brightest little pixie in the forest, a Disney princess could be relied on to sit tight, surrounded by woodland critters, and sing cheerily whatever capricious fate might hurl from a nearby toadstool.
If, like Snow White, she found herself playing skivvy and den mother to seven freakishly tiny and unmarriageable gentlemen then la-di-dah, just whistle while you work. If, like Cinderella, she found herself stripped and brutalised by her stepsisters, then stay calm and don’t panic: magical assistance and financial stability are on the way.
Life for a post-war Disney princess was simple. The twin virtues of patience and housework would never go unrewarded, and the universe revolved around a single harmonious refrain: get prince, get ring on finger, live happily ever after.
By 1990, the House of Mouse, though never minded to go Angela Carter on its source material, called time on the somnambulant damsels of the studio’s golden age. The second wave of Disney princesses didn’t snore through the picture like Sleeping Beauty. They were feisty like Belle, cunning like Jasmine, transvestite like Mulan or ginger like Ariel. The New Model Princess Army – bolstered by recent ethnic recruits Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana – was multicultural, multiracial and almost always pretty in pink.
They didn’t mope around waiting for their prince to come – they actively engineered their own happily-every-afters.
Nobody was going to mistake these spunky new Disney heroines for Valerie Solanas – there is, after all, only so much you can do with lady role models from feudal times – but the window dressing was appreciated. The public adored the new breed of lippy-ifunreconstructed-meringue-wearing princess. Disney’s animation wing, after decades in the doldrums, sprang back in to life with a brace of box-office smashes.
Fairy stories were once again synonymous with their rosy Disney interpretations; in the late 1990s Warner Bros had a crack at the princess market with Anastasia and The King and I, to little avail. Nobody could touch the company with the pink Bavarian castle logo for old-fashioned musical numbers and cartoon royalty.
There was more. In 1999 Disney’s new chairman of consumer products, Andy Mooney, stopped off at a Disney on Ice show to find that all the little ticketholders were dressed as Disney princesses. Crucially, they were wearing generic costumes. The Disney Princess franchise was launched at Disneyland boutiques within the year. Some $5 billion later, it remains the corporation’s fastest-growing brand, selling vitamins, magic wands, stationery, pyjamas, wallpaper, DVDs, dolls, bandages, video games and, for the older princesszilla, wedding dresses.
No wonder the studio is always on the lookout for a stray fable and a princess in