The Problem With Prince Charming

Disney Princes

Welcome Kristoff to the magical world of Disney’s Princes!


In light of the new edition to the Disney Prince family, I think it’s the right time to take our critical eyes off of the deeply controversial Disney Princesses and ask, “What about Prince Charming?” Just as the Princess is a role model for little girls, the Prince is a role model for little boys. Even if the little boys weren’t watching, the girls around them are, and through these films they are taught how to judge a man, and what to expect from love. Because they set expectations, it is important to look at the Disney Princes with the same interest as the Disney Princesses.

Much has been made of harmful roles placed on Disney heroines, but there is another side no one talks about. Sexism as it appears in the depiction of our male heroes can be even more dangerous than the sexist tropes of the beautiful distressed princess. The majority of gender roles forced upon men are not even considered problems.

As romanticized as the atypical male hero appears, there is no such thing as a “good” gender role. Even a gilded cage is still a cage. As writers, it is impossible to write completely void of tropes, but it is important to recognize when we are using them. Tropes can be cages for characters, their writers, and their audience. Since gender roles are assigned purely out of habit, writers must endeavor to question and break patterns of classical storytelling. That’s why it is important to recognize that Disney Princes, despite being better off than their distaff counterparts, can still harbor harmful ideologies.

Spoiler warnings: Frozen, Tangled

Prince Charming Has to Be a Handsome Prince


In film, there is a much greater diversity of body types among men than women. While watching Frozen, I literally gasped when full bodied, non comical women were dancing at the ball as just background characters. It is rare. However, just because there are more variations of male bodies presented, that doesn’t mean it’s considered okay to fall outside of what is deemed traditionally attractive. Nearly every Disney Prince is the token attractive male in their film. The variety of bodies: fat, thin, old, short, and so on, are there to illustrate that the Prince has no real competition from the men around him. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Snow White especially illustrate the importance of handsomeness when it comes to being the hero. The real heroes of those films, the Hunchback and the dwarves, don’t get win the girl in the end – they were too short and dumpy.

The exceptions to the token attractive male rule are Pocahontas, Princess and the Frog, Brave, and Frozen. Brave uses the handsome prince trope to illustrate the absence of a love interest by making the men in the film comically unattractive. In Pocahontas and Princess and the Frog, there were a lot more traditionally attractive men. In Pocahontas, only the film’s villains were ugly, and its opening song was dedicated to getting across that John Smith was unquestionably the alpha male, aka love interest. The main characters of Princess and the Frog spent the majority of the film as frogs, making the appearance of other attractive men less relevant. I have a theory that these two films had more attractive men as a result of the creative team wanting to avoid the trap of racist caricatures.

Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, and Frozen all had stories with two attractive men: Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right. I almost don’t count Gaston, since his character design is clearly not meant to be appealing to the audience. In all of these stories, Mr. Wrong must be removed. Disney does its best to keep their hero’s hands clean, so few princes actually kill Mr. Wrong; instead, a story convenience will remove him for the hero. But it doesn’t change the message that beauty is vitally important for the Prince as well as the Princess.

Princes Are Objectified


We most often hear the word objectified used to describe the use of a woman as nothing more than an object of desire; the reward for slaying the dragon. A character is objectified when they are not given given personality or consideration beyond the one purpose of furthering the protagonist’s story.

In Snow White and Cinderella, the Princes aren’t even given names. Both are desired by virtue of their status and looks, not their personality. This is perhaps the simplest criticism of the Prince Charming trope: just as girls are being told they must beautiful, boys are being told they must be rich, powerful and handsome. This is unquestionably destructive to both men and women.

The Little Mermaid is often called out for Ariel sacrificing her voice to be with a man, but that ignores Ariel’s obsession with walking on land and the fact that her father had just violently destroyed all of her most beloved possessions. Ariel falls in love with Eric the moment she sees him, quite probably because this is the first human she has seen up close. Eric is not a two dimensional character, but Ariel treats him like one. On board the ship, Eric is gifted a statue of himself in the classic heroic pose and Eric clearly doesn’t like it. The statue ends up sinking to the bottom of the ocean, where Ariel fawns over it. While unintentional I’m sure, the statue illustrates how Ariel sees him. He is a symbol of her ambition to go on land to be among the beautiful people. He is her ticket out of the sea; their entire romantic montage takes place against Ursula’s deadline. Ariel must seduce Eric within that time or lose her dream of living on land. When Ariel traded in her voice, she wasn’t just giving up her ability to speak – her act also shows how little importance she put on talking with him.

Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora are equally objectified in Sleeping Beauty, as neither of them are the protagonists. Phillip and Aurora are used as pawns in the conflict between the three fairies and Maleficent. Prince Phillip’s agency is usurped by the fairies, and he is used as a weapon to kill Maleficent in her dragon form.

Princes Must Make Sacrifices for Love


Whenever we talk about the damsel in distress, the emphasis is put on the loss of agency and power of the damsel. Disturbing, upsetting and frustrating as that is, I am frightened by the way we talk about the hero, in contrast, as being a golden role model for boys. It’s always the assumption that the princess is loved because she is beautiful, but often times she just is loved without comment as to why. Mulan is the one exception – a princess who has to prove herself worthy. The rest didn’t need to.

In contrast, the only Princes who didn’t have to prove themselves are the two nameless Princes from Snow White and Cinderella. All of the other Princes had to prove themselves by fighting, giving up their dreams, or sacrificing their lives. The Beast and Flynn Rider make the ultimate sacrifice and are luckily resurrected.

To be loved, a prince has to be willing to kill or die. As most heroes have traditionally been models for warriors, that’s not really surprising. It frustrates me that in the discussion of heroes and damsels, we dismiss any assertion that violence is undesirable. The damsel in distress is not just about using women as trophies. It is also sets the idea that to be worthy of affection, a man must kill and be willing to be killed.

Some of the most recent Princes have added a new sacrifice, their dreams. This is usually colored as them having to mature. Flynn Rider and Naveen had their own plans, but the moral of their stories was to put their Princesses’ dreams before their own.

How We Are Moving Forward


Frozen is another step forward in the right direction, following Mulan and Brave towards breaking the long standing fairy tale conventions of the knight in shining armor. The film plays out almost satirically, as it teases the audience with its twice over bait and switch. Frozen leads the audience down the familiar path of “Prince Charming is the answer to all girls’ problems,” and then does a dramatic 180°, resolving the obstacles through sisterly love. The boy even asks for her consent to kiss her – how awesome is that?

Kristoff still technically rescues Anna, several times, but the pivotal breaking of the curse and saving of the kingdom was all done through princess power.

Frozen and Brave are clearly responses to the criticisms of the knight in shining armor trope. Merida’s three suitors, Hans, and Kristoff are used in these films to illustrate the princess’s independence through their unimportance to her. Even so, neither of these films offered male role models that broke with the established trends. The men are still evaluated based on their abilities as warriors, rescuers and their willingness to sacrifice.

To address the dissatisfaction with the Princes of the past, Frozen gives us Prince Hans. Anna is actually punished for falling for the old Prince Charming act. Hans is a full on vilified Prince Charming. Unlike Gaston, this handsome villain is legitimately handsome. He couldn’t look more like a Disney Prince if he tried. Frozen is clearly declaring that this trope is done.

Despite all the movies since, Aladdin remains at the top of the Disney Princes when it comes to providing a male role model. Every Disney Princess film has the pivotal moment where the Prince and Princess fall in love. The common ways are while singing, dancing, or after rescue. Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love while talking to each other and sharing their dreams. Aladdin is a nonviolent Prince who solves his problems by being clever. He starts out by aspiring to be the alpha male to prove he is worthy. Jaffar has a similar goal, but to the extreme. Through defeating Jaffar, Aladdin discovers he doesn’t need to change at all. He doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to deserve a princess. We need more Princes like him who challenge the expectations of male heroes.

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  1. Mary Humphrey Baldridge

    Oh, Lillian, this so well written, so well thought out. A dissertation of sorts on–of all things–Disney girls and boys. Applicable in every middle and high school.

    Congratulations, xxx

  2. Emily

    Pretty good observations.
    However, I gotta disagree with one sentence here: “Just as the Princess is a role model for little girls, the Prince is a role model for little boys.”

    That is the mindset of our culture, but it’s one that parents need to challenge. The princess characters (and female characters in general) should be role models for little boys just like they are for little girls. I think this TED talk concerning the subject is spot on:

  3. Spencer

    Great article Lillian

    The use of violence to prove ones “value” and “manhood” becomes very interesting, E.G. kill the dragon get the gal. In the traditional model one dispenses with the acting alpha male in various ways and is “rewarded”. The alpha male role is also often more a birthright which much be reacquired….. also problematic.

  4. Raven (yes, really)

    Excellent article, and one I just had my daughter (13 years) read. I’d only argue one point, and that’s to enhance Kristoff’s move away from the Prince Charming trope even further by pointing out that he:

    *is socially awkward
    *thinks little of human social statuses and dishonesty in interactions
    *has a weird, chosen family, rather than a birthright
    *has a weird, chosen family who treat him well and encourage him to love openly and freely
    *doesn’t instantly fall for the princess; she has to earn his affections, too
    *isn’t as subjectively “handsome” (in the Disney sense) as his counterpart, Hans
    *is more subject to classist, rather than sexist tropes, as he wants to refuse the princess outright, but being poor and unable to find food or supplies, has to accept the deal with the princess in order to gain what he needs
    *doesn’t give up his dreams, because in the end he gets the girl AND the sled for the ice slinging business he loves doing

    Really, Frozen broke so many MORE tropes after Brave’s own slashing of traditional Disney plotlines, I spent a lot of the film with my jaw dropped (while chasing a speed-crawling eight month old up and down the aisles). That I saw it with my sisters (11 and 9 years respectively), as well as my own kids, made it all the more meaningful.

  5. Emily

    Awesome article, but I have to disagree with your take on the messages Frozen is sending.

    At first glance, the sisters beating the storm and Anna’s curse seems good, but it’s incredibly tokenistic. It’s as though the writers started planning out the plot and towards the end went ‘oh shit, we better include some girl power to keep the feminists happy…’

    Kristoff saves Anna a ridiculous amount of times, she’s both physically (her curse) and emotionally (her silly, flighty behaviour) impaired, needing a strong man to guide her (literally, Kristoff guided her to the north Mountain) to her goals. She’s incapable of anything of merit herself (even her father agrees when he has the troll take her memories of Elsa’s powers away).

    Elsa’s just as bad, though she deals with more mature female stigmas. Elsa was just one big advert for how freely expressed female sexuality is bad bad bad.

    Was horrified by this movie. The 5 year old girl I nanny has one more weak set of “heroines” to get harmful gender ideas from. Thanks Disney.

    • Paul

      Really? Elsa is all ABOUT why locking up your emotions (and presumably sexuality) is bad. Theirs a reason her trump song is all about being free to be herself

    • Space queen Cherry Puff

      What heck does Elsa have to do with expressing female sexuality?

      • Cay Reet

        You can see Elsa as a symbol for depression (don’t show any feelings, keep it all inside).

        But you can also see her as a symbol of female sexuality. She suppresses all of her (sexual) feelings and needs until they break out and feels much better when she’s open with them. Just as women have been taught for a long time to ignore their own sexuality and just seen themselves as a means for men to get theirs out.

        Given the fact that Elsa is the oldest female Disney lead (she’s a queen, so she technically doesn’t qualify as a princess) at 21, she is a good one to put this spin on.

  6. Jack Marshall

    Great analysis. Thanks for making the important point that the Prince Role was being overlooked, as well as the importance of the opposite gender as the model for attraction.
    I would guard the original story, of course, and its historical perspectives, but when fleshing out plot and characters for modern audiences (*ahem* altering the story greatly, often necessary to get rid of a dismal ending), it isn’t right to push them into a faddish and tropic mold.

  7. Bill

    Now if only we could have a Disney film in which BOTH the prince and the princess have competence and agency and in which gender equality is treated as a given rather than as a focus of the storyline!

  8. Danielle

    Excellent article. Though, the bit about personal sacrifice for the male lead to get the girl is, unfortunately, not just in Disney-type fairy tales. You also see the “He must be willing to sacrifice X beloved thing/important goal/his very life” cliche quite often in romantic films aimed at grown women.

    A very glaring example of this is in “Think Like A Man”. In this movie, Gabriel Union’s character is dating a man that she wants to force to marry her already since they’ve been living together pretty much since they graduated college. In a “bold move” to force him to “grow up”, Union’s character goes ahead redecorating their apartment…With the first step being that she packs up all of his “geeky” stuff (his anime posters, his action figures, his collectables, etc.) and puts it in storage so that she can make a “grown up apartment” out of the place.

    The entire thing sends the message that it’s 100% O.K. for a woman to stomp all over a man’s hobbies and personal feelings just to force him to be the “Prince Charming” that she desires. Mind you, if the roles were reversed and it was a geeky woman whose more “serious” boyfriend packed up all of her stuff as part of a plan to make their place look more “grown up”, he would immediately be called out as a male chauvinist jerk whom she should immediately abandon. This “he has to drop his hobbies/dreams just because he’s in a relationship with me and I want 99% of his waking energy and attention” attitude is detrimental to both men and women because not only does it give women and girls unrealistic expectations of what an adult relationship should be like (“If he truly loves me, he’ll spend his every waking moment just trying to fulfill MY desires, whims, and expectations.” or “He doesn’t have to be my perfect match to begin with, because I can force him to change into the man I want by making him choose between personal happiness and having a mate.”), but it also sends men and boys a horrible message too: “Being in a committed relationship with a woman means NO MORE FUN. Women (especially GOOD, ATTRACTIVE, WORTHWHILE, WIFE-MATERIAL women) HATE ALL FUN and EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. So, if you want a wife, wave goodbye forever to everything you love except televised sports…which they’ll probably just let you have for tradition’s sake.”

    Personally, I hate that message because it promotes an incredibly unhealthy double-standard. Just as unhealthy as the “A woman’s not successful until she has a man” message that also pops up too often in fiction aimed at women.

    • Kieran

      Yes. And the “he doesn’t have to be a perfect match because I can fix him” line of thought also encourages the line of thought that women can and should “fix” bad men through their “natural maternal instincts”. In reality, that line of thought leads to abusive relationships. Because women are just looking for partners to love them then, as opposed to partners that are actually good for them and pay attention to their needs.
      This is one of the many reasons I don’t like Beauty and the Beast- the whole plot hinges on Belle “fixing” the Beast even though he’s not a good partner for her- he doesn’t care about her needs until she makes him care-it’s all HIM HIM HIM up until “Something There”.

  9. Hannah Killian

    I would like to point out that Eugene sacrificing himself for Rapunzel was a HUGE plot point in his character development. I would also like to point out that a man SHOULD be willing to die for the woman he loves. That’s one of the reasons why I liked Tangled so much: Eugene is the first Disney Prince who showed that a man should be 100% willing to die for the woman he loves. And as long as it’s done right, I don’t see anything wrong with the guy saving the girl trope at all actually. Because sometimes it HAS to be in the story.

    • anon

      Why should a man have to die for someone else? As in have to? Your attitude devalues human life, and illustrates the problem with these tropes. Should women also be willing to die for their men? Maybe you believe that about love, and if that is indeed their choice, then that is their choice. But it has to be just that. A choice. In my opinion, unless you are married to someone, you shouldn’t die for them. Obviously you want to make sure they don’t die, but you shouldn’t die for them if you can help it.

      See, if I die for someone, what if the situation were reversed. Would they really choose to die for me? Honestly, most of the time, I think not. If it was someone that I really truly cared about, who I knew would do the same for me, then I would do it maybe. But only if I felt that it was worth it.

      • Cay Reet

        In the scene above, though, Rapunzel is prepared to not die, admittedly, but sacrifice any kind of future she might have, just for the chance to heal Eugene. She agrees to stay with Gothel and keep her young and beautiful for as long as it takes (read: until she might die or her powers might fail), if she’s allowed to heal Eugene and he is allowed to leave without her. Agreeing to a life in slavery after she’s tasted freedom might even be harder than to die for someone. After all, death is the end, who knows how long Rapunzel’s magic hair will keep her alive?

    • Rainey H.

      I pretty much agree with you–and this definitely seems to be the case in the healthiest relationships I know IRL–but I have issues with how it’s portrayed in fiction.

      – Generally, within a given story it’s a one-way street: either the guy is willing to give up everything for the girl, or the girl is for the guy, but not both. “Hercules” might be an exception, but frankly I lost track of what the hell was going on towards the end, so it’s hard for me to say who was sacrificing what for whom. (Incidentally, I would also like more stories where the guy is willing to give up everything for the guy, or the girl for the girl–and that can be platonic, romantic, familial, whatever–but that’s a whole ‘nother country to explore.)

      – Too much emphasis is placed on big, melodramatic sacrifices and not on compromise, which is both far healthier and more relatable to the everyday dynamics of real-world relationships. (And the next person who tells me “compromise doesn’t make for a compelling story” is getting compromised right in the mouth with a rolled-up newspaper. If Judd Apatow can do it, nobody else has an excuse.)

      Can anyone name me some counterexamples? Preferably some non-R-rated ones, so that the people who need these messages the most can actually be exposed to them?

  10. Hannah Killian

    I don’t see a problem with a guy being handsome. So what? Does it matter? Nooooo. Isn’t that the whole lesson of Beauty and the Beast? That looks don’t matter?

    And I’m pretty sure Aladdin and Jasmine are not the only Prince and Princess who fell in love while talking about their dreams and stuff. Eugene and Rapunzel did it too. Not to mention that even though Rapunzel and Jasmine were their new dreams, Eugene and Aladdin still got to live in a castle, just like they stated at the start of the film.

    Not only that, but I don’t understand why “To be loved, a prince has to be willing to kill or die.” because they all fall in love with the girl *before* that happens. Also, Eugene had no way of knowing cutting Rapunzel’s hair would kill Gothel. Just saying.

    I also would like to point out one more thing: All couples should be willing to put the other’s need above their own. That’s what love is. It’s selfless. Eugene and Rapunzel were willing to put each other before themself. Beast was willing to let Belle go home so she could take care of her dad. In Mulan 2, Shang lets go of Mulan’s hand at the bridge.

    P.S. Where do people get the idea that Kristoff isn’t attractive? I know looks don’t matter, but still.

    • Cay Reet

      Eugene at least hoped it would release the magic from Rapunzel’s hair – which would render her useless for Gothel and thus probably set her free. No, he didn’t know Gothel would freak out, fall over the strands of hair and do a freefall out of the window. But since Gothel never allowed the hair to be cut, there was a descent chance that cutting it might interfere with the magic.

      If Belle fell in love with the Beast as it was, then suddenly being with a handsome prince should actually have been something of a disappointment. You fall in love with a guy who has personality (though not necessarily manners) and suddenly you’re stuck with a beef cake.

      • Grey

        In at least one telling of the story, Belle is a bit disappointed with Beast transforming, and he decides to grow a beard. (And in one of the stage play versions, the actor who plays Gaston also plays the Prince.)

    • Greg

      Handsomeness in and of itself isn’t a problem. It’s when ALL the heroes are handsome that it creates an unfair expection, as well as being tiresome and cliché. That’s what we’re talking about here.

    • Kobayashi

      >All couples should be willing to put the other’s need above their own.

      Yeah, this statement totally doesn’t carry implications about unhealthy relationships.

  11. Devlin Blake

    Actually, I agree with you on Eric. It’s a horrible role model for little girls and boys. (even though this was my favorite movie as a child.)

    People always say ‘Ariel gave up everything for him’ and ‘he was a fool not to recognize her’

    Why would he recognize her? He was drowning and only saw her for a moment. Songs make more of an impression on us than pictures, sound memory is very strong.

    I always felt like Ariel was just using Eric to get away from her own life. (because maybe her father wouldn’t after if she was married? Which just feeds into the whole ‘women belong to the man they’re with’ thing.) She didn’t know anything about him really.

  12. I. A PPP

    I would probably agree with the comments above – this is very well written and thought through. However, in my opinion (which is therefore totally subjective!) some points you’ve made in this article are quite dubious. I’m taking about

    • I. A PPP

      (Sorry for the too early submitting, my mistake) I’m taking about the stated must-have attractiveness of princes and their, in your opinion, requirement to make sacrifices for love. In the first one, even though I totally think you are right there, I’ve got a question: knowing that Disney’s target audience is mostly children, what would you show them instead that will make a better role model? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not a huge fan of the idea of showing kids “the reality”. Childhood is an innocent age and it’s all about it. Children’ll have plenty of time to learn about the reality, starting from the teen age, why ruin a fairytale for them, even if it’s too perfect?
      Coming to the second point, what is wrong in the idea of a love-sacrifice? Media gives us a great opportunity to sympathize with the characters and lean (talking about children, but sometimes not only them) and/or remember that love and relationship is not only about the pleasure and all things nice, it is also about what we do for each other (even though it truly is an extreme example).
      And yes, violence is undesirable and extreme, but I just think (again very subjectively) that it helps with that missing bit of reality, at least a bit. Because despite their rarity (thanks goodness) there are situations in life when you will have to participate in a fight to protect either your family or property etc. And there are wars, terrible wars that possibly, touch the wood, will never happen in our or any other country, but they could. When you have a war you kill or die, with rare exceptions.
      This is violence, this is horrible, but all people need to be aware of it. And, to not be inconsequential, I’d say that cartoons etc. nowadays do not provide quite a reasonable amount of this violent “kill or die for your loved ones” thing which I think is just an alright dose of bitterness in a honey barrel of childhood.

      • I. A PPP

        Found a mistake: they DO provide enought*

  13. I. A PPP

    And yes, most of the soldiers are still men, so…

  14. Melissa

    I agree to a point with this, but there are movies with “princesses” that are less popular or maybe overlooked in this article. Maybe people forgot about them, maybe they didn’t but I think a couple bear mentioning. Hercules has a strong female character in my mind. Megara isn’t looking to get a man, her dreams don’t revolve around a “one true love”. She is under the thumb of Hades because she made a mistake and sacrificed herself for someone she loved. It turned out badly for her and to earn her freedom she has to work for the big bad of the movie. She isn’t looking to fall in love, is frustrated when she realizes she has fallen for the hero, and in the end sacrifices to save the hero. In the end, Hercules does exactly the same thing for her, they both make a sacrifice. Maybe the idea that you have to be willing to die for love is overworked in stories, but the idea here, at least on Meg’s end, she knows that her dying breaks the hold that Hades has on Hercules. She is saved at the end of the story and the ending shows really that both she and Hercules have found their home – he wanted to belong somewhere, and she found someone who loved her for who she was.

    In a less remembered example, Journey to Atlantis, the hero is a nerdy bookworm who gets the bad-ass warrior in the end. Mylo and Kida fall for each other the same way that Aladdin and Jasmine do, by getting to know each other and talking. He is definitely not your standard prince.

    Those are just my thoughts on the subject. I think that the farther along in time we go, the more we expect of our characters, and I do think we’re getting there. We are getting stronger female characters, and some of the gender “rules” in the film are changing because we as an audience ask that of our film makers.

    • Cay Reet

      Like Lilo, Kida and Meg are not considered official Disney ‘Princesses’. That’s why they’re omitted here and in most princess lists. Mulan actually is a stretch herself, neither she nor Shan are nobles.

  15. 3Comrades

    I think we need more men and women with their own goals, I think the interaction of those goals make the best stories. I think something that can fix a lot of stories is not having a solely “love interest” role. Not get rid of romance stories but always have the love interest fill an additional part of the story than just the love interest and they become deeper. I don’t care if it is the comedic relief, the foil, the mentor, the sidekick, or even a henchmen giving the love interest a secondary role to just being loved fleshes them out and makes them more three dimensional and more likable in addition to being better role models.

    • Cay Reet

      I agree with you, but looking to fairy-tale-based stories for depth and variety probably isn’t going to lead anywhere.
      Nevertheless it would be good to see more diverse and interesting characters in movies for children.

  16. Cay Reet

    I think one important point about Disney movies (at least the traditional ‘Christmas’ movies released towards the end of a year to draw the family into movie theatres towards Christmas) is that they are geared towards girls. It shows very clearly in the merchandise, but also in the way they all centre on a female lead (the princess).

    Since they are not geared towards teenagers or older women, the love story has to be a chaste one, a platonic one. The pretty princess and the attractive prince make the central pair (except for Brave, which is a very unusual Disney movie). I could point out that love plays a very minor role in the darkest Disney movie up to date (Taran), but that one is just as much an ‘odd one out’ as Brave. Both tropes, that the woman has to be attractive and that the man has to be heroic and handsome, are damaging.

    However, they both are rooted in the fairy tales those movies (except for Brave, Taran, or Pocahontas) are based on. In fairy tales, the beautiful are good and the ugly are evil. The beautiful might pretend to be ugly for whatever reason or might have been cursed to look ugly, but in the end they will be revealed as beautiful and good. In reverse, the evil might look attractive (the queen from Snow White comes to mind), but is in the end unveiled to be ugly. Ugly characters (or rather less traditionally attractive characters) which are not evil (as mentioned, the humpback or the dwarves) can’t be love interests, they only serve the story as helpers for the ‘real’ prince.

    Therefore, what applies to the princess also applies to the prince – both are caught in the mechanics of the story they’re part of. The princess is supposed to fall for the prince, not for his less-than-attractive servant or one of the dwarves she lives with. The prince is supposed to give his life (either directly or by sacrificing his dream) for the princess. He has no other agenda than that in the end.

    It’s nice to see the more modern movies start to change that, but as long as the movies are based on fairy tales, it will always be present to a certain degree.

    • 3Comrades

      I think you are underestimating both fairy tales and how much these stories already depart from the originals. The first stories have a great deal more unsavory elements and while they may be based on fairy tales, every single disney story has been a product of it’s time more so than making a perfect re-enactment.

      In fact there have been some incredibly complex takes on fair tales due to being more archetypal, nearly any type of story can fit in it’s paradigms. It’s why it is so popular after so many years. Red Riding Hood can be nearly any genre with an infinite amount of simplicity or complexity.

      • Cay Reet

        Red Riding Hood isn’t a good example when it comes to Disney, though. Almost none of the movies have been based on fairy tales centred around ‘normal’ people, only around those centred around princesses.

        Mulan and Frozen are different there and both show a much more self-reliant personality for their female leads. Brave or Atlantis are not based on fairy tales at all and have different female leads as well. Hunchback of Notre Dame and Taran are centred on the male lead instead and have different females, too. Yet the Hunchback isn’t ending up with the female lead and the end of Taran suggests more of a friendship which might turn into love over time.

        Yes, naturally all movies are also a product of their time, which might explain why the ‘older’ princes (in Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty) are much more formulaic than the ‘newer’ ones. The underlying archetype of a princess and a prince from the fairy tale genre are still working though.

        Red Riding Hood is indeed a very versatile tale, see Red Hot Riding Hood (old Fleischer cartoon), Hoodwinked, or the version from Kaori Yuki’s Ludwig Revolutions. But Red is no fairy tale princess, she is a normal girl and doesn’t have to fit the princess mould.

        • 3Comrades

          I’d argue that the most adaptable and the one given the most remakes/ and wide variety of takes would be Cinderella. So much so we see it outside the fantasy genre.

          Also, we are talking about fairy stories. I don’t think that means we should separate those based on Princes/princesses or not, but definitely agree Black Cauldron, Hunchback, Brave, and Atlantis are not based on fairy stories.

          But let’s take Princess ad the Frog, which gives both the male and female lead a time to shine and they don’t achieve their dreams in a stereotypical fashion. While he does have to give something up, she shows willingness to give up too. And both are encouraged to grow and do so together. Naveen isn’t objectified by Tiana, and while he is handsome, I feel this is a problem with hollywood at large becoming more and more unwilling to have even unattractive male leads.

          • Cay Reet

            Naveen is not wanted by Tiana at the beginning, which explains, I think, why she doesn’t objectify him. He, however, first tries to objectify her, looking for a princess to take the curse off him. The fact that they share the curse then makes them grow closer and I agree that they reach an end where they both would sacrifice their dreams for another.
            However, despite the fairy tale it’s based on, Princess and the Frog does not have a princess for the female lead … Tiana is not a princess, not even rich. She is a working girl. As a such, she no longer has to confirm to princess standards. Just as Anna was turned into a princess (in the Snow Queen, the female lead is just a girl looking for her best friend who was captured by the queen), Tiana was turned from a princess into a commoner.

            I agree that Cinderella is highly versatile as base for a story, too … but mostly because it’s a rags-to-riches story in a way (something Hollywood is fond of). I always enjoyed a Tzech version of it most, which portraits Cinderella not as meek girl who needs protection, but more as a tomboy who takes on the prince as an equal (of course they still end up in love and married, but they give the impression of being equals).

  17. Kora

    “Flynn Rider and Naveen had their own plans, but the moral of their stories was to put their Princesses’ dreams before their own.”

    This statement is true, and I get the point that good relationships are not built upon one person sacrificing their future plans for the other person, but let me just say…Flynn and Naveen’s plans were in no way, shape, or form good life goals.

    Flynn’s plan was to just keep on thieving, and then running, and then thieving again, until (presumably) he got caught or killed or gathered enough money for a personal island to live on. He said that was his dream, to be rich, and he was trying to achieve it in really dishonest, illegal way. It’s a good thing he found Rapunzel.

    Naveen’s plan was to find a rich young lady to marry, so that he wouldn’t have to get a job. When Tianna comes along, he realizes that he needs to grow up if he ever wants to be truly happy with anyone. This is actually a good representation of some situations in life. This happened to my grandfather–he was a beach bum until my grandma came along.

    These situations are *correctly* colored as the princes having to mature, and it’s important to recognize that, because both people in a couple have to mature for their relationship to mature. I will admit it is a little overused, and a little sexist, but I won’t say it’s inaccurate.

    It would be interesting to see the roles reversed, though; if it has to be used, have the girl be the immature one instead of the guy.

  18. Anisa Mincy

    I would like to just say that Flynn Rider making that sacrifice and his good looks are important to his character. His looks feed into his ego and ultimately make him who he is. The fact of the matter is Flynn is not Prince Charming. I think they made that pretty clear in the first conversation he had with Rapunzel. Thought that I would just throw that out there.

    • Cay Reet

      Flynn is a little different from the regular Prince Charming, in so far as he’s neither a prince nor does he really qualify as a good guy (meaning a morally good person, not ‘being totally evil’ – he’s more grey in that aspect). Yet, it is still a sacrifice which the prince has to make for his princess (assuming that cutting off Rapunzel’s hair will make it impossible for her to heal him, so he will die but she will be free, because she’s useless to Gothel without the magic hair). The sacrifice itself is a bit of a difficult trope when it comes to the male lead of a fairy tale and Flynn fits that trope as well.

      In a way, he is also the Prince Charming to Rapunzel. He shows her there are other people in the world. He leads her out of her tower and helps her have fun out in the world with him. He’s no prince and he certainly has a lot to learn (like Naveen, Disney’s male lead have gotten more complex recently), but he fits the role of Prince Charming for the story.

  19. Dernhelm

    It’s a decent article, but i strongly disagree with the notion that the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty are the real protagonists, and not the princess literally in the title. Yes, they are more active characters and have more agency than both prince Philip and Aurora put together, but it’s Aurora and Philip the plot is centered on, the story begins with Auroras christening, it ends with her marrying Philip and all the major characters motivations revolve around Aurora, all the fairies actions are centered on helping Aurora and they have no scenes that doesn’t relate to their relationship to her.

    Basically, as fun as the fairies are, they are mentor characters, not the protagonists, and calling them that would be like calling Dumbledore the protagonist of the Harry Potter franchise, because any argument on the fairies, like being more capable, using the protagonist as their pawn or having more agency would apply just as much on him.

  20. Cay Reet

    Apparently, Kristof continues to be the Best Disney Prince (TM) in the sequel to Frozen (haven’t seen it yet, but it has been discussed).

    When Anna needs him, he turns up, but instead of trying to take control or sideline her, he asks her to tell him what she needs him to do. He gives her control and shows that he trusts her decisions.

  21. Jay Saenz

    Great Post. I watched a lot of people critizing the Maniac Pixie Dream Girl trope but you are the first person I could find that challenge the double standard and critize the Prince Charming trope. People critize MPDGs because the male writers use the female character to make the male protagonist grow in an unrealistic way…however nobody in the media is critic of the Handsome Rich Dream Husband that all the chick-flicks and romantic novels use to make the female protagonist achieve her ultimate fantasy, regardless of her merits. So men cannot fantasize about their dream girl but women can…double standards and sheet hypocrisy.

    • Cay Reet

      I agree with you in general, but I want to point out that for quite a long while in human history, catching a husband who could care for you was a necessity for most women. The Handsome Rich Dream Husband is the man who will make sure you never have to worry about money again and can lead a calm life. He, on the other hand, gets a wife who can bear him an heir (a necessity for every man, especially if he had means). The deal here was always two-sided – both parties got what they wanted.

      The main problem with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, on the other hand, is that she is not only pretty and interesting, but also only focused on making the male protagonist’s life better. She doesn’t get anything out of it.

      • Jay Saenz

        Thanks for the reply. I get your point about the MPDG not getting anything out of a relationship with an unactractive and boring male character… it’s unrealistic and just bad writing. However I disagree that the Prince Charming gets a benefit out of his relationship with the female lead…Think about Pretty Woman…what benefit did Richard Gere got from dating Julia Roberts? Julia was kind of MPDG but he was Rich, Handsome and Interesting…Ask a man if you think that having children is everything for us…you are wrong… it’s important to some men…but not all. Being a mother is very important for many women and a smart and responsible woman will try to create a family with a man able to provide for her and her children…so if you are conservative person…you are right. What about those that want something beyond money and status…like companionship, like trust, loyalty… something that requires a real chemistry between both parties…you will be surprised about how many men look for that in a relationship and part of the appeal of the MPDG, at least for me… it’s the fact that a woman can see the potential in me and help me develop it… through that unique chemistry. It’s about building something together… unfortunately that concept is dead on our current year.

        • Cay Reet

          I referred to social structures of the past which play into our expectations. The MPDG has no equivalent in fairy tales or legends, the Handsome Rich Husband does.

          Yes, in modern stories, the only thing the handsome husband gets out of a relationship with the female lead of a romance is having a relationship (which is something both get out of the relationship, so nothing special for him). That puts him very much into the same shoes as the MPDG.

          However, if you take Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, you very much have Julia Roberts’ character as the MPDG and Gere as the (not quite as boring) main character. It is Gere who changes throughout the story, learning that money isn’t everything, ending the story with turning his back on his previous life and career. The romantic thing for women is that the poor prostitute (and that’s very much the lowest tier, as far as society is concerned) gets the rich man. But the story itself is that the rich man is changed by meeting with the poor prostitute. As a matter of fact, most of the romantic stories with the rich husband are stories where the rich husband, through contact with the poor(er) female lead learns that money isn’t everything and there are better ways to live. The only difference between the MPDG and those female leads is that they at least get a rich husband out of the deal – unlike the MPDG who often is with a ‘loser’ who won’t become rich all in a sudden from being with her. Those stories are usually ‘a good woman can make a man better’ stories – which is actually a pretty toxic trope, too, because it puts the duty of bettering the man on the woman and not on himself.

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