There’s a big debate regarding the Disney Princess Franchise about whether it’s good for women or not.

disney princesses

Many see the franchise as upholding outdated gender ideals.

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Many see the characters and their stories to be superficial to the point of insult.

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Personally, I don’t really understand the debate because the characters and their stories all seem so different to me.  The princesses come off the kind of characters everyone will connect to in a different way.  For each person who can only see Cinderella’s message as “be passive and wait for your prince to sweep you off your feet”, there’s someone else out there who focuses on Cinderella’s positive attitude in the face of adversity or the simple idea that even the worst circumstances don’t have to be permanent.  This discussion definitely deserves it’s own post, but the topic has been on my mind lately because of the odd way it’s seemed to split its audience in half.

That said, I personally never really connected with the Disney Princesses as characters.  But not because I, as a guy, cannot connect to female characters.  On the contrary, I am a person and female characters are also people–thus, we have a connection.

So:

What ARE the Disney Princesses?

Iconic female characters with timeless stories.

And if that’s what they’re supposed to be, didn’t they leave out like a TON of characters?

THUS–for all those who ARE upset about the representation of women in fiction OR who just could never connect to the Disney Princess Franchise, I propose a NEW list!  I give you:

Princess Banner

~~~~ <3 <3 <3 ~~~~

Schala-Princess

– Schala Zeal from Chrono Trigger

What I like about this character is her will to act in the face of an evil she cannot stop.  It doesn’t come from strength–she’s not a strong character and cannot stand up for herself.  Most people would let that prevent them from EVER acting, but where she sees an opportunity, she still acts.

From a writing perspective, this complexity of weakness and action is BRILLIANT.  It comes across as simple and pure without feeling superficial or Mary Sue.  And what impresses me even more is how sparingly they used her in the story.  For a character of her complexity, she plays a disproportionately small role, which left such a mystique to her character a HUGE fanbase grew around her–VERY rare for a minor character.

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Dany-Princess

– Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (aka Song of Ice and Fire) –

Rarely have I ever seen more extreme character development.  This is a character who completely and utterly turned around her own awful situation.  And she didn’t just undo the bad, she took the reins herself and USED her circumstances to her advantage.

What impressed me as a writer is how hopeless her situation FELT, which made the turnaround all the more extreme.  It’s too easy to halfheartedly create a hopeless situation that you KNOW is going to change.  Martin used the perfect mix of the outside factors and the character’s personality to make the situation truly feel inescapable, and then he brought her out of it in a way that felt TOTALLY natural.  Amazing.

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San-princess

– San from Princess Mononoke

San is on a beautiful journey of self discovery.  She knows who she is.  She knows it to her core–she’s a wolf.  But over the course of the story, she realizes that who she is was merely who she wanted to be.  And rather than this crisis of identity crushing her, she keeps fighting and finds her place in the world.

San perfectly represents the complexity of the warrior personality.  At first, we see her as a savage.  We don’t understand her.  We only see violence.  She IS an animal to us.  Then we learn that she’s just fighting her own war, for her own loved ones.  She’s no more savage than those she fights against.  We see that she still has humanity, and in the end, we see that that humanity can coexist with the animal savagery we saw in her earlier.  (Sidenote:  ALL this subtly is utterly absent in the dub–thank you Claire Danes.)  That is why the movie is named after her.  The journey of understanding San’s personality is the same journey the story takes us on to understand the central topic of the story–WAR.

(Sidenote #2: Interestingly enough, San is the only character on this list, including Part II, to have a major love interest.)

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glados-princess

– GlaDoS from the Portal Series –

(Hey, if Aperture Science HAD a princess, she’d be it–right?)

So you might be thinking “Really… GlaDoS?”  But this IS a list of exceptional female characters and GlaDoS is truly exceptional.  Her story is the classic tale of pride and weakness, love (of Science) and loss, David and Goliath.  And it’s pretty fascinating to look at the David and Goliath story from Goliath’s point of view, isn’t it?

She’s a hilarious character, but the reason she’s on this list is that she’s undoubtedly one of the best written antagonists I’ve ever seen. There are SO many ways you can take robot characters, but for some reason passive aggression and sarcasm is the PERFECT way to portray how a robot WOULD put up with humans.  Humans are independent, resistant to authority, clever in ways that don’t exactly compute–just generally the epitome of what NO robot would EVER want to deal with.  But what can you do?  You’re stuck with your programming–you NEED to do your job, so you gotta do whatever you can to get these dumb pesky humans to cooperate.  Humans like to be treated nice, so fine, whatever–but you ARE frustrated and they’re probably not smart enough to pick up on your snark.  And what can they do anyway?  They’re like super weak.

When you take a concept and RUN with it, you get a character like GlaDoS.  She’s an example of a phenomenon I still don’t have a good grasp of at all in writing: a personality that just CLICKS.  These are usually specific personalities that taken to the extreme.  Jack Sparrow is a fantastic example of this.  Abed from Community is another great one.  GlaDoS is simple, unique, and PERFECT for the part she plays in her story.

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PART II to come next week!  In the meantime, TWO questions:

1) What do YOU think about the Disney Princess Franchise?  Did you connect with them as children and how do you feel about them now?

2) Who is on YOUR list of Non-Disney Princesses?  They don’t have to be princesses at all (as demonstrated by GlaDoS)–just female characters you think are GREAT or who inspire you in some way.

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PART II >>

  1. Gemma says:

    [Spoilers below]

    Technically Dany ends up with multiple love interests over time. What I find interesting is that although she gains a lot of her self-confidence and position through he first relationship with Drogo, his demise isn’t the end of her upward trajectory – not in the slightest. Rather from each relationship she has (Mormont included, despite the complete lack of reciprocity of his affections) she gains additional unique strength of character. She doesn’t lose herself to relationships; rather she grows from them.

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