(This post is Part II in a series–read Part I here!)
Welcome back to the SCHNEEBLOG List of (Non-Disney) “Disney” Princesses!
For those just joining us, long story short, this is a list of GREAT and ICONIC female characters who are NOT Disney Princesses.
Without further ado:
Marceline is a deceptively complex character. While her daddy issues basically amount to a traumatic memory of her dad eating her french fries (she bought them, they were hers), her relationship with her father actually IS complicated. He rules the Night-o-sphere, she doesn’t want anything to do with that, she just wants to live on her own and work on her music. What at first seemed like a caricatured father-daughter relationship a very REAL and common conflict that many can relate to.
Her relationship with the Ice King is even more interesting. He took care of her after the apocalypse when she was a kid, and as she grew up she had to watch him lose his mind. Fast forward many years (a thousand years, in fact)–the Ice King a shell of the man he once was, he doesn’t even remember the relationship they once had, but she does, and she doesn’t really know how to relate to him now that he’s changed.
What I personally like most about Marceline is her acceptance of who she is. She doesn’t try to get rid of her dark side, but also doesn’t let it ruin her relationships or get her into trouble. She doesn’t bury her emotional conflicts, but is always working on expressing her them better through her art. And when it comes to friendship, she is fun, easy-going, and loyal.
Even though she’s obviously Adventure-Time-ized, her personality and relationships feel very real and relatable. It was a GREAT choice to feature a character like her in a world full of silly, caricatured, and random characters.
– Samus, the Metroid Series –
(As you can tell, we’ve abandoned the princess/royalty theme here.)
Silent warriors ALWAYS carry a cool mystique. What I find particularly AWESOME about them is that their personalities are built through negative space.
When we look at Samus, what do we see? She’s alone–ie she’s independent. She doesn’t back down–she’s brave. She doesn’t complain or take breaks–she’s tough. She doesn’t make a show of what she does–ie she’s doing it for herself.
Samus’ character is also built on the negative space of unanswered questions: Who is she? What was her past like? Why did she become a bounty hunter? How did she become so strong and skilled? What is she like when she’s not fighting aliens? The negative space of the unanswered questions reflect back on the negative space of her personality: she almost definitely has this UBERCOOL past and she’s not talking about it–even COOLER!
– the Woman, BBC Sherlock –
Irene Adler’s personality has some of my absolute favorite things: moral ambiguity, mystique, confidence, and, when you break down her barriers, genuineness and vulnerability.
Even putting all that aside, ANY character who can go head to head with Sherlock MUST be an AWESOME character.
What I love about Irene, and really the show in general, is the story establishes a stratum of people who are a cut above the rest and are all contending with each other in some way. Seeing their different personalities, goals, and ways of operating, seeing their differences and similarities with each other, and watching their relationships develop is all absolutely FASCINATING. But Irene is especially interesting because her skill set is SOOO radically different. She brings out a totally different side in Sherlock, which is not easy to do. As their characters interact, their relationship ends up developing very realistically for the kind of absurd personalities they both have.
Writing-wise, Irene is simply IMPRESSIVE. To be able to come up with a character like her who is a REAL match for Sherlock as a rival AND as a quasi-love interest is WAAAY hard. She has to have the same kind of radical, antisocial, not-likable-per-se-but-still-SUPER-intriguing qualities but in a completely different way. She has to have the same kind of super-cleverness and super-capability ALSO in a completely different way. And she has to both fit in with the cast of characters AND stand out by bringing something new. Don’t know how Moffat did it, but she TOTALLY accomplishes ALL of this and more.
Another thing I’m impressed by is the integration of sexiness into her character. Sexiness is a trait that usually feels like an afterthought–ie this character’s personality is X and she may as well be hot too–which cheapens sexiness as a character trait. Irene’s sexiness, on the other hand, is an integral part of her character. You CANNOT separate her personality from it. I’m definitely NOT suggesting this should ALWAYS be the case with sexiness, but it is quite cool to see when done well.
– Sonmi-451, Cloud Atlas –
Sonmi 451 represents THE average human. She’s one face among the masses, so unindividualized that her face and body aren’t even truly hers. She’s a faceless, soulless copy–identical in every way to her mass-produced brethren. Taking a character like that on a journey to human triumph makes the statement that ANY human has the potential to triumph in the way she did.
Sonmi is also a blank slate: no preconceived notions about what life is, what she is, what humanity is–which is meant to show that her values of love, compassion, and harmony speak to what mankind is fundamentally. In other words, it is only due to our emotional baggage and prejudice that mankind is prevented from seeing her values clearly for what they are.
From a writing standpoint, I LOVE characters like this who are meant to be “control-cases”, ie blank slates meant to form a perception and opinion of humanity from scratch. They’re ALWAYS interesting, and usually entertaining as well. Sonmi’s journey in particular is absolutely BEAUTIFUL–a skillfully pared down, hard-hitting tour of both the good and bad of humanity. This character was a PERFECT focal point for a complex story like Cloud Atlas that was meant to carry a simple message.
Hold up a sec.
Are we really going through with this “non-Disney only” thing cuz…?
WHATEVER. IT’S MY LIST.
– Elsa, Frozen –
– WHADDUP. –
Elsa is a fantastic character. Her conflicts are complex and relatable. Her journey is beautiful. But what I think makes her GREAT is what she stands for.
Disney Princesses are, presumably, supposed to be role models for children, which means they will (or should) differ generation to generation depending on what the current young population needs to hear. The Age of the Internet with its free information on every topic imaginable and all the various social networks has provided us with a) more avenues than ever to be WEIRD, and b) more opportunities than ever before to be JUDGED. This creates a conflict for all of us: we see the need to hide, we see the need to be ourselves–what are we supposed to do? Combine this with the Age of Tolerance and Diversity where as a society we’ve chosen to fight the natural human tendencies to discourage difference, and that conflict magnifies: we see that it’s okay to be different, but we see how those who are different are treated–what are we supposed to do? Elsa embodies this “Conflict of the Generation” perfectly and her journey provides excellent guidance.
The other important thing Elsa represents is the step Disney has taken to break the Princess Genre from the Romance Genre. Her character arc subverted pretty much EVERY Disney Princess trope, and ended up demonstrating a theme about family that is undoubtedly MUCH more meaningful for her target audience than a theme about romantic love.
As a writer, it always seemed weird to me that the only thing they could think of to do with princesses was to mash them together with a prince. Princesses can be SO MUCH MORE than that in SO MANY WAYS. Elsa’s character is complex, but is presented simply–which shows what the Disney Princess Franchise is capable of as they embark on this new exciting direction. In short, Elsa represents the Future of Disney to me, which is MORE than meta enough to barter her a spot onto this non-Disney list. (Redness ain’t red, amirite?)
This concludes the OFFICIAL SCHNEEBLOG LIST OF (NON-DISNEY) PRINCESSES.
What unifies all these characters?
They’re all AWESOME female characters that I LOVE and have learned a lot from, both as a writer and as a human. In light of Elsa, I hope to see more characters like these on the Disney big screen.
Well, maybe QUITE as dark–Disney probably isn’t into horse-heart-eating-fertlity-rituals or dominatrices–but as a general direction, DISNEY TAKE NOTE!
Honorable Mentions (These may comprise a Part III someday…)
Haruhi Fujioka, Ouran High School Host Club
Gong Er, The Grandmaster
Mikasa Ackerman, Attack on Titan
Dagny Taggart, Atlas Shrugged
Codex, The Guild
Arya Stark, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire
Nicci, Faith of the Fallen (Sword of Truth)
Princess Leia – Iconic in her time, but no longer a standout as a character, in my opinion.
Haruhi Suzumiya – NEVER understood this character (or the show).
Katniss Everdeen – Am I the only one who finds her boring?
Hermoine Granger – Solid character, not enough of a standout to make the cut.