Let's talk cartoons. I am a huge fan of Disneyland and Disney cartoons, but admit that they have their flaws (Why does Aladdin look so white compared to Jafar? Why do so many villains have thick accents?). The princess films get particular flack for their damsels in distress, but these films have their enduring lessons too. For example, I am willing to look past Belle's Stockholm syndrome and celebrate the fact that she values heart and intellect over good looks. I can appreciate Ariel's sacrifice of her voice for life on land because I'm not convinced it was all just for this guy. Sure, Aurora only has eighteen lines of dialogue in the entirety of Sleeping Beauty, but the fairies are far from passive while also being entertaining.
The cartoon princess I am most impressed with, however, is Anastasia. Anastasia is not Disney but rather 20th Century Fox and the plot is far from the Romanov princess' real-life fate, but she is by far one of the most outwardly strong, spunky, clever, resourceful, and active animated female characters of the princess vein. Here are a few of my favorite screenshots from the movie.
|Anastasia and Dmitri. They look so real. Something about the way the characters are leaning and sitting.|
|Anastasia looking fashionable in her lace-up bots and army-style coat.|
|A gorgeous shot, minus the factory smoke.|
|Beautiful shot on the boat. This is one of the most developed relationships in a princess cartoon I've ever seen.|
|More beautiful animation.|
|Nice shot of early 20th century Paris. I wonder if thi sis close to what it really looked like.|
|I have never seen (or at least never noticed) any animated film with sunlight coming through the tree leaves onto the characters. This kind of blew my mind.|
I can't beat this list of reasons to love Anastasia, but I can offer this piece of advice. Before you criticize an animated film's female characters, think about when and where the story originated. Chances are, the story's hundreds-year-old source material isn't exactly from an era of girl power. For future reference, I've created a rough list.
First published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but could be as old as the first half of the 16th century.
Published by Giambattista Basile as Cenerentola in 1634 in Pentamerone. Published by Charles Perrault in 1697 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé.
First published by Charles Perrault in 1697 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé; the early poetry version in Perceforest was written somewhere between 1330 and 1344.
First published in 1837 by writer Hans Christian Andersen.
First published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but the story also originates from the 1698 Persinette by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force.
First published in La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
First published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.
Fairy tales often reflect that attitudes and beliefs of the time, and it's no small task to make these changes for the 21st century while still remaining true to the essence of each story. Some stories are easier to adapt than others, and I think the best step to take if we want strong female characters is to write something new. Of course, this child's strategy is endearing: remain convinced that The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins is a girl.