Monday, April 20, 2009

Movie Monday: Archetype or Stereotype?

As a young girl, I used to wonder why Disney wouldn't make a movie about Rapunzel. I mean, they had done every other famous story...Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White...even the obscure Little Mermaid. Then they moved on to stories about animals (Lion King, Chicken Little, Brother Bear...did anyone even see that one?) and, strangely, historical figures (Pochahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules). Perhaps they thought fairy tales were no longer cool. Or maybe Disney wanted to prove they had a range, that they could do other things. But many of these movies were like Michael's Jordan's baseball career: disastrous and soon forgotten. Thank goodness Disney has finally seen the light and returned to the realm of fairy tales.

They will indeed be releasing a CGI-licious Disney-fied version of my coveted Rapunzel in 2010. What's more, in 2009, they will release a new 2-D animated movie called The Princess and The Frog, set in New Orleans and featuring the first African American Disney heroine ever. That's right. The appeal of multiculturalism, which American Girl figured out in the 90's, is finally dawning on the execs of the happiest place on Earth. 

But already this new princess has had a rough go of it. Originally slated to be a chambermaid named Maddy, her name, look, and job were hastily changed after the public expressed outrage at such a stereotypically low situation and supposed "slave name" for a heroine. But I wonder if the outrage is called for. Many fairy tales involve a hero or heroine of low station struggling to overcome their limitations and achieve their dreams. Aladdin lived in a slum before he found the magic lamp. Arthur was a misused, abused child before he drew the sword from the stone. And Cinderella was a (gasp!) maid with a name given her by her mistresses whose sole purpose was to denigrate her.

Personally, I'm more unnerved by the drunken, toothless Cajun lightning bug than Maddy's (now Tiana's) job situation. Is this really what we want people to think of when they think about New Orleans? The Cajun people have already gotten a bad rap in film (Think The Waterboy and The Big Easy) and I'd rather see a little more care taken with the depiction of the city, which has been used and abused like the aforementioned Cinderella. Bravo to Disney for finally including African Americans in their pantheon. And thanks for the new light that will be shed on a still-struggling New Orleans. But I'll keep my expectations low for the time being.


Kathy said...

Yes, seen Brother Bear--- with three kids, I've seen them all.
This is the first I've heard of the Princess and the Frog. It is good that Disney has finally come around to depicting an African American heroine, too bad they've waited until now when it's become fashionable. Sorry, am I being overly cynical?
I read something along the same lines about the release of Mulan in 1998, saying that the film was a culmination of Disney's effort to specifically target China as its biggest potential marketplace for product distribution.

Looking forward to Rapunzel, too ;)

Katie Cappello said...

Hmmm, interesting item about Mulan. Disney recently released a movie that was completely in Chinese called The Secret of the Magic Gourd. Do they know something we don't?