I may be a feminist and a bit of a tomboy, but I've always loved a princess movie. (My name does mean princess, after all.) Especially of the Disney animated variety. I have them all (except the 1937 "Snow White" 'cause I hate that version). Sure, I laugh at the bodies and wonder about the one-day "love at first sight" romances, but they're fairy tales, so I don't look to them for a whole lot of realism.
This past month, I've seen the two newest princess movies. "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Brave". Fair warning, I will be discussing plot points of both of them without regard to avoiding spoilers, so read on at your own risk.
What I find so exciting about both of these additions to the princess collection is that they aren't love stories. Romantic connections do not rest at the center of either of these movies. Now, of course, Snow White did have to have a hint of love because you can't tell the story of Snow White without the apple and the kiss of true love. But they did it in the best, most unobtrusive way possible. There was a prince character, who in the 1937 version would clearly have provided the kiss. He also had the added allure of a childhood friend lost when the Evil Queen divided the kingdom. So both he and Snow had this naive sense that perhaps they should be together. But before the apple, Snow does kiss him (or at least a person she thinks is him). A chaste, closed-mouth kiss. But as she pulls away, the viewer can tell that the kiss wasn't what she had thought it should be. That it was disappointing. Not right. So then when she does fall into the apple coma and does need to be rescued, the saving kiss comes from the other guy, the one who has actually gotten to know grown-up Snow and it represents more of a promise of what might be. The best part of it all, though, is that he doesn't stick around to see her wake up. So when she does come to, she's alone and makes quite an impression walking out into a courtyard filled with people mourning the death of the person they thought could defeat the Evil Queen and save the kingdom. She gets to give a rousing speech (not exactly on the order of the St. Crispin's Day speech, but, hey, not everyone can be Henry V and not everyone can have William Shakespeare for a speechwriter) and then she gets to lead an army in an assault on the castle. After she defeats the queen, there's no big kiss, no romantic declarations. There's just a coronation. And a slight smile in the direction of the guy who kissed her awake. But the point is that it isn't about Snow White finding true love and being rescued. It's about Snow White reclaiming her kingdom as the rightful heir to the throne. The guy just existed to satisfy a minor plot point.
Then we move on to "Brave." First, as an aside, I read one review proclaiming that the movie lacks heart and I just have to wonder what the hell movie that reviewer saw. Because it wasn't the one that had me crying last night. But, anyway, this movie has got to be the first princess movie in the history of princess movies to have nary a whiff of romance. Not one bit. And it is so delightfully refreshing. There is talk of the Princess Merida's impending betrothal. And there is a gathering of the Scottish clans involving a challenge between 3 potential suitors. But from the get-go, it is readily apparent that none of the suitors are at all suitable. One of the suitor voices was provided by the guy who plays Dr. Owen Hunt on "Grey's Anatomy" so I had been expecting one of the suitors to be acceptable, even if they mutually rejected the idea of an arranged marriage. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no possibility of a love match. Instead, the central relationship in the movie is between Merida and her mother. Which in and of itself is refreshing as so many princess movies involve motherless princesses. The plot dilemma is resolved, Merida and the other first-borns of the clans are now going to be allowed to choose their own spouses, and all is well. And in the end, there is not one hint of a possible suitor or boyfriend or flirtation for Merida. Every previous princess movie would have had a stable boy who bickered cutely with the princess and then helped in the crisis. But not this movie. This movie knew that romance had nothing to do with the story it had to tell.
Say what you will about either of these movies in terms of script weaknesses or odd acting (what was with that accent at times, Charlize?). But in terms of stereotypical princess movie plot points, these two do not get stuck in the same old ruts and neither of these gals needs a man to rescue her or even help her out much. Well, Snow White needs several hundred men in her army, but there's no mistaking who that army is following into battle. Her journey is all about retaking her rightful spot as Queen. Merida, too, is more focused on coming to accept and embrace the leadership and diplomacy parts of being a princess than the arranged marriage, proper lady elements she has so far resisted. In fact, she is liberated from those princess duties her mother had previously tried to impose on her.
What a difference from the original Snow White who was rescued by her Prince Charming she'd barely met. Likewise for the Princess Aurora. Ariel risked her very soul for a guy she'd never yet spoken to. Cinderella fell in love at first sight to a guy who couldn't pick her out of a line-up the next day. Even Rapunzel couldn't free herself from her adoptive mother/kidnapper without the help of a random guy who just happened to find her tower. (Though I can't knock that one because I think Flynn Rider, as voiced by Zachary Levi, is one of the best voice performances I've ever seen. They should seriously consider an Oscar category for that and he should have won.) Heck, even the first "Princess Diaries" had Anne Hathaway's character finding a cute boy to kiss. These two princess movies break that mold. Finally.
So, yeah, I'll take these princess movies. Where the princess is on the path to ruling, where her princess-y responsibilities are about leadership, not decorum and pretty dresses, and where she has better, more interesting stories to tell than a story of romantic love.