I am the father of two small girls. I, therefore, watch a lot of Disney movies. I am also a science fiction and fantasy author as well as a literature professor, so when I watch Disney movies, I begin to analyze them in weird ways. A few years back I posited the Grand Princess Unification Theorem which linked Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella into one shared narrative involving a couple fairies meddling in the lives of mortals to breed the ‘perfect’ princess for some purpose of their own as yet undetermined. There were, however, a couple princesses left out of the equation.
For the nonce, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, and Brave clearly exist as a part of their own particular historical heritage and I see no real way to join them together with each other or any other of the stories thus far discussed. I have, however, devised a theory linking Frozen, Tangled, and The Little Mermaid. Ready? Here we go.
A Secondary World
The three films in question do not link up to the ones set in our world, since there is no mention at all of anything pertaining to it and the kingdoms depicted bear little to no resemblance to actual historical kingdoms of any kind. What this means to me is that these three films are set in a secondary world and, what’s more, they are all set in the same world. Now, with Frozen and Tangled this is no surprise, as Flynn (Eugene) and Rapunzel are guests at Elsa’s Coronation. This clearly places Arendelle and Corona (Elsa and Rapunzel’s respective home countries) in the same universe. What’s more, the two countries maintain diplomatic relations or, perhaps, are even distantly related by blood (Rapunzel could easily be a cousin of some sort).
How does The Little Mermaid fit in? Well, first let’s consider geography. All three countries, as depicted, are maritime powers, with shipping and boating being apparently key aspects of their economy. Corona seems to be situated on the mainland, as does Arrendelle (though Arrendelle is clearly further north). Eric’s kingdom appears to be island based. It fits. Heck, he is even very likely related to Prince Hans, who is said to be from “the Southern Isles.” He’s probably one of Eric and Ariel’s children (more on that later).
Furthermore, the level of technology and even the fashions of the three countries are interrelated. We see a lot of doublets, for one thing, and the women’s gowns, while different, are different variations on an approximately contemporaneous style. They could easily, easily be from different corners of the same continental region in the same world. Even their soldiers seem to be operating using the same kinds of weapons, armor, and so on.
Here’s Where It Gets Interesting…
Now, assuming these three settings are three parts of the same world, what happens when Elsa’s power is revealed? As I’ve mentioned before, Elsa’s power is simply unparalleled. It has the power to destabilize the whole world and, if this is a world with Corona and Eric’s kingdom, things are going to get unstable there, too. For starters, there is the inevitable war between Arendelle and Weaseltown which the courageous Duke of Weaseltown tried to prevent by assassinating Elsa (unsuccessfully).
Prince Eric is not “prince” by this time – he and Ariel have been married for a long time, and Ariel has borne fourteen children. This was done, wisely, as a guarantee for the small nation’s trading prowess. As his children’s grandfather, Triton, King of the Ocean, would never sink a vessel with one of his grandchildren aboard. Hence, Eric convinced Ariel to bear a number of children and raised them all as saliors – they traveled the world in Eric’s naval and maritime vessels, and they never encountered any kind of oceanic mishap. Triton loves his grandchildren, after all.
But you know who Triton doesn’t care for, apparently? Anna and Elsa’s parents, the King and Queen of Arendelle. Indeed, Triton doesn’t give a crap about any other humans at all. Ariel’s inhuman origins, though probably not well known as facts, are no doubt whispered as rumors. When one of Granddaddy Triton’s little darling boys is cast out and humiliated by some Arendalish sorceress, Triton is displeased. If Triton is displeased, you can bet Eric is also displeased (because if your father-in-law is King of the Ocean and you live on an island, you do whatever the hell he wants).
The Duke of Weaseltown is no dummy, and he would doubtlessly propose an alliance against Arendelle to King Eric. With his father-in-law in a froth, Eric sees it might be wise to back the Weasels (pronounced “wessels,” please!), even if his youngest son is a douchebag. He demands an apology from Queen Elsa. Elsa, having vivid memories of almost being hacked to death by Prince Hans, probably tells him exactly where to stick it. War develops.
What About Corona?
The war, however, quickly becomes a stalemate. Elsa can send no ships against Weaseltown or the Southern Isles, since Triton will sink them. Likewise, the Southern Isles and Weaseltown can’t come near Arendelle without being frozen solid. The contest becomes one of trade embargos and espionage–you either stand with the Southern Isles or bend your knee to the Snow Queen.
Corona is the tiebreaker. As evidently the wealthiest and most militaristic nation of the three, if they side with Arendelle or the Southern Isles, the other side stands a strong chance of losing. Furthermore, Queen Rapunzel’s legendary healing abilities (still retained, mind you, despite her loss of hair – that’s why we still have Flynn/Eugene to kick around, after all) are a potent ally in their own right.
But which side does Queen Rapunzel pick? On the one hand, she has some kind of pre-existing relationship with Queen Elsa. On the other, pissing off the King of the Ocean seems like a really, really bad idea. So, she remains neutral, but for how long? When Anna shows up in her court in the dead of night with a desperate plea for help, how can she refuse? When she accepts a state visit from Queen Ariel, riding atop a swell of the ocean big enough to swallow her city whole, how can she not be worried?
Well, anyway, it’s a pickle. A damned interesting pickle.
If Disney wants somebody to write a political intrigue-based novel set in this little world of theirs, they’ve got my number. I want to know what happens.
Hey, check this image out:
You can get yours on September 29th! Or Pre-order your copies now!
I saw Frozen at last over the weekend. It definitely stands as one of the best Disney animated features all time (though arguably not the best, I’ll grant, even if it is in the running) and is certain the best since The Princess and the Frog, easily eclipsing Tangled and whatever else slipped in there beneath my notice. What I found interesting about Frozen is, I feel, nothing different that what a lot of us found interesting about it: in the first place, a fantastic score and soundtrack, and in the second, an actually complicated and nuanced approach to the concept of ‘love’ – something that fairy tale style movies have almost never done. I feel this is important, since trying to show children that love is a simple concept is both erroneous and potentially hazardous to their emotional development. Nowhere is this more keenly observable than in the scores and scores of emotionally damaged adults who proceeded into the stormy waters of “true love” with all the same innocence that Anna does in the film.
I am no expert on love. I would say that, possibly, no such expert exists, but then again I’m no expert, so what do I know? All that said, what I can say about love is that it is a dangerous and complicated thing, not to mention elusive. When you think you have it, you often don’t. When you do have it, you often fail to realize this until it’s gone. Then, for those lucky few of us who get it, have it, and hold on to it, you are still constantly in doubt about it; you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop or, perhaps, wondering why it is constantly changing if this is the Real Thing.
Frozen cleverly illustrates this problem by constantly moving the goal-posts for Anna. Is she in love with Prince Hans? Kristoph? Well…no. Not yet, anyway. Obviously she loves her sister, Elsa. We take that as a given in the story; despite the fact that it is the central conflict of the film and the only thing in the movie of any permanence, we instinctually allow it to play second fiddle in our hearts to the good ol’ Princess and Prince falling instantly in True Love. We, like Anna, miss the good thing right in front of her in favor of the flashy new thing that gets waved under her nose. This is a grand metaphor for love itself – so easily missed and overwhelmed by simple infatuation.
A few years back I had a student submit to me an argument essay claiming that love didn’t exist – it was a myth and a fairytale. Love, she said, was simply chemical stimulation in the brain responding to basic physical attraction that was essentially unsustainable. You can’t be really in love, she claimed, as sooner or later you would come down from your ‘high’ and, therefore, no longer love that person. I pointed out to her that her perspective better demonstrated a misunderstanding of what comprises ‘true love’ than it did disprove its existence entirely. I asked her how she then described the love between parent and child, between siblings, and between those couples who have stayed together for decades. She equivocated. I didn’t press the issue; an 18-year old girl is entitled to be disenchanted with love if she wishes.
What the student had done was mistake eros for philia – the passionate desire for another for the loving respect and admiration of them (read up on the Greek definitions here). In principle, eros and philia combine to make what we call true, romantic love. We both desire our partner (considering him or her ‘ideally beautiful’ in the philosophical sense) and respect and care for them and their well-being (as we admire and are fond of them). Without some sense of both eros and philia, we can’t be said to be in Romantic Love. Among the sisters in Frozen, philia is the operative form of love at play and the movie (correctly, I feel) places greater emphasis on that than it does eros. Philia is the love that transcends time and self. It is the meal; eros is the spice.
To say that eros is superior to philia is to be completely blinded by the fairy tale mystique. Yes, being head-over-heels infatuated with someone is an incredible, almost indescribable feeling, but it’s a phase. Spend your life looking for it to perpetuate ad infinitum and you will get yourself in the wrong state of mind. Obviously we should desire our partners, but the person who truly loves you is not the one that you spend half an hour challenging to hang up while making googly noises on the phone. It’s the one who holds your hair out of your face while you throw up, the person who makes sure you make it home on time, the person who can’t wait to listen to your stories and laugh at your jokes.
To love another is to put yourself at their mercy – your desire and respect for them means their approval of you is of utmost importance. To be loved is to be at someone’s mercy and have that someone always grant it. It is to be infinitely exploitable yet never exploited. It is trust and friendship and (yes) desire. You don’t find it on every corner, and it doesn’t show up all at once; even the fastest love affairs have to grow into themselves before they’re mature and ready for the world. For this reason I love Frozen because it has the courage to tell us that Kristoph and Anna are not yet destined for one another but that Elsa and Anna already are.
Okay, let me preface this by stating that my two-year-old daughter has been watching various Disney movies on loop now for the past month or two, so I’ve at this point watched Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty each at least twenty-five times in the past 8-10 weeks. If this post seems weird, that’s why.
After watching these movies as much as I have, one stops paying attention to the plot or music and you even stop thinking about the disturbing psychological underpinnings of the fairy tales themselves (Sleeping Beauty is about a woman’s maturation and need to accept defined female roles despite the efforts of other women to prevent it; The Little Mermaid is about a single parent alienating their youngest child and driving her into the arms of thugs and murderers; Beauty and the Beast is part Stokholm Syndrome, part abusive relationship, part ‘the nobility are better than the commoners’; and I could go on…). No, after viewing 63 or 64, you start trying to synthesize some kind of unifying timeline between the various films. You start scratching your head and ask yourself ‘exactly when is this supposed to be taking place’ or ‘why are all these princesses good with animals?’ Then, if you’re like me, you come up with a ridiculous theory to connect them all together.
This is that theory.
With some Disney movies/princesses, setting and place are established or, conversely, they are obviously self-contained. For instance, princesses like Mulan or Jasmine are obviously placed in space/time and, therefore, don’t cry out for justification, exactly. Likewise, Simba or Ariel live in their own, fanciful, self-contained settings that don’t seem to overlap with the others. This is not so, however, for four major Disney films in particular–Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. All four of these movies are central European, usually with distinctive French overtones, in a realm awash in mountains, forests, valleys, and farmland. These four movies will be the focus of the theory, though others can (and probably will) be appended on to it as we go. The central idea here is that all four movies are, essentially, set in the same general area and that many of the characters in the films are related to one another by blood. What we are witnessing in these films is the multi-generational tale of a single royal bloodline and its interactions with the Fairie Kingdoms.
The first thing we need to establish is the order in which these movies are set in history. Chronologically in real life, the order was Snow White (1930s), Cinderella (1950s), Sleeping Beauty (1960s), and Beauty and the Beast (1990s). This isn’t the ‘historical’ order, however.
The only film given a precise date during the film is Sleeping Beauty. When speaking to his father, King Hubert, Prince Phillip insists ‘this is the 14th Century, father!’ This, backed up with art direction clearly inspired by the illuminated manuscripts of the high middle ages, places that movie there. Cinderella and Belle, however, live during a later period, as evidenced by the presence of firearms in Beauty and the uniforms and general style of Cinderella. Which comes first really comes down to fashion, in my opinion. The chosen dress of the Beast, once he regains human form, is late 18th/early 19th century, whereas the formal wear of Cinderella’s world is conspicuously more modern, placing them in the middle of the 19th century, possibly later.
With this in mind and, given the general darkness and lack of civilization present in Snow White, leads me to place them thusly: Snow White takes place in central Europe around the 11th century or so, give or take a few hundred years. Then comes Sleeping Beauty in the 14th, followed by Beauty and the Beast in the early 19th and then rapidly by Cinderella in the mid 19th. This gives us a workable framework to build a cohesive narrative from, and so I’m choosing this as my starting point.
This whole mess starts with a girl named ‘Snow White’. For reasons not explained, she posseses a particular power over animals and an unearthly voice (seriously–listen to her sing. Did a person really make that odd noise?). We can infer that somehow, someway, Snow White has been gifted with certain powers from the fairy world. Perhaps there’s some fey blood in her, or perhaps she’s been blessed at birth (as is a custom, as we will see later). It doesn’t really matter. The point is that she has this power and the Evil Queen wants it.
From this point we should all know the story–the Evil Queen, in her haggard form–is thrown off a cliff by the dwarves (who live in a woodcutters cottage, which is important later). Snow White marries a prince, and they produce children.
The thing is, though, that the Evil Queen doesn’t actually die. She manages to survive somehow, makes pacts with the
dark powers, and the castle she once lives in gradually falls into ruin. She becomes
Maleficent, the fey witch and queen of all evil that afflicts Sleeping Beauty.
Take a look at their pictures–tell me you don’t see the resemblance! They’re the same woman, just changed slowly over the ages by hatred, collusion with evil, and very poor skin care.
This brings us to part two: Sleeping Beauty.
Sleeping Beauty (1300-1375)
Sleeping Beauty, or Aurora, is born to King Stephen and his unnamed Queen. Stephen, you’ll recall, has the same striking black hair as his ancestor, Snow White. His daughter, however, inherits her mother’s long blonde locks.
More importantly for Aurora, however, is the fact that she also inherits that certain fey gift. She is able to sing like no other, partially due, no doubt, to her being gifted with this power by Fauna, the Green Fairy, upon her birth. Phillip, upon overhearing her in the woods, even compares her voice to that of a ‘wood sprite’ simply because he can’t imagine a mortal with so beautiful a voice.
Furthermore, Aurora is able to speak and commune with animals like few others (except perhaps Phillip, though we can presume his bond with his horse, Samson, is simply one of years of practice. He isn’t performing duets with owls and squirrels or anything).
Aurora’s bloodline and Maleficent’s unending hatred of the same brings into
the picture the three good fairies, Flora (red/pink), Fauna (green), and Merryweather (blue). They pose as the defenders of Aurora, but it’s very possible it’s simply the bloodline they are seeking to defend. Being immortal beings, they could (and possibly do) have long-term goals for this child that we are unaware of.
Also possible is that, over the sixteen years they spend raising her (in the very same woodcutter’s cottage in the same dark forest that the dwarves used with Snow White, mind you), they develop a deep bond with her and, by extention, her progeny. They take on the roles of ‘fairy godmothers’ for the rest of time. In any event, they are instrumental in Maleficent/the Evil Queen’s final destruction at the hands of Phillip (and the enchanted sword they had given him just a few minutes earlier).
In the end, Aurora marries Phillip and, presumably, they produce offspring. Of note here, in the vein of genetics, take a
good look at Phillip’s father, Hubert.
Note the man’s bell-shaped body, bulbous nose, distinctive facial hair, and the ruddy complexion–that’s going to show up again, just you wait.
Anyway, the destruction of Maleficent keeps the faries’ interests safe for some time after this–about five centuries, anyway. During this time, the bloodline gets diffused and spread across the land (again, somewhere in eastern or south-eastern France, I’m guessing–possibly Switzerland). What the faries do during this period is unclear, but Merryweather apparently takes an interest in animating a puppet named Pinocchio in Italy at some point. This fits with her own apparent magical predilections, as she is seen transmuting flesh to stone and animating brooms and dishes and such during Sleeping Beauty.
Anyway, on to step three: Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast (1777-1835)
Belle is the daughter of an inventor; she’s intelligent and dreamy and doesn’t seem to have unusual powers regarding animals, though she does have a pretty solid singing voice. She lives with her father (who bears a striking resemblence to King Hubert) in a small village. This is either the exact same village located outside the gates of King Stephen’s castle in Aurora’s day or, perhaps, it is near either the honeymoon castle built by Hubert for Phillip and Aurora (as referenced during the wine-drinking scene) or near Hubert’s castle itself. In any event, it is probable, if not likely, that Belle’s father is indirectly related to the fey-touched line that the faries are so interested in for some reason.
There is, however, another branch of that line–the direct line, actually, which is in a bit of a pickle. The Beast or, more accurately, the prince that becomes the Beast is the direct heir to Aurora and Phillip’s bloodline. Aware of this, Fauna, the green fairy, pays him a visit to see how he’s doing after the death of his parents (one presumes they died suddenly, given his age at the time of Fauna’s visit; we don’t know for sure). anyway, Fauna visits and, true to form, disguises herself as an elderly mortal woman. She is treated very badly and reacts accordingly (or maybe overreacts). Beastification ensues.
Further evidence that this ‘beautiful enchantress’ is Fauna is backed up by her name–Fauna, or ‘animals’. Making the prince into a beast that mirrors his beastly temper and ugly personality is fitting with her personal idiom (and she clearly has the ability to change everybody else, too, though that’s less her style. Perhaps the prince caught Fauna on a bad day).
Now, we might think that Fauna just abandons the Prince to his fate, but she has a better idea (and is far too sweet for that, anyway). It is not an accident that Belle’s father gets lost in the woods and finds himself before the castle of the Beast. Indeed, the wolves are her tools in this (note that they only attack when doing so will drive Belle and the Beast closer together and at no other time). Fauna is trying to kill two birds with one stone–teach the prince a valuable lesson and strengthen the bloodline by combining two of Aurora’s descendants together). In the end, her plan works, but things don’t work out as well as she’d hoped. Cue our last installment: Cinderella
The faries lay low as the Napoleonic wars rage across Europe. They probably watch carefully and keep tallies of the members of the blood who survive and die. They watch in frustration as Belle and the Prince’s only son seems to have inherited all of the least desirable qualities of the line. He looks like Hubert and Belle’s father, he’s got the Prince’s temperment, and he can’t sing or talk to animals worth a damn.
The one stroke of good news is that the guy’s a pretty solid soldier, and he manages to defend his tiny kingdom in the foothills of the Alps and keeps a degree of independence from both France and Germany and Austria/Hungary. We can see, by looking at his kingdom, that it has been influenced by all of those great nations of 19th century Europe but hasn’t quite been consumed by any of them. This works to the faries’ advantage, as it makes their little breeding experiment somewhat easier to manage.
To their great luck, the genes carrying the gifts granted to Aurora and Snow White before her fall to a young girl born
to a low-ranking noble family. Cinderella is a veritable chosen one–she sings like Aurora did (well, almost as good, anyway), she speaks to the animals better than any of them–she’s exactly the one they need.
Of course, there’s no way a girl of her station gets to marry a prince under normal circumstances. Much meddling has to take place–they need to keep the Prince, Belle’s Grandson, occupied so as not to get him snagged by another girl. They need to aggravate the king with the prince’s behavior so that, finally, they force the King into a desperate course of action.
Then, and most importantly, they need to make sure Cinderella grows up humble. They arrange the marriage between her father and the Wicked Stepmother, then they bump him off. They are pleased how she keeps her sweet disposition (indeed, killing off her father might have been a test of her worth), and they wait for the opportunity to make their move.
It comes when, finally, the ball is held and the wicked stepsisters rip Cinderella’s dress to bits. Enter Flora, pink bow and
pink-lined robes and all, in the role of Fairy Godmother.