Fairy Tales: Society’s Handbook

Fairy Tales have played a role in the upbringing of the children of our world, it has single-handedly taught society’s children the morals in which they are expected to live by to get by. These lessons waiver depending on the recipient. In the past, fairy tales have been the patriarchal handbook to our society as they instill in our boys their responsibility to protect, save and choose while the girls in our society are taught the traits needed to be chosen. This is apparent in people favorites like Cinderella, The Little Mermaid & Snow White in which the female protagonist sole goal is to find a way to be chosen. But recently these structures have been changing in Disney’s Films like Enchanted (2007) and Frozen(2014). While keeping some of its traditional rules, Frozen and Enchanted both challenge the ideals of the old fairy tales the world grew up watching and reading.

Enchanted, a film about a princess who finds herself lost in the real world of New York City as she looks for her Prince Charming. This film is an unexpected revision of fairy tales as it doesn’t radically rewrite every cliche about girls in these stories which play for and against the film. Throughout the film, the role of the princess is challenged constantly as Giselle is repeatedly asked “Why”. All the obligations and responsibilities of a Disney princess is questioned by the film’s realist, Lawyer Robert. This challenges Giselle to really question the patriarchal rules she has been following her whole life. At the end of the film, Enchanted switches the roles as Robert is taken by the dragon and Giselle is left to rescue him. The male protagonist is thrown to the side as the princess thinks and solves problems for herself. However, the film still keeps its traditional roots in which there is never a doubt that the female protagonist will end up with a man at the end of the story. Enchanted ends with not one but two weddings of the two female characters being chosen because of their particular traits of kindness and “wholesome”.

Frozen on the other hand completely re-invents the wheel in which Disney uses to recreate fairy tales. Although there have been female-led movies like Mulan, Brave, & Tangled, Frozen is the first Disney animated film where the female characters are not influenced by the male presence in any way. It follows sisters, Elsa and Anna, two fully invested, engaging and actualized female protagonists. In the usual Disney structure, one sister would grow jealous of the other and become the villain of the piece but that doesn’t happen here. Neither become imperfect or represent perfection that Disney portrays women to be. This film explores the theme of acceptance as Elsa suppresses herself because she, as a powerful woman, is told to by the outside forces in her life. Anna, who brings the romantic aspects of fairy tales with her blind love for the prince but even that takes a backseat to the sisters bond which is ultimately is the driving force of Frozen. Anna still holds the undying dream of finding her true love. She meets a charming prince, sings a duet with him and accepts his marriage proposal, all in like twenty minutes. It’s ridiculous. But unlike the Disney princesses before this, Frozen knows this. It uses Anna very fast engagement to show how this cliche is unrealistic and absurd when the charming prince turns out to be the villain of the film.

Fairy tales are often used as “vehicles to promote the agenda of whichever group appropriates them”. Disney’s Fairy Tales redefine masculinity and femininity and how it should look according to the men of Disney. Often times in these stories, women take on the roles of men to show that they are not “like every other girl” like in the final battle of Enchanted where roles were reversed. It’s like the only way for female characters to gain power is to be men. In Frozen, Elsa and Anna are not tomboys, they are not knights, they are not warriors, they’re princesses who used their own power to save the day. One by one, Disney damaging tropes are presented and debunked from “love’s at first sight” to “damsels in distress”. Frozen dares the system in a way that Enchanted did not do.

Both Enchanted and Frozen changed the way they show true love. In both films, the princesses (Anna and Giselle) are placed in the infamous sleeping curse that can only be broken with a true love’s kiss. Enchanted challenges the idea of blind love that Disney princess have with Giselle and her relationship to the Prince. After being poisoned, the Prince kisses her in attempt to wake her but nothing happens. It was only after Robert, the man she has gotten to know throughout the whole film kisses her that she awakens from her curse. It shows that love is more than just destiny and fate but actually getting to know the person you love. In Frozen’s climax, when Anna is frozen we’re tricked into thinking that Kristoff would be the one to break the curse with his “love” for her but instead, the love between Anna and Elsa is what breaks it. The love between these two sisters is what the film recognizes as “true love”.

Enchanted did a good job in rattling the patriarchy cage that a female protagonist is put in while Frozen broke it all together. These films are not tales of helpless princesses sitting around waiting to be saved by a prince. They have opened up the door for so many films like Moana, Wreck it Ralph and many more that came after it. The steps taken by Enchanted and Frozen takes to make its heroines stronger than the princess that came before are small by real-life standards. But within the narrow scope of Disney, the idea of a girl having a story outside of the male characters of the story is new. Enchanted and Frozen are films that tell little girls that true love doesn’t have to involve marrying a prince or being rescued. It’s a step in the right direction.

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