Disney is one of my biggest loves in life so it baffles me that it’s taken such a long time for me to blog about it. I was looking across my Disney shelf the other day (part of it you can see pictured above) and an idea came to me for what to start talking about: Disney Princesses through the ages. I love Disney Princesses a-lot-a-lot, especially because I have a younger sister, so it seemed like a pretty good idea. And instead of just reviewing the films for how much I like them, how about a short piece on the films’ historical legacies as well?..
We all know that the first animated feature-length film of all time was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released in 1937. The story tells the tale of the lonely princess Snow White who was forced to become a scullery maid under her wicked stepmother’s orders as well as Snow’s ways of finding love with The Prince, while meeting seven men in the forest along the way. The famous princess was voiced by Adriana Caselotti – a newbie to the world of Hollywood – who, after the film, was banned from ever lending her voice to another character by Walt Disney himself; it was written into her contract that she could only ever use her acting voice for Snow White so in the rest of her career, her only other credit was a single line in The Wizard of Oz, which came out a couple of years after Snow White. The soundtrack to the movie was also made available at the time of the film’s release, which was the first time a movie had ever been accompanied by a soundtrack album. Since this was Disney’s first movie though, the music was owned by Bourne Co. Music Producers as opposed to Disney’s own record label and has continued to cause a problem with copyright ever since. By the end of its original box office release, Snow White was the highest grossing speaking-movie of all time, before Gone With The Wind took over a year later in 1940. The film was a critical success and has inspired Disneyland rides and video games years after its release. DisneyToons planned a prequel series called The Seven Dwarfs in the early Noughties but it was cancelled, and a little-known musical adaptation of the film was produced by Disney at The Muny in 1969 and made it to New York at Radio City Music Hall in both 1979 and 1980; a recording of this stage show was made available on VHS for a limited time and is now on YouTube.
After Snow White came Cinderella, Disney’s 12th animated feature film overall. Released in 1950, the story follows a young girl who is made to do all of the housework by her evil stepmother (sounds familiar?), who falls in love with a Prince and dreams of going to the ball to escape her wicked family. Voiced by Ilene Woods, Cinderella is to this day the most successful Disney Princess from a marketing perspective and with the Kenneth Branagh-directed live action remake that was released last year, it continues to be this way. Interesting facts about this movie include the fact that Disney *have* created a short, stage adaptation for children to perform but have never produced it on stage themselves; the fact that Ilene Woods sued Disney in late 1990 for royalties regarding her performance in the film which was being released on VHS; the film’s song Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, which mainly comprises of made-up words, was nominated for an Academy Award; the film has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it was the first major box office hit that Disney had since Snow White back in 1937. The movie also inspired a lot of work at the Disney Parks with the castle at Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Walt Disney World being a replica of Cinderella’s Castle as well as two direct-to-video sequels in the past decade or so.
Perhaps the best Disney Princess movie ever made though was Sleeping Beauty, which is known for being the quintessential and most iconic film adaptation of the story. Released in 1959 and with music taken from the uber-famous Tchaikovsky ballet, the story is based on another Charles Perrault story (like Cinderella), about a young girl who is forced to hide from her royal family so she isn’t harmed by the wicked Maleficent, but it turns out that she falls under her sleeping spell anyway. When it was first released, the film was incredibly unsuccessful due to the different style of animation amongst many other things. As a result of this, Disney didn’t return to the fairy tale-inspired films or Disney Princess movies until The Little Mermaid in 1980. Years later, the film is seen as one of the most iconic fairy tale movie adaptations of all time, as well as one of the most iconic animated movies in history due to its very advanced use of animation and storytelling. It was the first animated movie to ever be made in Technirama widescreen – a decision that was made part of the way into the process meaning a lot of storyboards and pictures had to be redrawn – and the landscapes drawn were inspired by the picturesque beauty of Disney’s third animated classic, Fantasia. Helene Stanley was used as the live action reference model for Aurora (meaning she moved as the character so the animators could see how Aurora would move), a job that Stanley also did for Cinderella. Eleanor Audley voiced Maleficent in the movie after having voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and she served as the live action reference model for both characters. The fantastic score lost at he Grammy’s and the Academy Awards to the film adaptation of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, but still charted successfully. Like Cinderella again, there is also a Disney Kids stage show version with rights available for it to be performed in schools and Aurora’s castle is used at the Disney parks: a replica version is used in the original Disneyland park in California as Sleeping Beauty was being produced at the same time as the park, and a similar version called ‘Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant’ is at Disneyland Paris (a replica version to the original Disneyland castle is also used at Disneyland in Hong Kong). There was also once a spooky walk-through experience at Disneyland Park in the castle but following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the experience was shut off to the public in fear of something bad happening in the dark and unmonitored corridors. Seven years later, the experience was refurbished and reopened – a virtual experience of this walk-through can be played as a bonus features on the Platinum Edition DVD (I have it and it’s genuinely so much fun!)
Do you find the history of Disney Princesses interesting, and which Princess is your favourite? Tweet me @shaunycat to let me know!