Sleeping Beauty remix. I mean, uh: The Swan Princess.

23Jan10

Today on Genevieve’s reviews of books and movies, we have a 1990s animated Musical, the Swan Princess. This will be especially fun if you remember my review of Sleeping Beauty.

I don’t know if any of the rest of you have seen it, but it shaped an important part of my childhood. It’s an animated fairytale musical, in the tradition of Disney movies. As animated fairytale musicals go, it’s definitely on the upper end of the spectrum. However, as animated fairytales go, it seems like all of them like to lean on the Disney tradition, even when they’re not Disney. In the case of the Swan Princess, it’s pretty obvious that the tradition in question comes directly from Sleeping Beauty. Well, sure, the story comes from the Swan Lake ballet. But in order to make it into an animated musical, we clearly need to steal a couple of scenes directly from Sleeping Beauty.

When the movie starts, it tells you about how the king of a faraway kingdom really, really wants a child, and is worried, because he’s getting old. Not to worry, Kingy! Because here comes a servant, carrying your new baby daughter! (Bonus points if you can guess what color blanket the baby daughter is wrapped in. Pink? How did you know!) So the king presents the baby to a cheering populace. Yay it’s the heir to the kingdom! (Thank any number of pagan deities that she actually is referred to as the heir to the kingdom.)

Pause there. Who sees something missing? I didn’t actually catch this until after the movie, when I was telling Rachel about it. Apparently in this world babies either grow on trees or are delivered by storks, because there’s no queen. Remember the problem in Sleeping Beauty because the queen had no name? Well, in this movie there’s no queen at all. The narration says that the king was getting old and wants a child. The baby is brought by a servant. The existence of a queen is never even hinted. Since we must assume that a legitimate heir to the throne came from a legitimate marriage, the king must have been married, but apparently the queen dies in childbirth without a mention.

In the next scene, the baby’s suddenly about a year or more old (given by that full head of hair), and the royalty, nobility and gentry (no sign of rabble here, not even fairies!) have all shown up to pay tribute, including the king’s friend from a neighboring country, now a widow (or was he friends with the former husband? that wasn’t clear to me). I like how the viewer is told that the visiting queen is a widow, but we don’t know what the local king is. (Maybe he’s a bluebeard type, and the poor queen is kept locked up in a tower, only remembered when people wonder where the baby came from…) But one person is not pleased by the new princess! Maleficent! I mean… uh… Mr. Maleficent. His name is apparently Rothbart. We will be calling him Mr. Maleficent, even though the real Maleficent totally had better style.

So the parents from the two kingdoms decide that they should betroth their kids. They sing about how clever they are, and every year Princess AuroraOdette and King Bluebeard go to visit Prince PhillipDerek and his widowed mother Queen Uberta (the internet assures me this is a real name but I am unconvinced), so that the kids can get to know each other. They hate each other from the start, and sing about it in an adorable montage that I love to bits even despite some of the inherent problems. Until they get to be of marriageable age, at the end of the song-montage, and suddenly realize that their betrothed is actually pretty hot and they’re in love.

At the end of the song, Prince Derek tells the court to prepare for the marriage. Then (this part is great), Odette stops him. She wants to know why they’re getting married. Derek is very confused. “Because you look exactly like Aurora and I love that movie I love you,” he tells her.

“But why do you love me?” she persists.

“Because… you’re beautiful?” Poor Derek is really confused right now.

“What else?” she says, and kudos for being the earliest animated musical princess (at least as far as I know) to insist on criteria other than beauty for falling in love.

Derek apparently thinks the way that all the creators of those other animated musical princesses do, because his totally classy response is: “What else is there?”

I love the HORRIFIED LOOKS that go around the court as everyone screeches to a halt at realizing their prince is a shallow idiot. It’s great.

In Derek’s defense, you find out later that what he wanted to say was “because you’re awesome and your character development suggests that you’d actually make a pretty decent queen”, but apparently the only words in his vocabulary for talking to women are “love” and “beauty.” (He later tells her that he loves her for her kindness and courage.)

Celebrations (and marriage plans) soured, Princess Odette and King Bluebeard (yes, I’m going to keep calling him that) leave to return home, but on the way they’re attacked by Mr. Maleficent, who kills the king and turns Odette into a swan, keeping her prisoner on a lake near his sorcerous island palace. Every night he demands that she marry him (so that he can be king, because taking it by sorcerous force wouldn’t be as much fun as marrying the hot princess and taking the throne legitimately).

Meanwhile, Derek harasses servants into helping him train by playing medieval paintball, and an archery technique that involves shooting an arrow at the unarmored crown prince so that he can catch the arrow and shoot it back at the apple on the head of his (heavily armored, thankfully) best friend. WHAT PART OF THIS SEEMED LIKE AN INTELLIGENT AND PLAUSIBLE TRAINING STRATEGY?

Back on the lake, Odette has befriended a turtle, a frog, and a puffin. For unexplained reasons, she can talk to them whether in swan form or human form, but no one else can hear them talking. Go figure. Anyway, Odette and friends try (unsuccessfully) to plot escapes, and Derek tries (unsuccessfully) to find her. Finally their plans crash into each other, and they are able to meet briefly.

In order to break the spell, Derek has to vow everlasting love to her and prove it to the world. The two of them decide that the way to do this is to invite her to the big ball tomorrow night, which his mother has thrown in order to try to find a new fiance for him (since the last one rejected him and then disappeared). Never mind that in order to get to the ball, Odette has to wait until the moon rises on the lake, then travel on foot the miles and miles to the castle. Derek doesn’t offer any help with the transportation (or wardrobe). Unfortunately they forgot that there’s no moon the night of the ball. Oops.

Also, Mr. Maleficent overheard their plans, so he decides that his own plan is to lock up Odette and send his hideous elderly female assistant to the ball in Odette’s human form. He divulges this in a musical number, which interestingly features the one token black character in the movie. She’s one of the three female back-up singers. They all have the same hair, size 2 dress, and anglo-saxon facial features, but her hair and skin are inexplicably dark brown. It’s like she exists only to provide value contrast among the back-up singers.

In the next scene, at the ball, I’m now actively looking for other racial diversity that’s been thrown in. And, coincidentally, the scene is a song called “Princesses on Parade”, showcasing all these princesses who have come from foreign and exotic lands in hopes of marrying the prince. Excellent, I say to myself, let’s see how they present foreigners and other races.

Guess what! They don’t. Every single one of the twenty or so “Princesses on Parade” is white, and they all apparently came from European foreign and exotic lands.

This then makes the back-up singer a greater mystery. She’s the only non-white character in the whole movie. Why does she exist? Why her? Why did the back-up singers in that one scene require diversity, but the rest of the movie should stay whitewashed?

Anyway, stuff happens that vaguely resembles plot, and Odette’s life is in danger because Derek made his vow of eternal love to some girl in an Odette-suit, and now Odette’s swan curse is going to kill her. You see why I say “vaguely resembles” plot.

There’s a final showdown scene, where Prince Phillip Derek confronts Maleficent Rothbart, and Maleficent Rothbart turns into a dragon“great animal” (that looks like a furry bat-dragon). Then, with the help of Aurora’s Odette’s three fairy friends animal companions, who put his sword bow into his hands, Prince Phillip Derek is able to shoot the villain in the heart.

Yay Phillip! … I mean Derek. Really.

Advertisements


2 Responses to “Sleeping Beauty remix. I mean, uh: The Swan Princess.”

  1. 1 Ballira

    I really, REALLY loved this review of an old childhood favorite. I haven’t laughed this hard at a review in ages! It’s amazing that this movie managed to get two other sequels (plus one more that apparently is coming out this Christmas, cue my squealing younger cousin) due to the plot and in each one it gets a little worse.

    The one redemable bit about the series was that Rothbart’s “sidekick”, Bridget according to Wiki, actually stays on and comes to the ‘good side’. What’s more is she seems to even form a romance with the Queen’s servant, Rodgers (I think that’s his name). I’m surprised they haven’t made a whole little movie featuring her.

  2. Having read this I thought it was really enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this information together.
    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and posting comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: