While watching Tangled and The Princess and the Frog over Christmas, I was reminded of how much I flipping love Disney animation, Disney films and indeed, Disney princesses. Look at them! They're so pretty! With their huge swishy dresses and their completely unachievable hair!
Princesses are big business for Disney, but their world is a slightly odd and very carefully controlled one. For example, whenever they're pictured together, they never acknowledge each other or make eye contact. Apparently Roy Disney was against the idea of marketing the characters outside of their original stories, but went ahead with it on the condition that the princesses weren't aware of each other. So when they appear in a lineup, like the one above, they're all existing in their separate princess dimensions, like a whole bunch of parallel storybook universes all squished together.
Although a new cartoon for the Disney Channel, called Sofia the First, is set to blow a giant hole through the individual princess bubbles, as Ariel, Aurora and Cinderella are set to appear in the series. We can only hope that they arrive in a glittery pink TARDIS.
Also, Giselle from Enchanted was originally supposed to become part of the official princess marketing juggernaut, but Disney decided against it as it turned out that they were going to have to pay royalties to Amy Adams for using her likeness. And Disney don't pay for no princesses.
A lot has been said about what questionable role models the princesses can be, with the exception of Mulan, or maybe Tiana seeing as she's the first princess to run her own business, but from an entirely aesthetic point of view, they're bloody gorgeous pieces of artwork. They're beautifully drawn and instantly recognisable, and when this is the case I'm always intrigued as to where the inspiration for a character's image might have come from.
In Snow White's case, the lead animator for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was Grim Natwick, who previously designed Betty Boop for Fleischer Studios. Both characters share the short black hair and high pitched voices that would have been the fashionable feminine ideals for women in the 1930s. When you compare Snow White's hair and her relatively flat chest to the other princesses, with their long tumbling locks and nicely proportioned racks, she's actually something of a flapper girl.
When the character of Ariel was being developed for The Little Mermaid in the 1980s, the animators wanted to come up with a princess that would endure, like the ones that came before her, but also wanted her to be relatable to modern girls. An actress called Sherri Stoner was used as the live action model for Ariel, while her features were based on an array of different actresses - one of which was a young Alyssa Milano - in order to get the Eighties ideal of a pretty teenager with fashionable hair right.
At the time, Ariel was the first Disney princess in almost twenty years, so the animators paid tribute to her three predecessors by taking elements of their famous dresses and mashing them together in a pink Frankengown for her.
When it came to designing the character of Belle, Disney wanted her to be European-looking (whatever that means) and based her rounded features on Audrey Hepburn. Her famous yellow dress was directly inspired by a royal gown that Audrey wore in Roman Holiday.
I love it when Disney princesses are cleverly dropped into popular culture, and one of my favourite quotes from 30 Rock is the one where the inimitable Jenna makes a previously unnoticed point about the royal ladies.
One of the best things I've seen online in quite some time is the Pocket Princesses series by the insanely talented US artist Amy Mebberson. The series of comic strips feature the princesses all living together and the various domestic spats and shenanigans that a house filled with such big and oftentimes ridiculous personalities would bring about. She manages to nail each character's traits both perfectly and hilariously and they're the most adorable squabbles this side of a row between Hello Kitty and Boo.
Mérida from Brave will be joining the official Disney Princess group later this year, and the Pocket Princesses take on her introduction to the group is just deadly. The whole series of brilliant illustrations are on Mebberson's Tumblr, which I highly recommend trawling through. Click to enlarge the images below so you can fully appreciate just how clever and gorgeously drawn they are.
And finally, last year Lindsay Lohan hosted an episode of SNL which gave us the amazing Real Housewives of Disney sketch. Kristen Wiig's drunk-as-fuck Cinderella is a thing of beauty and the bitchy Prince Charming very nearly steals the show entirely.
Gold stars all round.