If there’s one thing Disney has been associated with since “Snow White” first hit theaters in 1937, it’s that True Love’s Kiss is the only way of breaking a curse. And as we all know, True Love’s Kiss can only be between a prince and a princess… Right?
Spoilers for both movies past this point.
In case you haven’t been forced to watch “Frozen” thirty times in a row like every other human being on planet Earth, at the end of the movie the heroine Anna is turned into solid ice because she doesn’t get True Love’s Kiss in time. The man she thought was her true love, Hans, turns out to be evil — and she sacrifices her life to save the life of her sister, Elsa.
Elsa, heartbroken, hugs her sister, cries — and unfreezes Anna’s frozen heart, breaking the curse with true love’s, er, hug.
At the time, way back in the olden days of November, the idea of two princesses saving each other in a Disney movie was pretty revolutionary. So revolutionary, that the studio went and changed things up again.
In “Maleficent,” the titular anti-hero has formed a bond with the young Aurora (better known as Sleeping Beauty), basically being her mother throughout the young princess’ growing up years in exile. In fact, they bond so much that Maleficent tries to take back the curse she placed on the baby Aurora, a curse that will cause her to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday.
The curse sadly has a no-backsies clause, so Maleficent instead races a magically unconscious Prince Phillip to the castle to kiss the now sleeping Aurora, and break the curse. Surprisingly, that also doesn’t work. The movie implies that Phillip is legitimately nice, and probably does love Aurora, but the spell isn’t broken.
It’s only when Maleficent herself swears she’ll never let any harm come to the sleeping Aurora as long as she lives, and gives the princess a motherly kiss on the forehead that Aurora awakens from her slumber.
It is True Love’s Kiss, but it’s the true love a mother feels for her child, not the romantic love a prince feels for a princess.
So what’s going on here? Did “Maleficent” straight up rip off the near anarchic-by-Disney-levels plot twist from “Frozen?” Are princes no longer necessary, and if so, what will they do for their non-kissing related jobs?
More likely, this is something that Disney has been heading towards for a good long while, and has only hit critical mass in the past half a year.
The thing is, princes have always been superfluous to the Disney animated movies. They’re basically sentient lips with a horse, without any more personality or character arc than is absolutely necessary. The focus, both in terms of plot, and in terms of marketing has always been squarely on the princesses; but because of True Love’s Kiss, the prince has also been a necessary part of the equation.
If you look back to 1991 and “Beauty and the Beast,” you have the first inklings that the studio was trying to make a change. Belle is an independent smart girl who isn’t waiting around for her prince. That she ends up marrying one is ancillary to the story, but it shows the studio was trying.
Then they floundered for a few years, trying to swing the equation back with male-centric movies like “The Lion King” and “Hercules,” before switching things up with “Mulan,” the movie that ended the reign of the princess movie for nearly a decade.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Disney made their foray back into the world of royalty with “The Princess and the Frog.” Though the movie does end up with a traditional kiss breaking the curse — in this case, a frog curse — the movie makes sure that both characters, prince and princess, are given equal weight and arcs in the story.
“Tangled” followed suit the next year, with the title of the movie controversially changing from “Rapunzel” to the more gender-neutral title, reportedly because of the prominence of both the longhaired princess and her love interest, Flynn Rider. Still, the duo were given equal weight, something that would have been unheard of years prior.
And all of these attempts to change would have been for naught, if it wasn’t for Pixar’s “Brave” in 2012. In the movie, not only doesn’t the main character Merida need a prince, she choses to be without one at the end of the movie — and breaks the curse placed on her family by bonding with her mother.
Though it’s entirely possible “Brave” may have just been in parallel development with “Frozen,” the success of the latter clearly shows how it improved (at least financially, if not critically as well) on the “No Princes” necessary rule.
“Maleficent” just continues that trend. By the end of the movie, the implication is there that Phillip and Aurora may get married later on, but there’s no kiss — and he’s very clearly (and awkwardly) standing to the side of a scene focused squarely on Aurora and Maleficent.
Will this slow march towards independent, strong, powerful female leads continue? The studio has a live action version of “Cinderella” coming on March 13, 2015; and their next animated film (currently untitled) to hit on November 23, 2016. On both counts, we have no idea of the take on the material (or in the latter case, the material) and the plot. So it’ll be a while before we find out if the trend pioneered by “Brave” and perfected in “Frozen” and “Maleficent” is here to stay.
Either way, though, princes may want to start looking for some other form of employment.
“Maleficent” is in theaters now.