World Princess Week began August 20, 2023. With that in mind, it is a good time to think about the character attributes of the best of the Disney princesses.
Moral courage, kindness, love, and generosity are what make up the foundation of many fairy tales.
Whether the virtues are obvious or not, many of the princesses -- and, indeed, the princes -- have their souls rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella hits the mark with religious leaders (Rated PG for mild thematic elements)
The live action 2015 retelling of the classic Cinderella story was praised by fans, audiences, and the clergy for the underlying messages it portrayed.
Deacon Steven D. Greydanus wrote in the National Catholic Register:
“Branagh has said he wanted to make Cinderella a movie in which ‘kindness was a superpower,’ and indeed, Ella’s goodness and inner strength allow her to accept her humiliations with equanimity, not because she’s weak, but because questions of status and privilege mean little to her.”
Greydanus added when summing up the theme of the film:
“Yet the moral climax of Cinderella is not her triumph over her cruel stepfamily, nor her happy union with the Prince, but something more elevated and distinctively Christian, and straight out of the text of Perrault.
"When was the last time you saw a Hollywood family film, or any kind of Hollywood film, in which the very last words spoken from the protagonist to her enemies are words of forgiveness?”
In the movie, Cinderella’s mother’s final words to her reminded her and indeed instructed her, to “be kind and courageous.”
Even though these words were not spoken in the original 1950 animated Disney film, the animated character of Cinderella embodied these attributes. She has always been a kind soul.
After seeing the Branagh movie, Bishop Robert Barron wrote in the Catholic News Agency:
“…one of my favorite elements in Branagh’s telling—is that Cinderella, upon escaping from the cruel oppression of her stepmother, turned to the wicked woman, not to curse her, but to offer a word of forgiveness.
“When you see this film, I would invite you, even as you take in the fantasy and romance of it, to appreciate it too as a deeply Christian story.”
Actually, the act of forgiveness is not unique to Christianity. It is a pillar in Judaism as well as other religions.
Writing for The Catholic Thing, Daniel McInerny stated:
"My point .. is not that Branagh himself is necessarily aware of the Christian allegory at play in his film, but rather that in choosing not to deconstruct the Cinderella tale, in choosing to approach it in the same traditional manner by which it was first written in the 17th century by Charles Perrault, he has allowed the tale’s original Christian inspiration to shine through.”
And finally, Caitlin Marchand penned an article for Catholic Education Research Center titled “In Defense of Cinderella.” She ended with the statement:
"But I think Cinderella has earned her happy ending. Not because she was pretty enough to snare a rich guy. Not because magic solves all your problems. Cinderella had her happy ending within herself all the time and that’s what the prince fell in love with. What a beautiful message.”
On a personal note, I enjoyed this incarnation of the tale. There have been many versions, including a wonderful musical from Rogers and Hammerstein.
This Branagh film is a delight, even though I am not someone who usually embraces the retelling of classic animated movies.
Cinderella’s beautiful ball gown is exquisite, and the fun banter between Prince Kit (Richard Madden) and Cinderella (Lily James) is humorous and enjoyable, as are the quips between the prince and the Captain of the Guard.
The cast is A-list, with Helena Bonham Carter as an entertaining and humorous Fairy Godmother.
To me, it is simply a nice story about a woman who had been dealt a bad hand but managed to forge through it all with dignity. There are many tearful moments, obviously, however the ending is up-lifting.
This is a more emotional telling of the story and the characters are more fully developed than in any other version previously or since, making James’ representation of the beloved princess one of the most memorable (plus let’s not forget that beautiful ball gown!)
Moana relates to the Bible (Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)
While Branagh’s Cinderella garnered much religious retrospection, other princesses also bring to light many attributes within the Judeo-Christian heritage.
In 2016, the story of a reluctant island princess captured the hearts of audiences around the world.
According to The National Catholic Reporter, the story has several connections to The Bible:
“For those looking for possible catechetical material, Moana contains echoes of Deborah, Esther, and Judith (minus the seduction and decapitation) as a woman is able to free her people from the threat of extinction.
"Another biblical theme in Moana is the chaos represented by water, which Moana's father forbids her to sail.”
Erik Lenhart went on to write:
“The most significant biblical motif, however, is the idea of a people who forgot that they were once voyagers in search of a homeland.”
The sacrificial love between the Frozen sisters (Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor)
In this beloved 2013 movie about two loving sisters, Anna figuratively fell on the sword to save her sister Elsa from death.
In doing so, she herself was killed, however she was saved because, as they say, “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.”
True love means putting someone else before yourself.
The online site Godtube published a statement about this action by Princess Anna:
“Anna accepts the mistakes her sister Elsa has made and makes sure Elsa knows she loves her and cares about her. In the end, Anna dies to save Elsa, which reminds me of John 15:13 ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’”
Princesses and their stories imbue important lessons
National Catholic Reporter published an article about the effects of stories:
“Stories are precious, powerful things. They shape our understanding of the world and our place within it. They erect — or, demolish — boundaries in our lives. And, they often stand in as answers to complex questions as parables, fables, myths.”
Indeed, stories are powerful. Just think of the Bible.
The article continues:
“Stories help us understand and make sense of faith and doubt, certainty and paradox. Stories help us live in that creative tension that our spiritual lives often demand.”
So, whether it is Cinderella, Snow White, Moana, Elsa, Anna, or whomever, there are lessons to be learned from the Disney princesses (just as there are lessons to be learned from Biblical characters.)
Kindness, hope, humanity, love, and courage are part of their worlds (no pun intended as a reference to The Little Mermaid.)
Image: Adobe Stock