Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
I was baking some children in the oven when it suddenly occurred to me that Disney princes are mostly awful human beings (and lions and foxes). There seems to be this unspoken rule that all of them have to be below the bar, forcing them to go on a journey to gain some basic human decency and emotional maturity. Even if they don't, they are still loved as classic characters.
Please keep in mind that when I say "prince," what I really mean is "male lead." Not all male Disney protagonists are princes, just as not all female Disney protagonists are princesses.
I'm going to run down a list of male Disney protagonists to show you exactly what I mean here.
Known pretty much as "The Prince," he was Snow White's lover and rescuer in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
To be fair, he wasn't around enough for anyone to take issue with him. He was mostly a plot device, only meant to appear when convenient to Snow White's story. Because this story was based on a fairy tale, the characters were supposed to be two-dimensional, so this wasn't a big issue.
The issue was that "The Prince" thought it was fine and dandy to kiss Snow White while she's basically dead. Not on the forehead. Not on the cheek. He kisses her mouth while she's lying there in her coffin.
It was the weirdest, grossest thing ever.
Also, he didn't even know her like that to be kissing her while she's dead. It would be one thing if she was his dead girlfriend, but she's wasn't. She was just a girl that he stumbled upon one day while wandering aimlessly into people's castles.
"The Prince" kissing Dead Snow White is like if a girl you briefly held eye contact with at the mall died in a horrible escalator accident and you decided to kiss her corpse on the mouth because she smiled at you once.
Thankfully, children are too young to get the magnitude of what's happening there. I feel sorry for all the parents who had to sit through that crap, though. Including my own.
Kuzco (David Spade) is the emperor from The Emperor's New Groove and his entire arc is basically about what a jerk he is.
Read More From Reelrundown
In the original screenplay, before Disney decided the movie had too much "icky" Inca mythology, Kuzco's arc actually involved him learning not to be a jerkass while being cared for by a peasant girl. He would have been a llama the entire time and thus helpless and in need of her care, for the first time in his life being treated as just one of the herd.
I feel the original story would have played out his arc better. Instead, he rides entirely on the goodwill Pacha (John Goodman), who -- for some reason -- continues to help him despite how obnoxious he is, putting in all the emotional labor of forming a friendship and getting very little in return.
By the end of the film, Kuzco learns how to exhibit some basic human decency without really going on a journey of suffering and hardship to gain the wisdom. Sure, he cries for about six minutes out in the jungle and misses his big, comfy bed, but that is not a real journey.
There should have been a moment when Kuzco was forced to witness how his cruelty and narcissism actually impacted the people of his empire. Instead, he has a change of heart because Yzma (his only mother figure) doesn't like him and wants to kill him.
It seems kind of silly because Yzma is a villain -- why wouldn't she try to kill Kuzco? They could have taken things a step farther by having Kuzco realize he was on the fast track to becoming like Yzma.
Basically, I just feel Kuzco's arc could have been better. Kuzco got away with achieving the bare minimum of Compassion 101, while his female Disney counterparts are always expected to commit daring feats of bravery, become stronger and wiser, and sometimes die (see "The Prince" above) in order to achieve their happy ending.
There have been some really good articles about why the movie Aladdin is a problem, but no one talks about why the character Aladdin is a problem.
I've made jokes in a few other articles here about what an awful guy Aladdin is, but they were more than mere lighthearted jokes in passing. Aladdin really is an awful guy.
Don't get me wrong. He's not exactly Hitler. He has flaws like any normal person. But because he is the hero of the story -- more importantly, a children's story -- he's supposed to still be a good guy, someone who cares about other people more than himself. Instead, Aladdin is a self-centered jerk.
When Aladdin (Scott Weinger) gets his hands on the genie's lamp, his first concern is to make himself rich and to marry Princess Jasmine while pretending to be someone he's not. He is a guy who has lived his entire life on the streets of Agrabah, stealing bread and ducking furious swords to fill his belly, and the thought never crosses his mind that he should wish for, I dunno . . . a Utopian state for Agrabah? Social equality? An end to the classism that oppressed him? I mean, damn. He could have at least ended world hunger.
In the beginning of the film, we see Aladdin feed some hungry kids the bread he just went through hell to steal for himself. But after that point, the kids are forgotten and he immediately goes back to focusing on himself when he starts singing about what a street rat he is and how he hates being poor.
One track mind with this one.
Later, Aladdin tricks the genie -- a literal slave -- into freeing him from the Cave of Wonders. This forces Genie to stay in his service for a longer period of time. Granted, Aladdin doesn't know this in the beginning (if my memory serves me right) but even long after he does know it, he makes the conscious decision to keep the genie enslaved so that he can go on lying to Princess Jasmine.
This is pretty damn scummy. Aladdin is perfectly willing to keep his new friend enslaved -- ignoring his pleas for freedom -- so that he can lie to the woman he supposedly loves.
It seems really ridiculous at this point when Aladdin and the genie are clearly friends. Genie liked Aladdin enough to save him from being dropped to the bottom of the lake by the palace guards (when it might have actually benefited him to let Aladdin die). Why wouldn't he continue to help Aladdin after being set free?
But no. Aladdin wants the genie to remain eternally enslaved so that he can keep up his charade. To make matters worse, if he had just freed the genie when he had the chance -- as he actually says in the film -- Jafar wouldn't have risen to power, enslaved everyone, and nearly killed him.
By the end of the film, Aladdin finally sets the genie free, and for some inexplicable reason, no one is angry with him.
Jasmine and the sultan should have been pissed. Jafar gaining the lamp was clearly Aladdin's fault. What was more, Aladdin lied to royalty. That's treason or something.
And Genie? He was so quick to forgive something as horrifying as his first and only friend in an entire millennium choosing to enslave him.
Think about this carefully now. Aladdin was going to marry Princess Jasmine and have sex with her and raise her children while lying to her and pretending to be someone he was not -- and while keeping his best friend a literal slave. Yes, everyone should have been enraged at him by the end of the film, but I guess Aladdin being executed would have been too dark for the first film (though it wasn't too dark for the second).
The second film, The Return of Jafar, attempted to make Jasmine less of a doe-eyed doormat by having her actually get pissed at Aladdin for lying to her a second time. By that point, however, her anger is so retroactive, it just seems ridiculous.
I understand that Aladdin was portrayed as human and flawed, but characters can be flawed without being toxic.
I guess it's not surprising Aladdin turned out this way. The source material was pretty racist and sexist and even had a few rape stories thrown in.
I will be burned at the stake for this, but Simba (Matthew Broderick) from The Lion King was actually a coward and a tyrant to boot.
I get that he went through some pretty traumatic stuff. As a child, he watched his father die, and then his uncle brainwashed him into believing it was his own fault. But by the time Simba was a grown-ass lion, he should have realized that he wasn't to blame. Instead, he kept whining and blaming himself and running away from his responsibilities.
When Nala is brave enough to seek help, she finds Simba, only to find he is now a coward who would rather let his mother and the rest of the lionesses starve to death than go back and fight for what is right.
Simba spent his childhood ranting on about how he wanted to be brave like Mufasa, but when push came to shove, he curled up in a fetal position and cried.
It's sort of silly.
Simba is based on Hamlet, and the real Hamlet sought out his "Scar" and killed him to avenge his father. Simba, on the other hand, lacks Hamlet's wit, bravery, and ability to pretend to be crazy. Perhaps being raised by a warthog and a meerkat stunted his emotional development.
Eventually, it takes the ghost of his dead father before Simba will return to Pride Rock and face his fears. No personal growth, no motivation of his own. Just "Daddy told me to."
Even then, he is still whining like a child about how Mufasa's death is "his" fault. As if his mother and the other lionesses would have really blamed him! It's like Simba forgot what a kind and completely sane woman Sarabi was. He was brainwashed by Scar so easily, it's painful to watch.
Later in the sequel, Simba's Pride, Simba turns out to be a bigot just like Mufasa, except that instead of bullying the hyenas, he's bullying other lions.
After Scar's death, Simba banishes a group of Scar Loyalists to the outskirts of the kingdom, there to starve to death for daring to disagree with his policies as king. Once their leader, Zira, is out of the way, Kiara talks her father out of being a bigot, and it is revealed that a lot of the "outlander" lionesses were willing to live under Simba's rule in peace.
All Simba had to do was ask.
The Beast (also known as Prince Adam) is the lion-pig-bear who served as the male lead for Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Since the movie's release in 1991, there have been an endless plethora of think pieces explaining why the Beast is a piece of crap who didn't deserve Belle.
Do I really need to go into it?
Suffice it to say he was a jerk who got his servants cursed, imprisoned Belle's harmless, fat father for trespassing, then imprisoned Belle and blackmailed her into dating him.
At the end of the film, he basically has a figurative hand in killing Gaston, who really wasn't someone who deserved to die. Sure, Gaston was a misogynistic jerk, but he only thought he was protecting Belle. Meanwhile, the guy who imprisoned Belle, bullied her, yelled at her, and threatened her is the one she says, "I love you" to.
Some sexist asshole: Women, amirite?
This film couldn't have put a foot deeper in Disney's mouth had it tried.
When will people stop looking back fondly on a time when brown people were brutalized?
We all know Disney's Pocahontas was a sickening distortion of historical events. The movie's smallest sins were aging Pocahontas up to a hot model and aging John Smith down to an equally hot model, and then having the two of them fall in love in a twisted Romeo and Juliet plot more disturbing than any Shakespeare.
I won't go into the bigger sins.
The real John Smith was a fat, short coward who used his Native American guide as a human shield during battles, but the fictional Smith in this film is a tall, rugged, handsome famed "Indian" killer who only decides that maybe slaughtering indigenous people and taking their land is wrong after he meets a hot one.
No wonder he was voiced by Mel Gibson. Probably best they kept Gibson away from The Emperor's New Groove, huh?
Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) from The Princess and the Frog is actually pretty tame compared to the other male Disney leads on my list. He's like Kuzco with less asshole stirred in, given that he would never chuck an old man out a window.
Naveen's biggest flaws are laziness and enjoying lots of sex and music. Not so bad, actually. He was a bit self-centered and insufferable, but those were basic flaws, not toxic ones.
So while Naveen isn't really awful-awful, he is still a pretty good example of how most male Disney leads are overgrown frat boys who go on an overdue journey of maturity, while their female counterparts often play the role of mother figure and lover at the same disturbing time.
I think Disney was afraid of depicting unfortunate stereotypes about brown men with Naveen, so they played it "safe." The downside is that Naveen didn't have a race at all, and Disney missed the opportunity to have two black people with dark skin depicted in a positive and healthy relationship on screen.
Think how often you see that. You don't.
Because far too many people underestimate children, Disney released The Nightmare Before Christmas through Touchstone for fear that the film was too dark and would scare the wee ones. It wound up being a hit, and many happy kids -- myself included -- adored it without fear for thirty years.
Jack (Chris Sarandon) was the leading male protagonist, a depressed skeleton and king of Halloween who was suffering from a serious case of ennui.
You're probably wondering how a nice guy like Jack could end up on this list. After all, the creatures of Halloween town, Jack included, are depicted as happy and innocent and not meaning any real harm.
Perhaps that is the very flaw of Jack's being. He is innocent and childlike and doesn't think things through. As a result, he thinks it's a-okay to stuff Santa Claus in a trashbag and steal his holiday.
The only sane person with an adult's level of emotional development is Sally, the female lead, who has to act like guiding mother figure and lover to Jack in his journey toward adulthood.
So much like Naveen, Jack isn't a bad guy, per se. He's just another fine example of a childlike and immature male lead being selfish and self-absorbed to the detriment of everyone around him.
That's about it.
The other male Disney leads -- like Quasimodo, Hercules, Li Shang, and Tarzan -- were pretty decent, upstanding guys.
Unless I can think of something they ever did that was "problematic," and then I'll be back.
© 2018 Lee