“Where Happily Ever After Happens Every Day”: The Medievalisms of Disney’s Princesses

  • Clare Bradford
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


When viewers access the Disney Princess website, they encounter the designated Princesses, who look directly out toward their audience, each in turn performing bodily movements that incorporate a curious mixture of stiffness and seductiveness as the Princesses flutter their eyelashes, smile or laugh beguilingly, drop into curtsey-like poses, adjust their hand positions or (in Belle’s case) brush a strand of hair from their faces.1 The Princesses are framed by “medieval” signifiers: the castle towers adorned with gold and surmounted by decorative finials and the spires and pennants that appear at the left and right of the website’s front page. Located against a backdrop of pink and pastel colors and looped with the fairy dust swirling around the website, these towers are less clearly visible than the Princesses, who are attributed with a higher degree of modality.Z The medieval is, then, hazily present, suggesting a misty, allusive relationship between the Middle Ages and the Princesses: a relationship whose value is vividly implied by the gold leaf and rich adornments embellishing the castle towers. The Princesses, on the other hand, are presented as “real” figures in what resembles a line-up rather than a group of associates; none of the them looks toward or refers to the others, signaling that each occupies a separate notional space. When viewers click on one or other of the Princesses, they are invited into a fantasy world signified by European-style castles (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle) and their “ethnic” equivalents: Jasmine’s palace; Pocahontas’s green headlands and river vistas; Mulan’s pagoda and garden; and Tiana’s dream restaurant in 1920s’ New Orleans.


Romantic Partner Fairy Tale Historical Fiction Gender Trouble Courtly Love 
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© Tison Pugh and Susan Aronstein 2012

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  • Clare Bradford

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