I recently decided to watch Disney’s 1950 classic Cinderella as research for a possible post on the way in which the film has influenced attitudes about people needing a relationship to be happy and fulfilled, and the way in which the titular character is wished away from a drab and abusive existence to royalty merely for happening to strike the fancy of a prince. This interpretation definitely has some merit, and I may yet do a post in which I expound upon it.
I’m almost counting on it that someone will say I’m overthinking a fairy tale and a movie from a period where this sort of thing was the norm. Isn’t that the point, though? By examining the messages through our pop culture, both historic and present, we can better understand the prejudices and expectations people have towards single people. I dare say these expectations are still the norm in our society. Disney films are one medium through which such expectations can be communicated early in life, so much so they’re internalized before we even realize what is happening.
When I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be struck by something I’d never noticed before: how much outright singlism is expressed towards Prince Charming.This surprised me because, for being such a major part of the plot, Prince Charming really has little to do with the film. In fact, he only has a couple of lines. He’s really a prop set up for the rescue of Cinderella, and all we really have to know to buy the climax is that he’s in love, or is he? I’m not so sure anymore, and I think we have to look at what’s going on around the prince to really decide for ourselves.
The King: My son has been avoiding his responsibilities long enough. It’s high time he married and settled down.
Grand Duke: Of course, your Majesty, but we must be patient…
The King: I AM PATIENT!
[throws an inkwell]
It turns out the King is determined to see his son be married. He doesn’t give the impression he’s truly concerned about royal succession, but tell the Grand Duke he wants to have a chance to play with his grandchildren before he dies, and he’s later found dreaming about such an occurrence after he believes Cinderella and the prince have fallen in love.
We don’t find out for sure why the Prince hasn’t gotten married; he’s provided so little character development that your guess is as good as mine. The King alludes to the fact that he has eccentric opinions about life and love. We never get to find out what those are, but the King rejects them, and sees the Prince getting married as much more important than any opinions which would prevent grandchildren from being born.
Throughout this, no one cares about what the prince wants. They only care about how his falling in love could change their lives. The King wants grandchildren. Cinderella wants his love to find happiness. The Wicked Stepmother and her daughters want the status that comes from being royalty. The Grand Duke wants the praise of the King for helping find a romantic match for his son. No one once asks what the Prince wants, and the film never bothers to show us anything from his point of view, though we’re privy to the thoughts of almost every other character, even the mice.
The entire Royal Ball is a ruse so Prince Charming can meet every single woman in the kingdom and hopefully fall in love with at least one of them; he’s not even aware this is the purpose. The event looks pretty grim, with the prince summarily rejecting every woman until Cinderella enters, having been transformed by her Fairy Godmother. He’s instantly smitten with her, and things look to be going the King’s way until Cinderella runs off, suddenly realizing the Fairy Godmother’s magic will soon wear off. She leaves only a glass slipper as a clue, and you’re probably familiar with the rest.
The message inherent in Prince Charming’s characterization couldn’t be any clearer: there is something inherently wrong with the prince wanting to be single, and he must be cured at the earliest opportunity.
Now some might argue that the prince really did want to couple in the end. Consider, though, that he vowed to marry no other woman after Cinderella vanished into thin air as the Grand Duke was pursuing her. What if we were to read Prince Charming as having picked an unavailable woman in the hopes of getting his father to quit nagging him about marriage and grandchildren? He doesn’t personally go house to house with the Grand Duke looking for Cinderella, and it’s a stretch to believe the two of them fell irrevocably in love following a sing dance at the Royal Ball (lust maybe, but probably not love). What if he was secretly hoping she wouldn’t be found, and it was his bad luck that she did appear?
I know there’s a lot of conjecture here, but this story does fit with the very few things we’re told about the prince: he was single by choice; he apparently did not respond well to his father’s nagging and had to be tricked into even meeting women; he was in no hurry to produce a successor to the throne; and he had quite a few ideas about coupling that weren’t very popular with those around him. Prince Charming could very easily be interpretation as an archetypal victim of singlism and the pressure to couple, not receiving support from anyone around him and, in the end, having to get married after the person he said he loved actually appeared.
It’s an interesting interpretation for a character who’s long been considered to be a rescuer, the symbol of true love, fulfillment, and a fairy tale wedding. Yet, I don’t have to add details to the story to make this reading of the film work. I’m actually quite surprised no one’s written about it before as it sticks out like a sore thumb after you’ve read enough about singlism and its influence on western culture. In any case, I’m curious now to watch the two sequels to the 1950 film to see if there are any more clues present there, or if it writes the prince’s reluctance out of existence.
In any case, I’m now convinced those of us advocating against singlism should reclaim Prince Charming as a symbol of all that is wrong with coupling in in western society. When the wishes and happiness of the person being pressures to get into a relationship are not taken into account, it can lead to unhappiness, bitterness, and a miserable life instead. If Prince Charming were to fall in love, he should have been allowed to do so through his own devices. The wishes of everyone else are completely irrelevant in evaluating how he should live his life.