Shapeshifting in the Magic Kingdom

Alright, I have a dirty little secret: despite being a well-educated feminist who understands all the gender problems with the princesses and the problematic cultural stereotypes on some of the older rides and in the older films, and who knows that the Pocahontas story was really *nothing* like that …

I love Disneyland.


I didn’t think I would. As an 18 year old living in Tokyo, I resisted going to Disneyland because it was expensive, and it was for kids. Then someone actually took me there. And then I went again. And when we took my kids back to Japan in 2003, on our one “spare” day between visiting relatives, that’s where we went.

Since then, I’ve been to Disneyland in Anaheim three times (with my kids’ dance school), and Disney World in Orlando once. I’ll leave it up to Roslyn to confess her own Disney experiences, but suffice to say, there are photos of us both in Walt worlds. Together.

Last year, my daughter was cast as Panic in the dance school’s production of Hercules. Hades’ minions, Pain and and Panic, have the ability to shapeshift– as do a number of the Disney villains, including Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, the evil stepmother in Snow White, and Jafar in Aladdin.


late 2012 early 2013 022Jamie (L) as Panic and her friend Lucy (R) as Pain. There’s a typecasting joke here, somewhere …

Very few of the good guys have this ability. The one obvious exception is the Beast, and let’s face it, we’re not sure he actually is a good guy for a while there. In fact, the only reason we don’t read him as a selfish jerk for the first half of the film is because Gaston is filling the role so admirably. The message seems to be: nice, solid guys are … well, solid. And shift-y guys are shifty!

Another confession: when I first saw the transformation scene at the climax of Beauty and the Beast, I didn’t quite respond the way the animators probably intended. In fact, I yelled, “Hey, that’s a rip -off of The Dark Crystal!” and wondered aloud why the Beast had to made beautiful to be acceptable. Of course, the ugly duckling motif is one which is familiar to Disney audiences.



I much preferred the parallel transformation scene in Shrek. It’s OK, young viewers, for your true self to be somewhat less than a magical makeover. Honest. (When we were in Disneyland in April, a shop owner told me she wished Shrek was “one of theirs,” by the way; apparently she hadn’t read the whole DisneyWar story and realised that Jeffrey Katzenburg used disgruntled Disney animators on that film and that there’s a reason why the other Princesses in it are kind of lampooned …)

Despite all this, I really love Beauty and the Beast. I think the score has a lot to do with that, and the idea of a bookish brunette being the Princess seemed slightly more relatable than say, a downtrodden blonde stepdaughter whose best mates are sewing mice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In a little over a week’s time, Roslyn and I are off to see a local production of Beauty and the Beast. I can’t wait to see how they handle the shapeshifting scene, live. (For the record, Pain and Panic used a lot of velcro and props and hoped the audience knew the plot). A few of my former students are in the cast, and it’s our last big girls’ night out before Roslyn abandons me and flies to the other side of the world to start a new adventure.

As for my 14 year old, she’s just along for the ride because she LOVES Belle. And maybe she’s just a little bit fond of us, too.

ImageJamie & Belle


2 responses to “Shapeshifting in the Magic Kingdom

  • roslynw

    It took me slightly longer to get to Disneyland than you, I was 28 years old and a pretty excited 28 year old at that.
    As for the princess phenomenon, I must say I was not a girl who grew up wanting to be a princess. Quite the opposite; I always much preferred stories where the girls were in the action alongside the heroes, not waiting at home or in towers for the heroes to save them. In my world, the heroes fell for heroines because of their character, not just a pretty face. In fact, I’m guilty of reading my nieces and nephews many a Disney fairytale book and repeatedly changing the words from “beautiful princess” and “handsome prince” to “kind and smart princess” and “kind and courageous prince” or combinations of anything relating to nobility of character rather than appearance. That stopped when they learned to read but I like to think I was imparting life lessons. 🙂
    Having said that, I enjoy some of the classic Disney fairytales, and certainly the newer ones reflect some shifting attitudes to women, with characters showing a bit more agency. I’ve also always been a fan of Belle precisely because she was a bookish brunette, and the Disney film has a fantastic score, so it was a pleasure seeing the musical, and very fruitful for certain academic projects!

  • Kimberley McMahon-Coleman

    I was the same … not into princesses, and when people do the “oh, every girl dreams of her wedding” patter, I still look at them blankly. I didn’t. I didn’t want a fairy tale rescuer, wedding, or ever after. I remember an Aunt telling me to marry for money when I was about 14, to which I replied, “how about I make my own money, and then he can marry me for it?”

    I like your idea of altering the tales to be less about facial features and more about personality. My kids were read “The Paperbag Princess.” A lot. She rescues herself, then declares the prince to be a boring bum not worth marrying. There is a little of that spark in Belle when she rejects Gaston’s advances, which is another of the reasons I like her. It’s just sad that the odd, bookish, bright, princess also had to be the one whose “name means Beauty” and “has no parallel.” On a related note, you might be interested in the recent scandal about the eleventh princess, Merida, and how she was “made over” by Disney earlier this yer … a make over which has since been rescinded due to public outcry!

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