Chief Science Correspondent
This isn't my typical Cennamology article, but I decided that if Hank Green can go from science commentary to occasional reinterpretations of Pride and Prejudice, I can too.
If you know anything about me, then you probably know that I have somewhat of an obsession with both Disney princesses and Jane Austen. In 2009, my girlfriends and I dressed up as princess characters for Halloween (Furthermore, Cennamology Chief Editor Steven Cenname and I will be dressing up as one of our favorite Disney couples this year). In 2012, I ended up in a major class project that involved sewing five Regency-era dresses for an dramatized portrayal of the Bennet sisters.
Earlier this month Steven wrote an article discussing how Robin Williams' role as the Genie in Aladdin has revolutionized the art of animated film. Disney movies are no longer solely a children's genre, but something that viewers of all ages enjoy. I think the internet has played a role in this trend as well. New media grants us the power to find new meanings in some of the old films we loved growing up (and some of the newer films as well). Think parody songs, endless Buzzfeed lists, deviantART, various trailer mash-ups and anything related to Frozen. The '90s babies have certainly earned their nickname as "The Generation of Nostalgia."
1. Lizzy Bennet: Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
--Mr. Bennet, to Mrs. Bennet
Between her frank, outspoken nature, her natural intelligence and her disdain for convention, Disney's Belle is the flawless embodiment of Austen's most famous heroine. Like Belle, Lizzy lives in a small village that is relatively isolated. As she does not choose to fully engage in standard customs of the town's society, Lizzy is viewed as peculiar. Miss Bingley, viewing Lizzy as a rival, criticizes her poor manners and accuses Lizzy of preferring books to socialization. Part of the prejudice against Lizzy stems from her family's reputation. In addition to their lack of wealth, many of the Bennets are regarded as eccentric, much like the mockery Belle's peers direct toward's her father. Also like Belle, Lizzy has a very strong relationship with her father, and the two seem to relate to each other better than anyone else.
Lizzy in many ways rejects her society's culture. For example, she rejects a marriage proposal from Mr. Collins outright. The proud and pompous Collins is shocked, as he had assumed that, as a woman of little financial advantage, Lizzy would gladly accept any chance at marriage. This was certainly the cultural norm in both Lizzy and Belle's worlds. However, like Belle, Lizzy does not seek marriage as her primary life goal. This sets Lizzy apart from most of her peers, and it sets Belle apart from most of her fellow princesses. While Jasmine, Pocahontas and Merida do reject marriages, their situations are somewhat unique from Belle's. First, these characters are largely rejecting the arranged marriage system itself rather than a straight proposal. Second, they are born princesses and already have power and wealth to their family's names. Belle's father appears relatively poor, while Belle's rejected suitor Gaston appears to be financially well off.
Ultimately, both Lizzy and Belle end up marrying well above their stations. They each meet men who are fabulously wealthy and powerful. Yet both heroines' rejections of the typical marriage system remain firm; both Lizzy and Belle declare their disdain for these men. Mr. Darcy, much like the Beast, is brusque and rude and arrogant. He initially shows no true interest in Lizzy, believing her to be just as silly as every other girl he has met. As the two become better acquainted, it becomes clear that Darcy has developed feelings for Lizzy, as he begins to watch her closely and attempts to catch her affection. It is quite some time before the two admit their feelings for one another, much like Belle and the Beast.
Interestingly, both Belle and Lizzy arguably become infatuated with the men's estates before falling in love with the men themselves. Lizzy does not appear to feel any hint of affection toward Darcy until visiting his mansion, Pemberly House. At this point, Lizzy is transfixed by Pemberly's beautiful grounds, and imagines what it might be like to be the mistress of such an estate. As for Belle, the Beast lives in a castle managed by a talking candelabra and a motherly teapot. It's safe to say that the castle's magical charm may have played a role in her eventual softening toward someone she had previously claimed to despise.
2. Jane Bennet: Cinderella (Cinderella)
—Lizzy, to Jane
Jane Bennet's life is a classic Cinderella story. The eldest of the Bennet sisters, Jane is beautiful, proper, soft-spoken and very kind to everyone she meets. Just give Jane a forest of animal friends and a tendency to burst out in spontaneous song, and this young woman could easily join the princess franchise.
Once again, the Bennets do not come from a particularly advantageous economic background, so Jane finds herself often among her social superiors. Jane is cheerful, almost never complaining and regularly supporting those around her. She's the type of girl you want to see in a happy ending. Jane meets the love of her life at, predictably enough, a ball. She quickly catches the attention of Mr. Bingley, one of the most wealthy men in town. Despite her low social standing, Jane is greatly admired for her beauty. Jane falls in love very quickly, and Bingley seems to feel the same way. The two appear to be almost engaged; however, the couple is temporarily separated and Jane almost loses her chance to become Mrs. Bingley. Ultimately, Bingley returns to the Bennet household to propose to Jane, and she immediately accepts.
Both characters share a flaw of being too passive, allowing themselves to be mistreated. Cinderella is forced into servitude by her own family, never complaining or refusing. She never even attempts to run away. When something does not go well for Cinderella, her solution is to bury her face into her arms and cry. It is the fairy godmother that fixes Cinderella's dress and provides her transportation to the ball. The young maiden never even lifts a foot. And it is Cinderella's mice friends that open the door when she is locked in her bedroom like a child, barred from meeting her prince and proving her identity as his true love. Unlike many of the modern princesses who carve out their own destinies, Cinderella let things happen to her. Without a lot of luck and help from her devoted friends, Cinderella would have remained a servant her entire life. Likewise, Jane does little to improve her own situation. She does not appear to design to marry Bingley, but just happens to catch his attention. She does little to prove her affection for him and, when Bingley is sent away. Jane sinks passively into a deep, but quiet depression. She does not write him and, despite later traveling in the same area as he, does not attempt to visit.
This speaks much to the cultural norms in both of these societies; Lizzy is disdained for refusing a man, but Mrs. Bennet is ridiculed for actively seeking marriage for her daughters by design. Both Jane and Cinderella exemplify the way a woman was meant to behave. While I believe Disney reinforces this value, Austen seems to be calling attention to the problem by telling the story primarily through the more assertive Lizzy's eyes. Lizzy tells Jane, "You never see a fault in anybody...To be candid without ostentation or design - to take the good of everyone's character and make it still better, and to say nothing of the bad - belongs to you alone." While Austen promotes genuine kindness as a virtue, she also presents its danger when granted without critical thought.
3. Lydia Bennet: Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
—Mr. Bennet, to Lizzy
Adventurous? Check. Boy-crazy? Check. Stubborn, rebellious and naiive? Check, check and check. Ariel is the only Disney Princess who could ever match the likes of Lydia Bennet.
Like Ariel, Lydia was the youngest child, living in the shadow of her older sisters. Yet despite growing up in a family almost entirely made up of women, Lydia does have a strong female figure as a role model. Jane, Lizzy and Mary appear to pay very little attention to their younger sister. As a result, Lydia generally ends up wandering off into town in search of adventure, with her complacent sidekick Kitty generally following after her into trouble. Lydia is given a great measure of freedom, much more than most young women during this time.
It is clear that neither Mr. Bennet nor King Triton think very highly of their young daughters' judgment. Mr. Bennet often calls Lydia out as being one of the "silliest girls in the country," and Triton dismisses Ariel's interest in the human world, saying she does not understand the danger lurking above the surface. Both fathers disapprove of their daughters' adventurous tendencies, but do little to stop it. Mr. Bennet allows Lydia to go off and visit the regiment, even knowing that she will likely get herself in trouble with the men. Triton essentially allows Ariel's adventures to go unchecked, sending in a crab as her babysitter.
Both girls run away from home in pursuit of both men and adventure. By the time the fathers learn of the danger their daughters have brought upon themselves, it is far too late. Ariel has lost her voice and is about to become sea witch Ursula's slave. Lydia has run off with a man who has no intention of marrying her, ruining the reputations of her virtue and of her family. Both fathers, realizing their indiscretions, go off in an attempt to save their daughters. Ultimately, both Ariel and Lydia are able to marry their objects of desire, and they both maintain some measure of respect in their societies. For both of these young women, the message of the story appears to be that it is acceptable for a young woman to abandon her life in pursuit of a man whom she hardly knows. Their foolishness is indulged and ultimately condoned.
That being said, I love Ariel. While she is flawed as a character, she is also adventurous; I believe she rebels because she has been largely ignored her entire life. Life is dull for a princess whose family pays her little attention. Austen seems to condemn Lydia, but it's important to remember that this novel is conveyed through Lizzy's prejudiced eyes. Lizzy sees her sister and thoughtless and silly. As a result, that is how the reader is led to view the youngest Bennet as well. But Lizzy, like Ariel's older sisters, did not actively attempt to guide Lydia toward more proper behavior. There is little evidence of any measure of affection from the wiser Bennet sister.
(As a side note, Mary Kate Wiles, who plays Lydia in 2012-2013 The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, happens to have flaming red hair. While this is nothing more than a coincidence and not a deliberate factor in my decision to cast Ariel as Lydia, I like to think that the hair color suits Lydia's unique and colorful personality perfectly).
4. Kitty Bennet: Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
If you didn't catch it in the Lydia/Ariel analysis, I think Flounder plays the same role for Ariel as Kitty does to Lydia; he follows Ariel around constantly as she travels in search of adventure. Flounder, while cute and loveable, is not a particularly authoritative figure. And that description fits the second-youngest Bennet sister perfectly.
However, if I had to assign Kitty to a human Disney character, it would have to be Aurora. Why? Like Kitty, we hardly know anything about this young maiden. Both Kitty and Aurora are given an extremely limited amount of opportunities to speak, essentially becoming background characters within their own stories.
Here is what we do know about Aurora: She is raised under the charge of three incompetent fairies who attempt to serve as parental figures. While one fairy attempts in vain to serve as an authority figure (Elizabeth), the other two (Lydia and Mrs. Bennet) are very silly and provide little authoritative guidance. This household, much like the Bennet household, is highly dysfunctional to the point of comedy. Thus, Aurora appears to have been largely left to wander on her own. This is a similar situation to the Lydia/Ariel parallel; however, Aurora's more innocent, passive nature leads her to wander aimlessly into trouble, whereas Ariel actively seeks it.
Aurora, like Kitty, is the perfect follower. Predestined to a curse that condemns her to a nearly eternal slumber, Aurora literally follows Maleficent right up to the spinning wheel. Aurora never makes an active decision in the course of the entire movie. She wanders in the woods, runs into a prince, follows an evil fairy, falls into a coma, and wakes up when said prince kisses her on the lips. Aurora isn't even allowed to choose the color of her dress.
In this way, Kitty/Aurora is a bit similar to Jane/Cinderella. However, Jane in grounded in moral goodness. We don't know what Kitty is motivated by, because ultimately we don't get the chance to see much of her character at all. The result is the a depiction of a boring, lifeless young woman who appears to forge her identity in the wills of those around her.
5. Mary Bennet: Drizella (Cinderella)
I admit that this pairing may seem a bit strange. On the surface, Mary and Drizella could not be more different. Drizella is loud, bossy and will jump at any mention of a party, especially if it involves the prince. Mary appears comparatively quiet, preferring intellectual study to social events. So why did I cast Drizella as Mary's Disney counterpart?
At the core, these two women have much in common. They are both self-entitled, irritable and judgmental. Austen does not give the reader many chances to hear Mary speak, but when she does, the reader may wish that she hadn't. Mary is prone to long-winded outbursts in which she condemns everyone around her for being foolish. Drizella constantly ridicules her sister Anastasia, believing herself to be intellectually superior to her sister. Like Lizzy, Mary looks down upon the silly antics of her younger sisters, taking the time to point out how she is more worthy of praise. In many ways, I believe Drizella represents the way Mary may act, were she given the attention of an indulgent stepmother.
I think these two women's similarities stem from a similar situation. Austen describes Mary as the only plain girl in her family. "Plain" is the perfect description for Cinderella's ugly stepsister. Her features are less refined than most of her peers'. Her hair is pulled back in a harsh, unflattering knot and her figure is awkwardly shaped, lacking any hint of femininity. (Coincidentally enough, both girls are often seen donning unflattering green dresses). As a result, Drizella overcompensates by constantly drawing attention to herself. That same lack of beauty forms Mary's character.
Austen says that Mary "was always impatient for display." Mary may not show any interest in balls or marriage, but she takes every opportunity she can to showcase her accomplishments in a public setting. One of Mary's most memorable moments is her singing performance during a party. This scene is parallel to Drizella's screeching performance of "Sing Sweet Nightingale." Mary considers herself highly talented, but is actually tone-deaf. Ultimately, her vanity and demand for attention make her appear extremely foolish. Both Mary and Drizella are forgotten while their sisters (even Anastasia, in the sequel) find happiness in marriage.
6. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: Fa Zhou and Fa Li (Mulan)
—Mrs. Bennet, to Mr. Bennet
Fa Li and Mrs. Bennet are kindred spirits. I am convinced that these two women, if acquainted, would despise each other out of jealousy towards their daughters' respective marriage prospects. Both of these woman are on a mission to secure their daughters with a suitable husband - the richer the better.
This drive towards marriage makes Fa Li and Mrs. Bennet seem silly at best, and manipulative at worst. Fa Li pushes Mulan into being someone she is not in order to make herself seem appealing to prospective husbands. When Mulan fails, Fa Li is deeply disappointed. Mulan sees this reaction as rejection, causing her to become depressed over her inadequacies. However, Fa Li is not attempting to break Mulan's spirit, just as Mrs. Bennet is not trying to be insensitive when she admonishes her daughters for missing an opportunity for marriage. Both of these women live in a society where a woman's only means of social motility is through an advantageous marriage. While the women's motivations is certainly driven by a desire for honor to their family's name, it is grounded in motherly love. These women only want their daughters to be secure and taken care of. They want to provide for them in the only way they can.
In most cases, I did not match these characters up based on their pairings within their Disney movies, preferring to mix and match various characters who share close parallels with their Austen counterparts. But Mulan's parents, one of the only living married couples in Disney, match the Bennet dynamic perfectly. While Fa Li is anxious about Mulan's future, Fa Zhou is calm and collected. Mother and father alike love their daughters dearly, but they look out for them in very different ways. While Fa Zhou certainly worries for the honor of his family name, he seems to look beyond the cultural norm of viewing girls as commodities in a marriage contract.
When Mulan fails in her attempt to attract a husband, her father is the one to comfort her. This scene is very similar to the one in which Mr. Bennet supports a distraught Lizzy, who has deeply disappointed her mother by rejecting a marriage proposal. One of the most powerful quotes from Mulan is from Fa Zhou: "The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter."
7. Mr. Darcy: Kristoff (Frozen)
By casting Belle as Lizzy Bennet, I set myself up to pair Mr. Darcy with the Beast. And the Beast's story is certainly similar to that of Darcy. The Beast becomes acquainted with a young women to whom he initially pays little regard. Belle and the Beast strongly dislike each other until, like Darcy and Lizzy, they learn to give one another a chance. However, I ultimately chose to bestow the role of Darcy on Kristoff, rather than the Beast. Beauty and the Beast is about the Beast's journey as he changes to become the man he wants to be. It is only at this point that he is truly worthy of love. Enraged and abusive, Beast starts out as a villain but becomes a hero over time. Darcy is a man who was always noble, but whose virtue was clouded through misunderstanding. In Pride and Prejudice it is Lizzy's perception, rather than Darcy's nature, that is changed.
Kristoff is neither enraged nor abusive. However, like Mr. Darcy, Kristoff lacks social skills. He can have a short temper with strangers and a often assumes sarcastic manner of speaking. He does not relate well to people (preferring the company of a reindeer and a family of trolls). This is why Anna initially finds Kristoff unappealing. Their quips closely resemble the early dialogues between Lizzy and Darcy. It is clear that Kristoff thinks Anna just as silly as any other girl, as he mocks her marriage and poor survival skills. He questions her judgment, just as Darcy makes assumptions on Lizzy's class and taste solely by what he knows of similar women.
However, over time, Kristoff and Anna begin to better understand one another. Anna realizes that Kristoff may seem gruff toward strangers, but he is extremely affectionate towards the people he loves. She first appears to reveal a romantic interest in Kristoff when his "family" highly recommends him. Lizzy begins to recognize Darcy's virtue when she meets his friends, servants and family, all of whom acknowledge his social awkwardness but vouch for his good character. Ultimately, it is an act of selflessness that brings these couples together. Darcy saves Lizzy's sister and family from shame by arranging for her marriage. Kristoff runs into an eternal snowstorm in an attempt to unfreeze Anna's heart. It is not until these very moments that Lizzy and Anna recognize the love that these men have developed for them over time.
8. Mr. Bingley: Eric (The Little Mermaid)
You know that guy who has everything? Piles of money, good looks, and enough charisma to charm a fish out of water? That's Charles Bingley. Much like Prince Eric, Bingley has led an easy life of leisure on his family's money. His peers wish to see him settled, buying his own estate and marrying a socially suitable girl. However, much like Eric, Bingley isn't ready to accept the responsibility of his high social standing.
Both of these men value emotion over propriety. And it is for this reason that they both develop attractions for a beautiful, but socially inferior woman. Jane Bennet has little money to offer Bingley, and Ariel has no apparent connections whatsoever. However, that fact does not seem important to these men. Generous as always, both men invite these women into their homes for an indefinite stay.
Both Ariel and Jane Bennet are extremely soft-spoken, Jane by her nature and Ariel by a curse. Therefore, although both women return this affection, they do not express their feelings clearly. Because neither Bingley nor Eric are particularly adept at picking up on subtly, they do not pursue the relationship far enough to substantiate a marriage proposal, or even a declaration of love. Both men are manipulated into abandoning the women that hold their affection. Eric is easily convinced that another woman had saved his life, and Bingley never questions his friends' arrangements for his departure, as they are convinced that Jane does not love him.
Both Eric and Bingley are good characters at heart, but they are accustomed to an easy life devoid of responsibility or difficult decision. This weakens their potential as characters, resulting in a loss of control over their own lives. In the end, these men do make the choice to stand up for their love: Bingley returns and confesses his love to Jane, and Eric saves Ariel from Ursula.
9. Charlotte Lucas: Nakoma (Pocahontas)
—Charlotte, to Lizzy
Nakoma is one of the only "gal pals" in the Disney princess franchise. And while Tiana's childhood acquaintance Charlotte La Bouff matches Lizzy's best friend in name, they lack almost any resemblance whatsoever in personality.
Like Nakoma, Charlotte Lucas is Lizzy's voice of reason. While Lizzy/Pocahontas questions the social order, Charlotte/Nakoma reinforces it. She urges Lizzy to recognize marriage for what it is, a business contract. While Charlotte is more practical in her view of the world than Lizzy, she is also less imaginative. While Lizzy seeks love and adventure, Charlotte, like Nakoma, will settle for a secure marriage within her own society. These two women possess vastly different world views, but that does not stop them from being best friends. Charlotte, like Nakoma, has the heroine's best interests at heart. And ultimately, both girls learn to accept the other's different life choices. Their divergent opinions may cause initial conflict, but the power of their friendship is not so easily broken.
10. George Wickham: Hans (Frozen)
From the moment I began to compile this list, there was never a doubt in my mind that Frozen villain Prince Hans would be cast as the devious George Wickham. Like Hans, Wickham uses his good looks, charming nature and apparent honesty to attract the attention of every woman he meets, even a smart girl like Lizzy.
Hans and Wickham are both extremely skilled liars, to the point where they manage to cast blame on everyone else, making themselves into the hero. Wickham plays the victim, turning Lizzy against Darcy by convincing her that the man robbed him of his promised inheritance. Hans fools an entire kingdom into designating him as their ruler, even turning Anna against her own sister. It is not until it is too late that these men reveal their true agenda: a conquest for wealth and power.
As the youngest of 13 sons, Hans has essentially no chance of ever ascending to the throne. Therefore, he devises a scheme to make Anna fall in love with him, and makes plans to kill her sister, Queen Elsa. Having dried up his life's money on entertainment, Wickham sets out on an agenda to marry a rich woman and continue to live out his reckless lifestyle. He initially plans to marry a rich heiress, but ends up using his elopement with Lydia to his advantage, demanding a large sum of money from Darcy before agreeing to marry the youngest Bennet.
Lydia is only fifteen years old at the time of her elopement. She doesn't realize how foolish her actions are, because she hasn't even been taught how a proper woman should act. She cannot be held responsible for her indiscretion. Yet Wickham was experienced enough to know better. He knew that he was deceiving her. Wickham understood that unless he married Lydia, her reputation would be forever ruined. He uses this knowledge to his advantage, fulfilling first his lust and then his desire for money.
If Pride and Prejudice was a musical, George Wickham would have had Lydia Bennet under his little finger at "chocolate fondue."
Do you agree with this list? Which characters would you cast in an Austen movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.