Have you ever re-watched one of your favourite childhood films and had that awful moment of realisation where you notice all the flaws? All the plot holes and terrible characterisation that you didn’t notice when you were younger? This is exactly what happened to my friend and I when we decided to watch The Swan Princess.
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Released in 1994, this animated musical is an intervention of the classic ballet Swan Lake. A sorcerer named Rothbart kills Princess Odette’s father and tries to force her into marrying him, so he can take over the kingdom. When she refuses he places her under a spell which turns her into a swan during the day. At night, only by swimming into the moonlight reflected on the lake can she become human again. To break the spell her true love, Prince Derek, has to make a vow of everlasting love to her and prove it to the world. But first he has to find her, and evade the evil Rothbart. With some help from Odette’s animal friends the pair eventually get reunited and live happily ever after, of course.
When I was around seven years old I was OBSESSED with this film. Now, over ten years later (goodness, I’m old!), I still have a soft spot for it. It’s one of those so-bad-it’s-good things, with its outdated animation, cheesy songs, and the most dry-humoured turtle and sarcastic frog ever.
It also has two sequels, The Secret of the Castle and The Mystery of the Enchanted Kingdom. We watched all three, and both reached the same conclusion: Prince Derek is a complete moron, and if either of us were Odette we would be telling him to get lost in not very polite words.
In every film Derek does something to upset Odette which results in her being put in a dangerous situation. He even falls for enemies posing as her twice, despite how she’s supposed to be his one true love. If he can’t even tell the difference between the real Odette and imposters then he clearly has problems! The main issue with Derek is just that he’s really stupid. Firstly, for repeatedly offending Odette, lying to her, and putting her in danger. Secondly, for rushing out blindly to save her without making any plans, whilst behind his back a bunch of talking animals do a better job of assisting her than he does.
Thankfully, Odette is pretty resourceful. She shows herself to be intelligent and brave in positions where she could easily become passive. Instead of taking the easy option and marrying Rothbart, she continually defies him. She could mope and wait to be rescued, but instead she breaks into Rothbart’s castle and steals a map to find a way to escape. She could wait patiently for help whilst the crazy sorceress, Zelda, plans to kill her with the ‘Forbidden Arts,’ but instead she finds a way to free herself and steals the magic orb containing Zelda’s power. Although ultimately Odette needs Derek to save her, she doesn’t sit around waiting for him to show up. She is definitely the brains behind the plans. With her animal friends, she gets everything set up just in time for Derek to arrive and dispatch the villain in a heroic sword fight.
There isn’t some princess rulebook which states that all princesses have to be sweet and demure. Odette shows this by disagreeing with Derek and trying to find her own ways out. However, it would be much better if she went a bit further and told him to go take a long walk off a short pier. Sure, Derek always sees how wrong he was and apologises. But that doesn’t make it okay because clearly he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. When I was a child, I overlooked this and instead focused on the magic and true love let’s-go-and-dance-by-the-pretty-moonlit-lake vibe. But now I question what exactly I was hoping for at seven years old when I so desperately wanted to be Odette.
Overall, apart from Prince Derek’s incompetence, The Swan Princess films aren’t completely terrible. Actually, they’re pretty funny, have some good songs, and a solid (if inconsistent) story. Considering when they were released, they provide a good alternative to their contemporary Disney films and if you’re looking for some classic, cringy 90s animation then this is it.
Has anyone else seen any of these films? If so, I’d love to hear your views on it in the comments! Also, I encourage you to go and re-watch your favourite childhood films. Not only is it fun to indulge in a little nostalgia, but you might just be amazed at what you discover.