Odette turned into a swan. Ariel turned into a human. Tiana turned into a frog. Thumbelina turned into a faery. Transformation is such a huge theme among fairy tales that it is practically embedded into their DNA. If you think beautiful transformation sequences are just a visual motif, you would only be half right. This theme is so common among fables because it represents a storytelling technique that has existed ever since stories started being told. Every good story takes a character on a complete journey, whether physical or metaphorical, that changes them by the time they reach its end. Likewise, each princess or prince who has transformed into their final form by the end of the movie leans a powerful lesson from their experiences. We see that lesson visually through the magic of animation and visual effects. For me, transformation sequences are the ultimate high point of traditional animation.

Every fairy tale princess begins her story as a sheltered ingenue who is thirsty for knowledge about the mysterious outside world. When she is set free to explore it, she learns about the existence of both darkness and light. She must struggle to remain pure and good despite how easy it would be to fight back against the forces that wish to do her harm. Each fairy tale transformation sequence is a metaphor for that journey. Ideally, by the time a princess has completed her transformative journey, she is a new person who is now ready to be queen. Sequels to princess movies rarely work because the princesses have become so different from who they were at the beginning of their story. Someone who loved and related to an ingenue might have more trouble relating to a more experienced and calculating adult. That's why it's often better to press the "reset" button and tell a new story about the same classic archetypes that people love and relate to.

The most literal genre for transformation sequences is the Magical Girl genre. Though it is mostly used in anime, this style of girls' cartoons has slowly gained popularity in western media as well. Magical Girl shows contain beautiful montages of aesthetically pleasing battle uniforms materializing on the body of an ingenue in an extravagant show of ribbons and glitter. Unlike fables of old where a princess or prince was cursed to turn into an animal, magical girls become stronger, smarter, and more resilient when they transform, similar to how Cinderella's transformation brought out her own inner princess. It takes several seasons of a Magical Girl show to see the protagonists' mental and emotional maturity catch up to their sparkling ensemble. That is the one transformation that cannot be rushed and keeps viewers coming back for more.

On a purely superficial level, I absolutely love watching transformation sequences in animation. They are like nothing I could ever see or experience in the real world. The glitter and elegance of a good transformation make me feel all warm and tingly inside and helps me imagine being the best person I can be without all the hard work and struggle that real life requires for such things. Some of us never achieve our ultimate goals for self-fulfillment, which is why seeing it happen in the blink of an eye is so satisfying. The artistry of creating something from nothing and bringing together the perfect combination of drawings, visual effects, and music is quite possibly the most stunning thing that a person's eyes can be fortunate enough to perceive.

Transformations will always be one of the most beloved aspects of fairy tale princess stories. They are a beautiful visual representation of a person embracing their best self and sharing it with the rest of the world. They are also the pinnacle of animation, whimsy, and fantasy storytelling. Good stories always contain a transformative arc for the protagonist whether it is shown visually or not. Seeing it happen in such an extravagant way is the perfect cherry on top of a beautiful fairy tale. What's your favorite transformation sequence? Let me know below!


Guest said…
I really agree on that transformations are the high point of traditional animation.
When I compare for example Cinderella’s dress transformation to Elsa’s it just does not feel as magical. The magical moment during ‘let it go’ is more when she starts creating the castle but it still does not feel as magical as hand drawn animation.

The only 3D transformation that I can think of at the moment that I like is from ‘Barbie as Rapunzel’ when she paints all the different dresses.

My favourite one from Disney is Cinderella - it gives me goose bumps everytime.
Not from Disney it is definitely the one from ‘The Swan Princess’. I also love that they use the water transformation to reveal the title in the beginning of the movie.

I also like a transformation in the book ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’. I’m not going to spoil it though in case you have not read it.

Have a nice day! <3
Lisa Dawn said…
That was a fun scene in the Barbie movie because they had her paint the dresses onto her body with a paintbrush like it was a 3D printer! It was a unique take on the trope.

I also loved the water effects during the title and transformation sequences in the original Swan Princess. They tried to recreate the same effect in CGI for the many CGI sequels, but it didn't have the same magical feel when it was done by computer. The water didn't look as razor-thin or shimmery anymore.

I hope you have a nice day as well! :)
Anonymous said…
My favorite princess transformation is Anastasias during Once upon a December <3

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