Vintage Princess Fantasy Sequences

I wanted to review the new trailer for Disney's remake of The Little Mermaid today, but sadly, the trailer was canceled at the last minute. I'm upset about this because Aladdin had many more official promos at this point in its release. Instead of dwelling on present frustrations, let's take a deep dive into the past and see how fairy tale princesses were treated in film before the Disney Princess brand existed. There are a number of old movies from the '30s and '40s that feature a fantasy sequence with one of the main characters living the life of a fairy tale princess. These scenes were typically separate from the main plot of the film, separating the idealized dream of royalty a concept from historical fact.

The first princess fantasy sequence comes from the 1939 film The Little Princess starring Shirley Temple, which is based on the book A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Though the story does not actually feature any princesses, Sara Crewe's philosophy that every girl is a princess made it appropriate to include a dream sequence that presents its heroine as a magical fairy tale princess. Princesses rarely get their own royal throne and entourage that is separate from the king and queen, but this scene is a pure fantasy that celebrates everything that has made princesses so beloved and popular over the years. It features Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe in a beautiful long gown of white silk with golden accents wielding a crown and scepter as numerous servants dote on her hand and foot. The wicked headmistress from the film is presented as a Maleficent-like villain who performs a song with Shirley Temple attempting to persecute two of her employees for being in love. Shirley's character pardons the couple and proceeds to watch a doppelganger of herself perform a lovely ballet sequence.

A lesser-known movie with a similar sequence is Her Highness and the Bellboy, a black-and-white film featuring the brilliant Hedy Lamarr as a foreign princess named Veronica. One of the things that makes this movie unique is that it places a clear divide between the fantasy of being a princess and the reality of it. Though she is very regal, Princess Veronica is not a particularly happy person due to her duties getting in the way of her personal desires. Jimmy, the film's protagonist, is a bellboy with delusions of grandeur who gets so caught up in the fantasy of working for a real-life princess that he neglects his girlfriend, Leslie, who is struggling with health issues. As a result, Leslie has an elaborate dream that is similar to the one in The Little Princess in which she gets to don a gown and tiara and share a romantic dance with Jimmy as her prince. The dichotomy between this scene and Princess Veronica's struggles shows that the fantasy of being a princess is very different from reality. Although everything works out in the end, my personal opinion is that Leslie should have dumped Jimmy for someone who was more grounded in the real world.

The concept of the princess fantasy was so popular in the '30s and '40s that even Disney's 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs almost featured its own fantasy sequence despite already being a fairy tale. The iconic "Someday My Princess Will Come" is now known for the simplicity of Snow White simply sitting in a chair and telling the dwarfs a story. At one point, it was going to be an elaborate dreamscape in which Snow White envisions herself riding a romantic swan boat in the clouds and sharing a dance with her prince in a fantasy wedding dress while cartoon stars with faces dance around them. The scene was ultimately cut for being too much of a "heightened fantasy" as well as being too difficult to animate. Though none of the sequences in these films are necessary to tell the story, the live-action ones in The Little Princess and Her Highness and the Bellboy add an enhanced sense of surrealism that would not have been as necessary for an animated fairy tale musical like Snow White. Still, I would love to have seen this sequence fully animated if only for aesthetic reasons.

The princess fantasy sequence is not something that we see as often in modern films. One reason for this might be that technology has come such a long way that filmmakers are now able to produce full-length features that take place entirely within these elaborate and heightened fantasy worlds. Another possibility is that the themes in movies like Her Highness and the Bellboy have become more nuanced, so filmmakers want to provide a more literal portrayal of the positive and negative aspects of royalty within the same world instead without extraneous dream sequences. Whatever the reason, these beautiful fantasies have continued to inspire classic scenes in other animated princess movies, particularly those of Don Bluth such as Thumbelina and Anastasia. The most modern and nuanced portrayal of this concept is 2021's WandaVision, which constantly dances on the line between fantasy and reality due to the Scarlet Witch's unique reality-altering powers. Do you miss these vintage dream sequences that portray an idealized version of reality, or do you prefer the more nuanced modern portrayals that showcase the good and the bad in the same settings? Let me know in the comments!


Sugar said…
I like these princess dreams since it is something that is still used a lot in Japanese shojo! and it really is something that I also dreamed of as a child.
I'm afraid they've fallen out of favor because nowadays it's considered unhealthy to give the message to girls that it's okay to dream of being a princess unless you're a warrior princess with guns or you're like Marinette from ladybug a secret superhero. So now you're "hip" enough and you're forgiven for wanting to be a princess who dances with her love (although sadly this series presents more of a theme of romanticized obsession on both sides).
But luckily Korea, China and Japan don't seem to want to let go of these plots!
Among other things I've seen synopses of Disney's Ultra Violet and Black Scorpion, I'm not interested in watching the series and I don't want to be unfair to it... but it seems like a pretty obvious attempt to make Japanese magical girls more "acceptable and modern" "So now we don't just have warrior princesses as the norm but also magical girls who are more like superheroes who are experts in fighting
Lisa Dawn said…
I guess WandaVision did portray the romantic fantasy thing as kind of toxic because she brainwashed everyone in the area to become part of the fantasy, and of course, she was actually a superhero and real life and wanted to forget that part of herself.

I haven't heard of Black Violet and Ultra Scorpion. Are they on Disney Channel?
Sugar said…
Yes! Ultra violet is a girl with purple hair and a purple wrestling mask and her uncle and mentor wears black.
At least in my country the series is being highly promoted, so I suppose it's there too.
Lisa Dawn said…
I looked it up and immediately lost interest when I saw that it's live-action. Most Disney Channel and Nickelodeon sitcoms tend to be pretty stupid with a few exceptions (K.C. Undercover, Lab Rats, Andi Mack, and The Other Kingdom).

By the way, I finished reading the Swimming Lessons for a Mermaid webcomic last week and absolutely loved it!
Sugar said…
Great! I'm glad you liked it! If you want to read something shorter and even more based on the fairy tale "House of Stars" you might like it! There are also many other finished webtoons to read but I only remember these two based on fairy tales.
Lisa Dawn said…
I did read House of Stars, but I couldn't get into it like I did with this one. Another mermaid webcomic that I enjoyed about mermaids is called Siren's Lament.
Sugar said…
I know it! but I admit that it took me out of the story that the apparent love triangle was not and one of the boys had been in love with the mother of the protagonist hahaha do you know Strawberry Seafoam? magical girl mermaids in the sea! schools of magic and friendship, it has an attempt at romance although very subtle and very insta love but the art is beautiful and if you are not looking for romance the story is cute and has music!
Lisa Dawn said…
I actually forgot that part of the story! LOL

No, I'm not familiar with Strawberry Seafoam. I've seen some of the Mermaid Melody anime though.
Anonymous said…
Omg! This is literally the cutest blog ever! I just stumbled upon it today when I was trying to find the dream sequence from Shirley Temple’s ‘Little Princess’. I am happy to see that this blog is very much active. I look forward to seeing more posts, keep it up!

Annie <3
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Annie, thanks so much for stopping by! Have an amazing day!

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