Dispatches | September 20, 2012

*Today’s guest post comes from editorial intern, Samantha Otto. Samantha is well-known around the office for having terrible taste in movies. The following is in her voice, with limited, necessary, italicized editorial comment.*

I had just left a folklore class discussing traditional European fairy tales, so imagine my surprise when I walked into the TMR conference room to hear a fellow intern and our social media editor discussing the 1987 family comedy The Princess Bride, based on the book by William Goldman.

(A wonderful book, and a better movie, starring, among others, Kevin Wilson)

Kevin Wilson. From The Princess Bride.

That was when I made my fatal blunder: “Are you talking about The Princess Bride?” I exclaimed, “I hate that movie!”

Ah yes, there it was. Did you catch it? Here it is in case you missed it: I, a twenty year old girl, openly admiting that I didn’t like one of the most popular 80s princess movies. Jaws dropped. Pencils snapped. Traffic outside screeched to a halt. Men at work removed their hats and shook their heads with resign. Even Chuck Norris did a double take.

(Here, Samantha is using hyperbole. Given both her fondness for it, and the expertise with which she wields it, one would be forgiven for showing surprise at her hatred of The Princess Bride, arguably one of the greatest movies in film history.)

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but honestly, I’ve never seen a group of English majors look more astonished. Someone in the room informed me that movie’s 25th anniversary is fast approaching (voice in my head: …so?). Since you, dear reader, probably reacted the same way my colleagues did, I will attempt to explain myself.

(I find it highly doubtful that you will convince me of your heresy.) 

First of all, it must be established that I am in no way whatsoever opposed to the telling of princess-based fairy tales. It’s true that some of Disney’s earliest princess films set the feminist movement back a few decades, but I’m a firm believer in letting children enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood as long as they damn well please. Simple pleasures including (but not limited to) singing crabs and woodland creatures that help make the bed. Yes, I was a Disney daughter—firmly believing I was a mermaid princess until I joined a swim team and removed all possibility of living life in an aquatic environment. C’est la vie, I suppose. In any case, princesses for the win.

What bothers me most is the titular princess. Buttercup (what kind of a name is that, anyway?) is the princess bride. Buttercup has quite a few adventures, as I recall, but her greatest attribute was being a bride. Really? I know Cinderella’s accolades don’t extend much further but at least she was escaping domestic abuse. Buttercup is, as I understand, a spoiled girl who takes delight in ordering around the stable boy with a pencil mustache. It isn’t until one day she “decides” that she loves Westley and he is forced to seek his fortunes on the sea to win her hand. His ship is attacked, and, believing him dead, Buttercup is all set to passively marry Prince Humperdinck (a much better name that MSWord even recognizes) with a pretty pout on her princess face.

(Alright. This is sensible, logical, articulate.) 


the evil Humperdinck

Which brings me to my next point: Buttercup doesn’t do much of anything. She’s one of the most passive characters I’ve ever seen portrayed on screen. They could have hired a my-size Barbie to stand in her place for 99% of the movie and seen no difference (no offense to Robin Wright’s acting abilities, she’s fabulous—this just wasn’t her script, or anyone’s for that matter). Example? The scariest scene of the movie: The Fire Swamp. Place yourself in Buttercup’s fire engine-red shoes: you’ve just been reunited with your dashing love only minutes before and now he’s leading you through a forest where fire can (and will) burst from the ground at any given moment, sand pits pocket the landscape, and giant rats rule the turf. You are terrified. Suddenly one of those giant rats, the aptly named “Rodents Of Unusual Size”, pounces upon your lover boy and rips a decent chunk out of his shoulder. Quick! What would you do? If you’re a true Princess Buttercup you’ll clap your hands to your mouth and…

…well, that’s about it.

(Agreed, it’s not ideal. But…)

Buttercup stands and watches as Wesley is almost mauled to death by a rat the size of the common Great Dane. No gasps, no swoons, no calls for help, no beating of the rodent with a nearby tree branch. Even Sleeping Beauty did more to motivate her man (and she was drugged)! For the love of all vengeful Spaniards, please give the girl some spunk! Buttercup wouldn’t bother me half as much if she took action against her captors instead of just mouthing off to them or standing in the background, eyes glazed over like an early-edition Kristin Stewart.

(You’ve got spunk, Otto. I hate spunk.)

I believe it is unfair to provide young girls with a role model that is about as motivated as a sack of royal potatoes. Although Disney princesses may not be the perfect example of the “go get’em girl” attitude I respect, at least they have goals and the courage to reach for them. Buttercup, at her darkest moment, threatens suicide. Give me ball gowns and godmothers any day.

dinner with andre. and an angry Spaniard.

Now, I will concede, The Princess Bride, is one of the most quotable movies of all time (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”). I also believe it trumpets important values: teamwork, wit, persistence, and, of course, never going against a Sicilian when death is on the line. In addition, it revolves around a different kind of love than other fairy tales. Romantic love, sure, but also a deeper love based not on dashing princes and love-at-first sight. It is a love based on the unwavering desire to do whatever it takes to make the one you love happy. From the stable boy obeying Buttercup’s every whim to the grandfather agreeing to read again to his whiny grandson, love is the motivator. It may not be romantic or even seem like love at all—but it guides the hero home and soothes the ailing child.

(And a kind of gracious winner.)

Was that enough? Have I explained thoroughly my reasons for shrugging off one of the country’s great cult classics? Write me a new heroine with a spark in her and I will reconsider. Should I go away now so you can watch your favorite movie in peace?

As you wish.