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Author Emily Zemler Goes Beyond The Tiara With Disney Princesses

Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara is a new focused on exactly what the title suggests, which is the legacy and influence of princess characters in Disney lore. Beyond being the vehicle for launching Walt Disney into the cultural stratosphere, thanks to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney Princesses have become their own brand and made a major impact in the worlds of fashion and media at large.

Author Emily Zemler, a freelance writer and journalist living in London, has previously tackled the world of Disney from a different angle in The Art and Making of Aladdin. This time around, she investigates the history of various Disney Princesses and chronicles the spread of their influence through everything from fandom reactions to outside reimaginings. With a foreword by Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Beyond the Tiara seeks to not only understand but also celebrate the incredible legacy of each and every princess.


Related: Why The Little Mermaid’s Ariel Is Unique Among Disney Princesses

Screen Rant spoke to author Emily Zemler about her discoveries during the process of researching Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara and her thoughts on the cultural impact of various iconic characters. Check out an exclusive excerpt from the book’s chapter on fashion, marvel at Aurora’s resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, and read the full interview below:

Screen Rant: I love what you said in the intro about Disney Princesses being about more than wanting specific things, like marriage or a perfect life, but really about following your dream. How do you think your early interest helped lead to your path as a writer and journalist?

Emily Zemler: It’s so funny, I was thinking about that. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I grew up in a household with many movies around. We didn’t have TV reception, so we just had a VCR and would just watch endless movies. I owned all the Disney movies on VHS, and we owned all those sing-a-long compilations that had all the songs from the Disney movies. We just watch those and sing along. I just grew up watching so many movies and understanding that storytelling on screen was such an amazing, magical and immersive experience. I am sure it’s no coincidence that I wrote about it all these years.

In particular with the Disney Princess films, I grew up in the so-called Disney Renaissance. I grew up with characters like Ariel and Belle and Jasmine, and they were really strong, feisty characters who can only encourage you to go out in the world and seek out what you wanted.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things to me going through the book was Audrey Hepburn being an inspiration for Aurora. Now it seems so obvious that I cannot unsee it.

Emily Zemler: Yes! That is not accidental that there is an image of the two of them side by side in the book. I needed everybody to see it once I saw it.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered or reflected on while conducting your princess research and interviews for the book?

Emily Zemler: Yeah, there were a couple of really surprising things. It was really interesting to learn about what was going on in culture when they were being created. I really liked learning about how Dior’s new look seemed to impact the fashion of Cinderella; there’s a real correlation between those images.

There’s a cool anecdote from one of the directors of Tangled, who talks about how Rapunzel drawing on the walls of her tower was reflective of how we express ourselves on social media. Those are just examples of how what is going on in culture is also happening onscreen.

Speaking of culture impacting the screen, I love all kinds of Disney remixes and outside interpretations of Princess lore. Are there any recent reimaginings that stood out to you?

Emily Zemler: I’ve really enjoyed watching the reimaginings just to see what they have done.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the way in which Walt Disney Studios has reimagined the animated films, though I think some have been more successful than others. And some have resonated more than others. It’s always really interesting to remake something for to make it with a different medium.

I’m a fan of changing things up for the sake of changing things up, and I really enjoyed the Mulan reimagining that came out a few years ago. It was fascinating to see that come to life with real settings; that was shot mostly on location. They didn’t use a lot of soundstages, and they had that epic, big feeling. I really liked the cast of that one as well, though I did miss Mushu.

I’ve enjoyed the reimaginings that have been extensions of the story in certain ways, or have taken the story in different directions. For the purpose of this book, I watched the entirety of Once Upon a Time, and it was actually a really fun thing to have on as I was researching and writing the book. It’s such a fun way to see the characters in new ways, with new personality traits that still resonate with the same sensibility as the original character. Finally, I’m very excited to see what they’re going to do with The Little Mermaid and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

In that same vein, I know that fandom cosplay and other forms of recreation help contextualize stories for new audiences. What are some innovative expansions of Disney branding that you’ve seen in fandom or even the fashion world?

Emily Zemler: There have been so many. I was really interested in learning more about Disney Princess memes when I was researching this. The algorithm on my Instagram completely changed while I was researching the book, and I discovered that everything was a Disney Princess image.

I think that they are such iconic characters in our cultural lore that we have really recognizable ideas about them. We associate Cinderella with certain things; we associate Ariel with certain things. Memes are really easily understood when they involve Disney Princesses. My favorite in the book—you can imagine some memes did not make it past the editing phase—is Hipster Ariel, which was created by Braden Graeber. He created her on a whim, and then she became a really popular thing online, because she really resonates with the millennial audience who grew up with her.

A funny story about the editing of this book is that one of the Hipster Mermaid memes is Ariel in her hipster glasses and the caption is, “My dad owns Pitchfork.” King Triton has a pitchfork, but her dad owns the music website, Pitchfork. Every single person that was involved in the editing process of this book kept trying to change the wording to “a pitchfork,” and I had to be like, “No, it’s a music website.” It was a real learning process for some of the older editors. I finally just put a comment in the manuscript that said, “This is in reference to a music website that many millennials have grown to love over the years.” The memes were really, really fun.

In terms of fashion, I was really interested in how Disney has welcomed creative interpretations of the characters for fashion collaborations. There’s the one with Coach and Snow White that’s really cool. There were really funky-looking purses, and it had tones from the film, especially the darker imagery. But it’s not what you would have expected, and I think it’s really cool that Disney allowed something like that to go through, because it really connects with different types of audiences.

We’re not all going to wear a pink T-shirt with a tiara on it, and we’re not all going to connect to that. But a lot of us do connect to the characters or to the imagery, or maybe to an aspect of the film that’s not necessarily the bright and colorful aesthetic. I think those collaborations have been very cool.

I really loved the chapter on the music and lyrics of Disney songs, which are obviously iconic and stay in people’s minds forever. “I want” songs especially are really definitive of the character and their journey. What qualities do you think Disney lyricists and composers share that help them get those messages across throughout different films?

Emily Zemler: It was really interesting to learn more about the music and where it came from. It really started with Walt Disney, who had the idea to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into a musical. And that obviously connected with people so much, because we can feel the emotion in a song more strongly than maybe we would if the characters were just speaking. It’s really evocative.

I think a lot of the lyricists who have worked on the Disney Princess films have been able to capture that feeling of desire and wanting something outside of your current circumstances. That feeling of there being something bigger than this. “How can I get it? What does that mean for me?” There’s a lot of questioning in Disney Princess songs, and a lot of looking inward to figure out who they are and where they want to go. That has been pretty consistent.

Most Disney Princesses have gotten an “I want” song, although that idea really did originate with Howard Ashman and Alan Menken when they worked on The Little Mermaid. It’s continued in more recent films, like Moana. She has a very clear and beautiful “I want” song, and Lin Manuel Miranda was able to capture that same spirit that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman captured in something like The Little Mermaid.

Where the songs all come together is that they’re pretty simple. They’re pretty straightforward, they’re really clear, and they resonate with us because we feel the same sense of wanting that the character is feeling. We can connect to that same thing, whether we want the same thing literally or not. I don’t know that we all want to go explore the ocean, but we can all connect to that idea of there being something more to life. “How do I get it? How do I find it?”

About Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara

Featuring concept art, memorabilia, and original interviews, Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara explores the legacies of the princesses and what they represent today.

Everyone knows the Disney Princess characters, but how did they become the cultural icons we know today? From the Princesses Walt Disney and his artists brought to the screen in the twentieth century, such as Snow White and Aurora, to the recent additions such as Moana, Tiana, and Rapunzel, each Disney Princess character’s influence has expanded beyond their original film. Each of their unique, individual stories create a fabric with the power to inspire our imaginations, spark social conversations, and empower us.

Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara arrives on September 20 through Epic Ink, an imprint of The Quarto Group. The hardcover book comprises 192 pages and 200+ illustrations. It is currently available for pre-order.



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