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The Courtauld Institute of Art

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Meg de Milo

April 2, 2016

 

In the 1997 movie Hercules, there is an amusing scene (for an art history student at least) in which Hercules skims a rock across a pond, accidently knocking the arms off a female sculpture. Meg looks at the sculpture for a moment and says: 'It looks better that way. It really does.' The altered sculpture is of course, the Venus de Milo, wittily inserted in her white and fragmented state, into this Disney cartoon. 

 

Watching Hercules again has revealed a whole host of these pretty hilarious Classical winks that were most definitely lost on my younger ears - 'Indoor plumbing: it’s gonna be big' or '…that Oedipus thing! Man, I thought I had problems!' and my particular favourite 'You wanna buy a sundial?' Here Disney uses the mythological, yet surprisingly modern nature of the Classical to reassert order to the franchise which had been dwindling in recent years.  

 

It is Meg's character however that I find most intriguing in its use of the classical. Meg straddles the boundary between a typical Disney Princess and something entirely other. At first she is instantly recognisable as a Disney girl, her eyes are huge (and purple) and her waist minute. However, Meg has an undeniable sex appeal, the likes of which have not been seen before or since in a Disney film. Disney Princesses before Meg had been youthful, doe eyed and achingly virginal so I suppose I always pegged Meg's sex appeal to her being the only Disney love interest to have had previous relationships. It is also aided by her being a bit of a rebel, working her charms for Hades in a weirdly pimp/prostitute dynamic. However, I now believe this has much to do with the undeniable stylistic link between Meg and Venus – the  Western world's original sex symbol. 

 

 Unlike any previous Disney princesses (and many subsequent ones) Meg’s dress is tight. Whereas Belle and Cinderella wear full skirts and long sleeves (even when poor), Meg’s dress does little hide what lies beneath – a trick used in many statues of Venus, where her clothes only served to emphasise her form. Meg's body too is altered from the typical format. Much like the Venus de Milo, Meg’s torso has been almost comically extended and her hips widened, the sash at her waist only exaggerating this and her perpetual Praxitelian contrapposto. She appears at once waifish and fertile. Again like the Venus de Milo, Meg’s hair is up but coming loose. Throughout the film, her hair and clothes teeter on becoming undone, her voluminous fringe spiralling over her face, causing even Hercules to become uncomfortably aroused. Typically Venus was often depicted in situations where nudity and titillation would be expected and thus she is often depicted crouched whilst bathing, rinsing her hair or adjusting a sandal. The scene of Meg and Hercules's meeting just happens to involve Meg getting dropped in a river where she immediately goes about drying her hair and crouching to adjust her shoes - 'I'm a big tough girl. I tie my own sandals and everything.' 

 

Meg's flawed and sarcastic nature ensured her a firm place in my heart, but obviously proved too much for Disney. Despite using the mythological Princess Megara as the model for Meg's character, Meg was never canonised as a true Disney Princess. A year later in 1998, Mulan, who is neither Princess in the film nor in life, was welcomed to the roster showing that Meg's rejection was based on different grounds. By excluding Meg, Disney affirmed that Meg is an unsuitable role model for little girls. Fraternising with boys (plural) and with a brief stint to the dark-side, Meg was just far to real for 1997. I believe it is this however, that gives Hercules the power to stand the test of time, allowing it, almost 20 years on, to feel as fresh as the day it was made. 

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