This week’s episode of the cartoon Adventure Time (titled “The Suitor”) revolved around a young man named Braco courting our favorite science fanatic, Princess Bubblegum. By the end of the episode, Braco has been thoroughly rejected. In an environment where the endgame of most princess stories is love and marriage, this rejection, though not surprising (what with Braco being a guest character and Adventure Time being awesome), indicates Adventure Time’s larger rejection of the toxic princess narrative that is worthy of attention.
Growing up in the 90s, I was, like many girls, obsessed with Disney Princesses. But as an adult feminist, I’ve become more than a little disenchanted. The flaws in the standard princess narrative have been pointed out many times before. But here are the Cliff notes: princess stories are usually about a princess finding her happily-ever-after lfie through falling in love with a man. Even when the princesses aren’t totally helpless, the typical message is that happiness for girls can only be achieved through hetero love. The image of what constitutes a princess is narrow and unrealistically glamorous. And, as writer Aya de Leon pointed out a couple weeks ago, the princess never actually gets to have power or govern her kingdom: she just gets the title and the pretty dresses. Which is why I’m so obsessed with Adventure Time’s Bubblegum, because (other than glamorous), she’s none of that.
Though her official title is “princess,” Bubblegum is closer to a queen as the central ruler of her home, the Candy Kingdom. She’s way more interested in science than suitors, and the show been hinted to be queer. (Of course, the way the studio reacted to explicit discussion of those undertones was pretty awful, but still, a queer princess!) And although she looks like a pretty traditional princess (being actually made of bubblegum, she is extremely pink), there’s a positive element to this as well. Disney/Pixar’s heroine Merida also offers an alternative princess story, one about a girl who’s very strongly a tomboy. That’s great, but tomboy stories have their own downsides since they endorse a rejection of the feminine.
Princess Bubblegum is feminine, but being girly doesn’t make her any less powerful and it doesn’t stop her from being an active character, although she doesn’t do quite as much adventuring as Finn and Jake (the teenage main character and his stretchy sentient dog).
Plus, some of the stuff she does in “The Suitor” is just great. When Braco arrives in her lab and confesses his love to her, saying that he “loves her so much it hurts,” her immediate response is to scan his brain and tell him that what he is feeling is called infatuation, and that the pain is a result of him overvaluing a projected imaginary relationship with her.
Unfortunately, the episode concludes with Bubblegum making a robotic version of herself for Braco as a gift on the grounds that he can’t be happy without her and, as his monarch, she cannot stand to have him to suffer over her. In the end, Braco’s desires are catered to, even if they are, as Bubblegum points out with her statement, unrealistic and selfish. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a princess rejecting heteroromantic love this way, particularly since she’s choosing science instead, and science isn’t something that girls are encouraged to pursue.