Castle in the Sky (1986)

How ‘Castle in the Sky's’ Sheeta Subverts the Classic Disney Princess

By: Domonique Salberg

Among the most admired animation worldwide, Disney and Studio Ghibli stories come to mind for many. Disney tends to capture our hearts and Ghibli our souls, so it comes as no surprise that their take on different types of characters would differ. Like the princess trope which Disney and support from the viewers have made famous. Snow White laid the blueprint, and since then, we have come across the damsel in distress, the bookish beauty or the feisty, independent soon-to-be queens, and much more. But even with a diverse bunch of princesses, Ghibli has managed to subvert what we have come to know as the animated princess.

It should be noted that Miyazaki hates being compared to Disney because he has said Disney is a producer and that he is an artist and writer. Nevertheless, the princess archetype—especially in the classic Disney sense of the word—exists differently in Miyazaki’s work to be discussed here.

Miyazaki’s Princess Sheeta

It seems fitting to start with how Sheeta is partly based on Sita, the Hindu Goddess featured in the epic Ramayana, while the majority of her disposition and story can be accredited to the extraordinary artist, Miyazaki. Therefore, how she operates as a princess manifests mainly from Miyazaki’s problem with and solution formulating a princess. That being, how to try to make someone that comes from the elite relatable. Hence, Castle in the Sky’s Sheeta was made in the image of the people’s princess. Meaning yes, she is a princess, but she is exceedingly down-to-earth. She is not walled off from the world, is an active member of her community, and does the work. People love her, and she loves them; this was Miyazaki’s solution.

Castle in the Sky’s Royal Perspective

He also has a different set-up for Sheeta than the typical princess story, where he literally kicked the princess out of the sky at the beginning of the film. Sheeta becomes even more indistinct and far from her royal counterparts through how she handles being attacked. She is revealed to be daring as she hits her captive with a wine bottle to escape at all costs while simultaneously being terrified. In these moments, her humanity is compellingly expressed.

Another pivotal moment is when Sheeta discovers she is a princess and her reaction to this revelation. The memory of the magic words was not anything royal but instead a comfort that allowed Sheeta to connect to her grandmother. As the story progresses, we learn it was never about being royal for Sheeta and her family, but about one another, Earth and their people. That was the most important thing. She is even called out on this when Muska says Sheeta and her family forgot about the importance of being royal. Sheeta disagrees and insists their relationship to the Earth and the animals should remain the focus. Sheeta is so far removed from royal life and sentiments.

Destroying the Hierarchy

So not only did Sheeta’s family have a unique approach to royalty but interestingly, the rest of the citizens appeared not to be affected by their 700-year absence as they survived and thrived without this hierarchy imposed on them. And lastly, Sheeta subverts the princess trope by saving herself on many occasions.

She remembered the spell, woke up the robot, and a great misdirect with Pazu and the pirates occurs. It’s the shot when we see Sheeta captured, and there is a short image of her ponderingly looking out the window like with other abducted princesses. The set-up makes us think Pazu will rescue her but subverts our expectations when Sheeta remembers what she must do and saves herself. So through these examples, Miyazaki successfully did what he sought to do: establish an uncommon princess in Sheeta of Castle in the Sky.

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