Mophology of the fairy tale. Disney's literary original "The Princess and the Frog" analysed on the basis of Propp's „Morphology of the folktale“

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Fairy Tale - Origins and Definition

3. Propp’s concept from the “Morphology of the Folktale”

4. Analysis of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In 2009 Walt Disney published the movie The Princess and the Frog, a story set in 1920s New Orleans. The particular thing of the movie was the return of Disney to traditional 2-D hand-drawn animation. But what kind of story is it? It would seem that this should be a remake of the old fairy tale The Frog Prince.

But aside from classical components like the frog, magical moments, and the princess there are still a lot of changes in the content, characters and settings in the story. This leads to the question if The Princess and a the Frog is nevertheless a fairy tale with all these changes relating to the original story? To find out this essay will have a focus on the structural form of fairy tales.

To begin with, the essay considers a theoretical part about the origin and definition of fairy tales. It explores some characteristics and gives an overview about the genres the fairy tale belongs to. Afterwards it takes a closer look on the concept for structural analysis. In Morphology of the Folktale Vladimir Propp analysed fairy tales referring to their structure.

In continuation, segueing into the individual analysis of The Princess and the Frog, the essay will study Disney’s story and Propp’s theory connectedly. It aims to find out what they have in common and to which extend they are quite different.

In the conclusion I will sum up and evaluate the key results gained by the former studies. It will additionally come back to the opening question if Disney’s story is still a fairy tale according to Propp’s analysis.

2. The Fairy Tale - Origins and Definition

The term fairy tale is a commonly used but vague term which has no fixed definition because of its ambiguity. Initially it is classified as a sub-genre of folk narrative or folk literature. For Cuddon folk literature includes “folksong, ballad, drama, proverbs, riddles, charms and legends”. Furthermore he notices that folk literature “is the creation of primitive and illiterate people – and therefore much of it belongs to oral tradition”.[1] Consequently the folk-narrative was passed on by the common people and in the first instance the material was orally disseminated.

The narratives persisted for long periods of time and were recounted from generation to generation of course with different variations of one story. According to Andrew Teverson folk narratives show specific characteristics: Stories that belong to this genre are known by many people of every social class and become communal property in the course of time. In most cases the authorship is unknown and the stories were found in oral, literacy and other media.[2]

To get an even better understanding of folk narratives we may take a closer look at its subgenres. Scholars distinguished between myths, legends and folktales. In this context folktale is used as a generic term for “fairy tale”. Due to many overlaps the boundaries between these three genres are quite flexible.

Compared to myths and legends folktales, and especially fairy tales, are highly fictional, which their tellers and hearers accepted.[3] For a better understanding of what a fairy tale exactly is scholars described some specific characteristics. The story is telling something about a “normal” protagonist who is dealing with ordinary and every day concerns. The focus is on everyday issues such as a safe and good life, enough to eat or a rewarding marriage. Cosmos and heaven are mostly not part of the story but rather earth and humanity. Therefore the scenes take place in familiar settings and in the countryside like the well know title of the Grimm collection “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (household tales) demonstrates. Also typical for a fairy tale is the appearance of magical events in various forms. The basic function of the story was to entertain its hearers. The people wanted to get distracted from their hard everyday life and to become a little enchanted by the tales. Originally stories were not made for children, as it might seem today and they did not necessarily teach moral lessons. It was only over time that collectors added moral purposes to it.[4]

Because of the impreciseness of the term fairy tale the international folklore scholarship generally uses the German term Märchen because it is technically more precise. Literally translated Märchen means “short tale” or “short report”. It descends from the Old High German word “mär” (meaning “news” or “tiding”). All in all it describes folk and fairy tales of various kinds. Nevertheless the term fairy tale is better understood and accepted in English-speaking countries.[5]

3. Propp’s concept from the “Morphology of the Folktale”

For a structural analysis of folktales the following two fundamental concepts should be taken into account. One of them is the paradigmatic structural analysis developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss in 1964. The other, which I will use as basis for the following research, is the syntagmatic structural analysis written by Vladimir Propp in 1928. In contrast to Lévi-Strauss Propp’s concept is dealing with the structure of the text alone. That means that the text is examined separate from its social and cultural context. Vladimir Jakowlevich Propp was a Soviet folklorist of German descent and one of the most famous philologists of the 20th century. Besides that he was a distinguished member of the Russian formalist group.[6]

In Morphology of the Folktale which was published in 1928 and translated into English in 1958 he presents the orthodox formalist method based of the structural analysis of the fairy tale. The English title is misleading because as the founder of morphological folklore he limited his analysis to only one kind of folktale – the fairy tale. For that he researched the basic plot components of one hundred Russian folktales chosen from Afanas’ev folktale collection.[7]

Propp compared these folktales concerning their patterns of events. He identified their motifs, the simplest irreducible narrative elements, and defined them in terms of their function. To do so he analysis what the character roles, the dramatis personae, of folktales do. According to Propp a function should be “understood as an act of a character, defined from the point of view of its significance for the course of the action.”[8]

In his analysis he distinguished 31 functions, which do not have to occur in every tale whereas the sequence always stays the same. He determined that there is always the same structure in the plot despite of a varying content. Propp concluded that all folktales have a consistent and nearly equal plot structure and “their sequence is finally the basis of his typology within the genre”.[9]

Another aspect, which is consistently recurring in every fairy tale analysed are the character roles. Propp identified and distinguished seven dramatis personae: the villain, the donor, the helper, the princess (a sought-for person) and her father, the dispatcher, the hero and the false hero. It could always be possible that one role is distributed among various characters or that one character could act in more than one role.

Every figure of a fairy tale established its own sphere of influence within which each character carries out its actions. Through this sphere, each action has a certain importance to the overall plot.[10]

In the next chapter of this work I will elaborate on Propp’s 31 sections of the pattern of narration by using the example of the story “The princess and the frog” by Disney, a remake of Grimm’s “The frog prince”.

4. Analysis of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

The following paragraphs deal with the individual functions of the dramatis personae in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. The analysis examines if they occur at all and in the order suggested by Propp’s Morphology, because “the series of function represents the morphological foundation of fairy tales in general.”[11] In this manner it can be proved if Disney’s story is a fairy tale as defined by Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale.

At first every story begins with an initial situation where the members of the family or the future hero is introduced to the reader. We have this situation in Disney’s story, too. You get to know Tiana, her mother Eudora and Tiana’s best friend Charlotte LaBouff. Eudora is telling the original story of the Frog Princess to the two girls. The initial situation is not a function, but it is however an important morphological element.[12] It is important to note that we have a second initial situation in Disney’s story where the character prince Naveen and his servant Lawrence are introduced.

Afterwards the morphological analysis begins with the following three functions: (1)“One of the members of a family absents himself from home”, (2)“An interdiction is addressed to the hero” and (3)“The interdiction is violated”[13]. As mentioned in the last chapter one role can be distributed among various characters. The character of the hero is temporary split between Naveen and Tiana. Looking at the story the first three functions fits precisely to prince Naveen. He is absent from his home, a country far away.


[1] J.A. Cuddon. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third Edition. Camebridge. Basil Blackwell. 1991. 346

[2] Andrew Teverson. Fairy Tale. London and New York. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.


[3] Teverson, 15-16

[4] Teverson, 16-17

[5] Teverson, 31

[6] V.Propp. Morphonlogy of the Folktale. Austin. University of Texas Press. 1968. xi-xxi.

[7] Robert A. Georges. Michael Owen Jones. Folkloristics: An introduction. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. 1995. 102.

[8] Propp, xxi

[9] Propp, xxi

[10] Propp, 79-83

[11] Propp, 25

[12] Propp, 25

[13] Propp, 26-27

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Mophology of the fairy tale. Disney's literary original "The Princess and the Frog" analysed on the basis of Propp's „Morphology of the folktale“
University of Rostock
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
478 KB
Morphology, Disney, The Princess and the Frog, Froschkönig, Propp, tale, fairy tale
Quote paper
Kirsten Burmeister (Author), 2015, Mophology of the fairy tale. Disney's literary original "The Princess and the Frog" analysed on the basis of Propp's „Morphology of the folktale“, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Mophology of the fairy tale. Disney's literary original "The Princess and the Frog"  analysed on the basis of Propp's „Morphology of the folktale“

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free