Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Disney Princesses: Enjoyable Movies, Eschewable Merchandise

Today I'm participating in a blog carnival on Disney Princesses, hosted by Kendra.  Head over to her blog to read her take and get some insights from other bloggers.  I've decided to split my take into two parts -- my reflections and current thoughts on the movies, and my thoughts on the Disney Princess franchise.  Here we go!

The Movies, Then and Now  

Back in the dark ages (read: 1990s) when I was a young lass, there were no "Disney Princesses."  There were Disney movies, many of which featured female protagonists who ended up marrying princes and, as all the stories go, lived happily ever after -- as princesses.  We owned a few of the princess-featuring films on, of course, VHS: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.  I've seen some of the others (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and -- yes, I realize Nala's not an official DP -- The Lion King), but since we didn't have them at home, I didn't have a whole lot of exposure to them.  I never much took to Snow White, so I'll limit my reminiscing to Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

We had Cinderella on video from the time I was very young, probably three or four years old, and I did most of my Cinderella watching around those ages.  The idea of a virtuous, sweet, self-sacrificing young woman "winning" in the end appealed to me.  It seemed fitting and right, as I gathered it was safe to assume that life as the bride of Prince Charming would be a good one.  However, the idea that this guy
beget this fellow
never sat right with me, gotta be honest.  Also, my heart broke every time I watched the movie and saw this gorgeous labor-of-love frock that her little friends so meticulously created for her
get ripped to shreds by those skanky step-sisters, only to be replaced by this fancy-shmancy number,

created by the Fairy Godmother (hey, where ya been the rest of Cinderella's mostly-miserable life?) with an effortless wave of her wand.  Thanks for playing, birds and mice who have been Cinderella's steadfast companions for years!

Moving on!  I first saw Beauty and the Beast the year after it came out.  I was seven years old, and I had long brown hair and brown eyes just like Belle!  And her name meant "beautiful"!  I identified heavily with this character -- her love of reading, her yearning for "adventure" in her life, her disdain for the jerky (and, turns out, completely wicked) Gaston, her devotion to her father.  I thought of myself as being like her -- but not as the princess Belle from the last minute or so of the movie.  That Belle barely even registered with me.  I certainly didn't want to share her fate.  I mean, look at her prince:
Um, sorry, but no thanks.  Frankly, I thought he was far more dashing as the Beast:
Although, of course, we all know who the real hottie is in this film:
(In candelabra form, of course!  His human form was also a grave disappointment, not worthy of being included here.)

Now, as an adult and mother, I don't get quite the same thrill out of watching these movies as I did as a youngster.  For example, my husband and I borrowed  Beauty and the Beast from the library right before our daughter was born; we were both disappointed with how quickly it moved (which, of course, is necessary for a children's movie), and we kept murmuring about Stockholm Syndrome.   BUT, I'd be lying if I said we didn't enjoy the experience as a whole.  I, in particular, love the music in this film and many of the other Disney productions.  I could listen to "Be Our Guest" over and over and over again, along with "Under the Sea," "A Whole New World," and many others.  Ridiculously clever stuff.

Yes, I have a few beefs with the movies.  I dislike that parents are often depicted negatively (Ariel's father Triton is largely ignorant about humans, and he angrily destroys all of Ariel's prized possessions she has collected from the surface when he discovers she has had an encounter with one; Jasmine's father, the Sultan, is easily manipulated by the evil Jafar and acts like a bumbling fool; Maurice, Belle's father, while lovable and quite possibly the genius she considers him to be, is shown to be clumsy, foolish, and naive).  There are some intense scenes (the Lion King stampede, Gaston's lynch mob, Ursula's insta-grow wrath) that I know from personal experience can be very frightening for young children.  And, let's face it, Disney's adaptations of fairy tales can leave a lot to be desired when compared with the originals

All things considered, however, I like the movies, and I wouldn't mind letting my daughter see them when she gets older.  I'm sure I'll be selfish about it and encourage the viewing of my own personal favorites, but what mom doesn't?  Here's to hoping that she's also Team Pink Dress and Team Beast!

The Disney Princess Franchise

My last year of college, my roommate had a Disney Princess calendar.  Until then, it hadn't really registered with me that these characters were now being marketed as a group, although by then the franchise had been in place for a few years.  I didn't think much of it.  I think my roommate and I agreed that our favorite princess was Belle, and I expressed half-serious disappointment that Nala wasn't included on the calendar.  In the ensuing years, I noticed more and more Disney Princess paraphernalia in the stores.  I also became aware that some parents weren't happy with the franchise and tried to steer their children away from it.  Again, I didn't give it much thought, because it wasn't really relevant to me. 

Now I'm a mother -- to a daughter to boot -- and, suddenly, the Disney Princess franchise is something that I'm going to have to think about if I don't want it to just "happen" to me.  The stuff is everywhere!  You can get Princess dolls, books, music, clothes, shoes, and Yahtzee, and that is only the tiniest tip of the Disney machine's bloated, nearly-inescapable royal iceburg.  Yikes! 

The children's marketplace is utterly entrenched with images of these icons, and the subtext of every last branded item is these princesses are kind, loving, and wholesome, and everything a girl could want to be!  But a growing faction is calling foul.  Many feminists consider the princesses to be poor role models who send little girls the message that looking perfect and having lots of possessions are the keys to happiness.   Fair enough.

So where do I stand?

I'm not a fan of this franchise, and I don't plan to buy my daughter Disney Princess merchandise.  I don't appreciate the semi-provocative poses and attire (even as a seven-year-old I wondered about Belle's cleavage, and don't even get me started on Jasmine).  I suspect that the merchandise inspires some little girls to think of themselves as little "princesses" who ought to be spoiled.  That's not a message I want to send to my daughter -- frankly, even at her tender age of nine months, she's already exhibiting signs that she considers herself the queen bee, and those aren't flames I want to stoke.  However, I'm not going to be a fanatic about it.  If she receives a DP item as a gift, I'm not going to hide it away or burn it in my backyard.   I don't think the franchise is evil, I just don't think it's great, and I'd rather concentrate on cultivating my daughter's own sense of who she is and what she likes instead of encouraging her to adopt the princess persona.  Call me crazy, but if she ends up with a DP shirt or book somewhere along the way, I don't think that's going to completely derail her upbringing.

Honestly, I look at the Disney Princesses and all I can think is, "I'm bored of you."  They're depicted in their "happily-ever-after" phase, which I know nothing about whatsoever, except that it apparently entails a whole lot of standing around in uncomfortable gowns smiling about the fact that their perfect little mugs are on everything from rotating lamps to Power Wheels Tot Rods.  They're not the characters from the movies I enjoyed, people with virtues and personalities and dreams, they're just plastic.  Cold, hard, shiny plastic.  And now that I think of it, wait -- haven't I seen these girls...
somewhere before...?


  1. I vote for burning it in the backyard!

    I'm pretty opposed myself to the branding of thing in general, yet still can't help but find myself being sucked in by it. When Cam was little I was fairly set on trying to limit how much Disney Cars stuff came into the house, cuz...ugh.
    Now when I see something with Lightning McQueen on it I get pretty giddy. (I actually don't care for the movie at all. Not one of their best.) But the only reason I like it is because Cam sees red cars and calls them 'Daddy!' because Gary has a red car.
    I do still get annoyed when people ask him about his 'Lightning McQueen stuff' or say "Look it's Thomas!" for Thomas the train. Because to Cam Thomas is just any old choo choo and I prefer it that way.

    As far as princesses go, I too prefer the non-princessy side of the characters. And for he branding as part of the group, they really are no deeper than a bunch of pretty girls sanding around in dresses.

  2. Hmm... I guess I'd be hesitant to compare the DPs with "Mean Girls", mostly because the mean girls were, well, mean. And the DP's are not mean. Often they're on the receiving end of a lot of meanness from others. That said, I agree with a lot in this post. Mostly about the branding, and how they are marketed these days. Too much plastic crap!

    I LOVED Beauty and the Beast the best (still do!), but I also liked Snow White and Cinderella, and Ariel and Jasmine as a child, though now I think their attire leaves a lot to be desired as the mom of a daughter. I think Mulan is a great story, and she might be the "princess" who I would most want my own daughter to imitate.

    One of the big reasons I loved the movies was because they were kind, beautiful, princesses, and most of them did not have mothers. I didn't have a mother either, and I felt like I could relate.

    Maggie's room has a "Disney princess" theme, thought I actually didn't buy any of the marketed DP stuff. I bought a Disney alphabet poster, which has a character for each letter, and has a lot of non-DP characters. I bought one each a small print of a scene from Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Snow White. The rest is actual photos of things (like Mickey, Cinderella's castle, etc.) that I took at Disney world.

    I don't plan on buying much of the DP stuff, though I will say that the DP dolls out these days seem a lot less frightening than some of the other ones (like Bratz, Monster High dolls, etc.)
    I guess I'd like her to see the movies, if she seems interested, because I enjoyed them so much as a child.

    But 101 Dalmations was always my favorite Disney movie growing up. Of course along with Peter Pan and Mary Poppins! :)

  3. Oh Louise, you crack me up! I love your reaction to the Beast in human form! He is, really, so much more dashing as the Beast.

    And I do think that the similarities in appearance between DP and "Mean Girls" aren't quite accidental. While the DP aren't mean in the movies, the marketing images are suggestive of a clique that girls are supposed to want to join. I can remember being looked at like that by the cool girls in middle school, and I don't like feeling like my daughter's toys are looking at her the same way.

  4. Lindsy, I agree with you about branding in general. I feel like I get bombarded. At this point it's easy enough for me to avoid a brand if I want to, but your comments about Cars remind me that it won't be long before I won't be the only one with an opinion. The red car thing is so adorable...I'd be giddy over McQeen too if I were you in that case!


    Sarah, that's a really good point -- the princesses were all really sweet in the movies, quite the opposite of Mean Girls! You're right, they were usually the victims of meanness. It probably was a bit of a stretch, but when I was discussing the DPs with commenter Maren (in real life) and she mentioned the "cliquey" aspect of the merchandise, I just couldn't resist the urge to include yet another "Mean Girls" reference on my blog. But yeah...I did go overboard there.

    I also love what you said about the princesses being relateable for girls who do not have mothers. That is a really wonderful thing. :) It is interesting that they are actually very nurturing and *motherly* themselves...images of Belle tending to the Beast's wound, Cinderella caring for the animals, and Snow White teaching the Dwarfs manners come to mind.

    That is REALLY amazing that you were able to decorate Maggie's room with the Disney theme without using the Disney Princess merchandise! It sounds beautiful! I especially like that you included prints from the movies and photos that you took yourself. She will really treasure those.

    Ugh, I had not heard of Monster High dolls before this! And I've always disliked Bratz. I agree, the princess dolls are quite tame and downright demure in comparison. And, I will add, they do emphasize *beauty* while a lot of these other dolls seem to be going for some kind of burlesque shock value.

    I love 101 Dalmatians, too! And Mary just can't go wrong with Julie Andrews. :)


    Maren, I'm glad I could give you a laugh! Yes, I was happy to find that shot of the beast...really, he is quite dapper.

    I agree that any cliquey aspects of the DP marketing are likely intentional. Which is unfair to the characters, since, as Sarah pointed out, they were all sweet and kind. And they were generally misfits, too -- hardly the cool, popular girls!

  5. okay, so who's hosting the Disney Princes convention, cause I'd like to chat about Beast, Prince Eric (best ever), and Dimitri from Anastasia. Note how Anastasia isn't mentioned by anyone because she's TOO awesome to be in that crew.

  6. JM, I my husband's name is Eric, so when we got engaged I told him I was finally marrying "Prince Eric". haha.

    Louise, I was thinking more about this today, because you know, it's not like I should be thinking about Jesus instead of the disney princesses or anything, but I agree with the way the DP are marketed, as being cliquish like the mean girls. They aren't like that in the movies, but they way they are sold in the posters, and all that stuff, makes them seem sort of exclusive.

    Also, I forgot about Anastasia, she was totally awesome! :)