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...