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As you probably heard, Merida from Disney/Pixar’s movie Brave was recently inducted as an official Disney Princess. This “event” got me thinking about Disney’s Princesses as a whole and how I feel about them.
Most of my life I was a typical, self-centered, middle class American. I have never been prone to idol worship: sure I had Michael Jordan posters on my wall as a teen, but despite the advertising I never really wanted to be like Mike, just play basketball like him (yeah, that didn’t work either). Even as an adult, I never really thought about celebrity role models or their effects. Then I had kids.
Having kids changes a lot, but mostly what it changed for me was that I suddenly had to try to guide another human and prepare them to make future important life choices. That’s pretty heavy. While I still believe parents play the most crucial role in a child’s development, it would feel foolish for me to think that popular culture does not have any influence.
As the Disney fans that we are, my 4 year old daughter is heavily invested in the Disney Princesses. We have seen all of their movies, met them all at the parks, and have a bedroom dedicated to them (my daughter’s…not mine…really). She has even become interested in the mediocre Sofia the First Disney Junior television series.
Now what got me started on this diatribe was my thoughts on Disney Princesses as a whole and their message to the public, specifically young girls. What I found is that most Disney Princess movies have a few messages that I’m not thrilled with. Let’s go one by one:
Cinderella: In a bad spot with her step-family (not looking good for stepmothers so far), so she wishes super hard and her dream of marrying a rich guy comes true. I’m not liking this message.
Aurora: Put to sleep by Maleficent until her true love (and the boy she was betrothed to as a baby), the rich guy can come kiss her. Not the worst, but not the best thing for a young girl to hope for.
Ariel: Seeks the counsel of an undersea witch because she gets mad at her father. Doesn’t ever have to regret it because everything works out fine in the end…not loving this one either.
Belle: Definitely one of the better messages as Belle is well read and loyal to her father (by the way, Disney is much more forgiving of fathers than mothers to this point). She sacrifices herself to free her dad and eventually even develops a soft spot for the Beast. I like how Belle is strong and smart and how she sees right through Gaston’s crap.
Jasmine: A strong woman, but also has some spoiled brat in her. It’s not really her movie, so she doesn’t really grow or change the entire time.
Pocahontas: Not my favorite movie, but a good message. Pocahontas is strong, smart, and willing to stand up for her beliefs.
Mulan: Another one who sacrifices herself for her father. She also never is a part of or marries royalty, so I’m not sure how she’s a princess at all, but that’s beside the point. I think the character of Mulan is not a bad role model for girls, but the movie spending 90% of its runtime putting down women and their role in society is not so good.
Rapunzel: This is a strange one because Rapunzel never really grows during the film. She is kind, sweet, and naïve in the beginning as well as the end. Everyone seems to love her in the movie, but the character development arc belongs solely to Eugene “Flynn Rider.”
Merida: The new girl has a few things going for her. She defies her mother (look a mom storyline that isn’t bad), but unlike Ariel she learns something from her mistake. Merida also doesn’t need a man, which I see as a good change of pace.
This gets me back to the one I skipped: my favorite, Tiana. In The Princess and the Frog Tiana is a smart, very hard working woman who is trying to claw her way out of poverty and make something of herself. Already this is different for Disney as she is not born into royalty, nor does she simply wish for it (well, she kind of does, but feels ridiculous about it). The way she wants to make herself better is by outsmarting and outworking everyone else.
Tiana is thrown into some crazy circumstances and, despite not wanting to be tied down, falls in love with a prince (although even the prince is penniless at the time). My favorite thing is that the happy ending involves Tiana and Naveen buying their restaurant with Tiana’s cans of change (and some gator staredowns) and building it by hand. There is no fairy that poofs it into existence and no king that gifts it to his daughter-in-law, just elbow grease.
As a parent I am trying to make sure my kids know that willpower, determination, and hard work are how you get what you want. And that is why Tiana is my favorite princess.