Misplaced PrincessesOct 19
My kid is WAY into Disney princesses.
She’s into Disney period. Pixar too. She watches each flick multiple times, of course, but she’s burned through most of the top-tier Disney films and has begun to sample the second- and third-tier product, such as (*chill*) Oliver & Company.
I’m not sure how to feel about it; on one hand, I do believe it’s ultimately harmless and while she doesn’t need Disney movies to fuel her amazing imagination, she sure does seem to enjoy playing Cinderella, Simba, Dumbo, Nemo, and the like. On the other hand, I feel like we’ve totally played into the hands of a cold, uncaring corporate behemoth intent on twisting the minds of the young into lifelong customers, whatever the cost.
It’s a pickle. Somehow, we survive, and wake up each morning, and in a few months, we’ve decided my kid’s first Real Movie in a Movie Theater will be this new Disney princess movie, The Princess and the Frog, which has been touted as featuring the first African-American Disney princess.
I just hope she fares better than other non-white Disney princesses, because if Disney’s past efforts are any indication, Tiana may be doomed to a future of obscurity.
In case you haven’t spent much time in the Princess section of your local toy emporium, the Disney Princesses consist of basically your bread-and-butter WASPy ladies of stature: Cinderella, Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty), Belle, Snow White, Ariel.
Jasmine from Aladdin was technically the first “princess of color,” if you will, and she does okay; we have a few princess items that allow her to stand alongside the other princesses.
Pocahontas and Mulan, on the other hand, are almost never around. A Google Image search may show otherwise; when I looked for the above pic, I did find a few images that feature Mulan alongside the other princesses.
But if you go into Target for a Disney princess nightgown, or wallpaper, or bedding, you’ll rarely see Jasmine and you’ll pretty much never see Pocahontas or Mulan. Granted, these characters don’t fit easily into the anglo-saxon storybook world of the other princesses, but it’s Disney. It’s all fantasy. As Tim Gunn might say, “Make it work.” (I feel like an asshole for quoting Tim Gunn, don’t worry.)
I happen to think the princesses are okay role models for young girls, especially as part of a balanced pop culture diet that includes plenty of other role models; I’ll be a bit disturbed when my kid reveals she wants to be a princess when she grows up, but right now her answers vary from “astronaut” to “mommy” so no worries yet. The princesses are relatively strong characters overall, and Belle loves reading, so I don’t object too much.
It does bother me, however, that based on my own (anecdotal and not at all scientific or comprehensive) observations, the two strongest Disney female leads have been shunted into the background because they don’t wear pretty dresses and they don’t live in castles. It bothers me as much as the fact that Jesse is still the hardest Pixar character to find merchandise for, even though she’s basically a “girl Woody” and the strongest female Pixar character to date. Okay, maybe except for her.
When The Princess and the Frog is released, Tiana will be everywhere. She already is; they’ve slowly but surely started the insane marketing and merchandising ramp-up to the flick in every kid-related outlet you can imagine, and there’s even a billboard down here in Orlando dedicated to promoting the character in relation to the theme parks.
I’d like to see Tiana live beyond the film, however; I’d like to see her standing alongside all the white girls in castles that are the usual Disney princess suspects. For that matter, I’d love to see Pocahontas and Mulan somehow incorporated into the princess family, and I want to buy my daughter a Jesse doll. If Disney are the people that make dreams come true, I dream of a fantasy world where my daughter can follow and worship princesses of all colors.