Monday, February 27, 2012

Memory Mondays: Anatomy of a Disney Princess

Little Courtney Meeting Belle circa 1995. We match! 
Everyone has a favorite Disney Princess. If you don't, well then you need to go ask your parents why they didn't love you and why they didn't buy you any Disney VHS tapes. Seriously, everyone has to have had at least somewhat of a VHS collection.

The 90s were a great time for Disney Princesses. Disney saw the cash cow they could become and marketed the hell out of them. Movies, dolls, books, barbies, dress-ups, playsets, you name it, and chances are Disney made it and marketed it. In fact, they still do. For those of us who have grown up a bit, we can now have Wedding Dresses. Yup. Wedding Dresses.

Parents bought all the toys, and little girls bought into the fantasy of being a Princess. I'm sure I'm not the only one who played some form of a princess game back on the playground. Oh the innocent joys of recess. Usually, most of the time spent playing "princess" entailed arguing over who was to play which princess. I always fought long and hard for the right to be Belle. I had brown hair, so obviously I won. (However, while looking into this topic I took a Disney Princess Personality Quiz, and apparently I am Ariel. Um hello identity crisis. Not ok.)

I never really considered the lessons Princesses teach children, until I stumbled across this picture on Tumblr:
Credit: Tumblr, Pink-Martini
This really got me thinking. It's great to see how the princesses have grown over time. I think that it's clear that these princesses are all reflections of their time periods.

Now, some would go back and criticize the original three, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, for being so passive. I don't think you can really do that. It's important to consider the time period. When Disney created those princesses, that's how most people viewed women. To say that a woman's place was outside of the home would be blasphemy. Betty Friedan didn't even promote the idea until the early 60s. (Note that we don't see any princesses from the 60s or 70s. Interesting)

The next bunch we see feature stronger role models, but they're not quite there. I think this reflects the fact that the glass ceiling was just starting to be chipped. (Some would argue it still has yet to break). If you're familiar with these films, each Princess is rescued by their Prince Charming. Now, obviously I didn't over analyze this as child. I just wanted to be Belle because she liked to read, too. I never thought critically about the Beast saving her from the Wolves. But now I can because I am an English major! Yay critical thinking skills. 

Clearly, Disney is now moving in a better direction. I like these three new heroines just as much as the old ones. I'm glad girls can admire their independent spirit as well as their intelligent minds. This trend seems to be continuing with the latest Disney Princess, Rapunzel.

However, it always comes back to Prince Charming. Yet, it looks like Pixar is moving in a different direction. Not much is known about Brave, but from the looks of it, this Princess seems to be the completely independent spirit some girls are looking for. (Side Note: Watch the trailer. The animation is spectacular. They might as well just hand Pixar the Oscar already)

While it's great to examine these characters and criticize them accordingly, I think the more important thing to keep in perspective is the great lessons that princesses do teach. It isn't just about love and fairytales. Ok, maybe a little bit, but we still have to give them credit for the way they inspire girls.  Belle taught us brains are beautiful. Mulan taught us the importance of family and pride. Cinderella taught us how to dream, and Tiana taught us how to achieve those dreams.

So I say let the girls (and boys too if they want!) play with the princess toys. Disney can market the princesses as long as they want, because they're marketing important lessons too.

May All Your Memories Be Meaningful (and sometimes critical),


  1. Wow. This post def rocked my world. Do that English analysis! I was a Belle fan too. She was the sole member of my adolescent book club ;) I'm gonna have to find a way to work this into one of my posts.