In Defense of Disney Princesses

I have a six year old daughter. And it is pretty safe to translate that sentence as: the last six-ish months of my life, Frozen has taken over. From seeing the movie in the theater, to listening to the soundtrack, to DIY-ing an Elsa cape a la Pinterest, the princesses of Arendelle have been a constant in our house. I’m totally okay with that, and I fully admit that I cried at the movie, as I was thoroughly impressed with the emphasis on the love and bond between the two sisters. I’ve seen many articles and posts since Frozen came out about how “progressive” the movie was. From the fact that Elsa is a strong, female ruler, to the self-deprecating humor about “not marrying someone you just met”, courtesy of Kristoff, this movie has been hailed as the first Disney princess film to show the heroines as self-sufficient, non-passive characters.

I think that’s entirely wrong.

A self-professed “girly girl” for as long as I can remember, I grew up loving all things Disney. The very first movie I ever saw in the theater was The Little Mermaid, and I remember quite well listening to the soundtrack (on tape!) on repeat, watching the VHS over and over, and forcing my cousins to be Flounder and Ursula in my Nana’s pool. Now admittedly a lot of what I loved about that movie had to do with the catchy songs and Ariel’s various fashions (sparkling purple evening gown? Sign me up!), but I know I also recognized that Ariel was a self-confident teenager with a mind of her own. She continually defied the rules set out for her as a mermaid princess, choosing instead to follow her own path. And while she did “fall in love at first sight” with Eric, she took matters into her own hands to follow her dream of walking on land. Boldly going to the sea witch and trading her voice for legs was a pretty gutsy move if I do say so myself.

And Ariel isn’t the only independent, take-matters-into-her-own-hands Disney princess.

Jasmine refuses to marry just any prince her father presents before her, and it isn’t until one of the Aladdin sequels that she and Aladdin actually get married (take that, Kristoff!). Aurora also resists marrying a prince just because the fairies tell her out of the blue that she is a princess. These are great examples that I am happy to expose my children to – just because something is expected of you, doesn’t mean you should go against everything in your heart to follow through on it.

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Following your heart is also a fantastic quality that Disney princesses embody, and I’m more than happy to expose my children to the movies that feature heroines doing just that. Kindness and taking care of others should never be looked down upon. Cinderella and Snow White are sweet, gentle souls whose very nature is to take care of those around them. Why should they go against their personalities to be the caricature of a feminist ideal? I, for one, would be glad to have my daughter and sons show such kindheartedness to people and animals.

In one of the more modern Disney princess films, Tangled, the locked-up Rapunzel shows an incredibly brave and daring side of what a princess can be. She boldly attacks the intruder Flynn, then quickly formulates a plan to use him as a resource to get out of the tower and do what she has always wanted to do. It has nothing to do with “love at first sight”. She is brave and quick-witted, fearless even. I loved Tangled, not only because the Mandy Moore songs were super-catchy, but because ultimately Rapunzel sacrifices her hair, literally her crowning glory, to save the one she cares about.

While we’re on the subject of bravery, we have to talk about Merida. Our most recent Family Movie Night pick ended up being Brave, which I hadn’t yet seen. Talk about phenomenal. How did this incredible Disney movie get overlooked in the “progressive” department? The story isn’t at all a traditional fairy tale about a princess finding her true love. It has everything to do with adventurous, willful Merida facing the consequences of an ill-gotten spell that turns her mother into a bear, and how she and her mother work through their issues to “mend the bond” between them. I cried. Again, the movie has a great soundtrack, but the current that runs deep through the heart of the movie is the theme of the love of a mother and daughter. All three of my children wanted to watch the movie again the next day, and they all got Merida-style bows made out of sticks and yarn, courtesy of Daddy. I’m thrilled that Disney made a movie like this, and I hope that the lessons taught in it last my children throughout their growing years.

Please don’t think that I have anything against Frozen – even despite the fact that the songs have taken over my household and my brain, I really am so happy that there is now a popular Disney movie about the importance of family and about embracing your flaws. I just want to bring to light the more subtle ways that Disney princess films can have a positive influence on children, empowering them to be themselves in every way. Some princesses (and princes!) are quiet and reserved, some are bold and brave. What is really at the heart of these movies is what matters, and I for one am just as happy to throw in the Cinderella dvd as I am to watch Frozen with them, for the 457th time.

 

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One Response to In Defense of Disney Princesses

  1. Christin
    Christin July 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Wow, I really enjoyed your thoughts on the princesses! It was good to hear all the positives and strong message points of the stories. I know the basics of Cinderella and the like, but never thought of it that way. My 3 year old has recently jumped in head first to girly princessey things, mostly in the dress up department, complete with royal headwear. I especially liked that you point out that being generous and even sacrificial in their relationships is not a point of weakness, but can be a real strength of character. Thanks for your thoughts, raising a daughter feels weighty to me and I enjoy learning ways to teach her through these things.

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