If you have kids above the age of 2, you probably know a lot more facts about Disney characters than you ever thought possible. It’s more than likely that you bring them up in adult conversation, as if they are fascinating bits of gossip worth socially sharing. Did you know that Mulan and Jasmine both have the same actress as their singing voice? Ever think about the fact that Merida is the only princess with brothers -what’s that about?
I’m as guilty as the next parent of continuing to sing the Tangled soundtrack long after the kids have left the car. However, I’m not exactly over the moon about encouraging my children to look up to their favourite Disney princesses.
I spend a fair amount of time teaching my kids the basics of being a law abiding and generally good member of society. I don’t need my animated heroes to be perfect, but I’d appreciate them keeping in line with the big three. Lying, Cheating and Stealing.
Jasmine’s crush Aladdin manages to achieve all three before my popcorn has even gone cold. I suppose his floppy hair and toned abs make it alright.
But hey, far be it from me to judge a princess by her partner. Let’s look at some of her own choices. She runs away from home without enough basic education to know you have to pay for things from shops. She befriends a total stranger she meets in the marketplace, then lies about her identity to escape her problems. Not to mention abandoning her only friend (albeit a tiger) when the going gets tough.
The eagle-eyed amongst you might notice her saving the day towards the end of the movie. Personally I find it a bit cringeworthy that while Aladdin zip wires in with a magical Genie, immeasurable courage and some seriously clever mind games, Jasmine has been given slanty eyeliner skills and some sensuous hip swaying as her contribution to the plan. As she’s the only speaking woman in the film, that’s not exactly the message I want my own daughter walking away with.
At first glance, Belle is a much more admirable Disney princess than your average. She reads, she’s kind, she turns away the classically handsome Gaston, and would do anything for her dear old dad. But her relationship with the Beast is problematic to say the least. Firstly, she volunteers herself to become his prisoner. Then she is ordered about, shouted at, emotionally abused and even has to put up with his antisocial eating habits.
The various residents of the house tell her he’s kind underneath it all, and she just needs to be patient and give him a chance. And would you believe it, that adorable teapot turns out to be right, he goes and changes the habits of a lifetime and becomes a charming prince after all. For a lesson in sticking by an abusive partner, it doesn’t get much more in your face than that.
We’ve all sat down with our kids to have a chat about talking to strangers, and what to do if someone they don’t know approaches them. These conversations usually include advice like ‘scream’ ‘run’ and look for another grown up to get help from. Clearly no one had that chat with sleeping beauty, or if they did, they added ‘have a little ballroom dance’ to the list of ‘must do’s’.
Don’t worry kids, if someone is dangerous they’ll look old, wizened, and have a ton of warts. Gorgeous almost always equals kind, well-meaning and a great kisser. Don’t let a little thing like consent get in the way if you happen to be asleep the first time you lock lips.
Ariel follows a similar trend to a lot of other Disney characters; that of ignoring parental advice. While she’s told in no uncertain terms not to go to the surface, she couldn’t care less. She joins the likes of dozens of other heroes and heroines of Disney and Pixar fame. Whether it’s a princess or a little orange fish, they go against their parents’ wishes and yet come up smelling like roses by the end of 90 minutes.
Not to cast aspersions on the intelligence of mermaids, but she also seems a little like the shallowest depths of the ocean she comes from. She falls in ‘love’ with Eric in about six seconds, and then gives up her voice for a chance to be with him. Even writing that makes me uncomfortable. As far as I’m concerned, your voice is pretty much the last thing you would ever give up, under any circumstances. Let alone for some blue eyes and an aptitude for the flute.
The latest Disney princess to hit our screens has remedied a lot of Disney’s past anti-feminist indiscretions. She doesn’t need a man to make her whole. She could even be described as an independent woman. But do we like her?
To me, her loyal, brave, kind and witty sister Ana is by far the better hero. In Elsa we see a princess who doesn’t communicate about her feelings, runs away from her problems, and abandons her sister to grieve alone. Plus she sets huge scary snow monsters on people. That’s just mean.
Disney have attempted to create their first strong independent princess. Instead, they have achieved a character who refuses to ask for help and doesn’t let anyone close to her. Does anyone else think they kind of missed the point?
Do any other Disney ‘heroes’ seem like terrible influences to you?