I fell in love at a very young age, but not with a person. I fell in love with Disney movies. More specifically, I fell in love with the Disney Princess movies. I worshiped these movies and watched them repeatedly as a child and even watch them occasionally now. As I got older and had discussions in classes about the themes behind them, I began to notice my own ideals and dreams. I am the first to admit that some of the ideas I have about what life should be like and what I want are unrealistic and fantasy.
Some of the ideas I have towards life are very similar to that of a Disney Princess. There were other animated movies around when I was younger, but these types of movies really appealed to me. Most Disney movies have similar themes. As my group discussed in class and as many critics agree, most of the main characters have one parent which is usually a father, the main characters are young, beautiful girls in search of a man, the older women tend to be witches or another word that rhymes with that, and the main characters don’t really have any ambition of their own.
The single parents in the movies tend to add to the struggle or obstacle the main character must get through. Like in Cinderella, her actual mother died when she was very young so her dad remarried to give her a women figure in her life. Later when her father died, her stepmother and UGLY stepsister ended up being horrible to her and treating her as a maid and a burden. This is why Cinderella went to the ball to win over the prince; she was trying to escape her awful home life. In the majority of Disney movies, the single parent was a male. As we brainstormed why this was, we realized that it was the male that was the authority figure in the women’s lives. This kind of idea causes women to be subservient to men. In The Little Mermaid, not only is the father the authority figure for Ariel, he is the authority figure for all the mermaids because he was King Triton. He ruled with an iron fist and was very protective of his daughters and what they could and couldn’t do. For the most part Ariel was somewhat fearful of what her father would do or say if she disobeyed him, but eventual she completely disobeys him and gets her self into a stick situation FOR A GUY. This teaches young children that they can disobey their parents as long as they don’t find out or if it’s for a guy.
Some of these ideas can be construed as completely ridiculous and many say that there is no way that kids pick up on these themes. As we saw in the interviews of young girls in the video Mickey Mouse Monopoly, they were aware of these story lines that were going on in the movie and some of them believed that it was OK to do as the character did. Another theme that kids tend to pick up on very easily was that the Princesses are young and beautiful. Some of the girls said that they wished they were pretty like the Princesses that they idolized. In these movies the older women are always evil or hags. In Snow White, the Queen is said to be the fairest in the land other than Snow White, but she is completely EVIL! When she tries to trick Snow White she becomes none other than an old, ugly witch. This is just another way that the media changes body image, just targeting a younger audience. There are no full figured, average looking princesses for normal girls to look up to. This can really affect the self esteem of girls at a young ages and this type of idea continue for the rest of their lives thanks to outrageous standards set by the media.
Other things that can affect the way young girls act for the rest of their lives is the way Princess movies always involve a Prince. The idea that you need a man in order to have a “happy ending” or fulfilled life can cause a destructive pattern in the way girls behave. In Beauty and the Beast, Beast is completely abusive and filled with rage! In true Disney fashion, Belle changes him and makes him kind and understanding, falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after. This can convey the thought that it’s OK if a guy is abusive or angry, you can change him and everything will be perfect. This is one of the most dangerous ideas ever brought about by a Disney movie. It is not okay for girls to think that they have to have a man in order to be happy. It is DEFINITELY not okay for girls to think that they can change an abusive, awful guy as long as they continue to stay with him and work through the issues. This can cause a pattern of girl who do anything for guys and allow guys to treat them badly just so they won’t be alone.
Over time Disney movies have been changing. They’ve become more culturally diverse and some of them even have headstrong main characters that actually have their own ambitions. In the 1990’s we finally saw Disney Princesses that were of a different ethnicity in movies like Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan. Mulan was very strong-willed, brave, and fought for her country; this is something that had never been seen before of a Disney Princess. However, at the end her grandmother makes a jab at her saying “She should’ve brought home a man!” Another example of changing characteristics of Disney Princesses was 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. The main character Tatiana is the first African American Disney princess. The story is set in New Orleans where Tatiana wants to open her own restaurant and works hard towards her goals. I was really happy that a Disney Princess finally has a goal and works for it. The only problem is the subtle stereotypes portrayed in the movie. In fact, most Disney movies show stereotypes when it comes to other ethnicities. Tatiana is poor and works for an affluent white family, not to mention all of the voodoo that is stereotypical of New Orleans during that era. Oh and she falls in love with a prince SURPRISE SURPRISE. I’m just glad that she is the hero instead of the guy (just like Mulan & Pocahontas).
I have to give credit to Disney for adding some diversity and variety of character traits, but every story ends the same way and no matter the race the Disney Princesses are all slender and beautiful. This only makes it normal for the media to continue to show pictures of outrageous standards of beauty. We’ve been exposed to these ideas since we were little girls so why not just continue the idea that you have to be slender and beautiful. Another thing that continues as we get older is the idea that there is a ‘Prince Charming.’ In romantic comedies, there is always some funny, charming guy that the main character ends up with and lives happily ever after. It gives us impossible ideas to live up to.
The benefit I have learned is that these ideas have made me an optimist. I’m always hoping for the best in things and always searching for a happy ending. Even when I’m heartbroken, there is the little girl in the back of my mind waiting for a Prince Charming. Does this make me naive? Does this make me stupid or silly? I’m not sure. All I know is that in the world we live, it’s kind of nice to think that there will be a happy ending, a Prince Charming, or that everything will be all right in the end. There are definitely compelling arguments against these ‘Disney ideals’ and I agree with them, but I just can’t stop loving these movies! They were a part of my childhood and bring me back to a time of innocence. So when it comes to whether or not their totally negative or great, I just can’t make up my mind!