Picture from What’s Happening to Disney Princesses?
Merida is a Disney princess who takes matters in her own hands--especially when it comes to her suitors. Image ©2012 Disney/Pixar

What’s Happening to Disney Princesses?

In the past, a Disney princess had a lot to endure—evil stepmothers, equally nasty stepsisters, terrible curses and other calamities—before a handsome prince came to the rescue and whisked her off to happily ever after.

Finding a handsome prince meant instant and supposedly everlasting happiness for the Disney princess. But even as a young girl, I suspected happiness didn’t come quite that easily. And now as a married woman, I’m sure of it. I am lucky enough to be married to my own Prince Charming but I know any relationship takes work.

So I can’t say I was totally disappointed with the new direction Disney seems to have adopted. When Brave burst onto the big screen in 2012, it was pretty evident that the feisty, redheaded Merida was cut from a different pattern. She came with a whole lot of attitude and an overdose of spunk. And after seeing the crop of suitors that came calling at her castle, I can see why she wanted to postpone a relationship.

Then we got Frozen, the mega blockbuster that helped give Disney an overall revenue growth of 10% and earnings growth of 41% for the second quarter of fiscal 2014. As of June 4, 2014, Frozen had a domestic earnings total of over $400,600,00 and had surpassed $1.2 billion worldwide according to Box Office Mojo. Now that’s a couple of powerhouse females who shattered the glass ceiling—or in their case the ice ceiling.

But once again Anna and her sister Elsa (the one that got famous for belting out “Let It Go”) aren’t your traditional Disney girls. Their story deals with sisterly affections. The “princes” in this tale are either downright evil or a bit of a fixer-upper. Not only are the men not germane to the outcome of the story, they often prove to be problematic. In some cases the females have to drag them along during the adventures. That doesn’t sound very much like the old-fashioned Prince Charming.

Now we have Maleficent. While she is not a Disney princess (that really would be upsetting the formula), her ingĂ©nue, the sweet Aurora, is. But what happens when Aurora needs true love’s kiss to awaken her from the evil curse Maleficent put upon her? Let me just say, it’s not the handsome Prince Phillip whose lips release her from the spell. He just can’t perform when put on the spot. In his defense, Phillip admits he barely knows the girl. But that lack of familiarity didn’t seem to stop the princes in the past from working their magic.

On one hand I applaud some of these new depictions. Girls should have role models that teach them to be resourceful, strong and brave. But in portraying this new kind of princess, Disney appears to be swinging to the other side of the pendulum where girls don’t need boys at all.

More and more, men in the Disney princess scenario are evil, maniacal, or at the very least, clumsy and uncultured. So while the girl-power theme ratchetes up in the new Disney releases, the boys are taking a beating.

It makes me wonder. Is this really what we want to teach our girls? Do the successes and achievements of one gender have to come at the expense of the other? Where is the balance? And why can’t a girl be strong and still fall in love with a Prince Charming?

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