My fellow bookworms I’m unashamed to say: I’m a proud Disney adult. I love Disney movies, the parks are my happy place, Disney’s music has been my life’s soundtrack and I own way too much Disney merch. Let’s face it people if you clicked on this article chances are you’re a Disney adult too. I promise acceptance is easier than denial. As the happiest place on Earth celebrates it’s 50th anniversary (those teacups don’t look a day over 49, am I right?); I thought it’s only right to celebrate the source of Disney’s pixie dust: sorry Mickey, but I’m talking about the princesses of course! Between the iconic ballads, iconic animal companions and yes impeccable fashion, these women have cemented their legacy for generations. What is it about these characters that we love so much, flaws and all?
Whether you remember those nostalgic evenings at Blockbuster picking up Disney VH1 tapes (shoutout to my millennials), or randomly doing those supper addictive online quizzes that determine which princess you are—at this point Disney and their princesses are embedded into our DNA like a favorite cousin or a big sister that’s been in our lives from the very beginning. Plus, despite what the biggest Disney critic in your life says, everyone has a favorite one…or three, let’s be honest. I remember being glued to my television as a child watching Mulan, my favorite princess ever. She was an outcast who fought against societal pressures while saving country. Plus, that soundtrack? Just fire. The fact that her story wasn’t tethered to a man and to see a WOC princess, I was truly in awe.
Disney Princesses have worked and will continue to work as long as children are able to see themselves in these characters. In other words: representation matters. Every child looks different, acts different and comes from different communities; the beauty in our differences is the reason why there just can’t be one aesthetic for Disney princesses. For many children, these princesses are the first characters we remember connecting too; some mirror our own personal flaws and struggles, all while blazing new trails.
Of course, Disney princesses work due to a myriad of Disney reasons: they challenge the status quo, they speak their minds and they follow their heart. All of this mixed with some fairy-dust produces a magical result! Even though these characters are revered childhood classics and pillars in fiction, they still have in-ignorable flaws.
From Snow White to Cinderella and Aurora having barely any agency in their own stories, too tired narratives about beautiful girls requiring saving and marriage for a ‘happily ever after’. Please, someone hit the snooze button will you? Or Ariel who essentially gave up her voice for Prince Eric, and poor Jasmine, the only princess who’s not the main character of her own movie. Princess Tiana, Disney’s only black princesses, spends majority of her screen time as a frog. You know, because a frog is what generations of blacks girls have been dying to see. Meanwhile Pocahontas romanticizes a very painful part of history for Native Americans. Did I mention Belle’s Stockholm syndrome yet? Either way, it’s safe to say the mouse has dropped the ball more than once.
Despite the rumors, I’m not here to ruin your childhood, nor do I enjoy it. It’s okay to love Disney princesses and it’s okay to have conflicted feelings about them too. It shouldn’t come as a shock that a room full of men in the 1930s taking charge of creating these “nuanced” role models for children is now being met with criticism. A lot of these characters were many of our first introductions to female driven films, especially when it came down to knowing what female heroines could look like and be, which is definitely worth acknowledging.
If the principles behind these princesses are evolving, like the generations who grew up on them, then we should welcome it. The ideal princess for this newer generation of Disney lovers isn’t a princess who stresses the importance of perfection or true love’s kiss. Instead, one who’s flawed, bold, and not ashamed to make mistakes, all while searching for a true sense of self and frankly always down for some good kind of trouble. Mulan, Tiana, and Moana are my favorite princesses ever because they showed me early on the importance of independence as well as hard work. So happy birthday Walt Disney World, I hope the next 50 years are filled with even more magical memories (and princesses)! Who’s your favorite Disney princess?
If you enjoyed reading this article then make sure to check out Bookstr’s other article about Realistic Disney Princesses that represent worldly issues, and this one showcasing Isabelle Staub’s awesome Disney illustrations!