My husband emailed me a blog post the other morning, entitled, “It’s Time to See ‘The Little Mermaid’ as a Feminist Film.”
I happily clicked, partly because the links my husband sends are usually pretty interesting, but also because the title sounded like it was a positive post about a Disney film, and not a critical one.
The post ended up being very good. I enjoyed it. I agreed with the author on a lot of what she said. But about halfway through it, I found myself thinking about all the numerous other articles and posts I’ve read in the recent past about Disney films, specifically the ones with princesses in them. Articles like this one and this one that dissect everything about the films’ meanings or how the characters are portrayed and what “messages we are sending to our little girls” when we allow them to watch these movies.
Some of the arguments I agree with, some I don’t. And then I end up reading part way through the comments left on these various blog posts, mostly left by moms who either want to pick a fight with other commenters who feel the exact opposite, or who want to offer their own two cents. And I find myself coming back to the same central question: How much of what everyone is arguing about is really being absorbed and retained by the 6-, 7- and 8-year olds watching these movies?
This quote from the Little Mermaid feminist article mentioned above pretty much summed it up for me:
“I love that she’s a mermaid,” my friend’s 6-year-old daughter Lucy said when I asked why she loves Ariel. Anything else? “No. Just that she’s a mermaid.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very useful to identify messages within a film, Disney or otherwise, and it makes for some interesting interpretations. But – and I’m only referring to Disney princess movies now – sometimes those interpretations get lost in the true meaning of the film – that it’s there to entertain. Let’s tell it like it is: “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Frozen,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast” – they’re all 90 minutes of escapism and a trip through The Land of Make-Believe at their core.
I have two little girls myself, ages almost-4 and 8. And I think they’ve seen pretty much every Disney princess film that’s been made (okay, well, maybe not “Mulan.” I still haven’t seen that one myself). And yes, I realize that my almost-4-year old may not yet be able to understand the differences between fantasy and reality. But she’s 4. I’m not really that worried. I even (gasp!) let my girls dress up and pretend to be princesses because I’m pretty sure they won’t actually grow up mistaking themselves for one. So what if they want to pretend (that being the operative word here) that they live in a castle and are whisked away by a prince? So be it. I encourage it. It’s called “pretend play.” Tomorrow, they’ll pretend to be doctors or teachers. And I’ll encourage that too.
I’m not naive enough to think that the media doesn’t influence our kids in their formative years. I know that to be a sad truth. There can be positives and negatives in all animated films, depending on how (and how hard) you look at them. Besides, real-world actions speak louder than any Disney film ever could. I’m certain there will be plenty of opportunities and situations where I’ll get to teach my girls to stand up for themselves, or to be strong and assertive in the face of adversity. I’d rather fret about those moments, rather than the ones they spend in front of the TV watching a cartoon mermaid devise ways to be with her human prince.
Lest you think that everything in my house is pink and purple and that my girls wear nothing but tutus each day, we have our fair share of “strong, positive” Disney princess role-models in our movie collection (is there such a thing?!). Let’s not forget Disney made a film about a fiery red-headed princess (Merida, from “Brave”) who was determined to control her own destiny. And Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog,” who since she was a little girl, saved her pennies to fulfill her dream of becoming a business owner. We love them in our house just as much as we love our Cinderellas and Snow Whites.
Ain’t nothin’ wrong with any of ’em.