I knew I was going to see Disney's new princess tale Frozen the moment I saw the trailer. I loved the question posed: "Who will save the day?" The options: "The ice guy?" "The nice guy." "The snow man?" -- and, get this -- "No man?" A bold feminist message right there in the trailer. I guess that's to be expected given that Brave -- the 2012 Disney tale about a feisty, independent princess who refuses to marry -- raked in $67 million opening weekend. I hope Frozen brings in even more bucks because we still desperately need films where the handsome prince doesn't save the day.
Four years ago, while Kerry David and I were making our documentary Seeking Happily Ever After, I interviewed a group of young girls from (East Coast, liberal) homes about their views on happily ever after. They could name all the Disney princesses starting with Snow White and each had a favorite. They understood that "happily ever after" meant riding off into the sunset with a prince, and hoped they'd find their own prince. When I asked them what's more important in high school, a best friend or a boyfriend, they were unanimous on "boyfriend." This is after over 15 years of "girl power" messaging.
Since the documentary was distributed, many moms asked me what we should do about exposing our girls to traditional Disney princess stories. How much damage do they inflict? Should we ban films and books like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty once and for all and focus only on the very newest princesses? Did I watch the "classics" with my own daughter, now age 9? (Yes, I assured them, my daughter was hooked into sparkly princess mania too.)
Here's what I advised: Watch the original princess tales with girl(s) and then use them as a springboard for conversation. I don't mean insisting to your daughter that they are garbage. Ask, "What did you like about the story?" "What did you think of the princess?" "How would you describe the prince?" I loved what Maria Tatar, professor of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, told me about Disney "giving us this cardboard prince, this Ken-like figure, with no personality whatsoever." It encouraged me to ask my daughter what she thought of the prince in Sleeping Beauty. "I don't know," she'd tell me, "I liked the lady's pretty dress." Right, she couldn't even remember the prince. Ask your daughter what female characters -- in books, TV, or films -- she likes best and why. What does she think would make for a good fairytale ending?
That said, I'm excited about the princess transformations. I went with my whole family to see Frozen, and we raved about it on the car ride home, yelling out our favorite parts. My friends are all gushing about it on Facebook. Oh, to see romance and humor and princesses who need no saving from a dude! In fact, spoiler alert, it's sisterly love that saves the day. How's that for a new ending? Go see this one, moms and dads, because the more we show productions studios with our wallets that we want more versions of "happily ever after," the more options we get. I don't think there's any turning back.
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