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The Real Lessons Disney Princesses Teach

It’s not fashionable any more to say that Disney princess movies teach good values.  It’s the “in” thing to bash Disney princess movies, proclaiming all the negative messages that they supposedly teach, such as:

  • Girls need to look pretty – outer appearance is more important than substance.
  • Change everything about yourself to get a man.
  • Marriage is a woman’s highest ideal.

Disney princess bashing is just another version of political correctness.  It’s not politically correct to encourage girls to be girly and expect boys to be boyish.

If the above messages really are what these Disney princess movies are teaching, than they did a terrible job,  because I don’t especially care about my appearance and I found a man who loves me for who I am.  I happen to be of the opinion that marriage and having children is a woman’s highest ideal, but what exactly is the problem with that?  A healthy marriage is the most fulfilling relationship a person can have, and nothing compares to the joys of raising a child.  Coincidentally, marriage and family ought to be a man’s highest ideal, as well.

One criticism of these princess movies I found particularly humorous was that the princesses fall in love too quickly, often in a matter of days.  Do people really think Disney created that?  Are the princess movie critics completely unfamiliar with their fairy tales?

Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty, fell in love with her prince after he kissed her awake.  This is actually much preferable to one version, “The Sun, Moon, and Talia,” by Giambattista Basile, an Italian fairy tale writer.  In his version, Sleeping Beauty (Talia) was raped in her sleep by a king (who was also married), gave birth to twins, and only woke up when one of the babies, trying to nurse, sucked on her finger, removing the splinter left behind by the poisoned spindle.  When the king’s wife found out, she lured Talia to her castle, and fed the babies to her husband for dinner.  You can read the full story here.

You know what?  I think I’ll take the Disney version.

Cinderella is also commonly criticized for its passive princess.  That’s actually the fault of Charles Perrault, a French fairy tale writer in the late 17th century.  His Cinderella was as submissive as any step-mother could desire.  (You can read it here.)  In the Grimm’s version, Cinderella is much more pro-active, finding her own solutions to the oppression of her step-mother and step-sisters.  In Basile’s version, Cinderella murders her first step-mother and convinces her father to marry her governess.  Disney opted to follow the Perrault version.

After reading some original fairy tales, especially ones by Basile, I think you’ll come to my way of thinking, that the Disney movies aren’t such a horrible thing to show young children.  (Not that I’m against letting kids read original fairy tales – just be mindful of the age and maturity of the child.  And maybe skip the ones about rape and incest.)

The messages the Disney princess movies teach children are actually quite positive.  Here are some of the ones I learned as a kid:

Beauty and the Beast

  • Nothing is more important than family.  Sometimes, we sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love.
  • Books are a way to experience adventure until you find your real adventure.
  • People can change – give them a chance.
  • Never give in to a bully.
  • Always stick up for the one you love.

The Little Mermaid

  • Your parents love you.  The rules you think are stupid are there to protect you.
  • Even if you don’t follow the rules and really screw up, your parents will still love you and want the best for you.
  • Follow your heart.  Even if it sometimes means doing something really stupid.
  • Love is all about body language.  Use it to your advantage.

Snow White

  • Even princesses sometimes have to cook and clean.
  • If you are kind and helpful to others, they will be kind and helpful to you.
  • You can’t stop bad things from happening, even if you try to hide.  You still have to live your life.

Pocahontas

  • Don’t let others, even the most well-intentioned, determine your future.  Decide it for yourself.
  • Nature keeps us grounded.  Appreciate it for more than just a resource to be used.
  • Don’t judge others on first impressions.  Be open minded.  But use good judgement.  Sometimes, the guy who seems really horrible, really is really horrible.
  • Sometimes, the people you have to stand up to are you own family.  Do what is right, no matter what.

Aladdin

  • Decide your own future.  Don’t be fooled by anyone.  Not your father, creepy old guys, or even cute boys.
  • Demand the truth.  Especially from the guy flirting with you.
  • Give people second chances.  Some of them deserve it.
  • Building a fortress around your heart is a lonely way to live.  Let someone in!

Cinderella

  • Be good to others, even if they are nasty to you.
  • Being a good person really will pay off.  Be patient.
  • Always have a positive attitude.  Look on the bright side!

Sleeping Beauty

  • Umm…sleeping can be a productive use of your time?

Okay, I don’t really have anything to say in my apologia for Sleeping Beauty.  Well, at least nothing horrible happens to her while she’s sleeping.

What’s your opinion on Disney and fairy tale princesses?  Who are your favorites?  Share in the comments below!

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10 Comments

  1. CJD says:

    The problem that I have with the Little Mermaid Story is with the principle her father teaches. She disobeyed him, got involved in a contract that got her in major trouble, and yet he is willing to sacrifice the good of his entire kingdom to save her from her own disobedience. Yes, he should guide her, but not sacrifice the good of his kingdom to protect her from her own disobedience. I believe he does something similar for Ariel’s daughter in the second one too. (it’s been forever since I’ve seen it so I could be wrong on that one) Parents taking over when their kids have gotten themselves in trouble doesn’t teach them anything except that they can do whatever they want and Mommy or Daddy will take care of it. Parents should be guiding the children in how to take care of their own problems and to take responsibility for their actions.

    Another Disney movie I have a problem with is Robin Hood. (not a princess one I know – but it is Disney) The reason is because it reminds me too much of what government welfare does. The reason I see this as a problem has to do with what Pres Howard W. Hunter said “The government will take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ Both have lost their freedoms. Those who ‘have,’ lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who ‘have not’ lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got ‘something for nothing,’ and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.”

    • I see what you’re saying about Little Mermaid. I agree that parents shouldn’t rescue their children from their mistakes, but Ariel was going to die. It’s one thing to let your kid get a bad grade for forgetting their homework or even let them spend a night in jail for underage drinking. But when it comes to life or death, could a parent really just let their child die because of their disobedience? I don’t really remember the second one either.

      No disputing your point about Robin Hood here! 🙂

  2. Mikey Gee says:

    My criticism of of Disney Princesses is a case by case sort of thing. The most common criticism is that the princesses disobey their parents. Sometimes (much more do in the Classic Disney) the princes are so empty I’d say they, not the princesses, are the negative role models.

    There are many fine examples in the Disney tales for boys and girls (and for men and women). The best example being probably Beauty and the Beast which certain deserved the Oscar it received. The worst example is The Little Meremaid. Beauty sacrificed for her father, showed grace to undeserving captor and ultimately was able to see him despite his new face. Beast learned to control his temper (not easy) without giving up his manhood (even harder), learned to love others even to the point if letting her go. Great examples and if there were any criticism it would be that Belle sets the bar too high and could create an inferiority complex in young girls who could never be as wise, kind and good as Belle and unrealistic expectations for boys expecting their beloved to be all that while they try to be as humble as Beast (while always feeling like Gaston).

    Whereas Ariel is at best a cautionary tale. She disobeyed her father, made a deal with the devil and friend zoned Flounder, when he would have loved Ariel way more than Eric. And Eric? Give me one personality trait he had. Just one. Cardboard cut out. The only heroic figure was the father (Father?) whose love for his child was greater than the power of evil.

    But really I think most criticism of Disney is because of a distrust if not outright rejection of romantic sexuality. The idea that sexuality can be anything more than a base biological urge (and that there might be something transcendent about it) does not fit in with the materialist secular works view. I give them points for consistency but will happily subjects future (hypothetical) sons and daughters to the lessons of Disney movies… except The Little Meremaid. We’ll just buy the sound track on that one and leave the movie alone.

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