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The Princess and The Foe: A Classic Disney Princess Purist’s Perspective

With the release of Ralph Breaks the Internet around the corner, the debates arise once more: How does Disney update the princess franchise without distancing fans of the classic animated films? What messages are classic Disney princess films sending?

I read this Wall Street Journal article this morning and pondered what the real debate is for Disney’s princesses. Is it that critics want to change the classic Disney princess stories to better fit our everyday life? Or is it that critics are resistant to the princesses’ character development in modern stories?

The author of the WSJ article describes how executives gasped upon viewing footage from Ralph Breaks the Internet. “The scene broke all of the Disney rules that had built the princesses into a lucrative brand.” The author of the WSJ article described the footage as follows:

Elsa and Sleeping Beauty have their hair down and wear pajamas. Snow White shows off her Coke-bottle glasses. Cinderella shatters her glass slipper and thrusts it forward like a broken bottle at a girl who walks into the room. Rapunzel asks her, “Do people assume all your problems get solved because a big, strong man showed up?”

The article goes on cite to some very interesting character stats and studies, as well as views from those who work behind the scenes at Disney.

While the WSJ article raises several issues of interest, I only broadly address some of them here. Let it be known that the following views are those of the author, a classic Disney princess purist, and are not to be associated with The Disney Blog or its other authors.

Update the Princess Franchise Without Distancing Fans of the Classic Animated Films – By Leaving the Original Films Intact.

Firstly, and perhaps contrary to the view of some of my fellow purists, I am not sure what the problem is with revamping the classic princesses for modern films, such as Ralph Breaks the Internet.

For me, the new Snow White and her Coke-bottle glasses will be disconnected from the classic Snow White I know and love, but if such character pursuits are proving profitable and loved by children of this day and age, what is the problem? Isn’t that the mastery of Disney – creating stories and characters that are relevant or relatable?

Disney princess films have been evolving since day one. I was born in the era of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but my birth date did not diminish my love for Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, nor did it prevent my heart from being captured by more recent masterpieces like Frozen and Moana.

The disconnect from the classic Disney princess characters in new films is of no real matter to me. Part of my love for the classics is because they are time capsules providing an unparalleled insight into dreams of old, and they remind me of pleasant experiences growing up.

If Disney is concerned about us oldies no longer buying Disney merchandise and thus losing its older audience, I would suggest it just needs to release different versions of certain products; blend the old with the new (which, to date, Disney has done well. Kudos to Oh My Disney’s recent 90s Flashback Collection, as well as the Disney Designer Collection: The Premier Series for some stellar old-timey products).

And what are “the Disney rules” that have been broken in Ralph Breaks the Internet? To my knowledge, Walt never carved out any rules. To suggest that Disney remains true to traditional fairytales would be false: Disney has always adapted stories to fit the Disney brand. Arguably with Ralph, Disney has gone one step further – adapting its own creation to target a new generation. I say, let Ralph go ahead and break the internet.

Criticism about the Messages that Classic Disney Princess Films Send is Without Merit.

Secondly, in my experience, criticisms about the messages that classic Disney princess films send have no merit. Of course, parents are entitled to parent as they see fit. However, I think it is unfair to expect Disney to re-write history to, for example, make clear that Prince Phillip should not have kissed Princess Aurora while she was sleeping because he did not have her consent to do so. My family taught me that it was not okay to let people make any moves on me that I did not agree with – this lesson had nothing to do with classic Disney princess films. Classic Disney princess films mapped out some of my childhood dreams, but I mapped out the rest.

On the other hand, I recall my parents telling me that because I was a “princess” – beautiful, kind and talented (thanks, Mom) – I should be careful that people do not take advantage of me. A similar lesson is set out in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Snow White was sweet and kind, and too trusting of strangers when she let the disguised-Evil Queen into the house where disaster ensued. Is this lesson outdated? I don’t think so. (I recall telling my mother that the message was that I didn’t have to eat fruit because it would poison me, but that argument didn’t fly.)

It would also be incorrect to suggest that Disney runs the risk of getting “stuck” in a traditional boy-saves-girl fairytale storyline. Disney’s recent releases tell a different story. Frozen turns the theory of true love’s kiss on its head when the [SPOILER ALERT] prince turns out to be the villain, and true love is instead the love between two sisters. Moana shows us that the chief’s daughter (who reminds us that she is not a princess) saves her entire island by braving the sea alone. Tiana instructs us that “the only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.”  In Hercules, Megara even mocks traditional fairytales when she grunts, “I’m a damsel, I’m in distress, I can handle it. Have a nice day.”

So, I am not sure what the Disney rules are, but I hope whatever rules might be evolving due to modern criticisms are curtailed by Walt’s legacy of being a progressive storyteller. Disney’s update of the classic princesses does not, and should not, affect their namesake films nor their origins.

Disney is not stuck in the past – it is powering into the future with modern masterpieces and live-action remakes. That said, make Disney princesses as relevant or relatable as you like, but don’t change the original films, the original animation, the music, or the stories they tell. Leave old fuddy-duddies like myself to Once Upon A Dream the days away with those classic animated beauties left intact.