The Disney Princess Thing

It’s a moment that’s hard to see the beginning of, like when a flock of shorebirds suddenly lifts into the air. Theoretically one bird gets the idea first, but to the human eye it looks like one flockwide impulse.

That’s the way it is with the Disney Princess Thing. Some other child in Mara’s group of friends got some Polly Pockets, which is the official name of a brand of Disney princess toys, and suddenly Mara wanted them. Before I knew what had hit me, all six princesses (sold separately!) had moved in and taken over my house.

Jasmine casting the Disney spell on my daughter.

Jasmine casting the Disney spell on my daughter.

The Pollys, as we now call them, are dolls about six inches high — Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, and Jasmine. They are, respectively, the leading ladies of the Disney movies Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Alladin. Each comes with several rubbery dresses that are kind of disgusting to the touch. The thing is, the dresses stretch, so members of their “target market” can pull and yank on them to dress and undress the princesses. They also come with tiny plastic shoes and necklaces, and in the case of Cinderella, I believe, a bird that sits on her hand. Ariel, of course, is a mermaid, so one of her dresses is her lower half as a fish. She wears this with a pink top made of two 32B clamshells.

* * *

We didn’t really want Mara’s early ideas of beauty and worth to be informed by the Disney narrative, where everyone of importance is physically attractive in really “standardized” ways. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we were really delighted when she took a shine to Shrek and Fiona of the DreamWorks movie Shrek, which actually has an integrity missing from 99 percent of what we are encouraged to think of as wholesome movies or television shows.

Let’s take this apart. In the usual fare, the ostensible moral is one that everyone can agree on but one that is actually undermined and contradicted by the underlying unspoken message. Beauty and the Beast is a perfect example and the most egregious one because of what it purports to say but doesn’t really. The story purports to offer the valuable message that beauty is not an external thing, but an internal one. We grow to love Beast because he’s good and kind. So does Belle, who is initially afraid of him and thinks him ugly. Frankly, she’d rather have been betrothed to someone a bit more…ahem…”charming”. Well, she eventually sees the beauty in this beast, but the authors of the story (this is not Disney’s original error) reward Belle’s deeper vision by erasing it — they give her a twinkle-toothed frat-boy Breck advertisement. That is what Beast must truly “look” like, because he’s good. To me this venerable fairy tale would have been so much better, and not the travesty it is, if Beast had retained his feral physique. Sure, the couple would have faced real difficulties. Shedding. Coyote breath. Scratches on all the furniture. But they would have worked it out. Instead, we get handed a slick fix ending that pulls up by the roots the beautiful seedling of truth the story has labored to sow in the heart of the reader/viewer.

By contrast, the message in Shrek is, you’re beautiful because you are who you are, and you’re beautiful even if you don’t look like the all American dream. Which is to say a Disney Princess.  The great moment in Shrek is when Fiona expects to be turned back into a hottie but finds that “love’s true form” for her is her ogre shape. And we have grown to love Fiona’s big green face and ogry ears. When she didn’t turn into the skinny pinup, I was relieved beyond measure, as was Shrek, who is big and green and “ugly” and loved her the way she was.

* * *

Warning: Image ahead not for the squeamish.

Mara doesn’t even know what McDonald’s is. We’ve been really careful not to resort to the cheapest and easiest ways to feed her or entertain her. (Angela has been nothing short of amazing in the effort she has put into making sure Mara always has good, fresh, healthy food available, even for snacktime.) Cutting out McD’s from the picture has enabled us to dodge a fair amount of pop-culture merchandising. But the Disney Princess Thing went through our kid community like small-pox. One day she was happily playing with her Thomas the Tank Engine trains, and the next day it was all about the Polly Pockets.

I can't even think of a caption that summarizes the horror of this image.

I can't even think of a caption that summarizes the horror of this image.

The Disney Princesses continue to be the most sought after toys in the lives of Mara and her little friends right now. Even the My Little Pony ponies are sitting idle most days. But the DPs have had their share of trouble. In a moment of exuberance on the part of her owner, the particular Jasmine depicted above went over the fence and down into the coil of blackberries that is creeping up the rockery from the neighbors’ yard below. We made a cursory search, but alas, she is lost. She was replaced by a perfect clone of herself. Ariel’s head came off, and though we pinned and glued it back on several times, we had to replace her as well.

And Belle, poor Belle, her fate was worse than pushing carts full of breath mints and raw steaks and lint rollers through the Costco checkout counter. Mara and lab partner Lily decided to experiment with the effects of setting a Polly on a light bulb last week and she melted all over it. I was nearly retching when I took the photo above. But yes. Yes, she is still beautiful. I will say it even now. Even twisted and impaled in this chilling fashion, she reposes in death as only a Disney Princess can.

So beautiful. So beautiful.

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13 Responses to “The Disney Princess Thing”


  1. 1 scott August 4, 2009 at 00:23

    that first picture is really funny. had amber and me laughing pretty hard.

  2. 2 Marni August 4, 2009 at 00:42

    Well, you got right on that, didn’t you?! The picture of the Polly and the lightbulb- disturbing on way too many levels, and I must say that the story you told yesterday didn’t convey the true horror of her condition- what prince will want her now, all defiled and oozy? Just wait- Barbie and all of her accessories can’t be too far behind the Polly’s, there’s just no escaping it I’m afraid.

  3. 3 Louis August 4, 2009 at 11:52

    “Sure, the couple would have faced real difficulties. Shedding. Coyote breath. Scratches on all the furniture…”

    And let us not forget the incessant howling on evenings when the moon is full!

    An extremely enjoyable read. It’s interesting to know what kids are into these days and most amusing as to how these toys disappear into bushes, break into pieces, melt into lightbulbs..it looks like your daughter may have inadvertently invented a Polly nightlight!

    Long live the Disney Princesses..

  4. 4 jstwndrng August 4, 2009 at 15:49

    I don’t know if you commenters (commentors? commentators?) can see this, but on my view WordPress has appended several links to the end of my post that they think I may be interested in, based on the keywords. One of them is called Bonfire of the Disney Princesses. I don’t even want to know…

  5. 6 Kip August 5, 2009 at 01:17

    You have posted my future, and I am frightened.

  6. 7 Ami August 6, 2009 at 01:11

    I think that old Walt has a long reaching arm. You can do whatever you can to shield you daughters (and some sons) from the Disney Empire, but they will still get you! Mwahahahahah…..
    Seriously though, our next door neighbors have 3 daughters, 7, 6, 3. It’s a princess graveyard over there.

  7. 8 Ben August 12, 2009 at 03:06

    Well then, I suppose I’m a little late on the scene here, I’ve been building a deck for the past several weeks (weeks, not days). Finally done, I thought I would check in on our favorite writer, and lo’ he has reverted to shocking us with evil depictions of our beloved daughters favorite heroines! Bravo, Matthew, bravo!
    DP Prevention technique: With McD’s being one of the few restaurants in town, we have submitted once or twice to the evil arches so that we can let the children run and play at -50 below. Do not judge me so viciously! They have to have a bath in Purell Sanitizer when they reach home and we tie there hands their car seats enroute, …you know they’ll pick at things. But really, …its the “Play Dates” that spread the DP’s, those “Play Date Moms!”.

    • 9 jstwndrng August 12, 2009 at 03:41

      How’d the deck turn out! I guess the houses take a beating up there every year with such deep cold, eh?

      No vicious judging going on here. If you smell any, feel free to speak up. Disagreements welcome, no name calling. Remember that I’m attempting to climb down from the tall tree of idealism, and that I’m doing so of my own will, without the inducement of police intervention. I in turn remember that others, even and especially loved ones, may be of a more pragmatic bent, and even if they’re also idealists, they may be idealists about something else, and be wholly and entirely on board with the agendas, or at least the product lines, of Disney and McDonalds. My opinions, let us all remind ourselves, are but the inconsequential off-gassing of one human being’s perspective and experience.

      Too, if I lived in the Uninhabitable North as you do and needed to get my children out of the house for some runaround and Chez McD’s was the only heated option in town, I’d probably do the same. And I think your point about playdates as princess vectors is spot on, old boy. They’re going to get in the house one way or another.

  8. 10 kiwidutch April 24, 2010 at 06:38

    Welcome to the world of little Girls and the big jaws of multinational corporations that prey on them (and their parents). Honestly, try and buy clothes for girl this age that *aren’t* pink! Mc Do’s is a virus that we also tried desperately to avoid catching, sadly some little Misses friends actually planned their Birthday parties there so escape was futile. Other than that, we too avoid it like the plague. It’s even funnier when our son thought that the Princess Dresses were a hot item of his big sisters, but his feminine side didn’t extend particularly deep and he looked a hoot doing his typical boy-style antics in tulle and silky, sparkly dresses with sequins. We too were delighted that Shriek’s Fiona remained her beautiful green self, but sadly kid is now older and Fiona has been superseded by Disney’s “Barbie” Princesses. Luckily the local playground is a far greater attraction than Disney can compete with so we opt for the outdoor fun as much as possible.
    There is hope.

    • 11 jstwndrng April 24, 2010 at 19:49

      kiwidutch,
      Thanks for stopping by and reading! And yes, it seems like you can run but you can’t hide, eh? I like your idea of keeping them outside. For my daughter, dirt and water trump almost anything, except of course playing with her princess pollys in dirt and water. I was about to post about my daughter and being outside, so you’ve actually gotten ahead of me. Hey, I clicked on your name to make sure you were legit (though in truth I recognized your avatar from Mikey’s site), and I saw something delicious with strawberries. Haven’t had time to investigate more fully yet but I’ll check out your blog and I’ll be sure to leave comments. Hope you check back again.

      • 12 kiwidutch April 25, 2010 at 02:31

        Hi jstwndrng,
        yep I’ve bookmarked your site so, I’ll be back for sure. You have a cool blog going on here :)I find that given the choice between the combination of water, sand, dirt, grass, heck even mud and rocks will do, and over-rated battery operated games that are so boring after the initial rapture of newness that there is no contest, The mud puddles and swings win every time. Throw additional kids into the outdoor play mix and you can have a multitude of imaginative scenarios, Princesses on the climbing frames, Pirate walk the plank on the see-saws and the heros rescue the goodies from the clutches of the baddies at the sand-pit island… good for social skills, imagination, communication and fitness, all wrapped up in fun. We own Nintendo’s, the gadgets designed to make long car journeys bearable (for Parents that is)and to stop me killing my offspring in the back seat because World War Three is playing out there and four and a half hours of kicking, pinching, shoving and shouting between Little Miss. and Little Mr. is too much for any parent to put up without going quietly insane. The biggest trick is this: the gadgets are Long Distance Car Toys only.. the rest of the time they are hidden away from said kids. Guess what? Once out of sight, out of mind, they don’t miss them. Learn to use gadgets, but only at the moments *you* want them, so that you don’t become slaves to all the “stuff” that consumerism forces towards kids.
        As for the strawberries, yes check out the recipes on my site, I post them regularly, all favourites, tried and true. You are right I frequent Mikey’s Blog too… excellent stuff there as well.It’s good to look around and meet new bloggers… Ah, and at least poor Belle departed this mortal coil on a “light”-er note…(groan)

  9. 13 jstwndrng April 26, 2010 at 13:30

    kiwidutch, I didn’t groan. We’re all about puns here.

    It’s hard to keep up with kids’ minds, and I can see how easy it might be to fall back on Nintendos and other toys that give the parents a break. We’re sort of not there yet. We only have the one kid at present, so there’s no bickering, and we’ve worked hard to cultivate in her a sense that the world is interesting, even from a car window. We haven’t taken a lot of long trips with Mara precisely because they are difficult for her. On our trip to the ocean last year we planned little roadside snack breaks. And she’s a pretty engaged and engageable kid, too. It takes a lot of effort on our part but we usually manage to keep her interested in the conversations we have over long hauls. I like that you restrict the use of the gadgets to the car. We let Mara watch movies every once in a while (Poppins, Chitty, etc.), but I’m surprised at how often she asks. It scares me that we’ve been reading books to her forever, but as soon as we introduced the screen to her she could never get enough of it.


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