“When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” – Pinocchio, 1940
For over 70 years, making dreams come true has been a major theme of Disney. Lately, princesses have been at the center of that theme–and with princesses so wildly popular, it’s assumed that all little girls share princess dreams.
For example, in the “Dream-Along With Mickey” stage show at the Magic Kingdom, Mickey and Minnie ask the audience, “What are your dreams?” A recording that sounds like a live audience member shouts, “I want to be a beautiful princess!” to which Minnie responds, “Did you say be a princess? Me too!”
But being a “beautiful princess” is a shallow and uncreative goal, however special it may feel. When the “Disney on Ice: Dare to Dream” show comes to town, Tiana, Cinderella, and Rapunzel are all framed as being “daring” by following dreams that are ultimately uniform–marrying a prince, becoming a princess, and living happily ever after.
Is the princess dream really daring? No. Being daring means taking risks. The princess dream presented by Disney is standardized. What’s risky about dreaming for exactly what most major marketers say girls should dream for? Nothing.
Despite these flaws, many girls find princess culture fun and enjoyable. And why wouldn’t they? Glitter and glitz are great! But girls also need dreams that are more robust and fulfilling than the mass-marketed fantasy of becoming a pretty princess–and major cultural producers like Disney and their rivals are fully capable of presenting more daring dreams to girls.
This week, The Girl’s Guide to Swagger and I are tackling this issue: We’re writing about how princesses–and the girls who love them–deserve to dream of more. We are calling on major producers, such as Disney and Dreamworks, to add more dimensionality to popular culture princesses. We want princess characters who dream of something more than beauty and romance. For example: Why not send a cartoon princess to college?
Disney has taken steps in the right direction in recent years. In The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tiana’s primary dream was to own her own restaurant–a healthy dream of entrepreneurship and a career that she ultimately achieves (while becoming a princess along the way). A couple of years beforehand, Disney also released a little-known direct-to-DVD video, Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams (2007), in which Aurora and Jasmine tackle important royal responsibilities in their kingdoms. In Jasmine’s case, she has grown tired of spending time in the boring activities expected of a pretty princess, such as ribbon-cutting ceremonies and posing for portraits. She sings about how she could do so much more:
As the story unfolds, Jasmine works as an educator and takes pride in her various accomplishments.
Follow Your Dreams was supposed to be the first in a series of empowering direct-to-DVD princess tales, but Disney never released additional discs; Wikipedia cites poor sales of Follow Your Dreams as the reason. But five years later, the Follow Your Dreams DVD has an average rating of 4 stars on Amazon, with more than half of all raters giving it 5 stars. Comments note that the DVD has an “empowering message,” praising Jasmine for being “almost like a modern day politician.”
We are asking for more films in this vein, whether released straight to DVD or produced for the silver screen–and whether produced by Disney or a competitor.
"Ioni is graduating from the first year of school," a photo by Dimitris Papazimouris. (Used under a Creative Commons license.)
As a “dream,” being a princess can be about more than appearance and romance; it can be about the power to change the world for the better. And how better to do so than with a college education?
Today is International Women’s Day. Let’s ask Disney, Dreamworks, and others to give our girls princesses who dare to dream of more–starting with higher education. Join us by signing the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/disney-and-dreamworks-send-a-princess-to-college. You can also post requests on Disney’s facebook page and Dreamworks’ facebook and Twitter accounts.