The trouble with pretty princesses

We’ve been on a steady diet of Disney lately. I’m still waiting for the Beauty and the Beast to get here, and with Katie sick today, we’ve been rotating between Finding Nemo and the Little Mermaid all day. No, seriously. ALL DAY.

One thing that struck me in children’s movies and literature, particularly Roald Dahl, is the tragedy that animates the narrative. Dahl seems to have never-ending orphans and neglected children as the protagonists in his stories (thought I absolutely LOVE his stories). Disney is really scary, though. I mean, really, really scary. I’m only aware of this because my hyper-aware two year-old is watching and, even though I still slip and drop an f-bomb around her on occasion, it matters to me what she watches.

But take Scar in the Lion King, and Mufasa’s death scene. In the Little Mermaid, it’s Ursula, the sea witch and her little clam-looking prisoners. Finding Nemo begins with the death of Nemo’s father’s wife and children. We see very little actual gore, but enough violence and brutality that it makes me uncomfortable sometimes that Katie and other small children are exposed to it.

I suppose this stems from the root of many of the Disney stores, in Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, or whatever grim, dark  folk tales Disney adapts. I think this crystallized for me watching the Little Mermaid over and over again this past week when I realized ARIEL IS 16 YEARS OLD AND SHE GETS MARRIED! and, the comical yet horrifying scene when Sebastian ends up in the palace’s kitchen and gags when he sees his fellow sea-creatures cooked and beheaded by the prince’s French chef.  I thought about that, and was amazed that Disney would give human-like qualities to an animal and then, on screen, force that human-like animal watch the death and consumption of those who are human-like like him. I mean, come on. What if they did that to a human? In essence, they did.

Okay, enough of that for now. But maybe the problem with Disney and my hesitance to let Katie and Zuzu have too much of it should not be the princesses. They may not be the problem. Maybe the princesses are just a spectacle to distract us from the peripheral violence that permeates so much of the remaining narrative. Unfortunately, teaching little girls and women to just serve as eye candy and a distraction rather than a substantive, active part of society seems to be the norm these days.

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