Disney’s Cinderella escaped poverty due to her good looks and a prince. Snow White barely escaped death because of her good looks … and a prince. At least Belle learned appearances don’t matter, in beastly men. And mystifying to me, Ariel gave up her family and her fish tail for a life on land with a prince. Really! Her fish tail! That’s like an albatross giving up its wings to marry a snail.
And let’s face it, the only thing those princes have going for them, for all the character development they receive, is good hair and a strong jaw line.
Disney’s been mining princess stories for 70 years. Disney bought Pixar about 12 years ago. Until their latest film, “Brave,” Pixar has mostly avoided the princess theme. One way to avoid a princess theme is to never showcase a female protagonist.
Pixar knows story-telling. Their string of movies must set a record for consistent excellence. Their movies are technically beautiful and the storytelling is timeless. Yet, if females appear, they have been mostly relegated to spunky sidekicks (“Finding Nemo”) or spunky love interests (“Ratatouille”). Who doesn’t like spunky? Spunky seems to be the go-to trait for unthreatening independence in females. But the lack of a female protagonist over 12 movies is troubling to a father of daughters desperate to find them a quality non-princess movie we can all enjoy.
My daughters, ages 6 and 3, are smart girls and strong. Their mom is accomplished in her field and their dad is, well, not so much. Dad does, however, limit their access to pop culture. These two should not be girly girls. They shouldn’t be tied into this culture of pink princesses ... but they are.
(It started almost immediately. In an example of how much influence I have with family, I issued an edict to the grandparents upon birth of my first born not to buy a bunch of pink, plastic, princess crap. I think I heard them cackling as a tidal wave of pink, plastic princess crap crashed into the house, flooding the bedrooms and living room with princess pajamas, pink blankets, princess tea sets and purple plush puppies. Purple is pink’s accomplice.)
Perhaps I’m making too much of this. Perhaps for all the fretting, karma will hand me a jerk of a son-in-law. Much of fatherhood is managing anxiety. There are so many pitfalls and traps my girls could fall into as they grow up — from the minor sprains and strains to the things that keep me up at night. So, is their princess obsession relatively a bad thing? Shouldn’t I be picking my battles here?
I don’t know. Movies influence people. Movies are our cultural common denominator. How movies present little girls has to have an impact.
Look, I’ve got nothing against the theme of true love’s kiss; making out with my wife is great. But true love’s kiss is one great thing of many great things. It is not THE thing. Maybe a girl’s “thing” could be, say, archery.
Which brings us to Pixar’s “Brave.” “Brave” turns the Disney princess trope on its head. I love the movie. My oldest loved the movie. (My youngest did not. She had to be removed during some intense scenes, they’re not kidding with the PG rating).
As expected, Pixar pushes technology. The film’s animation is amazing, particularly Merida’s flaming red and tangled mass of hair. The nature shots are so photorealistic I thought they were using real film during the opening credits. The action sequences, complete with bears and crack archery, are gripping. The story, however, does not quite hold up. For all the celebration of wild independence, the film’s moral ends up muddled. Plus, “Brave” is easily Pixar’s most violent film. Thus I cannot rank “Brave” as a classic Pixar film. But come on, a “good” Pixar film is still better than 99 percent of everything else out there.
Except “Brave” is still a @%#$$@ princess movie! An excellent and engaging princess movie, but still...
There are options I like for girls. I recommend films from the Japanese filmmakers at Studio Ghibly. “Ponyo,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away” are amazing and feature girl protagonists who get into adventures and use their wits to get out of trouble. They’re not princesses either. And in my experience, boys watch those films with just as much enthusiasm as my daughters. They’re excellent.
So see “Brave”, and rent “Ponyo” too. Movies are probably not the single influence that will define how your little one grows up. But little girls, and little boys, need to see quality stories of females who are not princesses, but who are strong, smart and brave.
• Clint J. Farr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.