There is a strong counter culture debate about the Disney Princesses. There are the debates that I have talked about over the course of this series about the roles of women, focus on body type, and fully realized character. There is another discussion which I learned of recently about which characters are ‘allowed’ to be Princesses. There are rules about who makes the pantheon and not all the Disney women make the cut. Fans of particular characters and movies debate at great length for their favorite to be included.
There are places on the internet that you can find discussions of why certain characters deserve to be on the official list. Some are quite simple i.e. the character is actually a Princess in a Disney movie. Others are more convoluted. There is a very convoluted theory about Jane from Tarzan that explains how she (and he for that matter) is descended from royalty and should be included. It’s on YouTube. You can google it. Just type in any combination of the words ‘Jane’, ‘Disney’, ‘Princess’, and ‘theory’. Enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole. As long as you remember that Alice isn’t a Princess either. All this debate is in vain, however. Some people simply don’t make the cut. Let’s see why.
The Disney Princess Rules:
1 – She must have a primary role in an animated movie.
2 – She must be human.
3 – She doesn’t appear primarily in a sequel (Meaning she isn’t introduced in a sequel).
(4 — I am also assuming she must be a she. That isn’t clearly stated, but we are talking about Princesses.)
Then she must meet at least 1 of these criteria:
1 – She was born royal.
2 – She marries into royalty.
3 – She portrays a significant act of heroism.
(4 – Again I am assuming she cannot be a villain. If not we have several eligible candidates.)
These rules are fairly straight forward. It means that not every woman who ever appears in a Disney movie is an official Princess. The problem I have with these rules is that they appear to be randomly enforced. Pocahontas is a Princess because her dad is a tribal chief. Tiger Lily however is not. Mulan is a Princess who in no way becomes royalty. I am sure that rule 3 was created specifically for her, but Esmerelda gets slighted. Standing up for the downtrodden and being willing to sacrifice your own life is fairly heroic in my book. But she does not merit Princess status. I like consistency. But when I look at these rules I find they are not consistently followed. Here are some women who meet the criteria listed above. No internet theories necessary. No implied symbolism. Just Disney’s own rules. These are not based on my own preferences. One of these movies I don’t like and one I’ve never seen.
The Black Cauldren: Eilonwy
Princess Eilonwy is born a Princess of the Kingdom of Prydain. She rescues the hero from a dungeon and becomes part of his quest party. She meets all of the minimum requirements and should be an official Princess.
Meg is as much a major character in ‘Hercules’ and Jasmine is in ‘Aladdin’. She not only marries Hercules in the end (son of the King of the Gods, therefore a Prince) she also sacrifices her own life to restore Hercules’ powers. That seems like a significant act of heroism to me.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Kida
Princess Kidagakash is another Princess born to the title. She is a defender of the city and merges with an artifact of power to save Atlantis. Again, all the requirements are met.
Enchanted: Giselle & Nancy
Two Princesses in this one. While Giselle is referred to as a Princess throughout the movie, she does not go on to marry her Prince. She does however defeat an evil sorceress in the form of a dragon and saves the city of New York. That seems to me to fall into Rule 3 territory.
The Prince does get his happily ever after with Nancy who steps into the vacant Princess slot when Giselle finds her true love. (As an aside, if I were Amy Adams I would convince Disney to let me wander around the parks as Giselle in my free time. Just to see if people would notice.)
Wreck it Ralph: Vanellope von Schweetz
Princess in disguise! How awesome is this one? She saves Ralph, both physically and emotionally. She resets her game and restores all the damage done to her world. As an added bonus she doesn’t like her princess dress and prefers a hoodie. What’s not to love?
So it seems that even in the magic world where the humble can be elevated to great heights, find true love, and live their dreams; there are some who are more equal than others. Disney makes the rules and gets to decide when to enforce them and when not to. Not every Princess is ‘princessy’ enough to make the cut. Tinkerbell even got kicked out of the Princesses. I find it funnier than ever that when we met Cruella DeVil she talked about the Princesses using ‘Mean Girls’ references.
We live in a time when women and girls are again being told not only what we should or should not do, but what we can and cannot do. Women who speak up in public spaces about what they want and how they are treated are threatened and demeaned. While men in power seem determined to minimize and control women to keep us in our ‘place’ as objects for their needs and pleasure, women are rising up and saying “No more”. In this time, I want Disney to step forward as an influencer of our culture and say it with us.
I want our daughters and nieces and sisters to see strong women who take control of their lives. I want them to see Princesses who are tall or short, thin or heavy, and everything in between. I don’t want them to be defined by the men around them. I want them to be in charge. I want the definition of ‘Princess’ to be wide, not narrow. When little girls are in the Disney parks, no matter what they look like they are addressed as ‘Princess’. Light or dark, fully abled or otherwise they are ‘Princess’. Wouldn’t it be nice if the merchandise was equally as diverse? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned to see each other as worthy in our own right regardless of what others tell us to think?
The last time we were at Downtown Disney, the parking attendant addressed me as ‘Princess’. It made me smile. As we drove away I looked over at The Princess and said, “I’m not a Princess”. She replied, “Yeah you are!” No hesitation. It gives me hope that the generations that follow are ready for the world ahead of them. After a little discussion we decided that perhaps I wasn’t a Princess since we already had one in the family. I was, in fact, a Queen. That works.
Star Wars: Princess Leia
I know she’s not really a Disney Princess. Disney only acquired her recently and had no say in the shaping of her character. But she is my favorite Princess and I would definitely buy her t-shirt.
Cover image by trumpetextreme at http://www.polyvore.com/disney_princess_vs_not/set?id=83056587