You probably saw this circulating on the internet, posted it on Facebook, or the like. I think it's part of this anti-princess movement, as if little girls wanting to be princesses is something that should be alarming. I'm not sure it is: princesses are in line for the throne. Diana, Elizabeth I, Grace Kelly--all princesses. And little girls might like sparkly things and might want to feel special. (Hey, some little boys too.)
Let's start with The Little Mermaid. Last time I checked, Eric falls in love with Ariel based on her voice, not her looks. In fact, when he interacts with voiceless Ariel, she looks exactly the same, but he's just not that into her. Her looks don't matter, but her specific talent does. But fundamentally, The Little Mermaid is a story about immigration. Ariel is pretty unhappy with her life way before she meets Eric--she hears stories about this fantastical other world and clearly wants to travel there. Despite her relatively privileged station in life, she's attracted to foreign lands and the potential adventure they offer. Enter Ursula: I can get you where you want to go for just a small price--I've totally done it for other people, and they are all happy! She's a coyote. And a bad one. You can view the story as Ariel "abandoning her family for a man" or you can view it as the sacrifices that first generation immigrants make. It's painful to say goodbye, but that's the price of immigration. Ariel, incidentally, is not really even close to her sisters, and has a loving but apparently strained relationship with her controlling father. Can you blame her for wanting to immigrate? Immigration means freedom for her, companionship with a man who seems to get her more than her own sisters, and the big wider world.
Aladdin. Did we seem the same movie? Jasmine rejection patriarchal notions that she should have no say in who she marries and loves. Specifically, she falls in love with a poor boy she meets in the marketplace. Love outside of caste--what could have been more taboo back then? She is unimpressed with Aladdin when he returns in disguise as a hot-shit prince. Put this in context of this being a historical fiction: this wouldn't have happened in real life. She would have been forced to marry whoever her father wanted and Jafar probably would have gotten his way. Who even knows what would have happened to a parrot that sounds like Gilbert Godfrey. Anyway, Jasmine is depicted as being strong-willed despite living in a male-dominated society, her father is depicted as ultimately being tender-hearted, and Aladdin's story highlights that money doesn't buy happiness. Maybe I've gone soft, but these don't seem like bad values to harp on.
In Beauty and the Beast there's a similarity to The Little Mermaid about feeling out of place. Belle does not fit into her parochial small town. She's intelligent and bookish, and the townsfolk think this is a con rather than a pro. Gaston values her for her beauty rather than who she is as a person--obtaining her is a status symbol, I don't even think he is necessarily fixated on her beauty per se. Belle falls in love with Beast despite his appearance. The above picture implies that beauty doesn't matter if you're male, but it does if you're female. So... the only conceivable reason that Beast could fall in love with Belle is her beauty? Not that they both have a mutual love of books, and that she's kind-hearted, and willing to risk her life to save her father?
Mind you, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out in 1937. I wouldn't even attempt to argue that it is as progressive as the above-three films, but I never found it particularly offensive. Prince Florian's love does not protect Snow White: she bites the poisoned apple. The dwarfs believe her to be dead--they didn't have stethoscopes back then. But does Florian even fall in love with her because of her beauty? He first hears her singing as she's working dressed as a scullery maid, then they sing together, which I imagine is how musicals depict the emotions surrounding what it is like to feel the chemistry of falling in love. His kiss brings her back. Is it "a man" bringing her back or "true love?" Isn't love something we should value?
Cinderella-- made in 1950. Yes, the character is supposed to be beautiful while her stepsisters are both plain and cruel (although in modern adaptions the stepsisters are often attractive and cruel--not sure what that development says about our society.) But also, like pretty much all the Disney princesses, Cinderella remains kind and caring despite the cruelty she faces. She befriends mice instead of beating them to death with a broom while screaming in terror. But yeah: the prince falls in love with her at the ball. Should we default to assuming this is because she is beautiful, or through some holistic combination of her personality, values, apparent good judgment, humor, etc.?
In Sleeping Beauty (1954) we see the same story again: Prince Phillip falls in love with Rose/Aurora because he hears her singing. Aurora was gifted with beauty and song by two separate fairies. He doesn't fall in love with her simply because of her looks, and she is conscious when it happens. More interestingly, Phillip is totally unaware of the fact that the singing peasant girl he met--Rose--is actually Aurora, the princess he was bethrothed to as a baby. He wants to marry her despite his princely obligations--another cross-class relationship! In the 50s!
So what are Disney princesses telling our little kids? That looks won't get you shit if you're a terrible person. Never give up the thing about you that is unique. That kindness and loyalty matter, and that you can be brave enough to be different, or fall in love outside of your social class (or even species?) Sadly, the nihilistic atheist in me can't help but to think that the most dangerously inaccurate thing in Disney movies is that the good guys always win and the bad guys are always vanquished. Look at the endings of the original Little Mermaid and Aladdin. A bit bleak.
Okay, end weird soapbox.