« Running: A Survivor's Tale | Main | I Scream for Ice Cream! »

June 10, 2009

The New Princess


The New Princess

By Elaine Viets

Disney has managed to make magic again. They changed a pretty fairytale into an ogre of a controversy. Their new animated movie, "The Princess and the Frog," features Tiana, the first African-American princess.

Like all Disney princesses, Tiana is beautiful and looking for love. But there are changes. This time, Princess Tiana doesn’t expect to be waited on. She hopes to get into the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans. She wants to run her own restaurant in 1920s New Orleans.

"She needs love and a career," we’re told.

The Washington Post says this new Disney princess will cause far-reaching changes. The animated movie is "a milestone in national imagery" and "the symbol of culture-changing standards of beauty."

It wasn’t that big a move. Michelle Obama is America’s first princess of color, with beauty, brains, an Ivy League degree and a law career. While she dances with her prince in gorgeous gowns, she also dons Gap T-shirts, bought on sale for ten bucks. Michelle proves that a true princess is not defined by the price of her clothes.

Also, Michelle’s real-life prince is black.

The Disney princess, Tiana, kisses a green frog who becomes the tan Prince Naveen. Naveen is supposed to be an Indian name. He’s voiced by Bruno Campos, a Brazilian actor. Here’s the Disney trailer, so you can see for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6DmEgtibOg

Now the debate has started. The prince isn’t black, just a darker shade of pale, these folks say. A black princess should have an equally ebony consort.

Others say the whole princess culture belongs in the dark ages. America doesn’t need a black princess. Our daughters need shining role models.

Meanwhile, we hear from the people who say let our daughters dream – in the color they prefer. Young women will have a lifetime to face harsh reality.

As a woman raised in a German-American family, my stern Grandmother Viets read me the Grimm Brothers fairytales – and baby, they were Grimm. No singing birdies and pretty gowns for those Grimm princesses. These fairytales were grimly educational. I won’t say I grew up just fine after reading these nightmare bedtime stories. I do kill people for a living.

But the old fairytales did color my world.

In the Grimm version, "Hansel and Gretel" was the ultimate stranger-danger story. The evil witch created a candy cottage to lure in Hansel and Gretel, locked them in a cage and fattened the kiddies for her dinner. Hansel, clever lad, tricked the nearly blind witch by sticking a knuckle bone through his prison bars. She thought it was his bony finger. The kiddies escaped and shoved the witch in her own oven. That fairytale taught us to beware of taking candy from strangers. We could wind up in the soup.

In the Grimm version of "Cinderella," her stepsisters lie and cheat to try to marry the prince. One cuts off her toe so her foot will fit the glass slipper. Her ambitious mother eggs her on, telling her if she marries a prince, she won’t need to walk. She never got to hobble up the aisle.

"Cinderella" was good training for life in a corporation, where people will cut off anything from their hair to their manhood to get ahead.

Disney reportedly changed Tiana’s name from Maddy because it was a "slave name" and her occupation from maid to budding chef.

Grimm would have added a warning for the frog-kissing Tiana. In the movie trailer, the frog says, "Kiss me. It would make me human again."

Watch your step, princess. One kiss can turn a lot of princes into animals.

Another fix would make "The Princess and the Frog" more realistic.

Tiana only kisses one frog. She should smooch a whole swamp full of amphibians.

Every woman knows you kiss a lot of toads before you find that prince.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The New Princess:


Grimms fairy tales didn't damage me--and I too kill people in print. I still have an ancient volume of Grimms and one of Anderson's. I like them better than the pablum versions of today.

I'm so glad I found my prince early on.

I loved Grimms Fairy tales when I was young. They were very bloody - I don't remember the title but in one story the entire wedding party was slaughtered. Hmmm... sounds like Kill Bill.

On the subject of Disney Princesses, on a recent NPR Blog, the writer wants a Pixar/Disney movie about a girl who isn't a princess. I agree. http://tiny.cc/rT7Ko

The mind boggles.....

I'm still kissing frogs... sigh

As the mother of three (very independent) girls, I wholeheartedly agree that we need more everything about girls and women. The Pixar movies are about male figures because, hello!, the Pixar people are male. Sure, my grandson loves them, but he also loves The Little Mermaid (another grim fairy tale in the original, sanitized by Disney). It wouldn't hurt one little bit to recognize the other half of the human race. Sheesh.

Harriet the Spy was one of the few movies about a girl that I ever took the kids to see, accompanied by their much older sister. Loved that movie; not animated, though.

When the American Girl dolls came out I was so excited. Despite their price (they were $84 a doll, now they are over $90), they are very well made, collector-quality dolls. But the big draw for me was that each of the dolls have a backstory that places them in a specific point in American history. Think back to when you learned history. Do you remember any women or girls in it, besides Betsy Ross (whose story is almost a total fabrication), or Dolly Madison? I suspect that's a big reason why girls rarely do well in history, and rarely choose to major in it in college. A female has to have a powerful imagination to put herself into the Revolution, or the French-Indian War.

By the way, Elaine, I finished reading Killer Cuts yesterday. Brilliant, your best yet! Thank you again.

Not sure what this says about me, but one of my favorite "princes" was Tramp (the mutt) and I always thought the Beast was more fun before he turned into the real prince. Maybe I like my men real and not all plastic-y perfect?

The thing is, the princess obsession seems to be a genetic girl thing. It's the rare little girl who doesn't absolutely love the princesses and the pink frilly dresses. I don't know that they give a crap about the princes, they just want to play dress up and see the movies about the pretty girls.

I was happy when Mulan came out, because my daughter is Chinese. She loves that movie, but she was equally enamoured of all the other princess movies. It didn't matter if they were Chinese or not.

And once they move on from princesses, they move toward vampires and Twilight, which is so misogynistic it's ridiculous. Disney is far far more progressive than that book/movie. I'm more concerned about Twilight than Tiana and her tan prince. At least Tiana's got a life ambition besides being the prince's wife. She'll make it with or without him. Bella in Twilight has no ambition except to be with Edward. Scary stuff.

So many things in so short a space.

1. The Grimm stories would all get [R]s if the movie followed the real stories. Damaging little psyches was not a concern in the 1500s.

2. A friend from high school is an animator for the Walt Disney Company. The Frog and the Prince is his latest project. We look for his name in the credits witch the girls think is pretty neat.

3. As the father of two princess, I do not have a problem with dreaming the dream. The girls have plenty of real life role models.

4. There are five American Girl dolls running around my house, so far. Molly, my wife freaked out when they introduced the newest of the historical doll, Julie. Julie is the daughter of divorced parents and is from that historical period, 1974-76. Sad when your childhood is now a part of history. My bank account is not ready for Rebecca, the newest doll who is Jewish. Good by $114.

Judy, I would have taken Tramp the mutt any day -- he had some life to him. Princes are boring. Poor Diana didn't have a fairytale life with her not-so-charming prince.
Karen, I admire you for trying to find a good role model for your daughter. It can't be easy. I'm hoping Michelle Obama -- Ivy League degree, beauty, brains, and she's no porcelain princess -- will show today's young women the way.

My favorite Princess & Frog storey http://www.thehumorarchives.com/joke/The_Princess__The_Frog

My $0.02 is that girls, as well as boys, need movie role models that come in all colors, shapes and sizes. I just watched "Up" and am now wondering when we'll see an overweight ethnic girl heroine in anything animated instead of another wasp-waisted beautiful woman/girl.

Just saying ...



LOL, Kerry! I love it.

Now that you mention it, Judy, Tramp was a perfectly good fantasy figure. Most of the princes were too perfect, in face, figure, and actions. I prefer a little bit of imperfection in my heroes and life partners, just enough to make life interesting.

None of my three girls ever had princess fantasies. Maybe because I didn't. Who knows. We did have Barbies, but they were more likely to participate in extreme sports than they were to hang around waiting for Ken to show up.

Obama's not black. He's biracial. And he's more tan than ebony -- much lighter than his wife. It's hard to know where we are on race these days. Huge strides have been made, yes, but people still care about and notice the color of the Disney princess. And while we have an African-American president, he's a biracial and light-skinned African-American. Do we think Obama would have won if he were as dark as, say, the fictional black President David Palmer? The only other credible African-American candidate to date -- Colin Powell -- was even lighter than Obama.

And may I point out that Colin Powell is NOT "African-American"? He is actually Caribbean, I believe. There's a distinction not often used, but significant to many.

Harry Bellafonte and others also fall into this category, and it's like fingernails on a blackboard to one black friend to hear him described as African anything.

My daughter played house with Barbie & Ken. Barbie worked (it changed with however she felt that day...from lawyer to cook to nurse to the first female baseball player) and Ken did whatever men do. Barbie had great shoes & clothes, had a nice house (that Dad built for Christmas one year), and a VW Beetle. She became the first woman to fly over a car without a jet pack and live through being run over by a truck (had a bit of a skid mark on her face, but it washed off).

My daughter never got into worrying about how she looked. Barbie could really do anything in her mind.

My objection to the Prince in this Disney movie is the guy is all chin. Who wants to fall in love with a chin?
I agree that Obama is mixed race, but not too long ago (in my lifetime) that mix could have kept him out of most country clubs and restaurants.

I kissed my fair share of toads, Elaine, and am pleased to say I no longer do that now that my "toad radar" is tuned to the proper wave length. Guess that comes with age and experience because I can now spot 'em a mile away. Toads aren't just green...sadly, they come in all shades and colors.

Hell, yeah, young women and older women need great role models. And Michele is a great one to have. But little girls need their dolls, and fairy tales and princesses, too. I haven't seen the new movie, but I say it's about time Disney revamped the princess model!

The first thing I thought of was the joke of the princess dining on frog legs ! LOL
This could easily be turned into a Twilight Zone.
Lots of voodoo in New Orleans, Princess could put frog legs on the menu at her restaurant to keep the prince in line.
If the prince 'disappears' you have to wonder if he was consumed. bwahahaha!

I don't really remember the whole princess thing in the 60's when I was a kid. I do remember getting bored with the whole doll thing very quickly.
I saw Bambi, Aristocats, Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty but don't think they had a big affect on me one way or the other.
Being a big Disney World fan, I have noticed a big increase in small princesses and unfortunately a lot of small princesses seem to think it is okay to have obnoxious diva behaviour. But I think they learn that from their families not from the onscreen princesses.
My personal princess favourite as an adult is Belle, because she reads books!

My 7-year old gave up all her Disney Princess stuff last year. Just came downstairs with armloads of stuff and announced she was done with it all. Her current obsession is cards. In particular, the game of War.

She's also found (and reads, again and again) a version of Hansel and Gretel that gives ME nightmares. TRULY bloodthirsty. Abandoning mother, freaky-frightful witch, weak father, but ingenious children-- resourceful, smart, loyal to each other, and very, very brave. Which is the whole point of fairy tales, if one believes Bruno Bettleheim. Kids derive comfort from seeing their worst nightmares played out on the page and seeing how little kids, or 3 little pigs, or 3 little princesses, use their wits to get out of horrible predicaments. To "clean up" the scary aspects kind of misses the point.

Still, I'll miss those Disney princesses. A little.

As one of five girls I have to wonder what happened to us. We were not princesses. We were more likely to be found climbing trees, playing baseball, riding bikes, catching fish, frogs, and in my case bringing them home along with a few snakes here and there. When we were inside we read a lot--mostly things like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and any adventure stories we could find.

I am also still in the kissing the frogs stage. Hmmmmm....

My favorite "princess" tale is in the move Ever After. Side note: I got to see the breathtaking gown that Drew Barrymore wears in the palace scene, the one with the gossamer wings, in person. There is a traveling exhibit of movie costumes that includes that gown.

Harley, I read an interesting article somewhere that pointed out that most successful children's literature includes at least one killed-off parent, and usually both. Harry Potter: orphan. Cinderella, and most of the princesses lost at least their mothers. The girl who lived in the hotel in NYC: orphan. And then of course there's Little Orphan Annie. Who can forget her. Kids get off on the fantasy that the dominant parent is no longer there to tell them what to do, apparently.

Soooo....princess. Isn't that what your father called you when you were little?

A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you're fast asleep
In dreams you lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
the dream that you wish will come true

I don't care what shape or color or who the handsome prince is. I know mine is still out there somewhere.
Just saying.

My daughter loved (loves) the Disney movies, and her share of princesses. But her favorite Disney movie for a long time was The Jungle Book. Which goes to show she'd probably rather hang out with animals than have a prince.

I remember my grandparents had a Grimm's Fairy Tale book written in German. I knew some of the stories but the illustrations were frightening....I don't recall being scared, just thinking how cruel people were!

Not a personal fan of the Disney movies but I understand why children love them. I find them too violent and although there is a lesson in each movie I believe they could be taught in a more positive way.

Michelle Obama is a role model I would love young girls to identify with. Her husband isn't a slouch when it comes to role models either......but would it sell on DVD? Bottom line is money......

My 10yo DD isn't into princesses anymore, but has requested we let her read Twilight. I'm probably saying okay tonight - but I really don't want to. I'm comforted knowing that her princess phase passed quickly; hopefully Twilight will too? Or maybe all her Tamora Pierce readings will counteract this one. (The Pierce books rock btw, if you have young female readers you're looking for. Honestly I visit the young adult section of the library to read her books myself).

I guess I'm mostly saying that with a good grounding, hopefully the bland princesses won't do too much harm. Though I'd love to get more out of our children's entertainment than not "too much harm"!

Karen (OH), I don't think it is all wanting to get rid of domineering parents. I think part of the dead parent is playing out a natural fear children have. What will happen to me if Mommy & Daddy die? What will happen to us if Mommy/Daddy leaves? It helps kids see other kids be strong & resourcefull. They can imagine themselves in that situation and see that it could be alright.

I love the movie Ever After! I think when Disney took out the bad/scarry stuff, they took away the 'princess's' self reliance and ability to take care of themselves.

Pam, that also sounds right. I remember as a kid reading a story about a young boy who was stranded on a desert island, and he survived because he happened to have all these gadgets with him. I remember making a list, and fretting that I wouldn't have the right stuff, if the ocean suddenly moved 1,000 miles inland and engulfed Ohio, that is. It was a big fear, having to live on my own.

The downside of all these princess fantasies is easily seen in the trend of bridezillas, many of whom seem to only want to get married so they can be "princess" for a day. Heaven help them.

>I'm still kissing frogs... sigh
No kissing here, but I did buy him crickets, and he's still singing to me from the back yard . . . more faithful that most of the human males I've . . . fed . . .

>the fantasy that the dominant parent is no longer there to tell them what to do
. . .and for a slightly more positive "take," that they can survive even if left alone, which is a powerful message as well.

Karen, my sisters kids started to refuse to watch Disney movies when they were all little because of the one or both dead parent thing.
I also love Ever After, especially her rescuing herself at the end.

I remember my parents supplying books for me before I could even read. A giant copy of Grimms Fairy tales was included. Alas, even though I loved fairy tales I would gravitate to song sheets and the radio instead. Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames caught my attention but keeping up with the latest hit parade songs kept me busy, I became a late bloomer as far as reading novels and now will pester anyone who will listen about my latest reads including romance, mystery et al. Something about Cinderella struck a cord with me. Finding the perfect prince to whisk me away from "all this" always appealed to me and my husband always reminds and confirms that of course there could never have been a more perfect prince than he. Very true, indeed.

Nancy Drew had a dead mom, a housekeeper and a check-writing daddy -- every teen girl's dream and much more fun than a princess. Though I do remember one Halloween when I wore a pink dress with a huge bow (my mother's redone bridesmaid dress) and a rhinestone crown. I thought that outfit was sensational.

Are there photographs?

Robert Munsch writes a great picture book called "The Paper Bag Princess." The princess outsmarts the dragon, rescues the prince, and then when the prince is a snooty jerk she dumps him.

(He writes it so much better than that, but it's great for young children; boys and girls.)

Speaking from a member of the toad contingent, it is better to be kissed than licked.

ever hear about the Florida Buffa Toad? People used to lick the toad to get high.
Maybe licking the Buffa inspired Disney's "Fantasia."

Elaine's visit today at the Main Library was great. Her last comments, about library advocacy, said some things that county employees could not say while on duty. Thanks Elaine!

I grew up wanting to be Mowgli in the Disney version of "Jungle Book," so this whole princess thing is foreign to me. That said, I'm glad they're at least trying. Next time, I'd like to see them create a princess with a normal body.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site