THE DISNEY DILEMMA

Since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” came on the scene in 1937, Walt Disney Co. has had princess characters and has managed the franchise much like Apple manages their new iPhone models.

The princesses make their appearances in public as fully-formed characters and ones that have at least some resemblance to the characters as first introduced, back in the ’30s and ’40s – it’s just that, these days, their specific “form” on display takes a lot of deliberation.   The Disney franchise has been criticized for promoting outdated notions of femininity and damsel-in-distress narratives where only a man can save the day.  Today, “they’ve tried to make the princesses more independent and to have more of a voice, but at the same time there’s a recognition that there’s also an appeal – even if it’s not modern – to pretty dresses and beautiful castles,” a former Disney representative has reported.  Disney still sells figurines, Grumpy costumes and themed Play-Doh sets, more then 80 years after “Snow White” was first seen in theaters.  That’s what I’d call longevity.  A recent WSJ article reported that employees who work on the princess brand – hundreds, when a movie is in production, with groups across consumer products, animation and television – try to find the right balance that will resonate with the largest number of fans.  Therefore, there are 100-page manifestos that outline the colors, language and attitude that licensees and designers should use for each princess and these are “treated as gospel.”   Data for these reports are acquired from a range of sources, including academic studies and toddler focus groups held at the company’s Burbank, CA location.  The characters have grown more complex over the 80-or-so intervening years.  But, still, debates about princess outfits, live-action updates, and the word “princess” itself continue.  A former Disney employee has said that, “No matter how hard you try, a 4-year-old girl is going to want to be a Little Mermaid.  But if they try to make Ariel into a lawyer, there’s going to be a huge backlash.”  One mother of two young girls, who reads them princess stories regularly and fondly remembers her enjoyment of those same stories in the 1990’s when she was young, has reported that at the ending of every story where the line reads. “And they lived happily ever after,” she has trained her girls to add, “With a lot of hard work and open communication!”  That sounds like an excellent approach for taking the fairy tales of yesteryear into the modern day – everyone can enjoy their princesses while young and then work hard to become one in real life.

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