I don't remember seeing many movies in my first 15 years of life, but I clearly remember seeing my very first movie, Disney's Bambi. I must have been three or four at the time, and we had no TV at home so going to the movies was a treat that happened once or twice a year. I clearly remember how lovely Bambi was, and how absolutely terrifying the fire scene was. The message I came out of the movie with was that fire was extremely scary and dangerous. I was terrified of fire into my late teens and thinking back I think this movie is one of the reasons why. The only other movies I remember seeing in my childhood years are Fantasia (which I found visually captivating but didn't "get" at all), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Jungle Book and Cinderella, all Disney films. Clearly Disney owned the "magic" of the movies.
Fortunately I was born and raised before Disney "everything." I was raised in the time of Disney World however. Disney World opened when I was seven and soon became the end all vacation spot for families in the eyes of children. In school it was a huge deal if someone was going there on vacation. In my middle class town only the lucky kids traveled there and everyone always knew about it. When I was 12 it was my turn to go. I remember being excited about the trip for months before hand. I don't think I ever owned any Disney products before the trip. I came home with a stuffed Eyore that was one of my prized possessions for a very long time.
Fast forward almost 30 years when I have my own small children, a daughter, Athena and her brother, Alexander, who is two years her junior. When Athena was still in preschool Disney reissued the original princess movies, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Soon every Walmart in the country started selling princess dresses and a Disney store full of princess dresses opened in every mall. At some point during every playdate that Athena went to, the girls came out wearing princess dresses from the host's dress collection. To compliment the dresses there were tiaras, jewels and shoes with heels. We went to princess birthday parties, and at one party Sleeping Beauty even drove up in a red convertable, told the girls a story and had tea with them. I hate to admit it but Athena had princess dresses, princess toys and even had a princess themed birthday party. Luckily this stage lasted a very short time with Athena as compared to many of her friends.
At some point during the period of princess everything, I started to think about the message that princess everything was pushing on my daughter, and got a little bit disgusted. Disney, on the other hand, during this same time period, looked at what the princesses meant to them and saw dollar signs. They started coming up with a new princess, complete with dress and movie, every year. It was during this timeframe where we saw Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontus, Tiana, Mulan and Beauty. The critics also started complaining about the ethnic norms and feminine roles portrayed in the first movies, hence role models of color such as Pocahontus, Tiana and Mulan and of course Beauty the princess who reads.
During this same period my son was completely unimpressed with the Disney princesses, and Disney with their ever increasing purses, thanks to the princesses, realized that there was half of the population that they weren't making any money on, i.e. boys. Out came the movie Cars, complete with car toys, very similar to matchboxes, the favorite of boys everywhere. Along with the toy cars came race tracks, panoramas, pajamas, t-shirts, video games and various other items. And don't forget the Happy Meal toys. McDonalds even got in on the act. Once again the message we see in these movies is the hero who gets rich and famous is the fast handsome McQueen. He also gets the "girl," the beautiful Sally.
Clearly my experiences with Disney support Linda Christensen's claims that our children are being brainwashed by the themes in Disney movies. Traditional male and female role models are reinforced by the seperation of boy stuff (i.e. Cars) and girl stuff (i.e. Princesses). Popular culture pressures parents to buy certain toys for their children. Disney leverages this by producing movies so that they can choose and define what becomes popular culture. The Disney brand is synonymous in children's and parent's eyes as being wholesome and family oriented. Disney has a reputation for upholding family values. I think parents are lulled into a false sense of security by the Disney brand as it represents appropriate safe materials for children and families.
The movie Brave totally challenges our memories of the "princess" culture. In comparison to Disney's main princess theme, where the goal of all beautiful rich privilaged women is to meet and marry a handsome prince, Merida, the main character in Brave, does not want to marry a prince. She has no desire to sit around and look like a pretty princess and do silly princess things like embroidery. Instead she wants to be racing through the woods like a wild thing on her horse and shooting arrows with her bow. In the Disney sense she totally redefines the term "Princess" and that is exactly what she wants to do personally too. This movie finishes differently from the other Disney princess movies also. In the other movies the princesses are overjoyed that they have found their handsome prince. In Brave Merida is thrilled at the end too, but it is because she is free to make her own choice and live life on her own terms. A happy princess and not a handsome prince in sight. Way to go Merida! Finally a great role model for our young ladies. Now all we need is a princess who wears jeans and fixes cars and a prince who is a fashion designer.