One particular account of my childhood that my father loves to retell, much in the way that fathers always repeat themselves, is of replaying the VCD tape of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ every Sunday for me to watch. Four-year-old me would plop herself down in front of the television with my bowl of milk and watch in awe as candle lights danced with grandfather clocks. Every night, my mother would also read me ‘Snow White’ (the Disneyfied version with Disney illustrations from the movie).
No doubt I still have a particular fondness for Disney movies such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – it still remains to be a feast for my eyes – and ‘The Lion King’, as is the case with other girls of my generation who grew up with the Disney Princesses. But I’ve definitely grown to scrutinise the twee set of Disney Princesses with an increasingly feminist light for all the usual reasons that have been discussed and overanalysed to death – to which, I don’t really have anything to add. The resentment I have for the portrayal of certain Disney Princesses as domesticated, sexual objects, who do nothing to improve their predicament other than to daydream about finding “true love”, is abated by the other Disney Princesses such as Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana – intelligent, fiercely independent and determined female protagonists who arrived in the far more progressive society of the 1990s, and even more recently, the 2000s.
Bearing that in mind, my initial impression of the Disney x Barney’s Electric Holiday campaign was one of hilarity and anticipation for the public disapproval of the slenderised Disney characters in the comments section. Sure enough, it was peppered with comments deriding Disney for belittling its social responsibility as a powerful media influence to young developing minds. In Disney’s defence, I found the slenderised Disney characters to be more hilarious rather than insulting – an obvious parody of the fashion industry’s unrealistic ideal body type superimposed onto Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, who both lose their gloved paws and orange legs respectively in exchange for Caucasian human body parts. If anything, the awkward, emotionless characters on the runway emphasised that the characters’ best and most runway-worth outfits were actually their personalities – Minnie Mouse’s exuberance and Tiana’s feistiness were no match for their Proenza Schouler and Lanvin dresses. Disney’s saving grace was showcasing the characters confidently decked out in their runway outfits as their original selves in, orange legs and gloved paws et al.
To be honest, the subliminal message of the Disney Princess franchise that true love for a man is a prerequisite for happiness bothers me much more than this three-minute video. Even with the above-mentioned progressive female protagonists, all of them had to find true love as part of the admittedly limiting narrative. That in itself is a far more troubling message that will be ingrained into the consciousness of millions of young children as compared to that of a parodied body ideal largely intended for an adult audience who can identify Alber Elbaz and Anna Dello Russo. Brave's wild-haired heroine Merida with an equally wild streak in her personality was finally a step in the right direction, even though it was technically the brainchild of the always-brilliant Pixar folks. While this obviously doesn't entitle Disney to a free pass for its passive stance on the controversial issue of body image, I'd much rather see Disney subtly tackle this along with a whole host of other issues in future Disney Princesses as complex and multifaceted characters.
(P.S. On a non-Disney note, did anyone notice that the credits naming Nicolas Ghesquiere as Creative Director of Balenciaga is now considered outdated after merely two weeks of the video being released?)
(Lastly, while I might not have been a faithful blogger of late, please be assured that I have remained faithfully governed by a need to write. And so, write on, I will!)