Monday, June 4, 2012

Disney Princess Status

It was 2009. Winter was fast approaching. And I knew that meant one thing, The Princess and the Frog was on it’s way to nationwide theaters.

I had been waiting my whole life to see a Black Disney Princess, and I had even convinced myself that it might never happen. But here she was, Tiana, a creature as lovely as Belle. The Disney channel was promising a special look at the movie, and I was glued to the TV.

… But what I saw wasn’t Tiana. It was Rapunzel.

Before I had the chance to see my first Black Princess, I had to endure 25 minutes of endless advertising for Tangled, the first CGI princess. And for the next few weeks, I couldn’t see Tiana without seeing Rapunzel. Which would have been fine, if this was a double feature, but Tangled wasn’t due out until summer of next year. This was Tiana’s time.

The following year, the movie went to DVD, but at first the only place you could find it was at the Disney Store. I was going to apply for work anyway, might as well peek in and see how much a Tiana doll would be.

No sooner did I walk into the store did I see an enormous banner for Brave, then very early in development. Banners for Rapunzel and the new, then un-named princess from Brave were all over the place.

As for Tiana? She and the Arab princess Jasmine were pushed together on a very tiny shelf, in the corner, behind the Alice in Wonderland display.

A Disney Store employee asked me if everything was alright. I handed my application over, and she left me with another employee.

I asked the second employee when Brave was coming out. She said that it was too early to say, but Tangled was going to hit theaters very soon.
I then asked her about the Princess and the Frog DVD, but somehow, this was “magically” out of stock and not likely to be ordered ever again. Mind you, it was opening day for the DVD.

Curious, I had to ask a question that I had been trying to stifle this whole time. “Please don’t think me rude or anything” I began in my cleanest voice “but could you tell me… um, why are there so many banners already for Tangled and Brave? I mean… we already have tons of things here for Cinderella, Ariel and Aurora, and even more for little Alice, and the Enchanted display is still very big, but where are the displays for Tiana? Or Mulan? Or Pocahontas? Or Esmeralda and Jasmine?”

Without missing a beat, the lady looked me right in the eye, and in a firm but kind tone, told me “Because White girls need to feel included. Right now, there isn’t very much for them at all, so we at Disney strive to provide these girls with the kind of ambition and drive that they are usually sheltered from. Besides, every little girl needs to be told they’re beautiful, and White girls don’t get to see this message at all these days.”

I leaned backwards onto the counter. She asked me if I was alright. My eye was twitching and I had gone pale. She even said “My goodness! You’re as pale as Snow White, should I call a doctor?”

I smiled weakly, and told her I was just a tad dehydrated. I bit my tongue so hard though that I did draw blood. So innocently, I ask another question. “Do you still have those beautiful Esmeralda dolls? I was thinking of getting one for-“ she cut me off. “Oh no, those things DON’T sell well. People really just want Cinderella these days.”

“Oh that’s too bad” I start. “I’ve always likes Esmeralda’s ambition. Some of my friends joke that I look just like her.”

This is when the first employee came back, shouting in my face that Disney was on a hiring freeze, and that they were even so close to downsizing their own staff. As she said this, I saw the second employee whisper something into the telephone.

Exactly one week later, a friend of mine emailed me that Esmeralda had been removed from the Disney Princess line-up. I can’t make this up, it’s even on Wikipedia. And that truly is a shame. Esmeralda is the closest thing to a mixed-race princess for one, and for another, she's very savvy. Seemingly the type of ambitious go-getter that the Disney store employee would want girls to see.

I can’t help but wonder though, why does Disney continue to do this?

Now don’t misunderstand me. I like all of the princess almost the same. I like Rapunzel’s spunk, Snow White’s childlike innocence, Tiana’s insistence on hard work, Esmeralda being cut from a different cloth, Aurora’s whimsy and Belle wanting to read books without pictures in them. But right now, the princess scene is a little lopsided.

Take a good look at the above photo. You can see exactly what i'm talking about. In this bunch, we have Two brunettes, Two red-heads (when you count the new princess, not pictured) and three blondes. There's one Native American, One Arab, One African American and one Chinese princess. Most of the photos look like this too, where Jasmine is in the forefront, but everyone else in pushed back. Is this just a simple oversight? Or is this something more?

For years, the Disney company has also de-regulated females from princess status. Esmeralda was not the first.

For example, Tinkerbell and Alice are "semi-princesses" meaning that they will only be seen with the other women two times a year. Being tweens, they are usually deemed too young for princess status.

Melody is the tween daughter of Ariel and Eric, yet is
seldom mentioned, even during the advent of a third Little Mermaid film. Is this because she's a tween? Has her father's man-brows? Maybe it's because the sequel just didn't do so well.

The blonde haired, blue eyed Eilonwy held princess status long before the Princess line was over developed into the merchandise house it is now, but after her film (The Black Cauldron) nearly sank Disney, this princess was excused.

Tween Wendy, her also tweenaged daughter Jane, Tiger Lily and even the siren/mermaid ladies from Peter Pan all at one time were called Disney Princesses. But by the time the DVDs of the two films went into circulation, this status was revoked.

Another Jane, this time a young British woman from the film Tarzan, was also a "Princess" in 1999, but in 2000 this too was swept under the rug.

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas was almost Disney's first princess of the dead, (discounting the middle-end part of Snow White) but since she wasn't born a princess and doesn't marry into royalty, the Princess Hot Topic line ended.
Kida from the Atlantis franchise (seen above) is a born and raised princess, but for reasons unknown, her status was also revoked. Could it be because that movie also was a flop?

Greek Megara from the movie Hercules also held this status during the Fall of 1997, but by winter, this was revoked.

Several animal princesses including The Lion King's Nala and Kiara, Robin Hood's Maid Marian, and Bambi's Feline have each held the same status, but likely were revoked due to their being animals.

The two women in the movie Enchanted only recently lost their "Princess" status, after an issue arose about when and how to pay the live-action actresses portraying Giselle and Nancy. Until this issue, the strawberry-blonde and brunette ladies were featured in animated form alongside the other princesses.

Each of the non-animal princesses I've mentioned all have the same two body types. Either they're slender tweens or slender young women. And each of them seem to undergo the same trials and tribulations, such as having to prove yourself to your community, and change to suit other people.

But there's little diversity in the cast. I've yet to see a princess with a rounder figure, a princess with an easier life (read: no Gaston or Ursula types) or a princess with a special need, such as glasses or a wheelchair.

Disney has a large and talented staff, so it wouldn't be a far-fetched to guess that they could remedy this. It's not just little White girls who would like the boost the Disney employee was talking about, it's all girls. Dare I say boys too. It may seem crazy to think that Disney would ever allow a transgender princess, but let's be real.

I thought it would be crazy for a princess like Tiana to exist.


  1. well that proves that Disney is too far gone in recent years for me

  2. Disney when I grew up use to be amazing and all about pretending. The princess's were beautiful and were very charming. Now? The princess's are being released in "Modern re-tellings" like that dumb movie Tangled. People start to moan about how it's so original while the classics are dumb. Brave doesn't look original at all,just the fact that its a Scottish princess it's supposed to unique. That's BS!

  3. In honor of anger for Disney