A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

What Is the “Right” Kind of Princess Story?

*Spoiler alert for the newly released Brave.


Last Friday, the kids and I went to see the newly released Pixar/Disney animated film, Brave. I wrote about the effect it had on me – a grown woman – in my post here. I loved the film! I loved how it portrayed the struggles often faced between mothers and daughters. I loved the strong-willed, strong-minded, strong-bodied young princess. I loved the mischievous humor and the beautiful scenery. I even loved the less-than-perfect Scottish accents. I’m excited to see Pixar/Disney moving in the direction of strong female protagonists. It’s about time!

I was shocked when I found the following in my twitter feed Sunday morning, written by the very famous, very prolific author, Karen Kingsbury:

Saw Brave tonight. Don’t see it. Naked backsides, abundant cleavage, PC messages throughout. Sorry … know your audience, Disney.

(Note: Before I go any further, I want to say that I have tremendous respect for this author and all authors. It is not the author that bothers me, but the sentiment she is expressing.)

Let me first address her three complaints. Yes, there were bare backsides in the movie. At one point the mischievous little brothers, who were helping their big sister sneak their bear-mother safely out of the castle, locked the king and all his cohorts on top of one of the castle’s high towers. In order to get down from the tower, the men tied their kilts together into a long rope and climbed down. As they walked away, there was a brief shot of their bare butts. Also, the three little brothers who had a propensity for eating everything in sight (including enchanted cakes), were also transformed into baby bears. Once the spell was broken, they lost their bear fur and were naked. Their bare little butts were shown in their joyful reunion with their family. 

Yes, the scullery maid has abundant cleavage. This was perhaps the most politically incorrect part of the movie. The movie’s creators chose to portray the scullery maid in the stereotypical way: chubby, easily frightened (and fooled), and big-bosomed. Based on follow-up tweets, I think her biggest complaint about the cleavage comes when the maid hides a key in her bosom to keep the mischievous three brothers (now bear cubs) from taking it. One of the three dives in head first to retrieve it, although I think it’s important to note that the scene is implied at that point, not actually shown.

And finally, if it’s a politically correct message for a female protagonist to be strong-willed, outspoken, true to herself, and open to new ways of interpreting tradition, then the movie is indeed filled with politically correct messages. In my opinion, those messages are what make the movie worth seeing, especially for girls of all ages.

I puzzled over why these things were so offensive. Then I remembered that Karen Kingsbury has written a Princess book for children: The Princess and the Three Knights. It has a similar plot to Brave: three suitors competing for the hand of the beautiful princess. While her story is a sweet one in many ways, especially in the final test the king presented to the suitors, its overall message disturbs me.

princess 3 knights

The princess doesn’t have a name. She has no identity of her own. She never speaks – not a word. She only acts twice throughout the story: once to move closer to her father, the king, “her eyes wide and fearful.” The second time, “her heart takes flight” when her father chooses her husband. While we’re told she is beautiful “inside and out,” we’re only shown the outside beauty. There are no words and no actions to demonstrate her inner beauty.


A passive girl with no voice, no say-so in her future, no identity apart from the men in her life: it’s about as opposite from the message of Brave as you can get. It’s also about as accurately descriptive of many of the political and religious agendas we are facing today. Our society is becoming more and more polarized over this very issue. Do women have the right to be heard? Do we have the right to have insurance coverage and access to birth control? Do we have the right to speak our mind and heart – from the pulpit and/or in the public square? Do we have the right to earn equal pay for equal work? Must we always be portrayed as either silent and passive or buxom and air-headed in order to be “politically” correct? Do we have intrinsic value apart from the relationships with the men in our lives? Is there no place for strong, smart, capable, independent women in our world and in our entertainment today?

What kind of princess story are we telling our children today? Guess which message I want my daughters to hear?


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30 thoughts on “What Is the “Right” Kind of Princess Story?

  1. You have certainly become Merida this week. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe for yourself and your daughters.

  2. Reblogged this on Cathy's Voice Now and commented:
    I love this post. I hope you will enjoy it as well!

  3. Loved this. I saw the movie with my three daughters (12, 10 & 7) and LOVED it. I wrote a post yesterday about how empowering it was for women. I, too, like Kingsbury, and am a bit dismayed by her comments. Merida and her mother are wonderful role models for women. And I think my daughters can handle some naked cartoon butts. I’d much rather that than some of the stuff they want to watch on Nickelodeon and Disney channels.

    I planned to review Brave this week on my Mom in Love with Fiction blog, and I’ll be providing a link to your insightful comments. Thanks for sharing, and for your honesty.

    • Just took a look at your post. I think we are kindred spirits here! Thank you for your encouraging comments and for sharing a link. The more of us encouraging our girls to be strong, the better!

  4. Both my 17-year-old daughter and my Beloved’s 7-year-old son saw the movie over the weekend. It sounds like a great message about girl power. I can’t wait to see it myself! And the idea of a silent princess as the heroine of a book written in our time is not just outdated; it’s obscene. My 2 cents worth.

  5. I don’t see what was wrong, I think we can all handle a little cartoon skin! I loved the main character, she was just so perfect 🙂

  6. Pingback: What Is the “Right” Kind of Princess Story? | Cathy's Voice Now

  7. As the mother of a young daughter myself, I am looking forward to taking her to see this movie about a strong young woman!

  8. I don’t think my last comment “stuck” … I was just saying that as the mother of a young girl myself, I look forward to taking my daughter to see this movie about a strong young woman!

  9. I haven’t had a chance to see this, but cannot wait. I’m a head-strong redhead and would love for my daughters to have a non-typical princess to look up to. And as far as naked bums, my son dashes from the shower to his bedroom through the entire house every day, so I ain’t afraid of no bum…

    • Haha! Naked bums and other various types of body sounds is the staple of humor for kids in the target audience. I actually thought that Madagascar 3 humor was more risque!

      Love the red hair!

  10. dberonilla on said:

    You made some wonderful points! I am very excited to see the movie myself!

  11. My daughter LOVED Brave and she is now of the age (8) where we talk about the messages about women and girls in these books and movies. My favorite “princess” books for my girls? “Princess Pigsty” and “Waking Beauty” – both irreverant looks at typical beautiful princess in a castle unicorns and princes stories. 🙂

  12. My daughters (twins who are 6 1/2) just saw this and loved it! Really enjoyed this post and so glad you it linked up with yeah write!

  13. the nekkid butt scene was THE BEST!! so frickin hilarious. loved the movie. cried through most of it. WAS AWESOME!!

  14. I haven’t seen the film, but enjoyed your review. You may like “Reel Girl” at . . . Your voices are similar, yet yours more accessible for me. I may see it tonight, per your recommendation. thanks.

    • Thanks for your blog recommendation. I just did a quick scan and plan to return to read more. I hope you enjoy the movie. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

  15. do you know the children’s story The Princess Knight? About a little girl who trains as a knight, and when her father decides that her hand in marriage will be the prize at a joust, she disguises herself as a knight & wins the tournament? Its a great story.

  16. No! I’ve never heard of this one, but I’m sure going to look for it! What a great story – very similar to what Merida did to “win” her own hand back.

  17. Wow, Jan. I adore this. Just an absolutely fantastic opinion piece. Thank you.

  18. Pingback: When the Attack on Women Gets Animated « simplyjan

  19. Pingback: Simply Jan – A Writing Year in Review « simplyjan

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