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.
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?