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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Branding the Disney Princess Stereotype

I hate to be a plug here, but I regularly use MiceAge/MiceChat for my Disney information and partake in many Disney-centered discussions.

In one such discussion, the future of Gadget's Go Coaster in Toontown at Disneyland came up.
For those of you that don't know, the attraction's theme was inspired by the 90's Disney television show Rescue Rangers.

Well, the 90's are obviously long-gone. A lot of people are not familiar with the show anymore…
Which garnered this response from a user:

'None of the kids today know who Gadget Hackwrench is, one of the very few female Disney characters who isn't some stuck-up helpless Princess waiting for her Prince to rescue her.

I guess she doesn't "fit the brand" anymore.

Now wait just a minute! That's quite the over-generalized stereotype ya got, there. (And this was coming from a fairly well-seasoned user, too.)


Lumping all of the Disney Princesses into one category like that is unfair and just plain incorrect.
I know there are plenty of people out there that think this way, though. They equate these characters as a group of snooty sorority girls or something.

Save for Snow White, none of the Disney Princesses are waiting for a Prince to come and save them. And most certainly none of them are stuck-up.

But, this person did hit upon something interesting, something that is both helping and hurting Disney tremendously.

Disney has marketed their Princesses as a group, what we know as the official Disney Princess brand…in fact, the group aspect is so emphasized that one can be hard-pressed to find merchandise that reflects each individual woman in her own story.

Of course, it was significantly worse just a few years ago. It used to be that you could only find Snow White in a cluster with Cinderella and maybe Sleeping Beauty (and I, for one, have to say that I am thrilled with the tops that have come out of The Art of the Disney Princess). Truthfully, Disney has been diversifying the Princesses a little but more than its recent past. But if your little girl wants a t-shirt with Belle on it, you will probably have 1 option, and 4 other princesses will have the exact same t-shirt, just in a different color (and your daughter gets yellow, even though she's really not a fan of yellow and likes Belle's gold dress…). Do we really have to be mono-chromatic and cookie-cutter here? The costumes give one more room to be an individual…but that's if the parent can stomach the bill for one of those things.

Why can't we see Belle in the color scheme that makes us nostalgic for the classic film Beauty and the Beast? The film really played up gold and purple. Personally, I think that film had one of the most amazingly vibrant color palettes.

But instead, Belle's merchandise tends to end up with a caution-tape yellow. A color that, I think, gentlemen prefer to wear, regardless of how that shade looks on them.

And let's not forget poor Ariel. Sometimes it's hard to even find her in merchandise (which is strange, considering how popular she is)…and she's mostly merchandised in clothing that she never even wore in the film. Luckily, she at least ends up with a pretty shade of aqua. One day, you will hear my rant about the Disney Princess costume and merchandising ripple effect…

And let's not forget poor Pocahontas and Mulan. The former is a Princess by her tribe's standards, while the latter is at most a General's wife. But we'll try to ignore that, as Mulan is apparently a part of the Disney Princess line (…in fact, why don't we just throw Esmerelda in there! She's a gypsy but she's kind of a princess-like gypsy. And maybe Kida too – you know, that Princess from Atlantis, the original Black Disney Princess?). Past children's costumes for Pocahontas and Mulan, you probably won't find these women on any merchandise. That naturally makes some minorities angry (but the films already did that from the beginning). I've been told it's about what sells…and admittedly, when I walk around Disneyland, I see lots of little girls picking the outfits of Cinderella and the like. And they should get to wear what they want, regardless of how much they look like that character! As a Caucasian child, I proudly walked around in my Jasmine costume and am totally in love with Tiana's swamp wedding dress. When Beauty and the Beast came out, I threw everyone for a loop and chose to be Lumiere…one of the best decisions I ever made, and perhaps the only time you could say I "cross-dressed" for Halloween.

But I digress.

As a result of Disney's group branding of the Princesses, they are now perceived (by those that have not actually sat down and watched the films they came from, or maybe they did but it was a long time ago and they have forgotten) as these unrelatable, cookie-cutter snooty characters that all sound and act the same.
And if you go to a Disney Park, you will actually see this stereotype presented in person! The girls chosen to play these Princesses are generally not actresses, or they simply do not do their homework or try all that hard, because they all generally sound the same (save for Snow White). Most of these girls do not even try to sound like the Princess they are portraying, and believe me, there are significant differences in their vocal qualities! Speaking as an actress, it's really not that hard to recognize and imitate these different voices. If anyone should sound similar, it should be Ariel and Belle…in fact, when looking to cast Belle, it was decided that she should sound similar to Ariel, but with a slightly more European tone, as Ariel sounds a little more like an American tomboy.

Oh, yeah. And the OC tan and French manicures only reinforce the stereotype.

Look, I think it's great that Disney found a decent source of income through Disney Princesses. It's part of what has kept the company going. One thing Michael Eisner did right was that he found ways to get the Disney company money. But in terms of quality…well, you all know the story. I don't need to go there.

What does all of this mean for Rapunzel? I'm sorry, Tangled…ugh.

Disneyland is in the process of building a new meet and greet for Rapunzel outside of the Pinocchio attraction. Her face will be plastered on brand new merchandise.

Will the male market that Disney is desperately trying to lure come to see this film? All of these commercials heavily featuring the character Flynn (wait a minute…isn't Tron coming out soon? Hmm…) might not solve the problem of trying to get male audiences out to see this film. And I'm still not convinced that changing the title of the movie was the best idea, either.

There's plenty of drama going on with the film. Apparently the directors felt that Alan Menken (you know, that multi-award-winning composer that gave us the music to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin to name a few?) was not good enough to do the music for a very special sequence in the film (which is apparently a sore spot for the composer).

I don't know, Disney…I wouldn't snub Alan Menken if I were you. It could have devastating consequences.
I guess we'll see come November, won't we?

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