Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Princesses for Sale.

Hello, one and all, both fairy tale fans and pop culture aficionados alike.

Now, you all know my feelings on Disney but you may have also noticed that I don’t do a lot of blogging about the infamous “princess culture” or “princess industry” that’s sprung up around Disney’s popular movies and merchandising.  That’s largely because I feel there are many bloggers on the internet who are far more suited to the task of covering the subject.  There are generally issues regarding child development and modern feminism that are a bit outside my area of expertise.  There are also much savvier pop culture minds that have done pieces on it.  I can link you to pieces by both the Nostalgia Critic and Nostalgia Chick that bring up interesting points (warning, the language may get a little coarse).  Also, I can’t forget the pieces done by my associate Ms. Kristin from Tales of Faerie.  However, there is something that came up recently that made me want to say a little bit about this whole thing.  Just recently I read in an article on Nerdist that Disney was going to introduce its first Latina Disney Princess.  Her name would be Elena of Avalor and she would be introduced on the Disney Junior show Sofia the First.  After that, she would be spun off into her own show (presumably also on Disney Junior).
Perfectly Pink princess product placement

Now, I’m not against the creation of a Latin princess character.  I’m all for it.  However, there’s something about the way they’ve gone about this that bothers me.

Now, I imagine everyone here knows about the Disney Princess brand.  If not, I suggest you take a stroll down the “pink aisles” of your local toy store.  You’ll figure it out.  Not willing to take a trip to Toys R Us?  Okay, I’ll indulge.  The Disney Princess brand is one created to group together a number of largely unrelated female characters from Disney animated movies in a merchandising line aimed at little girls.  You’ll notice the mention of animated movies.  All the characters came from movies.  Princess Elena, however, does not.  She will be getting her own cartoon series.  Yet, they chose to introduce the character first.  They particularly chose to play up her status as a non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic character.  Now, I may be wrong but it feels like they created a Latina princess character not because of a story they wanted to tell but because they felt that they needed to have a Latina princess character.  As if they had to fill a quota or please a demographic.  If we look at the other non-Caucasian Disney princesses, you’ll see they generally come from more of a story-first situation.  Jasmine stems from creating a movie based on one of the Arabian Nights stories.  Mulan stems from Disney adapting a Chinese legend.  Pocahontas comes from Disney being inspired by events in American history (albeit inaccurately).  Tiana stems from Disney wanting to set a movie amidst the largely African-American culture of New Orleans.  Is there some sort of Latin American folk tale, legend or history that Disney is particularly interested in working from?  It doesn’t look like it.  There’s always something that seems a little bit phony about creating ethnic characters just for the sake of creating ethnic characters.  The whole thing reminds me of the ethnic superheroes that popped up on the 1970s cartoon Super Friends.  Amidst all the comic book favorites like Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman were suddenly characters with names like Black Vulcan, Samurai, Apache Chief and El Dorado.  While memorable in their own way, it was clear to everyone that they existed just to fill a roster slot.  They had no pasts and no personalities to make them more than that.  So, is Elena of Avalor destined to just be the El Dorado of the Disney Princess brand?  Maybe not.  They are giving her a TV show.  So, they seem willing to do some work with her to make her more than just a token.  However, the whole thing does make a person think about the commoditization of fairy tales.  It makes you think about how fairy tales can be packaged and have a price put on them.  Not only that, it makes you realize that they’re not even selling whole fairy tales.  They’re selling pieces of fairy tales.  They’re selling archetypes and character types without any story even attached, designed to appeal to specific demographics.  Traditionally with fairy tales, characters were of stock types while the story was everything.  It’s not so anymore.  The story can come after the character now.  However, I’m probably getting ahead of myself.  Disney hasn’t even officially rolled out this new character yet.  I wish them luck and I hope they can create many wonderful stories with Princess Elena of Avalor.
There's even princess soup, people.  Princess soup!

But seriously Disney, if you want to borrow my copy of Latin American Folktales, just ask.


  1. Great rant. I'm thoroughly with you. But the whole Disney Princess thing has lost all connection with Story, anyway, so I guess it's not surprising that now we have a cookie-cutter princess without a Story.

  2. Wow, that's quite annoying, even if you ignore the race angle completely. It's one thing to successfully market established characters, it's another to dictate a character in order to appeal to a certain target audiece and then expect writers to work around that artificial construct. Well, we should have expected something like that ater Merida and then even Princess Leia got rebranded as Disney princesses.

    When taking her race into consideration, everything gets even more frustrating for all the resons you covered in your post. Let's hope the writers make the best of it. Who knows, we might get a genuinely good show from this marketing ploy.