This week there have been stories about two different Hollywood actresses who both find Disney Princess movies to be problematic in some way. Once celebrities are talking about it, it’s sure to become a trend if it wasn’t one already. First up is actress Keira Knightley who told Ellen Degeneres that she doesn’t allow her daughters to watch Cinderella or the Little Mermaid. From the BBC:
Knightley told Ellen DeGeneres that 1950’s Cinderella “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself. Obviously!”
She said of Little Mermaid: “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello!”
The actress added: “And this is the one that I’m quite annoyed about because I really like the film. I love The Little Mermaid! That one’s a little tricky – but I’m keeping to it.”
I realize there’s probably no upside to arguing about something like this but I guess I expect a bit more from people who actually work in the film industry telling stories for a living. Cinderella is not about a woman waiting around to be rescued by a rich man. That’s missing the real emotional core of the story. Cinderella is about a woman who has been unfairly abused her whole life by her family but whose good qualities are finally recognized and given the respect they are due. The point of the story isn’t that she marries a rich dude, though that does happen. The point is that Cinderella is elevated after years of oppression and her family is punished (violently in some version of the story) for their wicked behavior.
As for the Little Mermaid, I have daughters and I’ve seen this more times than I can count. So I can say with certainty that Knightley gets this one wrong too. In the film, Ariel is obsessed with living life on land and after rescuing a drowning prince she agrees to trade her voice for a chance at happiness (largely because her father refuses to help her pursue her dreams). When Ariel asks how she can win the prince without her voice, the villain suggests she use her looks and pretty face.
But it doesn’t work. Under the villain’s spell, the prince is going to marry the villain until Ariel’s friends intervene and help her get her voice back. It’s only at that moment that the prince realizes Ariel is the one he loves. So, even if you woke-analyze this thing to death, the message isn’t ‘give up your voice for a man and rely on your looks.’ Only the evil villainess recommends that and it doesn’t work. The message here is that a prince will love your voice first and foremost and, in fact, probably won’t love you without it. That seems like a pretty decent message for girls.
Actress Kristen Bell, who starred in Disney’s megahit Frozen, also has problems with at least one of Disney’s princess films. During a recent interview with Parents magazine, she said she talks to her kids about elements of Snow White that bother her, including the kiss:
“Every time we close Snow White I look at my girls and ask, ‘Don’t you think it’s weird that Snow White didn’t ask the old witch why she needed to eat the apple? Or where she got that apple?’ I say, ‘I would never take food from a stranger, would you?’ And my kids are like, ‘No!’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m doing something right.'”
The apple question is not the only one that Bell—a Disney Princess herself as the voice of Anna in Frozen—has after reading the tale. “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission?” Bell says she has asked her daughters. “Because you can not kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”
I guess her kids won’t be trick or treating this Halloween since that would also be taking food from strangers. The kiss thing is especially silly. Snow White wasn’t taking a nap, she was all but dead. The dwarves were mourning her. Also, the prince isn’t some random guy. He fell in love with her at the beginning of the film and has been searching for her ever since. The whole point of the kiss is that it’s symbolic of his “true love” not some pervert taking advantage of an unconscious woman. And even when he kisses her he clearly believes she’s dead. The prince is surprised when she sits up, alive. Snow White then falls into his arms and rides off into the sunset with him. She loves him too. She’s happy. There is nothing creepy about it.
I wouldn’t expect your average woke-feminist to care about any of these details but, again, these women tell stories for a living. The details and the symbolism ought to matter a bit more than making some political point. Instead of taking a second look, Bell is now claiming to be the victim of misplaced internet outrage:
Thank u Margot, I find the outrage annoying and misplaced as well. I'm a mom who wants my girls to possess critical thinking and aks a ton of questions. So that's what we do when we read books. https://t.co/wptcM2DfLt
— Kristen Bell (@IMKristenBell) October 18, 2018
Here’s Keira Knightley on Ellen: