Fairytales and the Next Best Thing

I love fairytales, like the one about a heroic unicorn my grandmother wrote and illustrated for me when I was a child, that I know read to my six year old daughter, Amelia. We are crazy excited to see “Brave”, and find out just how adventurous of a princess Merida really is. (Please, oh, please, Pixar, do not let my little girl down.)

We had inherited all of these Disney movies from my aunt, and I didn’t mind Amelia watching any of the princess movies now that she is older and has more critical thinking skills. We like Tangled, I knew she would like Mulan, and we still haven’t seen but are looking forward to Princess and the Frog.

It is no secret that our family is not big on passive princesses, like most of those of the Disney variety. In fact, my six year old has only seen two of the Disney Princess movies: Tangled and Little Mermaid. The first was my choosing, and we enjoyed it but I wasn’t in love with it. Little Mermaid was all my husband, he wasn’t familiar with the storyline and thought it was one of Amelia’s ocean videos. The child is convinced she is part dolphin, and recently has developed a love of mermaids. In my humble opinion, Little Mermaid is the worst of the worst of the DP movies, because a woman should never give away her voice or physically change herself to be with a man. I think there’s a difference between taking a little nap while your gallant prince fights for your safety, and say, giving away your most prized physical attribute so you can fall in love with a hot guy you saw on a boat. And yes, I get that my daughter probably isn’t drawing these same messages out of the story because she’s 6 and I’m 34.

The other day this conversation took place:

“Mom, the dad in Little Mermaid is so mean.” -Amelia

“How is he mean?” -Me

“He just yells at Ariel and doesn’t let her do what she wants.” -Amelia

“That’s because he is being a parent. It isn’t his job to be her friend.” -Me

“But she just wants to go on land and be with her boyfriend.” -Amelia

“Actually what she is doing is changing the most amazing thing about who she is, and giving that away to a person who is evil and manipulating her, all so she can completely change herself and abandon her family to be with a boy that she doesn’t know and who doesn’t know her.” -Me

‘Oh. Well, would you ever do that for Daddy?” -Amelia

“Good Lord, no.” -Me

“Your body got different when me and Ben were in your tummy. So that’s the same.” -Amelia

“That’s the complete opposite. Daddy had fallen in love with me for who I was as a person long before my body changed during pregnancy. Daddy and I were in love for six years before you came along. And having your body change while you grow a child is not the same as changing your body so someone will find you more attractive and hopefully fall in love with you.” -Me

“Well none of this matters because I’m never having babies.” -Amelia

“That is fine, and your opinion on that may or may not change. But you will most likely fall in love with someone and I want very much for that person to love and cherish you for you, for who you are as a complete person. You’ll be much happier in life if you surround yourself with people who value and accept you for being your authentic self.” -Me

Comments

  1. Hi Melissa:
    I assume you’ve seen this: Advice for Young Girls from the Little Mermaid. It’s dead on.

  2. Oops. Sorry, I didn’t see the link.

  3. I love how you break things down for Amelia – your messages are so right on!
    And that video was great!

  4. I first saw The Little Mermaid when I was ten, and I have to say, I absolutely loved Ariel. But even at ten, I did wish that they had either made the prince more interesting, or made Ariel’s wish to be human be less about the prince. I didn’t think it was very realistic that a supposedly strong character like Ariel would chuck away so much to be with someone who had never ever spoken to her.

    I’d already read an English translation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale though, so I just pretended that Ariel’s quest was more about wanting to become human than about wanting the prince, because that motive seemed to me to make much more sense.

    Has Amelia seen Ponyo? Studio Ghibli’s take on the Little Mermaid story is, unsurprisingly, fantastic. :)

    • Hi Kate!
      I saw the movie when I was 12 or 13 when it came out, and I remember thinking that is no way I’d like to find a boyfriend. But I was 12 or 13. I think a six year old doesn’t quite have the same references or understanding. I don’t want these kind of movies to start to define for her how girls snare a boy. Just last week we were at a picnic and Amelia overheard a playmate’s aunt tell the other girl to eat up her dessert because boys liked girls with “junk in their trunk”, and how else would she catch their eye. The other child was nine years old.

      Ponyo is much more our style. Because all the rest of this cultural crap swirling around my daughter is bullshit.

  5. I first saw The Little Mermaid when I was ten, and I have to say, I absolutely loved Ariel. But even at ten, I did wish that they had either made the prince more interesting, or made Ariel’s wish to be human be less about the prince. I didn’t think it was very realistic that a supposedly strong character like Ariel would chuck away so much to be with someone who had never even spoken to her.

    I’d already read an English translation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale though, so I just pretended that Ariel’s quest was more about wanting to become human than about wanting the prince, because that motive seemed to me to make much more sense.

    Has Amelia seen Ponyo? Studio Ghibli’s take on the Little Mermaid story is, unsurprisingly, fantastic. :)

  6. Oops. Double-posted, unable to delete. Sorry!

  7. I think you’ll like Princess + the Frog. Tiara is all about hard work and earning your dreams. I enjoyed it a lot, more than Tangled even.

  8. Try the rescuers. I recently read an article about how Miss Bianca is the best Disney “Princess.” It made quite a compelling case (the site was called overthinkingit.com). Also, non-Disney Princess Leia is great. Just tonight, my family was watching Return of the Jedi, and my daughter asked (during the Jabba part), “Who’s going to rescue the princess?” I was so happy I could answer, “Nobody. She’s going to rescue herself.”

  9. Perfect timing! My 4 1/2 year old is dying to see this, and my mom just gave us the movie. I have not let her watch it before, b/c having not seen it myself, i thought it was “scary”. I had no idea what the story line was even about. I agree, a young girl will most likely not draw the same conclusion. I do appreciate the feeback however..I will definitely use it when discussing the movie with my daughter!
    The only other “princess” movies she has seen is Tangled, which we both love, and part of The Princess and the Frog which I turned off for my own personal reasons. There was a lot of “voo doo” in it that I just didn’t think was appropriate for her age.

  10. I know this post is crazy old, but I’m glad it is still out there for me to reference. My mom showed my 3 year old the Little Mermaid this weekend and she more than rapidly became obsessed. We had a conversation about again this morning in the car and I was able to take a stab at explaining why I’m not a fan of the choices Ariel made. Needless to say 3 year old logic still applied so the conversation ended with “If I gave up my talent to a witch and went to a talent show then I wouldn’t have anything to do.” Valid point. Thanks for being such a great resource for parents to talk about these issues so young!!!

  11. Maybe the Disney Princesses aren’t the best role models for young girls, but most of them have at least one positive character trait. (Aurora’s pretty bland, but that’s due to the 100-years-of-sleep curse.)
    1. Snow White has the emotional resilience to wander through a spooky forest and find a place to stay after her stepmother attempts to have her killed. I don’t see her mothering the dwarves as sexist, but as a form of bartering. This reflects the times, as the movie was released in 1937, when the Great Depression was happening and bartering was common.
    2. Cinderella wants to go to the ball and do something for herself after all the time she’s spent serving her stepmother and stepsisters. She makes a deal with her stepmother in order to be able to go to the ball, and she speaks up when she’s being treated particularly unfairly (stepmother tells her to do chores she’s already done, she says “But I already did that!”). She’s snarky and rather passive-aggressive.
    3. Ariel’s curious and inquisitive. While the biggest catalysts of her decision to see Ursula are her saving Eric and her father’s destruction of her treasures, they’re underscored by a deep passion for the surface that she’s had for a long time before either event.
    4. Belle is my favorite of the princesses, and has been since I was a kid. The main reason I relate to her is that we’re both smart brunettes who love to read. Others in her village make fun of her for her love of books, but she doesn’t care. She constantly rebuffs Gaston’s advances because he doesn’t respect who she is. (Note: both Gaston and the Beast behave horribly, but the Beast does so mainly because he’s a prince who essentially has a good heart but never learned how to interact with normal people, while Gaston’s just a horrible person.) She willingly offers to stay in the Beast’s castle so her father, Maurice, can go free, and she goes back home when Maurice gets sick. She doesn’t take any of the Beast’s crap-she chooses to go hungry when he threatens to let her starve if she doesn’t come to dinner; she leaves the castle when he rages at her; she only helps him after he fights the wolves off; she tells him he needs to control his temper when he tells her she shouldn’t have left; she doesn’t befriend or fall in love with him until after he shows himself to be basically good and starts learning to interact normally with others.
    5. Jasmine is adventurous and independent and wants to see the world beyond the palace. In the Aladdin TV series, she is shown to be a co-ruler of Agrabah alongside her father, the Sultan, and she’s a wise and beloved ruler.

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