Let's Talk About the New Disney Princess, Sophia the FirstCarolyn Castiglia
“Princesses aren’t real!,” my daughter exclaimed. Which is kind of awesome if you think about it. At least she realizes that the idea of a perfectly pink existence is bunk. Apparently she’s not alone in questioning princess lore; my pal Jeanne Sager’s kid recently asked if they were real, too. I forget exactly how we got on the subject, but when I told my daughter there are some real princesses in the world, I could hear her eyeballs dropping out of her skull. “GUH?!”
“Yeah. Do you want to hear a story about a real princess?,” I asked.
Of course she did. I’m sure she thought it was going to be the most amazing adventure tale about a girl as sexy as Jasmine and as fierce as Mulan, but instead I told her the story of Britain’s two Elizabeth’s all the way down the line to Prince William and Kate Middleton. SNOOZE FEST! (No wonder everybody likes Pippa better. At least she has an exciting name.)
So what about this new Disney princess, Sophia the First? What’s the point, really? Jezebel says, “Since Snow White is 74 years old, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty is 52 and Belle from Beauty And The Beast is a decrepit 20 years old, Disney, the font of all things princessy, has created a new princess, just for little girls.” It makes sense that – since the princess market is so hot – Disney would try to inject it with some young blood to prevent sales from stagnating. But Disney execs say Sophia is more than a marketing gimmick; her story will focus on things like “the importance of getting along with siblings and how to be a kind and generous person.”
What interests me most about the way Sophia is being pitched is that she’s meant to reach 2- to 7-year-olds. But, uh, what princess isn’t meant to reach 2- to 7-year-olds? Do you know any 8- to 12-year-olds that prance around the house in plastic high heels covered in marabou feathers and fake gems? I don’t.
Sophia is set to star in her own TV series, Sofia the First, along with a film. Kate Ward of EW’s PopWatch says, “Sofia looks like a Toddlers & Tiaras beauty queen” (I think she looks like Bratz doll before hitting puberty) and notes that the character “continues to sell dangerous, out-of-date gender norms: Young girls should aspire to be beautiful, dependently wealthy, and the object of affection for a future Prince Charming.”
Well, duh. But the question is, does anyone care? Or rather, will anyone be interested in Sophia when she’s actually on the market?
Think about Disney’s “newest” princesses, Tiana and Rapunzel. Tiana should have made a huge splash in the parenting and feminist communities: she’s a strong, career-minded Black woman with great skill, though of course she does have to marry and become a princess before she can own the restaurant of her dreams. Tiana was celebrated as the first Black princess, of course, but perhaps because she’s not as pastel and sparkly as some of the other princesses (Aurora, Cinderella), she hasn’t made as much of an impression. Ditto for Rapunzel. My daughter has seen both “The Princess and the Frog” and “Tangled,” but they didn’t have as much of an impact as the older Disney films like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.” Thankfully “Pocahontas” and “Mulan” hit home with my daughter, though, because in both films the title characters are adventurous and athletic, which sets them apart from their ball gown-wearing sisters.
Then again, Tiana and Rapunzel haven’t had as much time to make the kind of impression that the original sleepy and sweet princesses have, and I think maybe we’re all ignoring how the length of time these gals have been around influences way we introduce them to our daughters. The “Disney princesses” as a brand/marketing strategy have only existed since the late 90s. But as Jezebel joked, Snow White is 74 years old. We can’t wait to show our kids the old Disney films because we watched them as kids, as did our mothers and even some of our grandmothers. Even if we don’t like the sexist storylines, we like the nostalgia attached. (I’m a feminist, but I haven’t banned princesses because to me banning anything outright sounds like a recipe for disaster. All children are drawn to things they’re told they can’t have.)
All that is to say, I’m not sure Sophia the First is going to have much of an impact, or at least not any more of an impact than any other character recently introduced on The Disney Channel. Plus, if the character is a young child herself, don’t you think her movie is gonna be as boring as the story of William and Kate? What’s she gonna do, write with crayon on her mother’s wall? Yawn.
It should be noted that Disney is Babble’s new parent company, and to their credit they have not put the kibosh on posts critical of their enterprise. I wouldn’t even categorize this post as critical, though, because I feel so ambivalent about this princess. What do you guys think? Do we care?