When it comes to feminism, Princesses have a bad rep, and not for no good reason. But although still not exactly smashing the patriarchy, the Disney Princesses I grew up with were more feisty than their predecessors. Rather than sitting around being kind and beautiful and not much else like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, waiting for a Prince to come and sweep them off their feet…. my animated heroines of the late 80’s/ early 90’s wanted more for their lives. Ariel, Belle and Jasmine weren’t going to settle down and marry the first guy who crossed their path, and they weren’t into following the rules either. These girls wanted to choose their own destinies, they fought back against the oppressive men in their lives and they were willing to take a few risks to go out and claim the life they wanted for themselves.
Belle was by far the most relatable Princess for little girl me. Bookish, scruffy, probably a bit of an introvert, a loner… odd. Let’s just say there was a lot I could identify with. I watched Beauty and the Beast over and over again as a child. The songs were so catchy, the characters so fun, the story so gripping and at the centre of it all the headstrong misfit of a girl who gets her happy ending by sticking to her principles and being fearless, loyal and kind. Ok so her happily ever after involves falling in love with her captor and it seems like she abandons all plans for ‘adventure in the great wide somewhere’ in favour of life as a wife and Princess in a castle… it’s by no means perfect I know, but as Disney Princesses go, she was the best of a bad bunch maybe?
These days our little girls are much better represented when it comes to strong female role models in the films that are marketed to them. Brave, Frozen and Moana all make great progress when it comes to feminism for our own little Princesses, but in my opinion The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin were where the tides started to turn. Tangled and The Princess and The Frog moved it on a bit further until finally we have got to where we are today.
Mabel and Greta both love all the films in the Disney Princess franchise, but Belle soon became Mabel’s favourite To be honest with you, as role models go, perhaps ideally I would prefer my daughters to look up to a real woman, someone who has smashed through those glass ceilings and forced real change in the world. But, it can’t be avoided, or at least not in my experience of having two little girls…whether you like it or not, they love Princesses. The pretty dresses, the romance, the glittering jewellery and the dancing, they can’t get enough of it. Yes, I don’t want my girls to be fed the message that they can only prove their self-worth and be truly happy when they win the approval of a man… but let’s be honest we all love a love story don’t we? And being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily make you any less of a strong independent woman!
So of course, Mabel, Greta and I all excitedly hurried along to watch the new Beauty and the Beast film on Saturday and to say that we were captivated would be an understatement. The live action remake has been beautifully done. The scenery, the costumes, the musical score, the acting, the costumes, the special effects… I’m no movie critic but to me it was absolutely perfect and I’m still thinking about it now.
But what about our favourite Princess? Knowing that famously feminist Emma Watson was playing Belle, I was intrigued about how the character would have progressed for a 21st century audience.
Well, Erin Brockovich it is not (remember that amazing film?), but that’s not the point of this updated Disney classic. This is feel good family fun, that I’m happy to watch with my daughters without cringing too much and Belle is a Princess that I’m not ashamed to say my girls idolise. Belle is industrious, quick thinking, adventurous, loyal, feisty, kind and principled and nobody comes to her rescue. The love story element to me feels more like two misfits finding each other and finally feeling understood. And rather than the ‘what’s inside is what counts’ lesson that we all associate with the fairytale, I feel like the main message that stuck with me is…
Be yourself, even when everyone else thinks you’re ‘a funny girl’.
Here’s just a silly video of our Saturday – going to the cinema, having lunch and dancing in the living room…
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