Family / Kids

My Daughter’s First Princess

This summer, the week before she started her big kid preschool, I took n to see her first movie. And it was a Disney Princess movie.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am definitely a sucker for the marketing of The Mouse. I love Disney movies, even many of the problematic ones, and I have always wanted to share the love and joy and magic of them with my own child(ren). But since having a girl, I’ve been hyper-aware of all those things that people go crazy about, including, yes, princesses.

Not that I’m anti-pink-and-frilly things except, well. Okay, yes, I am. But I try really hard to put that aside and let n enjoy whatever it is she’s enjoying. But the marketing of movies and dolls and childrens’ toys in general is one of those things that just makes me want to get on a rooftop and scream until I’m blue in the face. And yes, I’m the mom who buys packages of “boy” pull-ups instead of “girl” pull-ups, because the idea of Cinderella’s giant face on my daughter’s crotch makes me more than a bit uncomfortable.

To put it mildly, I found myself a bit… nervous, about how this whole Disney thing was going to play out.


Needless to say, I was excited when I started seeing the previews for Brave, round about this time last year. Disney! And Pixar! With a female protagonist who rides horses and shoots a bow and arrow and has a smart-ass sense of humor! What’s not to love, right? At least as an adult. But as an adult, I also knew the many (many) ways that things could trip up and fail, or at the very least, be problematic.

And all this was aside from the fact that I had no idea if our then two-and-a-half year old would even sit through an entire movie (or most of one) in a theatre, given that she would barely sit still for a 10 minute television segment with a beloved red furry character at home.

But I didn’t have the time or money to vet it ahead of time, and I decided to take the parent-of-young-child easy way out and take her to an early morning weekday showing. Not much to be done about it if there were problematic themes, but at least if she went nuts, we’d only have spent matinee prices, and at 10am, there were far fewer chances of there being other non-toddler-accompanying adults for when she innevitably lost her mind and started running around the theatre like a mad person.

I should have given her more credit, though (or at least given the ambiance of a nearly-completely-dark theatre more credit), because sit through it in its entirety she did.

I should have had more faith in the movie, as well, because I walked out of the theatre thinking it was, hands-down, the best first movie I could have brought n to.

I won’t say it was perfect – nothing is perfect. But when my biggest worry going in was about the effect on my daughter, and my biggest quibble coming out was about the use of music in one or two spots, I think that’s pretty damn good.

The movie was originally helmed by Pixar’s first female director, but she eventually had to stand aside. However, it seems that her love and strength and vision came through, and I was quite honestly amazed at the result. Yes, it was beautiful – I expected no less from a Pixar feature. Yes, it was funny – again, something that I’ve also come to associate with Pixar movies, even the heart-wrenching ones (I’m looking at you, Toy Story 3). I’m not a cryer, but I confess that I teared up. That was something I didn’t expect, though again, given previous Pixar features, I suppose I should have.

But what I didn’t expect was what wasn’t there.

What wasn’t there: a bad/evil/mean character who was the cause of the troubles (or who maliciously set up a bad situation for the main character).

What wasn’t there: an evil/uncaring parent.

What wasn’t there: a female character who was dumb, or worried about how she looked (added sidenote: what was there was a female character focused on what she could DO, instead fussing over how impractical princess clothing is for such endeavors).

And, most importantly, what wasn’t there: a single time in which a female character is rescued by a male character.

I feel like I ought to clarify ahead of time – I am not a cryer. I don’t cry. Even with my increased likelihood of crying now post-child, it’s still very rare. But I confess, I teared up. I did.

I sat there in the theatre with my daughter, who really just enjoyed the silliness and the horse riding and the shooting. And a few weeks later, we went again, this time with J in tow. To watch a movie that can show n that no, parents and children aren’t always perfect. Relationships aren’t always perfect. And things won’t always be easy. But with love AND hard work, they can be fixed. And, most importantly, no matter what, her moms will always love her. When the movie was done, I squeezed her tight.

So, yes. She loves the movie. She loves Merida. She has a Merida doll that she takes very attentive care of. And tomorrow, for Christmas, she’ll get a copy of the DVD that I’m sure will be watched over and over. But unlike previously, I won’t have any concerns about the messages that this particular Disney princess is sending her. And instead, I can just enjoy sharing that magic with my daughter.

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  1. And it is now sitting in my Amazon cart.

    I hate the Disney princesses’ and reading “Cinderella ate my daughter” isn’t doing much for my opinion. Granted, I will let her play with them lest they be more attractive because of their forbidden status; however, I will also tell her what is fundamentally wrong with them and the way media portrays women. I will try and be the voice that contradicts all the messages she is getting.

    Even living overseas, she is getting those messages.

    I can’t wait to see the movie.

  2. I love Brave! Another good one is Mulan (come on, she runs away from home to protect her father, dresses as a man, works really hard, and ends up earning the respect of everyone and saving them all, including her “prince”). And Tangled is good too. Although at the end of both of those the protagonists get married, possibly enforcing marriage as the ultimate goal, that is really the only problem I can see with either of them. Mulan is focused on bravery, sacrifice, and teamwork, while Tangled includes themes of adventure, family (including one you choose), and loyalty. Both Mulan and Repunzel save their men in the end, and have some kick-butt fighting moves (Repunzel’s weapon of choice is a frying pan).

    • I also really enjoy those movies, and agree with you. And though I’m not really bothered by the marriages at the end of those, as they’re not really the POINT, per se, I do LOVE that there isn’t a marriage at the end of Brave.

    • I second both these recommendations, Joan. Grateful for both of these.

  3. I loved this movie! Does anyone know if Merida is based on Boudicca?

    • I didn’t know the tale of Boudicca previously – read from Polly’s link down there. Interesting! I can’t say for sure, but from what I read (which obviously makes me an expert), I wouldn’t say so. Though she’s definitely got flavors of her!

      • What do they teach in those schools? Oh honey. There’s a Horrible Histories segment. We’re going to watch. Boudicca (Maybe — please tell me you got her a little bit in Euro history — as Boadicea?) kicked so much ass.

        I do not think she was the inspiration for Brave, though. She did unite kingdoms, but only for some good old fashioned occupier-slaughterin’. And she was happily married, or at least went to her marriage without registering protest.

        • Inspiration doesn’t mean it has to be historically accurate but I thought perhaps for the hair, the kick-ass factor and stuff… but I read it’s not, to contrast Merida and Elinor’s personalities they designed their hairstyles like that and one of Pixar’ s employees served as a model for Merida’ s hair simulation, hehehe

  4. I don’t know the answer to your question, Julieta, but it was so intriguing, I had to go and research Boudica! (Wikipedia’s synopsis on her here.) So thank you!

    I think I’m convinced to try this one, on the pro-feminist argument (thanks, N!). So now I want to know: how scary is it? The ads/ previews showed a ginormous bear that spooked my 5 yr old son (and me too!), and I thought maybe it had transformed from somebody? A few years ago, my kids totally freaked out when they watched Spirited Away (a gift to us; we were early in our movie-screening career and have since learned a bit). The parents were transformed into animals, and I think there was something particularly unsettling about that for them.

    Hard to answer any of this without plot spoilers. And I know everyone (adult & kid!) has a different tolerance level. But I’d love to know what y’all think.

    • I’m happy to email you with spoilers if you like, otherwise I’ll do my best!

      There are two bigger bears. One is transformed from a character you know, and n, at least, has no problems with that one. The other is also transformed, but not from a character you know much about, and it is definitely a mean bear. n had no problems with it in the theatre either time (though, interestingly enough, told my mom about the “mean bear” last night, so they watched a different movie instead).

      The kids in the theatre seemed to have differing reactions – it really seemed to depend on the personality of the child. I only heard one child getting really upset; he was maybe 4 or 5, but was also frightened by the lights going down in the theatre, so it’s hard to say whether that would be representative of other children the same age.

      I guess I’d say – it’s not a scary movie, but there are a sprinkling of intense scenes.

      • Thank you, N, that helps. We always try to account for the fact that the trailers are built to be action-packed and fairly hyperactive, and that events in the movie usually have enough lead-up that we can prepare. And if we watch it at home, we can lunge for the fast forward. Thank heavens for the fast forward. Enables us to manage to watch movies that work for both a 5 yr old and an 8 yr old, and a very very skittish old fart such as myself.

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