Last winter, we had bitterly cold weather while I was cooped up with a 3-year-old. I was eight months pregnant and there was a week of daycare vacation, which meant I was solo with my son while my husband had to be at work. When “Disney on Ice” came to town, we were so there. I’m not crazy about many aspects of the Disney empire, but it was an activity where we could be out of the house and I wouldn’t have to be actively chasing after my kiddo. I could even be seated for some of it! I was psyched.
I wasn’t the only one; I’ve never seen so many enormously pregnant moms holding on to excited toddlers as I did in the restroom line at intermission for “Disney on Ice.”
The actual show was mostly sweet. But in the middle of the lively musical acts cribbed from Disney movies, there was a “really long princess part,” as my son called it. They introduced each princess and “her prince” and then everyone skated around in a circle showing off flouncy dresses and pretty hairstyles for what seemed like a long time.
For the most part, except for the Beast, of course, the princes had no distinguishing characteristics. Mostly, they didn’t even have names.
“Now welcoming,” boomed the announcer’s voice, “Snow White… and her PRINCE!” as Snow White and a boring-looking prince guy skated out and did a few turns on the ice. My toddler told me the “long princess part was not his favorite,” and wanted to know why “the princes were all the same but the princesses were different.” Indeed.
Now, for better or worse, Disney is not going anywhere. The company is masterful at tapping into the cultural moment they are in and providing entertainment that really speaks to people, and they have been perfecting this skill for a century. Say what you will about “Frozen,” and we have said a lot, there is something about those skinny princesses and that silly snowman and the winter landscape that is really of the moment right now. (I think it has to do with subconscious anxieties about climate change, but that’s another story.) The same was true for “Sleeping Beauty” when my stepmother was a girl; she still remembers how much she loved the movie and the little fairy godmothers. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Snow White” held a similar transfixing power over our grandmothers’ generation.
There are certainly a lot of problematic idealizations of normative femininity, and pervasive encouragement to buy, buy, buy in all Disney films, stores, theme parks, and ice shows. As the mom of boys in whom a passing interest in princesses feels a tiny bit subversive and thus even a little cool to my mind, I don’t feel equipped to weigh in too much on the whole princess thing. I don’t know whether banning those ladies from your house is a battle worth fighting and if it is possible to completely avoid them should you decide to resist.
But the princess phenomenon has already been expertly dissected and discussed everywhere from blogs to books. One thing I haven’t seen discussed much, though, are those blank-slate princes. What is their backstory? Do they have any motivation for rescuing or kissing or questing? We don’t have any idea. The ones from the older films are especially devoid of any characteristics beyond their high birth. Snow White and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, what do you see in those guys?!
Disney executives, why can’t these princes at least have names (besides “Charming”)? Can you imagine a complementary line of “prince” products to go with the record-breaking “princess” products at Disney Stores? I can’t. Because it would be so boring.
Dammit, it’s time to name those princes. It doesn’t do anyone any favors to perpetuate the myth that a nameless “prince” with no family or dreams of his own just floats on the scene and “completes” the story. It’s terrible messaging for our girls, and it’s even worse for our boys, if you ask me. Disney, give those princes a name! A story! You can even make spinoff movies and sell more toys if you want…I know you guys love to do that.