I’ve been watching a lot of Disney movies lately.
(Or, more accurately, I’ve been watching the same three or four Disney movies a lot of times in a row lately. #lifewithtoddlers)
And it’s got me thinking.
There’s an admirable trend in recent Disney princess movies that removes a traditional element from the genre: romance. Moana, Frozen, and Brave, for example, set aside the trope of ending in “married and living happily ever after.”
Moana ends up leading her people into adventure. Elsa settles into her position as queen with no need of a king, while Anna has a love interest that is delightful but still somewhat casual when Frozen ends. At the close of Brave, Merida is a princess allowed to live for herself and find love on her own terms—whenever that may be.
Of course, these aren’t the only ladies who’ve discovered their independence and didn’t end their stories with weddings. Mulan and Pocahantas can relate.
I’m not the only one to notice this evolution, of course. And I agree that it’s a good thing to recognize that princesses—or any women—don’t need to be rescued by or married off to wealthy, handsome men to be happy.
But I also dearly hope we don’t veer too far in this direction with the princesses (and generally heroic young women) who will star in future animated features. Because traditional romance is still a valuable thing of beauty that little girls deserve to see and admire in their fictional heroes.
I have no misgivings about unconsented kisses from strangers or the value of disobeying and then abandoning one’s family for a guy (looking at you, Ariel). But romance is inherently good, because it teaches our daughters (and sons!) some very valuable lessons.
In my favorite Disney princess movies, the girl and her Prince Charming work together to get stuff done—whether it’s defeating the Hun or discovering her true identity.
I like that my daughter and son watch these movies knowing that it’s possible to find someone who’s willing to take risks, go on adventures, and fight for what’s right with you—someone who will stay by your side and add their talents to yours for the betterment of everyone.
It’s not dead. Not every Disney prince has treated his princess as well as he should (*ahem* Beast), and some of them needed warming up, but many of them do provide examples of treating women with respect and admiration.
I, for one, still think it’s appropriate and lovely for a man to hold a door open for a woman, or let her take the last seat on the train, or prioritize her safety even when it causes him pain or puts him in danger.
Men and women are different. We were made to be different—both sexes fully express the beauty of human nature, but do so in different ways. And not just different ways. Complementary ways. In other words, both generally (across the species) and specifically (couple to couple), we balance one another.
I think it’s wonderful for kids to see examples of traditional—and less so—roles for men and women, and how they showcase the wonderful things about the sexes, the beauty in our differences, and the relationships between us.
Kids should dream! They should put their big, beautiful imaginations to good work, drawing up the futures they have ahead of them and all the adventures they might go on in their lives. And it’s good and healthy for part of those dreams to be about finding true love.
Encouraging big dreams, exciting futures, and wholesome relationships is a good way to raise happier kids. It also gives them the ambition and confidence they’ll need to learn the skills and life lessons that will help them maintain and achieve those goals (even after they learn they likely won’t involve magic or “happily ever after”).
True love is an inherently good thing. We don’t “throw our lives away” by getting married or starting families—even if we choose to do so at a young age (ask me how I know). Women don’t give into the patriarchy or subvert our independence by pursuing a vocation of marriage, and men don’t suppress women by wedding us.
Can the pursuit of true love lead us to bad places? Certainly it can. But that’s why we need to give our children positive examples of healthy, selfless, self-giving love—even those mired in fantasy. Because I’d much rather show my kids “magical,” healthy relationships than the ones they’ll see on teen TV and reality shows in a few short years. Not every Disney movie offers this, but many do, and I’m not about to think less of them for it.