Do Disney princess movies give children a false reality?


Fact Box

  • The “Official Disney Princess” line-up includes the characters: Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel from Tangled, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, Moana, Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Merida from Brave, Pocahontas, Jasmine from Aladdin, Mulan, Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Raya from Raya and the Last Dragon.  
  • Walt Disney’s favorite princess character was Cinderella
  • Princess Aurora spoke only eighteen lines of dialogue in Sleeping Beauty.
  • Released in 1989, The Little Mermaid is considered responsible for the animated “Disney Renaissance” that included such successes as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

Haley (No)

Disney movies--princess or otherwise--do not give children a false sense of reality. Just because they often take place in a fantastical setting does not mean that Disney movies cannot teach children important lessons about real life. As prominent child psychologist, Sally Goddard Blythe says, 'Fairy tales give children a way, through stories that are safely set apart from themselves, to understand some of the really confusing and difficult feelings that they can't yet articulate for themselves.' Also, a study conducted in 2006 by the University of Texas found that children as young as four could discern between reality and fiction, so it is not as if watching fantasy movies will cause children to confuse their own lives with the lives of fictional characters.

Although Disney princess movies often end with an idealistic 'happily ever after,' they never guarantee that happiness will come easily or quickly. One of Disney's newest princess movies, The Princess and the Frog, emphasizes how it takes hard work to realize your dreams. Also, many Disney movies teach children how to deal with unfortunate and very real hardships. In Tangled, Rapunzel's adoptive mother, Gothel, is emotionally abusive. By the end of the movie, Rapunzel escapes from that oppressive situation and learns how to identify healthy, loving relationships along the way. 

Even older Disney movies have important messages. Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame teach children about judging others based on appearances, and Mulan encourages young girls to accept and love themselves for who they are instead of who society wants them to be. Disney movies inspire their viewers and equip them to better navigate their lives in the real world. 

Michelle (Yes)

Children are sponges, soaking up information about the world from the media they consume. Disney princess movies are a yardstick by which kids measure their own settings as they grow, and, unfortunately, they pave the way for disappointment and discouragement. There was even a song written about this phenomenon, called “Mad at Disney.” 

The classic rendering of a Disney princess reinforces an initial form of unattainable perfection for young girls. With their uniformly large eyes, small noses, full lips, thick hair, tiny waists, and tinier feet, Disney princesses present early comparisons for susceptible children that can be damaging throughout their later years.

Further, romantic relationships progress at lightning speed for Disney princesses. She sees him, he sees her, love at first sight, marriage, and then happily ever after. This leads one to infer that if a future relationship is imperfect--like most relationships are--then it’s not “true love.” These endings distort the reality of building a life together as a couple.

Young girls aren’t the only ones negatively affected. Young boys are shown that they are to be masculine, strong, straight, and cis-gendered in order to embody the male leads of these movies. Any deviation from this equals a subservient male role, i.e., Grimsby, Le Fou, and Cogsworth, who never get the girl. This is obviously discouraging for young males who happen to develop and stray from the Disney prince archetype.

As one Disney critic stated, “The Grimm brothers’ tales [on which Disney movies are based]…are creepy and complex, intended to warn children about life’s rough road.” Yet, Disney delivers a perfected, oversimplified reality that can cause long-term damage to the young and impressionable.

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