Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part epic about how dads are portrayed in the Disney Princess movies. Check back tomorrow to see part two!
As the father of a five-year-old girl, I fought the good fight against the Disney Princess franchise and – I’m man enough to admit – I lost. I totally got my butt kicked. My wife and I did our best to keep our little girl away from all of the princess culture indoctrination material with the crowns, make-up, jewelry, and the wishing that someday her prince would come, but, despite our valiant efforts, Disney Princesses found their way onto her radar when she was about three years old and they’ve stayed there ever since. And, now that I’m two years in, I’ll acknowledge that the whole princess thing isn’t completely horrible, provided that, as a parent, you balance it out with a lot of other material and some indoctrination of your own.
Our main worry was that some of the Disney Princesses aren’t exactly the best role models for young kids. They’re often submissive, passive, way too focused on their looks, and completely beholden to the men who come to their rescue. And, trust me, as the father of an only girl, you definitely want your little sweetheart to act more like Wonder Woman or Hit Girl than Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. And, thankfully, I think my daughter gets it. When she plays with her princess figures, she has THEM save the princes and not the other way around. She’ll wear princess dresses, but only if she can also carry her homemade lightsaber too. We somehow stumbled into a nice equilibrium with the Disney Princess craze, which was a nice surprise, but, once I stopped worrying about how the princesses were portrayed in the Disney films, I had time to start worrying about how the dads were portrayed. You know, the kings, the lost aristocrats, the noble warriors… the extremely, extremely absent father figures. And, as you can guess, what I was seeing wasn’t very pretty.
There was a story on io9 last week about all of the toy concepts that George Lucas originally rejected for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – things like an inflatable Emperor’s throne, a Death Star basketball, or a Jabba the Hutt beanbag chair. (It’s kind of crazy to realize that Lucasfilm actually rejects ANY marketing tie-in or merchandising concept.) And, while I mourn for the Dagobah-themed pencil sharpener that I’ll never get to own, it did get me thinking about all of the toys as a kid that I used to dream about, but that never actually existed.
As a kid, I could never understand why toy companies hadn’t thought to make me the toys I REALLY coveted, toys like (and these will date me) an uber-detailed Ghostbusters proton pack, full-sized M.A.S.K. Matt Trakker mask, a remote-controlled time-travelling Delorean, a Bionic Commando grappling hook arm, or a full action figure set of the cast of The Misfits of Science. (I am a very old man.) In my mind, those all seemed like concepts that could EASILY become the best-selling toys in the world, so I just couldn’t grasp why I never saw any of those toys on the shelf at my local Toys R Us.