Exactly, Will—this is a repackaging job in many ways. Not just repackaging princess play in general as a Disney thing, but repackaging toy lines that used to be separate as a unified line. But it seems that the idea there is some kind of new effect emerging out of this is being used in this report to shore up the claim that this stuff isn’t new, and that Disney has created the interest of little girls in princesses. The idea of an effect helps sell the branding and repackaging of princess play.
The Dick Tracy watch prompts a number of diverse thoughts — the way 1960s real-world technology is clumsily emulating the fantasy tech of the comic book 1930s (Dick Tracy didn’t need a bulky radio on his belt — the transmitter was in the watch itself) — the role of the father here, as accomplice giving up his work to join the kids’ mission (“dad dad, I found a BEAR’s cave!” “be right down, son!”), or perhaps the absent boss of the boys’ gang — the imagery of the dotted lines connecting neighborhood houses, like a precursor to sat nav or Google Earth, or a kind of proto-internet, with the boys all linked invisibly across the grid, talking house-to-house (or roaming wireless) — finally, whether this is an image of free movement, or whether the young fellows are being kept under remote control by the father with his own transmitter; whether this is a form of surveillance, or even whether the young men, like the Hardy Boys or Three Investigators (under distant patriarch Alfred Hitchcock) are going to carry out their own hunts, tracking down and closing in on mysteries, misfits, people who don’t belong.
Isn’t the franchise just incorporating and branding something that was already there? Mooney explains the origins of the Disney Princess line in terms of making money out of an existing trend: he saw loads of little girls dressed as generic little princesses at Disney on Ice, and realised that his company wasn’t making any money out of this. Disney Princesses are about looking pretty and having lots of stuff (and, supposedly, also being assertive and independent) — is this very different to the Barbie brand, which has been providing little girls with the same ideals and accessories for decades (until Bratz came along… I wonder if the Princesses line is holding its own against Bratz, perhaps taking the “good girl” toy market away from Barbie?) I’m not sure that simply by bringing existing Disney heroines into a kind of transworld (where they can’t look at each other) and putting a Disney brand on the sort of toys that already existed (surely glittery party dresses, wands, tiaras and tea-sets were already on the market) constitutes any kind of trend or “effect”. The princess stuff has just all been brought into one place and given a brand focus.
Interesting in terms of the discourse about good parenting that they have to admit, at the end, that Disney is actually the parent of ABC.
Dear Leilani, Hello. Thank you for sharing the clip and your post. You ask an intriguing question: “In what ways, does the scene exceed the needs of the show?” How would you answer that? By needs, do you mean textually or in terms of generating fandom? Also, as with many mainstream filmic or televisual texts, the opportunity to be political is curtailed. I am not a regular watcher of BSG but it seems to me that as a science fiction program which implies the ability to be both “post-race” and liberal, a powerful scene such as this would/should not have been cut.
This is a great clip, Caryn—the report seems invested in the idea that there is some kind of “Princess Effect” (burning that phrase onto every second of footage), even at the same time as it downplays concerns about longtime consumer habits and self-images in favor of childhood experimentation. It’s as if someone at Disney realized that marginal acknowledgment of social fears about the Princess franchise would only speak to the brand’s cultural resonance, and thus build it up.
So even though it speaks to the success of the brand, why do you think they stopped short of addressing the marketing of Disney Princesses to adult women? Why not mention the way that the brand continues to resonate with audiences after childhood, if this piece is all about promoting that franchise? Is the real princess effect just too unsavory to be adequately manipulated (like they do with their claims about Princesses’ box office dominance, despite this being a line based on the existing Disney library)? I’d really like to see the Princesses in this adult market addressed in this (ahem) news story, because my imagination is running wild. And what I’m picturing isn’t the passive feminine ideal feared by this clip’s lone detractor, but unruly women, demanding Bridezillas, and other would-be Princesses too far out of the norms of femininity preferred by commercial television. I’m just imagining crazy scenarios (and I don’t mean to speak ill of any adult consumers of Disney Princesses; action figure collectors shouldn’t throw stones), but that’s because despite positing a Princess Effect down the road for these children, this clip sure seems scared to talk about what it might be.
I think you’re right, Will - within the design of the Princess brand itself there are are awkward delineations of which Disney protagonists “count” as princesses. While Tinkerbell was not originally included, Disney markets her products through a separate Fairy brand for older girls (with “sass”). Avi, I think that you and Will both hit the nail on the head regarding Mulan and Pocahontas. Their inclusion in the Princess brand seems engineered to provide some semblance of diversity in options for a global customer base. Peggy Orenstein, the vocal critic in this piece, has written elsewhere that although Mulan and Pocahantas feature in the marketing of the brand as a whole, significantly fewer products are associated with these characters. From a child’s perspective, it probably becomes clear that Mulan and Pocahantas are not “real” princesses - they don’t dress or act like the other princesses, and they don’t have an enormous range of pink and sparkly toys that little girls can use for role play. One interesting note on the implications of the cross-universe possibilities that the brand creates - apparently, the original marketing design was very careful to display all of the princesses (including Tinkerbell) together, but kept all of the characters from meeting each other’s eyeline. Mooney, interviewed in this piece, said that it helped to maintain each of the character’s separate space/separate stories. Thank you both for your comments!
The sight of a Mint-on-Card figure, trapped, as Raiford says, as if in amber within its plastic bubble, always has a particularly poignant connotation for me. It recalls, fittingly, an image from the franchise that launched this kind of toy: Han Solo encased in carbonite.
He never became a figure in that format, of course — it wouldn’t have been much of a figure, stiff and unarticulated —though I believe the artefact appeared as part of a Jabba’s Palace playset.
So the action figure in its bubble — whether Han, Flynn or the Sullustan Nien Nunb — always looks frozen, encased in carbonite, in perfect hibernation, but waiting to be taken out, made to move, made to talk, brought to life.
I definitely agree that this puff piece blurs potentially credible ideas about play and experimentation with unspoken assumptions about the normative performance of stereotypically passive gender roles by young girls. Where are the boys experimenting with being princesses? Where is the encouragement for girls to experiment with other identities? Marketing requires a clear cut correlation between pre-established consumer identities and predetermined functions for play.
What fascinates me about the report is the throw away bit at the end on how the princess line is providing such good role models that marginalized groups are clamoring for princesses of their own. While I agree with Will that there are incredible possibilities opened up by having these different princesses occupy the same universe that might in turn promote a diversity of playful experiences and story possibilities, the discursive articulation in this report seems to suture notions of ex-nominated whiteness with minority uplift, so that Pocahontas and Mulan are meant to be understood (and clearly marked) as Native American and Asian variations of Disney’s other (white, European) princesses and not as producing alternative versions/experiences of femininity.
as an afterthought, the Princess franchise is also an interesting example of transworld, cross-universe fiction — if you include the marginal princess characters, it assumes a world where (Baum’s) Tinkerbell and (Carroll’s) Alice co-exist alongside (Andersen’s?) Little Mermaid… like Alan Moore’s LoEG diegesis where the Invisible Man can be murdered by Mr Hyde… or the similar Wold-Newton mythos, or Kim Newman’s “Dracula” series.
So by incorporating the characters from various authored fictions into its own (perhaps bland and homogenized) universe, Disney is eroding the boundaries between the original works of fiction (and between fiction and fictionalised history, by including their versions of Hua Mulan and Pocahontas) in a process whose interesting connotations are probably entirely accidental.
The creation and regulation of the franchise are interesting in terms of which characters have been promoted to Princess and which have been given probation, then fired. Alice seems to be a borderline guest star, the Princesses’ gal-pal, despite having no claims at all to royal status; while Tinkerbell, apparently, was tested out but then sacked because she doesn’t have the right attitude to fit the “mythology”. Interesting to consider what makes a good Disney Princess, then, and what role models they’re presenting. I have always found Tink one of the funniest, friskiest, feistiest young women in Disney, but maybe she’d encourage little princess-consumers to be too assertive. What are little girls in 2008 going to learn from Snow White, whose character seems to have been preserved in suspended animation from 1937 — a role model for today’s kids, from before WW2? — and Sleeping Beauty, who was always a totally bland also-ran in my opinion and has no discernable character traits at all. Pochahontas and Mulan have clearly been included mainly to tap a culturally-diverse consumer base, and you have to wonder whether the introduction of Disney’s first African-American movie heroine in 2009 isn’t a canny, cynical move to fill in the last slot in the princess line.