I don’t have much influence over my two daughters because I’m just their father. The person they really look up to is literally anyone on TV. My authority is secondary to that of a Muppet who lives in a trashcan and a talking sponge with attention deficit disorder. Lately, though, my 3-year-old and 1-year-old have fixated on a new class of role models: Disney princesses. In my kids’ eyes, the ideal woman is rich, beautiful, and forcibly married off for political reasons. My offspring aren’t alone. Mickey Mouse’s corporate empire has a monopoly on the attention of little girls ages 11 and under. Ideally, the company would wield that power responsibly for the betterment of mankind. That sometimes happens, but only by accident. The real reason Disney pushes the princess craze is to madly grab for cash and leave me and other parents buried in name-brand pink and purple merchandise. The only things in my house that aren’t princess-themed are the toilets, and I’m sure Disney considered making those, too. It’s a very different demographic that would pay money to poop on Cinderella.
Thanks to my misguided desire to spend time with my children, I’ve seen more princess movies than any adult male should. A more reasonable dad would have fallen asleep or abandoned his children, but I sat through every animated film with tragic determination. What I learned was shocking. Each princess movie is basically a tutorial on how to be a terrible human being. Kids could learn more wholesome lessons at an Al Qaeda training camp. I’d stop my daughters from watching the Disney classics, but then I’d have to play with my kids. That’s obviously not going to happen. But for those parents who haven’t given up on their children, it’s important to understand what these films actually say. Here are the lessons each Disney princess teaches kids. I ranked them in order from worst to less worse because describing the ones at the end of the list as “better” would be a lie.
No force of nature is more destructive than a group of bored, entitled women.
12. Absolute worst: Pocahontas
Infatuated with a foreign man, this daughter of a powerful Native American chief stops a war and single-handedly dooms her people. Wiping out the settlers at their fledgling beachhead was the Indians’ one and only chance. A decisive defeat would have convinced the English to seek easier plunder elsewhere. Maybe they could have tried their hands at a land war in Asia. Instead, Pocahontas welcomes the intruders with open arms. Both sides embrace, and then all the Native Americans die of smallpox. The movie cuts off before that part, but Wikipedia fills in the gaps. Pocahontas destroys her own people for some guy she has a crush on, but she doesn’t even marry him. In the straight-to-video sequel, the princess hooks up with some other dude and moves to England. She might as well. She already killed everyone in America.
Lesson for girls: The best way to cope with a crush is wholesale genocide.
This sleeping beauty is the most useless of all the princesses, which is saying something in a profession whose only duty is to produce an heir once a lifetime. Aurora hides in the woods. Then she falls asleep. An undetermined amount of time later, a prince wakes her up. That’s the entirety of her role in this movie. She’s simply an object for good and evil to fight over. It’s kind of like if a sports film about an underdog team ignored all the players and instead focused on the backstory for the ball. The only thing that works in Aurora’s favor is she didn’t accidentally massacre her own people. That would’ve been too much effort.
Lesson for girls: Take a nap while a man does all the work.
10. Snow White
This isn’t exactly an epic tale of good versus evil. A jealous woman hates a girl who is prettier than her, which makes this the most realistic of all Disney princess movies. Rather than carry out a passive-aggressive feud with snippy comments and awkward confrontations, the envious queen opts for the more tactful route of outright murder. Snow White escapes and becomes a live-in maid for a bunch of dwarfs. Later, she eats a poison apple and falls into a death-like sleep. That was scandalous in the 1930s because she lost consciousness before she finished all her chores. She wasn’t wife material.
Lesson for girls: A woman should cook and clean for a bunch of demanding little people until it kills her.
This is a movie that requires the viewer to read between the lines. On the surface, a wicked stepmother and stepsisters force an unloved child to wait on them hand and foot. But Cinderella also thinks mice and birds talk to her. She’s clearly insane. Since there were no mental health facilities back then, her family does the humane thing and locks her in a tower by herself. The menial chores she does each day are the highest functions her deeply disturbed brain can handle. There’s a reason her stepmother doesn’t trust her with anything sharper than a broom. When the girl finally snaps, she crashes a royal ball while wearing magic garments that “disappear” because they only exist in her mind. But the prince marries her anyway. He figures a woman that unstable must be wild in bed.
Lesson for girls: Rich men love crazy girls with small feet.
Cinderella didn’t ride to the ball in a magic carriage, but she did show up with a pumpkin on her head.
This little mermaid gives up her voice and her life in the sea to chase a guy. Prince Eric falls in love with her despite never hearing her say a word – or perhaps because of it. She regains her voice at the end of the movie, which doesn’t bode well for the future. In The Little Mermaid II, the prince gets tired of Ariel’s incessant nagging and dumps her back in the sea. And, yes, he knows full well that as human she can’t swim.
Lesson to girls: To land a man, a girl must abandon her friends and family and shut her mouth.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” a monster imprisons a bookish girl. Rather than escaping, Belle doubles down on a bad relationship and tries to change her man. At the end, the beast magically transforms into a handsome prince. This is a happy ending because it’s the changes on the outside that count.
Lesson to girls: All good romances start with a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.
A witch kidnaps a girl with magic hair and raises that child as her own. Rapunzel isn’t happy until she defies her “mother” and sets out to explore the world. Running away is the best decision she ever makes and has absolutely no negative consequences. This movie is why I had to put ankle tracking bracelets on my kid.
Lesson to girls: Don’t listen to any parental authority figure until they submit to a DNA test.
This hardworking waitress wants a restaurant of her own, but to get it she has to fight a voodoo man over stolen souls. That’s how capitalism really works. Nothing gets done on Wall Street until a banker stabs a doll with some pins and sacrifices a chicken. At the end, Tiana gets a man and the eatery of her dreams. The movie neglects to mention most small business owners go bankrupt within a few years and the long hours and low pay of the service industry put strain on marriages. I hope Tiana was very clear about who owns the business in her prenup.
Lesson to girls: Don’t go to college. The crushing toil of the culinary world awaits.
Life as a rich, privileged princess isn’t all fun and games. Jasmine also has to sit around and be showered with gifts by doting men. Unable to tolerate such hardships, she runs away to slum it up with the peasants for a while. Marie Antoinette was beheaded for less. In the process, Jasmine lands a man and a genie. The mystical blue spirit has unlimited power, but he uses it solely to improve the lives of his royal friends. In the meantime, the poor of the city continue to starve to death.
Lesson to girls: The rich get richer. Deal with it.
Princesses are kind and sweet until activists start talking about democratic reforms. Then people go missing.
The heroine of “Brave” doesn’t fall in love or even chase a man. In fact, she spends the whole movie running away from guys. Her independence would be admirable if she didn’t use it to turn her mom into a bear. In modern times, that would earn the kid at least a five-year sentence in adult prison.
Lesson to girls: It’s OK to poison a parent as long as it leads to a valuable life lesson or something.
Unlike Pocahontas, who stops a war, this princess fights and wins one. She carries a four-foot blade, not mace or a whistle. Modern self-defense classes for women would be more effective if they focused less on kneeing guys in the nuts and more on swordsmanship.
Lesson to girls: The Chinese are an unstoppable military juggernaut. It’s their world now.
1. Least bad of all: Leia
She’s a princess, and her intellectual property rights now belong to Disney, so I’m counting her. Unlike Mulan, Leia takes down an evil empire that spans a galaxy, not a mere continent. She’d almost qualify as a positive role model were it not for that time she unknowingly kisses her brother on the lips. It seems like the ghost of Obi-Wan should’ve tapped Luke on the shoulder and said, “Bro, stay away from that chick. You’ll thank me later.” The dead Jedi is now an omniscient spirit, yet he somehow never warns his one and only student against inadvertent incest. The prequels make it clear Obi-Wan knew all along about the existence of both siblings, yet he says nothing. That guy is one creepy old man.
Lesson to girls: Never underestimate the power of a fully armed and operational battle station.