Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Princess Renaissance

We were at a barbeque recently where a little girl showed up in a Cinderella dress. I've long been fascinated with the gradual, yet sudden, emergence of the Disney Princesses as a leading brand within the Disney empire. Like an old, dilapidated heirloom furniture piece, Disney has been able to dust off, clean up, repair and reintroduce many of their princesses as modern and hip. In conjunction with that, they have developed new princesses of the same mold to join forces with their predecessors and create the now familiar Disney Princesses. It's Voltron for little girls - and we've got the backpacks, coloring books and pajamas to prove it. It's to the point that the movies and merchandise has no real theme or story other than the fact that they include two or more princesses on a given product. 

Snow White was the first. Then came Cinderella and Aurora. Each of them had to stand on their own. In modern times, the new lineup saw the addition of Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine. It was all about the movie, the message. "Someday my prince will come." "A dream is a wish your heart makes." (Uh oh!) Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Miracles cease to be miracles at midnight local time. Love conquers all. A kiss from a stranger can raise the dead. Wait until the day AFTER the expiration date on the evil sorceress' curse before coming out of hiding. 

Then, some genius recognized the assets Disney already had. They didn't need to, and probably couldn't (see Mulan, Pocahontas) keep churning out new heroins with each successive animated feature. By packaging the top six princesses together, making them friends of each other, aligning their historical time lines, ages, and locations so that they can all exist in our present day, Disney has created a all-star team for girls. In the process, the new princesses have given face lifts to the original princesses and, in turn, the originals have provided instant street cred to the new ones. We are judged by who are friends are. Well, Jasmine's friends are Cinderella and Aurora, so Jasmine must be of pretty high caliber herself. Snow White hangs out with Hot Belle, so she must be sophisticated and modern, too. I would argue that the original princesses have earned their almost mythological celebrity by withstanding the test of time, but were fairly simple characters in their films. The new princesses are much more complex, but relied on the reputations of their fore bearers to quickly vault them into rock-star status.

It all comes down to merchandising. There are a few extreme people that obsess over a particular subject. People that collect everything with a cat on it, or Star Wars. There's a commercial running right now about a Pittsburgh Steeler fan with a room in his house where everything is Steeler-branded, except the table lamp. In the Disney realm there are a few people that collect Mickey Mouse stuff and flaunt it. I think in most cases we would view those people as outliers - not the norm.

But in the case of the Disney Princesses, Disney has positioned the brand as mainstream. They've made it acceptable and actually normal for every girl to obsess. Every other girl at Disneyland has a princess dress on. Entire shops and restaurants are exclusively devoted to them. There are series of DVD based on their collective star power. The nightly parade is designed around their popularity. New attractions, shows, and ice-capades are based on their joint stardom. There is even a closed circuit television channel at the resorts that runs all-princesses, all the time programming. There is also a "Dream Suite" contest where someone can win a night's stay inside a princess castle-like hotel suite inside of Disneyland (It is located directly above Pirates of the Caribbean.)

At our house we've got board games, toys, DVDs, storybooks, clothes, hats, shoes, pajamas, pillows, stickers, coloring books, chairs, jackets, jewelery, dolls, costumes, crowns, and wands, all with "Disney" and "Princess" marked somewhere on them. I'd really like to think that my girls aren't as odd as some of the other obsessive aggregators of themed items. Maybe they are and we're facilitating that behavior. 

At lease we already know and accept that we are suckers. We decided early on that we would allow this obsession as long as the girls were only cuckoo for one thing. We don't have Barbie or Care Bears or My Little Pony. We're exactly the kind of people Disney is looking for - chasing look-a-likes all over Disneyland for their signature instead of riding rides, paying Ariel's Grotto prices for lunch, watching the princess channel every waking hour even though it repeated the same 10 minute program all day long, and spending an entire half day standing in line at the Princess Faire all for the right to shop at the Princess Store.

No comments: