Imagine it. You’re sitting down to one of your favorite Disney movies, watching the well-loved story unfold before your eyes when suddenly the heroine of choice, in a stunning scene of sparkles and tailored finesse, gains her traditional princess garb. From as far back as Cinderella to Disney’s most recent flick, Frozen, a wide majority of the heroines have a scene dedicated to “transforming” into a princess—or maybe a “more marketable princess” in the case of characters like Elsa. By this point in our media culture, we’re so used to scenes like this that the possible underlying meanings don’t even cross our minds. Sure, they’re turning into a princess, but why? Are these transformations really all about the typical fairytale ending? I argue that no, they’re not. They’re more than a neat bow to tie a romantic subplot with and so much more than a tool for companies to sell princess garb (although that’s certainly part of it). Princess transformations are all about tapping into a positivity that’s accessible to both children and older audiences alike.
The Disney Princess movie franchise has been one of the most dominant cultural forces over the last few decades. Recently Disney has launched a campaign to convince people that there’s more to Disney princesses than a pretty face. The Princess and the Frog, released in 2009, embodies much of this new initiative to provide clear, positive role models for girls (and it also gives us our first African-American princess!).
Set in 1920s New Orleans, the movie follows Tiana, a hard-working young woman who works multiple jobs in hopes of saving up enough money to open her own restaurant. When Tiana kisses a frog claiming to be a prince, she turns into a frog herself, and embarks on a journey to find a way to reverse the curse before it’s too late. Voodoo features heavily in the film, and Disney certainly took some flak for it. While Disney does a great job of providing us with a dynamic Disney Princess, I had to wonder—does it do an equally good job portraying Voodoo?