I am often asked what (if anything) little boys can get out of Disney princess films. Are the themes and messages of these movies purely for little girls, or can boys get something out of them too?
Plenty of Disney princess films have elements that boys will like. The capers of the mice and birds, in Cinderella, and their climactic battle with Lucifer that cat, for example, are eminently accessible to boys. The Shadowman and his frightening “friends on the other side,” from The Princess and the Frog, are creepily appealing, as is the daring-do of Flynn Ryder from Tangled. But it is true that, at the heart of these films, is a distinctly female message about growing up, following your dreams, and finding love. But there are a few Disney princess films that offer little boys something deeper than funny antics and creepy villains.
Here are my top three Disney princess films with powerful messages for boys (in no particular order):
Sleeping Beauty offers the best example (in a Disney princess film) of the traditional “handsome prince.” Unlike the princes in Snow White and Cinderella, Prince Philip is a much more of a three dimensional character — which means he holds more appeal for boys. He is funny, sarcastic, strong-willed, and principled which makes him a good masculine role model, but he also embodies the traditional fairy tale characteristics of bravery, loyalty, integrity, and honor. Armed with the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue, Philip bravely battles the dragon Maleficent to free Aurora from the sleeping curse. On a basic level, boys will get a kick out of the fight sequences at the end of the movie, as well as the bickering fairies, and the bumbling King Hubert, but the real takeaway is the image of a man with a sword defending his lady love. In the current culture of feminism — in which anything masculine is considered “toxic” — an example of a man willing to ride into battle against a dragon in order to save the girl is a valuable thing.
Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast has lots to offer little boys — even before we get into what messages it sends them. The spooky castle, roaring Beast, and dastardly villain, Gaston, offer delicious thrills, and the climactic fight sequence in the castle is exciting and fraught with suspense — not to mention the slapstick comedy between Gaston and his sidekick Lefou. And, within all that, is a really valuable and subtle message about how to be a man. The film puts forward the notion that a good man is not only strong, powerful, and virile (otherwise Gaston would be the hero), he must also be protective, brave, and loyal. A good man must channel all that male energy (which little boys have in abundance) for good, rather than letting it take over and drive him to destruction. The film shows, too, how a woman who is unwaveringly herself inspires that sort of loyalty and protection, which is also good for boys growing into men to know. Beauty and the Beast offers boys a subtler message about masculinity than films with a more traditional “Prince Charming” type prince, but an important message, nonetheless.
There’s no doubt that, as Disney princess films go, Aladdin is the one that will most appeal to boys. That’s because, even though it qualifies as a Disney princess movie (since Princess Jasmine is an “official” Disney princess) it actually has a male protagonist. Aladdin offers a male narrative arc in which a man of little means or consequence must prove his worth to the world — and the girl. Aladdin came out just as Disney was beginning to infuse “feminist values” into its films and, because of this, Aladdin himself is a “teachable male” rather than a “prince charming.” (You can read my post on that distinction here.) But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to offer little boys. Aladdin learns a valuable lesson throughout the course of the film — namely that wealth and power mean nothing without integrity and honor — even though he learns it via Jasmine’s stomping and yelling, which is a bit of a bore.
What do you think of my picks? Are there others you’d have included? Let me know in the comments!