‘I’m A Princess Too’ — ‘Ralph Breaks The Internet’ Proves Disney Doesn’t Understand Its Own Princesses

Movie critics, parents, and filmmakers have been trying, for years, to redefine what it means to be a princess. From pretending that little girls mean Princess Leia and Wonder Woman (instead of Snow White and Cinderella) when they say they want to be princesses, to rebranding Disney princesses as athletes and warriors, the prevailing narrative is that the concept of “princess” needs a reboot. It’s a narrative that Disney — the country’s main purveyor of princesses — has embraced wholeheartedly. With ad campaigns like “Dream Big, Princess,” and “feminist” princesses like Merida and Elsa, Disney has been actively trying to undo its own messages. Disney’s latest feature, Ralph Breaks The Internet is a case in point. The film, which came out on Wednesday, is one more step towards completely abandoning the princesses of the past. 

When the movie’s heroine, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), finds herself in a room full of Disney princesses, the princesses begin to grill her on what makes her princess material. Initially, the hype for the scene centered around the fact that nearly every princess is voiced by her original voice actress — a Disney princess reunion both on and off the screen. But, as the movie approached its release date — and more of the princess scene was revealed — critics began to praise the way in which the Disney princesses were dismantling the tropes and “stereotypes” of . . . well . . . Disney princesses. 

When Vanellope says that she is a princess, the actual princesses try to figure out what kind of princess she is. “Were you poisoned?” “Cursed?” “Kidnapped or enslaved?” “Do you have daddy issues?” Vanellope’s reaction is to back away slowly. “Are you guys okay? Should I call the police?” Disney princesses, the Disney princesses are saying, are really kind of messed up. And Vanellope, the spunky, hoodie-wearing, race car-driving heroine, is meant to represent a more appropriate role model for little girls. 

Vanellope is eventually accepted into the princess club because even an “empowered” girl like her isn’t exempt from sexist assumptions. “Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big strong man showed up?” Rapunzel asks her. “Yes! What is up with that?” Vanellope responds. And thus, Vanellope (who isn’t actually a princess) is crowned a Disney princess by all the Disney princesses of the past. And, along the way, she teaches them how to loosen up, put on hoodies, and be like her. This isn’t just a cutesy scene in a children’s cartoon, this is a clear and definitive statement from Disney: this (Vanellope) is what a princess looks like, not that (every single other princess Disney ever created).

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But why all this focus on princesses in the first place? If Disney thinks the earlier princesses were such terrible role models, why not throw out the notion of princesses entirely? Therein lies the problem. Because, no matter what Disney, or parents, or film critics do, little girls love princesses. They want to be princesses. But, in the age of modern feminism — where the mere idea of princess is “anti-feminist” — this is problematic. Solution: tell little girls that “princess” means something else now.

John C. Reilly, who voices Ralph in the movie, said he thought the princess scene “was a really cool, brave, forward-thinking thing for Disney as a company to do, to take responsibility for some of these stereotypes that they created . . . and look at them head-on and say, like, ‘okay, maybe that was unfair.’” And that seems to be the general consensus among film critics — that Disney’s complete rejection of nearly eighty years of beloved characters is a win for feminism. But here’s what I want to know: since when do princesses tell us what to do, how to act, and what to wish for?

“Princess” — in a fairy tale context — is a symbol. It’s a stand-in for the ideal of womanhood. If you take a “princess” out of the symbolic and place her into the literal, then she absolutely could look like Venellope — providing that she is still kind, brave, compassionate, and the truest version of herself. But she doesn’t have to look (or act, or speak) like Venellope. She could be like Snow White, or Belle, or that teacher you really admired, or your sister, or your friend from school. And that was the thing about the early Disney princesses: they taught us that.

“A dream is a wish your heart makes,” Cinderella told us. “Make a wish into the well / That’s all you have to do / And if you hear it echoing / Your wish will soon come true,” Snow White explained. Your wish, your dream — whatever that may be. “I want so much more than they’ve got planned,” sung Belle. “I’ve come so far / I can’t go back to where I used to be,” sung Jasmine. “I don’t know when / I don’t know how / But I know something’s starting right now,” sung Ariel. There’s something more for me, there’s something more for you. Whatever that is, whatever you want it to be. Each princess had her own dreams, but she never told us that those specific dreams had to also be ours. They simply told us to make our wishes, follow our dreams, and become our truest selves.

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Little girls want to be princesses because the symbolism of “princess” — of being who you truly are and reaching your full potential — speaks to them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with characters like Vanellope. But there is something wrong with the studio that created the princesses little girls love telling those same little girls that they are wrong — that the dreams they dream are the wrong dreams, the wishes they make are the wrong wishes, and the adventures they long for are the wrong adventures. They’re not wrong, Disney, you are. You’ve forgotten who your princesses are and what they represent. But we haven’t. Our daughters haven’t. Don’t take our princesses away. We need them.

7 thoughts on “‘I’m A Princess Too’ — ‘Ralph Breaks The Internet’ Proves Disney Doesn’t Understand Its Own Princesses

  1. That last paragraph gets to what I really think is happening, what I really dislike like about feminism, telling little girls, grown women, teenagers, what they should/shouldn’t like with no argument, no persuasion, just orders. And how is that different from patriarchy, really? Maybe (not always) a different sex is doing the telling, but it still is fundamentally authoritarian and demeaning.

    And what do they mean by stereotypes, stereotypes of whom? No one is expecting to literally act and behave like Disney princesses.

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  2. Haven’t watched Wreck It Ralph 2 (heck, haven’t even watched the first one since I refuse to see any films with Sarah Silverman and her ilk in it after their supporting killing the unborn among others. And it’s a darn shame, since I like video games myself.), but I have to admit, it’s definitely a darn shame what Disney’s fallen into especially with it’s treatment of the DPs. It’s also a darn shame that Jodi Benson let Ariel get trashed like this, since she’s normally very protective of her. Then again, with Disney’s current management, Jodi Benson’s attempts at doing what she did with Ariel’s Beginning where she tried to salvage what little of Ariel’s character in that horrible movie probably won’t work this time around.

    And quite frankly, the list was pretty bad of what DPs are composed of:

    *”Were you poisoned?”: Technically, only Snow White and Aurora truly qualified under that category (and let’s face it, the one who SHOULD be blamed was the one who poisoned them in the first place, aka, the Evil Queen and Maleficent), so if we go strictly by that, there are only two DPs, which is frankly ridiculous.

    *”Cursed?”: Again, only Aurora, Ariel (technically, thanks to her deal with Ursula), and arguably Tiana would have qualified (though Tiana’s more in the gray area since she never was directly cursed by Doc Facilier). And Aurora definitely didn’t deserve being cursed at all (Ariel you could argue was self-inflicted, though even she did not intend for her father to get cursed at all).

    *”Kidnapped or enslaved?” Okay, Snow White and Cinderella can qualify as enslaved under a general sense, and Rapunzel can qualify as kidnapped (probably also Jasmine after Jafar took over the kingdom), but the others definitely weren’t that. Especially not Belle, as she was never kidnapped (let’s not forget, she’s the one who orchestrated that deal to free her father), nor for that matter was she enslaved (heck, if anything, she got a LOT of special treatment especially for a so-called “prisoner”).

    *“Do you have daddy issues?”: Seriously? Not even Ariel had actual daddy issues, let alone the others. Sure, she quarreled with her dad some of the time, but at the same time she did genuinely care for him and, even when undergoing the deal, one of the reasons she was reluctant to do it was specifically because it would have meant leaving him and her sisters permanently.

    Sheesh, at this point, the DPs are getting worse victim-blaming than Princess Peach from the Super Mario Bros. games does (which isn’t by much, since one of the criticisms made about her is her propensity of getting kidnapped, a few times ignoring that several times when Peach does get abducted by Bowser, Bowser arranged for things to occur where it would have been impossible for Peach to avoid it, like in Paper Mario, where Bowser used the Star Rod to launch Peach’s castle into the sky, or Super Mario Bros. 3, where he had the Koopalings cause havoc in neighboring kingdoms to both conquer territory and to act as a distraction to get the Mario Bros. out of the way).

    Unfortunately, regarding your question of “since when do princesses tell us what to do, how to act, and what to wish for?” the DPs starting with Belle actually WERE the types to just tell the audience what to do, wish for, how to act, and all of that. Certainly, it was the case since Linda Woolverton explicitly admitted that she designed Belle specifically to push feminism onto the masses, made clear she was based on the bra-burning feminists of the 1970s, inferred that the DPs before her were little more than insipid creatures who sat around and waited (even though Ariel and even Cinderella didn’t simply sit around and wait, heck, even Snow White didn’t), oh, and also pretty clearly pushed the idea that marriage is a woman’s worst nightmare, and even implied with the triplets who fawned over the likes of Gaston that the only women who’d support the institution were brainless bimbos. In other words, Linda Woolverton’s hatchetjob to the fairytale for the sake of radical feminism, Belle included, made this crap in Wreck it Ralph 2 inevitable.

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  3. Disney is the best salesman in the world. You’re wrong, this is not Disney signaling that its rejecting 80 years of their history, this is Disney pleasing the woke crowd and a the same time keeping the option of selling the shit out of this princesses they now people actually want. They are still going to be sell the little princess dresses and the little pink backpacks, but now they are feminist approved.

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