My daughter hasn’t seen very many movies, Disney or otherwise, but she has seen a few. I felt like we were going chronologically there for awhile. The first one she ever saw was Fantasia, then, Mary Poppins, but then back to Pinocchio, Alice and Wonderland, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, Winnie the Pooh, and Snow White. It’s clear her two favorites, at the moment, are Mary Poppins and Snow White. She listens to the “Poppsie” soundtrack All. The. Time. Omg.
I mean, Julie Andrews is basically a magical treasure, but even I have my limits. I think my husband and I have heard “Feed the Birds” about 800 times in the last few months and I’m not even exaggerating. She wakes up in the dead of night and asks us to put on “Poppsie.”
Snow White is a more recent favorite, mostly because Snow White is better branded. She sees Snow White when we are out in the city on toys, books at the bookstore, stickers, and the like. She likes the little critters in it and the dwarves, but I think something about Snow White’s child-like face appeals to her. The music isn’t remarkable, but it doesn’t make me want to kill myself.
However, I have some problems with Snow White’s plot. Take the Wicked Queen, she’s supposed to have all these magical powers yet she fails to kill Snow White? I totally understand assigning her huntsman to do it at the beginning. Seems pretty standard to delegate that, even if it poses risks to one’s popularity should the dirty deed ever go public. Seems like she would have wanted no accomplices. But whatever, she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty. But after she finds out the huntsman tricked her, she has to adopt a disguise, concoct a poison apple recipe that has a catch, go down there herself and hope that all works out? I mean, Snow White is a naive teenager (13 in some stories), basically if you get in range, you could just run her through with a sword. She let the “witch” into the house for the love of god. Why not make this simple? It’s the classic villain “sharks with freaking lasers on their heads” mistake.
The theme of Snow White seems to be: if you are a very sweet and pretty girl who is good at housework, things will probably work out for you.
On the other hand Mary Poppins offers much richer fare: it has a message of the importance of childhood, imagination, spontaneity, civil disobedience, responsibility, financial planning, family togetherness, good health, manners, humor, equitation, job satisfaction, impermanence, and women’s suffrage. Feel free to tell me if I’m missing something. It’s just such an interesting movie. And the songs are pretty great. Sure Dick van Dyke really should have been sent a different dialect coach, but he’s a fantastic dancer and really knows his physical comedy.
I know it’s a popular academic exercise to disparage the Disney Princess role. Even when they try to have a “girl power” character like Merida in “Brave” (yes, I know, Pixar) there are still issues with how their choices are portrayed (see this very interesting post by Rebecca Heins, who is a Media Studies professor with a fantastic blog). But it bears repeating that most of the Disney princesses don’t have stories of complex depth and redeeming personal growth. Are there lessons to be learned from them, sure. Some good ones, some useless ones, and some bad ones. The persistant vilification of people with bumps in their nose did not make me feel particularly great when I was young. It’s not all Disney’s fault, some of these movies are based on centuries old stories and some of them were made into films almost 50 years ago. Snow White was made in 1937, Mary Poppins in 1964 (but based on a story that takes place in 1910), it’s a bit of an unfair competition.
Still, if Disney is going to put all these princesses in a “club” like a box of assorted truffles, I’m going to have to choose. And I’ll take Mary Poppins over any girl they have in a tiara. Besides, Julie Andrews can out-sing them all.