Next year Princess Sofia the First, the newest and youngest of Disney’s royalty, will make her debut. She’s going to star in a movie that will air sometime in the next few months on both the Disney Channel and Disney Junior. Her royal highness is only still just a child, with her main peer group (i.e., the ages at which Sofia is directed) being children between the ages of 2 and 7.
Sofia’s a true Disney original; unlike any of her predecessors she’s not based on a pre-existing character from a fairy tale, myth, or historical event. She’s going to star in her own television show, “Sofia the First,” on the Disney Channel, not first be unveiled to audiences in a feature-length film. And oh yes, she’s a child.
No other Disney Princess has been this young. Once in a very great while I’ve seen Alice (from the animated “Alice in Wonderland”) pop up on some Disney Princess merchandise, but given her target audience Sofia is probably even younger than Alice was in her story.
One could make an argument that Disney’s returning to its source texts; the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White was only seven-years-old until the very end of their (admittedly quite short) story. To that I would counter, a seven-year-old Snow White was rather horrifying, given the several attempts on her young life, and that particular princess tradition is better left centuries behind us.
Not that I’m saying I think Sofia will have to brave assassination attempts. This is the Disney Channel (and Disney Junior), and I’d guess Sofia’s conflicts are going to be somewhat more of the detesting-her-princess-lessons variety.
After all, I’m willing to bet Disney will make her spunky. Every princess has been since Ariel. That’s how these long-tired stories about princesses (when they really ought to feature girls more representative of the overall global population) try to still seem feminist: she’s a princess by birth or circumstance, yes, but she’s not girly. She likes to do traditional, non-feminine things, like riding and traveling the world and getting messy.
Of course this is all just conjecture; Disney’s been rather mum on Sofia, aside from just announcing her debut and churning out some generic PR dribble about how Sofia will learn “what makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside.”
I’m going to join in with Entertainment Weekly’s headline on the story here and say, “Why couldn’t she be a mathematician?” Disney’s really breaking its mold here; before, all of its princesses were of the royal ilk because the stories they were based on had princesses, and they were all feature-length fairy tale movies. Now Disney’s become so obsessed with its famous brand that they’re creating an entirely new one, for television, aimed at toddlers.
Disney’s delusional if it thinks toddlers aren’t already on the princess bandwagon. My mom teaches preschool, and when she plays her Disney soundtracks, like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King,” and “Aladdin,” all of the kids know the words to the songs. That includes soundtracks from movies that are getting old like “The Little Mermaid,” released around two decades before they were born.
No one needs a princess aimed at them, but especially not children so young and impressionable. It’s making wrong assumptions about what young girls necessarily want (check out this awesome video for proof), and it could make a potentially-damaging obsession start even earlier.
Disney had a chance to create a realistic role model, the opportunity to teach young children that they could do something worthy with their lives (doctor, scientist, EMT, firefighter, even a librarian, I don’t know, anything) and they failed. This time, I think the House of Mouse has gone too far.