Seeing images of Emma Watson as Belle from Disney’s live-action remake of their animated hit Beauty and the Beast, reminds me of one of the issues with the way the Disney Princess brand is marketed and used by licensees.
As a female role model, Belle is a great character. She is compassionate, a book lover, has a thirst for adventure, and a yearning to explore the world.
Yet when I first showed the animated Beauty and the Beast to my daughter, I asked her what she most liked about Belle. Her answer? When she wore the yellow dress.
For a matter of minutes Belle wears a yellow ballgown. But this is the image that you see used constantly on all manner of Disney Princess merchandise from lunch boxes to greetings cards. It is so ubiquitous, it has become the defining image of the film in little girls’ minds long before they have seen it. The same is true for other Disney Princesses such as Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Cinderella.
One of the few things that gives me hope about the live-action movie is Emma Watson. She has become an outspoken champion for women’s rights, a UN Women’s goodwill ambassador, and even runs a feminist book club!
It gives me hope that she can work from within to limit the potential damage of the reductive Disney Princess branding – otherwise her portrayal of Belle may also end up being seen as simply a love struck girl in a yellow party dress.
There’s also the whole Stockholm Syndrome issue, but that’s for another day…
Image Copyright Walt Disney Pictures, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.