There’s a phantom menace lurking within Disney. She’s a princess who’s smart and confident, friendly and loyal, rebellious and brave. She’s a strong leader, from a realm far, far away. She’s a wonderful female role model for our children, but you won’t find any figures, costumes, tops, lunch boxes, or backpacks with her on at the Disney Store. Princess Leia became the property of the House of Mouse following their $4 Billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. Unsurprisingly, given Disney are the masters of merchandise, Star Wars goods are abundant in the Disney Store. However, it’s also abundantly clear that as far as Disney is concerned, Star Wars is a boys only galaxy. The lack of Leia came to my attention earlier in the week, with this exchange on Twitter between Natalie Wreyford and the Disney Store:
So Disney, who paid $4 billion for the Star Wars brand, and who generate billions each year in selling fantasy princesses to little girls, are seemingly ignoring their brand new ‘space fantasy’ princess. What’s up with that? I asked Disney store customer services why they have no Princess Leia products for sale. First I tried the UK store, who politely pleaded ignorance:
“…we don’t have any information on Princess Leia products at this time”.
Not much help. So I went to the source, DisneyStore.com. This was their reply:
“I’m very sorry but the Princess Leia merchandise you are interested in purchasing is no longer available in DisneyStore.com. While we make every effort to anticipate the inventory requirements of our Guests, merchandise may sell out at different rates. Regrettably, this is very difficult to forecast. Due to the popularity of some character families, one item may sell out more quickly than another within the same character family. Specific merchandise may be reordered and is then re-launched on our site as quickly as possible. Some items may sell out due to varied reasons and may no longer be offered in our Store. We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this may cause.”
Felt like a lot of cut & pasted standard response copy there, but essentially they’re inferring that they used to have Princess Leia merchandise but they have run out. Well, it’s a case of Star Wars: The Phantom Merchandise then. While it’s possible there may have been the odd niche or specialist third party item, I don’t recall seeing any significant Leia goods on sale there. But, it’s also not true that nothing is currently available.
What’s in (Disney)store?
There’s a Princess Leia as Mona Lisa tee on sale. Oh wait that’s an adult tee. And it’s also sold out. Perhaps that’s the missing merchandise they’re referring to? Hang on, there is another Leia product on sale. Unfortunately we already own it, but fortunately it’s good, and in fact it was my daughter’s way into Star Wars – Jeffrey Brown’s ‘Vaders Little Princess‘. While obviously written from the skewed perspective of a father of sons (which Jeffrey is) it’s still a fun and witty introduction to Leia in the galaxy far, far away. My daughter frequently implores us to read it (and ‘Darth Vader and Son‘) to her. She particularly enjoys it when I read Vader’s dialogue into a saucepan – to give it that authentic metallic Vader feel.
One day she discovered my old Star Wars toys (I was trying to put them in the loft), and has had them out to play ever since. No prizes for guessing who her favourite figure is. Hint – she has headphone hair. My daughter would love to have more versions of Princess Leia to play with than my tired looking 35 year old Star Wars action figure. I don’t understand why Disney are dropping the ball on this one. Are they really so blind to the idea that there’s a market for Princess Leia merchandise?
The Phantom Menace of Disney Princesses
It appears the main problem is that Disney are defining Star Wars as a boys brand – it is prominently featured under the ‘Boys’ tab in the Disney Store, and nowhere to be seen in the ‘Girls’ section. Perhaps they are worried that the inclusion of female characters will damage what they see as the brand’s gender clarity. But it could also be a matter of vision. Maybe Disney really don’t see the potential in this stylish kick-ass galactic princess? The common wisdom is that Disney created their insanely popular Princess line.
Except they didn’t. We did.
As Peggy Orenstein tells it in ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter‘, the idea of the Disney Princess line came to an exec when he noticed kids dressing up as (non-licensed) Disney princesses, and realised they weren’t making a cent from it. The rest is history, and our current Princess dominated reality. But the lesson here is that if Disney spot a potential buck to be made, they will respond with product. So perhaps, if we create enough chatter and feedback, they will do something about it. Tweet them at @DisneyStore, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, share photos of your little ones dressing up as Leia, or playing with Leia dolls – especially anything unlicensed that Disney won’t make a cent from. Because, like Woodward & Bernstein, Mickey Mouse will follow the money.