My wife and I are the kind of parents who think too much. For years we worried that Disney merchandise, especially the Disney Princess line, would corrupt our child. Disney Princesses, we believed, would exploit our daughter’s faith in hope and happiness and pervert her inner purities toward commercial consumerism, damaged imagination and general stupidity.
We held this line, more or less, for 5 years. Then, the Disney Store had a sale on Disney Princess dolls. We were shopping for nieces and nephews and were lured over by the hugely discounted dolls. Our daughter loves the stories and the dolls are way more interesting than standard Barbie fare. First, we picked up Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. Rapunzel’s hair was outrageously soft and we had never seen a wicked stepmother doll before.
Then, Belle and the Beast. Belle likes books and the Beast has a removable head that transforms into the Handsome Prince. Then, we picked up Snow White because her dress is a lovely shade of blue and Prince Philip because he has a great cape and looks very princely.
There it was. In one fell swoop and $60, we abandoned our principled stance against the Disney Prince machine. We took them home, wrapped them and waited for the stupidity to set in.
It didn’t happen. I unboxed the 6 dolls the day after Christmas, expecting the immediate onsite of trite story arch — true love, magical kisses and happy ever afters. Instead, my daughter picked up the 6 dolls and launched into a 30 minute, improvised musical about Rapunzel’s co-dependent conflict with her wicked “mother”, wrestling to balance her own need for adventure against the knowledge that leaving the tower would devastate her already emotionally crippled mother forever. The other characters intervened to fuse a fantastically complex mashup of fairy tales that served as foils against the Rapunzel/Gothel storyline to show other ways of being mother/daughter.
It was a powerful, mature mini-opera sung in more or less rhymed couplets. I tried to record it to share with the world but my daughter forbade cameras during her performance.
I was powerfully amazed and powerfully humbled. I should not have been surprised. My daughter is creative and can’t help but make stories from the objects around her.
Disney dolls are not totems. They have no power beyond the power that is lent to them through story. I knew this but had somehow forgotten. Toys have no power until they are brought to life through story. With a sufficiently strong imagination, all objects become playthings and the story is everywhere.