Disney, pretty much the fairy godmother's home away from home for the past seven decades, just announced it no longer will be making movies based on fairy tales. Oddly enough, this just may be a case in which we all end up living happily ever after.
Fairy tales turn out to be too limiting for a company that has set its sights on world domination. Er, world distribution. As Walt Disney and Pixar animation studios chief Ed Catmull told the Los Angeles Times, "films and genres do run a course. They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it ... but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up."
Which is sort of like Sara Lee saying, "Nope. No more frozen poundcake." Or Lady Gaga saying, "From now on, just jeans and a tee." Have they forgotten what they were put on earth to give us? Nonetheless, Disney has already pulled the magic carpet out from under "The Snow Queen" and yanked "Jack and the Beanstalk" out by the roots — two fairy tale films that had been in development.
The lily pad hit the fan with last year's box-office fizzler "The Princess and the Frog," which, according to the LA Times (and anyone who could read the title), mostly appealed to girls. That's why the movie Disney has in theaters right now is not called "Rapunzel," even though it is about Rapunzel and stars Rapunzel and is based on the fairy tale "Rapunzel." Instead, it's called "Tangled," apparently in the hopes that the male audience will not have any idea the movie involves a girl, much less one with long hair who lives in a tower and marries a prince.
For a genre Disney is eager to drop, the fairy tale has served Disney very well over the years. It was 1937 when "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was released, and darned if anyone can imagine the seven dwarfs as anything but the whistling crew Walt et al. drew for us. It's also hard to imagine staring into a mirror on the wall and wondering who the fairest of them all is without a Disney drama queen in the back of our minds.
But it's not the dwarfs and stepmothers who made Disney its dinero. It is, of course, the fairy princesses. And lately, those princesses have come in for a thrashing by the folks who want girls to dream bigger.
At a conference sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one presenter calculated that Disney has licensed 40,000 fairy princess items, from tiaras to toothbrushes. By doing so, it has practically defined the goal of American girlhood: sparkly dresses and lots of hair.
Diane Levin, author of "So Sexy So Soon," contends that though Disney's royal denizens aren't as salacious as, say, the Bratz dolls, they nonetheless keep girls focused on gorgeousness. And not just the gorgeousness you can achieve from within.
That's why I'm mostly happy that Disney is stepping down from its role of fairy tale interpreter and leaving kids to read the old ones, on their own. I grew up reading and rereading fairy tales — my very favorite thing — and they were a lot gorier, more thrilling and more fulfilling than cartoon characters on their way to becoming Happy Meal extras. They had soul.
I'm not sure we can say the same about Disney.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now" and "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.