On Saturday, I took my 3-year-old son, (who will turn 4 in 3 weeks) to see Disney on Ice-Princesses and Heroes. It was a delightful show with colorful lights, festive music, and impressive ice-skating.
I perceived this as an opportunity to take him to an event downtown and to make him feel special. My favorite part is spending one-on-one time with him. I can give him my full attention that often gets divided up between him, his younger brother, my husband/his father, our dog and me. We laughed, we oooh-ed, we aahhh-ed. It was very fun and entertaining.
But as we were driving home, I was left with this awful pit in my stomach. Disney on Ice is teaching my son (and thousands of other young children) life lessons that I don't agree with. It's nuanced, so let's look at what we enjoyed first.
Disney on Ice is a live show geared towards children, to hold their interest and keep them entertained. It showcases physical fitness, amazing lights, indoor fireworks, familiar Disney songs that I love, etc. It's a special day out for the young ones. And like all great entertainment, it's meant to be an enjoyable escape from ordinary life. Familiar characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, the Little Mermaid, Prince Eric, Aladdin, Jasmine, Snow White, the 7 Dwarfs, Cinderella and her prince, Rapunzel and her prince, Tinker-Bell, and many others are in the show. Many little girls wear the Disney princess dresses and tiaras. My estimation is that the average age for the children is 4 years old.
I sometimes wish I could silence my conscience, but some themes of the show upset me on a deeper level.
So, here are my Six Problems with Disney on Ice-Princesses and Heroes.
1. All of the heroes were men. And I think they were all princes. Well Aladdin becomes a prince, so that's a bit of a gray area.
2. The females (aka princesses) were not fulfilled with their lives, and the men (heroes) gave them fulfillment. That was the repeated plot of this ice show with different characters. Note that I say "females" rather than "women" because Ariel is a mermaid for the first half of her performance, not quite a woman. The women in Disney are often portrayed as strong characters, and I appreciate that. But, still, Ariel falls in love with a man, and couldn't live without him, and so the story goes for each couple. The fantasy of romantic love (aka-sexuality) is doled out in high doses for young children. Maybe they should describe the show as "romantic comedy for 3 year olds."
3. The romantic love is only heterosexual. It's 2014, and I no longer visualize happy couples as ONLY male-female. I'm not saying Disney needs to showcase gay couples for their ice show. But, in Princesses and Heroes, there are so many couples skating around happily in love, and they are all straight. I wonder if any of the figure skaters in the show might be gay in their off-stage lives. Disney pays them to skate and wear costumes portraying male-female partnerships for very young audiences, continuing to promote stereotypes in young minds of what is good, acceptable, normal and fulfilling. I think I change my mind. I would like to see Disney have a female princess matched up with a female hero or a male prince matched up with a male hero. Why not? (And don't say because of the Bible, because that's not a valid argument. There are women in the ice show wearing very sexy outfits and that goes against teachings in the Bible). My point is this: if it makes you uncomfortable to imagine homosexuals for a child-centered ice show, then let's question why is there so much sexuality of any kind in a child-centered ice show?
4. The evil, menacing, scary characters wear black costumes, and some even have black masks covering their faces. If the black costumes are not bad enough (basically telling young children that black=scary, therefore promoting a racist worldview), why are we trying to scare young children? Both years I heard children cry at the scary parts of the ice show. I hear myself reassuring my son, "Don't worry, they are pretend. It's not real. Everyone will be okay." But, the children think it's real. And if children think Mickey is real, why would they think the fire-spitting dragon is not real? The fire is real (and pretty cool how it lights on the ice.) Why do I want to tell my son that Mickey is not real yet? It's fun for him to think Mickey is real. He's 3 years old.
5. Violence is prevalent in the plots. This is so backwards with our society. As a society, we teach children to solve problems with words and that hitting is wrong, but Aladdin hits a guy over the head with a baguette of bread and runs away to snuggle with Jasmine? Is hitting okay if you're being heroic and trying to win over a woman? And should young girls fall in love with violent men? I realize that this example might seem overblown, but this is the lesson that comes to mind "Ladies, it's okay if he's fighting FOR you, and hopefully he'll never turn ON you and hurt YOU. And if he does, well, he's the hero that turned you from a lonely ordinary princess into a happy princess, so just roll with it."
6. The high cost of the souvenirs. Last year, we went to Disney on Ice-Treasure Trove, and after we got in the car to leave, my son asked, "Where is my spin toy?" I hoped he hadn't noticed the thousands of lighted-spinning toys all around us, but he did. This year, I was prepared to purchase him the $22 spin toy. So, I've done it both ways and I haven't decided what's better. Either way, I felt like crap.
Is Disney on Ice really the best we've got for young children's live entertainment?
We can go to the Columbus Children's Theatre and see some amazing live shows, but then we fore-go the excitement of Nationwide Arena and the big-ness of the event: the ice skating, indoor fireworks, fire-on-ice, Mickey Mouse, etc. Maybe that's the answer. I need to support organizations that have a less-is-more attitude and don't feel obligated to maintain these old stereotypes that still make life difficult for people living outside the world of white-heterosexual-wealth (Disney royalty).