New battle in 'Princess Wars': Disney dolls featuring ... your daughter's face
Disney continues its princess juggernaut, rolling out custom-made princess dolls that will have personalized faces etched onto them by computer. Is it good, bad, or just ... weird?
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"It’s technology that has been used for action figures for several years now,” he says. “They use it when they scan Bruce Willis or a movie star to license their likeness, or professional wrestlers.”Skip to next paragraph
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But the Disney princesses are a touchy subject, and anticipation of the custom figurines is already proving a bit more polarizing than Han Solo. Comments on the Disney Parks blog were overwhelmingly positive, with several commenters bemoaning the 3-to-12 age restriction.
“Awesome idea, but why the age limit?” wrote one commenter identified as ‘Cecily from CA.’ “I’m a 22-year-old woman … but I’m really a 5-yr-old princess at heart!!”
Reaction around the web hasn’t been so kind.
Business Insider called the dolls “creepy.” On the feminist blog Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker was even snarkier: “So they'll never forget what they're supposed to turn into when they grow up: a pretty pretty princess in a pretty pretty ballgown, ready for a Happily Ever After that begins and ends with marriage, male approval, and a disconcertingly tiny waist.”
“Why push girls into emulating princesses by literally putting their faces onto theirs?” she wrote.
According to Mr. Golin, no product franchise has been more successful at co-opting a firmly established childhood narrative than the Disney princess line. First launched in 1999, the line, featuring Disney’s most popular heroines grouped together, boasts over 40,000 products, TV shows, live productions, and billions of dollars in revenue.
“They’ve capitalized on the fact that the princess narrative is a very powerful one for young girls. I don’t know that there’s been another line that holds that kind of power for young children today. And it’s very successful, because every product is an ad within itself,” he says.
Mr. Byrne has a less critical view of the phenomenon.
According to Byrne, who has spent his entire career covering toys and the play habits of children, the princess fantasy fades for most girls by the time they reach the first grade.
“Snow White or Tiana is not what I would hope would be your permanent role model,” he says. “What you conceptualize at age 6 shouldn’t be what you conceptualize at even 9 or 10, so why not let them play? They will naturally grow out of it.”
“Parents who impose adult sensibilities on their kids about princesses are wasting their time,” he says. Concepts like “self-reliance,” and “shallowness,” have no meaning at age 4.
“Anyone who’s got girly girls knows that at a certain age they only want to wear the tutu. We tend to panic too soon,” he says.
Golin disagrees, saying there’s a difference between playing princess and being tied into a very specific narrative commercialized by an entertainment company.
“It sets up ideas that last into adolescence and beyond about appearance and gender roles. The stories that we learn in childhood are very powerful beyond the age that we are playing with the doll,” he says.
But will little girls actually want little princess action figures of themselves, and will we see the personalized figurine market expand into other places?
Byrne points out that the parks are the perfect test market, because parkgoers are already primed to spend money. Plus, because Disney can keep a low inventory, Byrne guesses that the profit margin is probably high. The figurines aren't really toys to be played with, but more of a keepsake, like a very expensive version of getting your picture taken on a roller coaster.
From a purely cosmetic standpoint, Byrne adds, the dolls are just plain frightening. “Some girls are going to cringe in a few years when their parents break those out at the (wedding) rehearsal dinner,” he says.