Disney’s Got a Prince Problem

Disney prince
Credit: Disney

Princesses and Disney go hand in hand. From the very beginning, the company built its empire on the backs of Princess movies. I remember as a little girl loving them so much. I loved to see their dresses and hear their songs (and sing them incessantly…sorry, Mom). They filled me with hopes and dreams and inspired me to want to do great things and go on adventures. Now though, I’m a boy mom, and they’ve lost their luster.

I look at Princess movies through a new lens now. I didn’t realize I was doing it until a few days ago. My son and I were walking into the grocery store hand in hand, and out of the blue, he said, “Ya know, Mom, I think Disney has too many princesses.” I chuckled and asked him, “What do you think they should have instead?” Because honestly, in my mind, what else would they have? Disney is princess. He shrugged and said, “I dunno. Something cool!”

Disney prince

Credit: Disney/istock

Something Cool

“What would that be?” I asked him. He thought for a moment and said, “It would be cool if princes did more than kiss princesses. Yuck! And maybe some superheroes. And robots, yeah, robots!” (I know what you’re thinking and, yes, Big Hero 6 is a favorite in this house).

He brought up an interesting point about the princes. There are 15 total “Disney Princess” films, and I can count 3 where the male counterpart wasn’t simply there to make the girl’s dreams come true, and 2 of them belong to the same franchise. It’s hard to count Frozen, though, since they made Prince Hans the bad guy. We love Kristoff, though, and he’s kind of a prince, so we’ll allow it.

Disney prince

Credit: Disney Dining

Disney’s Prince Problem 

Prince Charming didn’t even get a real name—just a title and a descriptor that made him a suitable husband. Prince Florian had exactly two minutes of screen time, and you probably don’t know who I’m talking about because his name was never mentioned. He was the Prince that kissed Snow White. Prince Eric? Well, he had one job: kiss Ariel (and he failed to do that). Prince Phillip only existed to wake the princess. The list goes on and on.

I was lucky enough to be a 90s kid, so I grew up in the Disney Renaissance with the classic princess movies. We see rants all the time about how Princess movies teach girls terrible lessons about needing a man. I must have never got that memo because what they taught me was to dream and go on adventures, and believe. The prince was merely background noise.

Now that I’m the proud mama of two boys, I think about the message these characters are sending. Do I really want them to grow up seeing the prince as merely an accessory? As merely a part of the story that must be there but so generic that he doesn’t even get a name? How would we feel if the tables were turned and the princess was merely a tool to move the story along and treated as utterly unimportant?

Disney prince

Credit: Disney

Dream Big Princess

Disney Launched the Dream Big Princess campaign in 2016. It ran for several years and encouraged girls to be champions and heroes and all sorts of wonderful things. Disney said that the campaign’s purpose was to “engage girls to take action and advocate for themselves and girls globally, giving them empowering tools to help transform the world.” I have no issue with that. What I have an issue with is that there isn’t a Dream Big Prince Campaign.

You might be yelling at me through your screen “because it isn’t needed! Boys have not historically been held back the way girls have!” You’re right, of course, and I commend anyone who encourages girls to live their dreams. I just have to wonder about the unintended consequences of it. If we assume boys are encouraged and therefore produce no content that actually encourages them, what happens? The girl power messaging drowns out everything else, and we have an entire generation of boys who don’t recognize their own worth.

You don’t achieve equality by knocking down the group at the top. You achieve it by bringing up the group at the bottom. My son has been inundated with messages about how great and powerful girls are. No one but Mom and Dad have ever told him that boys are too.

Disney prince

Credit: Disney Dining

Boys left Behind

Disney has traditionally been geared toward girls. I get it. However, as a boy mom, I see a disparity that I never did before. I see my son searching for something to connect to and coming up empty-handed. To hear him say it out loud, though, connected the dots for me that boys have indeed been left behind.

Disney occasionally pays lip service to boy-centric things, but all too often, when something has to go…that’s what’s on the chopping block. Case in point? Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is still going strong, while its boy-centric counterpart, Pirates League, closed up shop well before the pandemic could be blamed. You can make the argument that Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique has a knight package, but I’ll counter that with the fact that Pirates League had a Mermaid package. How much crossover did you ever see between the two?

Super Mario Bros

Credit: Universal

Game Changer

Disney has left a hole in the market, and other studios (namely Universal) have been all too happy to fill it. The movies my son is most excited about don’t come from Walt Disney Studios anymore. They come from Illumination, Dream Works, and Sony. There’s a large market out there for boy-centric movies. Just ask the second-highest-grossing animated film of all time.

The Super Mario Bro. Movie proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is room for traditionally boy-centered characters. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is breaking records left and right. In fact, its success is so massive that Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, paused to congratulate Universal during the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

The market is clearly prime for agenda-free boy-friendly movies. Disney has recently produced animated films where a boy is the protagonist, sure, but those films have been rife with controversy. Agenda stole the show in films like Lightyear and Strange World. They also didn’t pique boys’ interest. The movies families with boys pay to see aren’t mired down in drama and controversy. They are just fun, entertaining films that boys can relate to. If Disney wants to win boys over, they’ve got to follow suit.

Disney prince

Credit: Jill Bivins

You might say that I’m overthinking this, and perhaps you’re right. I won’t discount that possibility. The fact remains, though, that an 8-year-old boy doesn’t see himself in Disney movies anymore, and he very much wants to. If Disney would stop using their movies as social engineering platforms and get back to simply entertaining, I think they’d see the success they’re chasing.


About Jill Bivins

Jill Bivins has been visiting Disney Parks since she was 2 years old and loves sharing her Disney adventures with the world. She likes to say Disney is in her blood and writing is in her bones — so any time she has the opportunity to combine these loves she is one happy camper! She has a deep abiding love for Epcot and as a die hard Star Wars fan has a serious love for Hollywood Studios as well. When she isn't exploring or writing about Disney Parks, Jill is homeschooling her 8 year old son, playing with her brand new baby son, or pretending to be a farmer on her family homestead (despite being unable to keep even a cactus alive). Find Jill on Instagram @minnieonmain.