There’s more to Disney than princesses.
That seems like an obvious statement, given that it took the studio thirteen years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to introduce their second princess story. Even today, when a lot of Disney marketing relies on their Disney Princess line, fairy tale adaptations are seldom more than every other feature. The marketing concept has been around for about fifteen years now, and only three characters are deemed by Disney to have been added to the line-up in that time—and one is Pixar’s Merida! Unless you include Princess Kida of Atlantis, and the official count doesn’t, it would take nearly a decade for Disney to release a movie containing another princess.
In those two gaps, we have gotten such disparate characters as a flying elephant, a colonial schoolteacher, a bioengineered alien monster, and a child inventor. It would, in fact, take until the ’90s for the studio to release more movies with princesses than collections of vignettes. Depending on how you count things, the numbers are still relatively close.
In fact, those vignette movies are the one thing the Disney studio has released that no other studio has. Dreamworks, Sony, even Pixar—their theatrical releases are all narrative features. Okay, Sony hasn’t released a movie with a princess in it, either, but both of the other studios have, and Sony has released far fewer movies than the other two. (Besides, I’m not sure the ALF film Wikipedia says they have in development sounds like a better idea. Which would you rather have, a retelling of Tam Lin, which they never got around to, or The Emoji Movie, which they are?) So why, then, do people think princesses when they think Disney? Is it just the marketing?
It’s probably a lot the marketing. Despite their conviction that it was the word “princess” in the title of The Princess and the Frog which cut its box office numbers relative to what Disney expects, they have put a lot of effort into their Princess line. It isn’t even just in toy stores; I shop in fabric stores more often, and I see Disney Princess stuff everywhere. It’s been a while since I was at Disneyland, and the last time was just after the Marvel acquisition, so the marketing I saw while I was there was a little skewed. It was Halloween, too. But, yes, there was an awful lot of princess stuff, particularly in Fantasyland. And my, but it brings in the money.
On the other hand, I think it was at least in part Disney’s identifying and using an image that other people created for them. I think Disney sometimes just fails to understand how to market some of its other properties. Big Hero 6 was fine; you tie that in with the fact that it’s a Marvel property, and seriously, Baymax sells itself. But not even I have seen Home on the Range. Not Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, nor Melody Time have had a proper release in the home video era. Fun and Fancy Free got a bare-bones Blu-Ray release paired with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but nothing compared to the releases granted Cinderella or The Jungle Book.
All of this isn’t even getting into the live action stuff. In the decades that Disney has been producing live action films, they’ve had separated twins, a marooned family, a mad submarine captain, a guy who turns into a dog, a superhero with an engine on his back, and on and on and on. Yes, their first live action princess was Mary Tudor (not Bloody Mary but her aunt) in 1953’s The Sword and the Rose, the studio’s third live action film at all. Their second princess, however, was Princess Ozma in Return to Oz. Which I saw in the theatre in its initial release, well after I’d read the books on which it was theoretically based.
While I do believe it’s broadly possible to divide most of Disney’s pictures, both live action and animated, into categories, I am bewildered by people who think it’s all the same. Is The Emperor’s New Groove much at all like Napoleon and Samantha? Is The Rocketeer like The Three Lives of Thomasina? Is, indeed, Fantasia like Lilo and Stitch? Okay. Most of the studio’s movies can be put into the arcs of Fairy Tale, Musical Vignette, Plucky Outsider, A Kid With an Animal, Introduced to Magic, Adventure, Wacky Goings-On, and Family Story. And there’s overlap, of course; Swiss Family Robinson is a family adventure featuring a kid who’s an animal hoarder. Still, those are some pretty broad categories; you can fit the entire production of several other studios into it as well without those studios being quite so pigeonholed as Disney. Must be something about princesses, I guess.