Hayao Miyazaki vs. the “Disney Princess Industrial Complex”

Wired’s Geek Dad is a little distressed over the influence that Disney princesses might be having on his three daughters, and has found some respite in the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

Being a parent of girls, I have an almost primal reaction to the Walt Disney princess industrial complex. The sight of a Jasmine costume marketed to my 5-year-old can cause me to break out in hives. It isn’t so much the bare midriff, although I think that does have an influence on how my 5-year-old perceives and relates to her body. My frustration comes from the quality of the stories themselves. The stories of the Disney princess industrial complex follow a formula which sells massive amounts of princess swag but can be highly problematic in what it teaches young girls about their worth and value.

My 5-year-old is just now finishing her education about the difference between real and pretend. Kindergarten seems to help. I cringe when she plays dress-up and pretends to be one of the princesses from the Disney canon. It just creeps me out, like I am watching my child pretend to play Britney or Lindsey or their apprentice Miley, all three of which got their start as child stars with Disney.

Which is why I am grateful my geek instincts led me to be a somewhat early adopter of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli anime. I have been hooked since I first saw Spirited Away, and I have found his work to provide a needed vaccine for my girls against the creeping illness of princess-itis.

I thought his comments re. the portrayal of families in Studio Ghibli films vs. their portrayal in Disney movies was quite interesting:

Miyazaki’s films have their share of untrustworthy families. Chihiro’s parents certainly are not wise. They are shown to be self-centered and greedy at the beginning of the film. Chihiro’s quality as a person and resilience in a crisis are shown to exist in contrast to their failings, but this kind of dysfunction is an exception for Miyazaki. Howl’s Moving Castle would be the other example of a dysfunctional family that comes to mind. In most cases, whether present or not, parents provide a positive influence on their children in Miyazaki films. Films in this genre include: Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, A Whisper of the Heart, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Naussica and Porco Rosso. If you want your kids to grow up respecting your influence in their life and appreciating you as a parent, you might find these films to be better stories to feed them than Disney’s.

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