Monday, May 27, 2013

A Princess Who Looks Like Me

I went to Disneyland last week with my Aunt Pat and her granddaughter, four-year-old Marlow, who calls me Uncle Peter. Never mind that she is my cousin's daughter. She's like a niece to me, in the fun and playful closeness that we already share.

I was happy to experience the Disney parks through a fresh pair of eyes. We started our day at the newer theme park, Disney's California Adventure. Marlow immediately wanted to go on the bumper cars in A Bug's Land. She loved Heimlich's Chew Chew train in which the overweight caterpillar-shaped vehicle eats his way through giant-sized vegetables, fruits, and desserts (um, does Eric Carle know that Disney basically ripped of his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar?).

I quickly learned that tunnels were not an option. Marlow did not want to go any ride that took passengers into a dark and scary tunnel, including the new Little Mermaid ride. She waited outside with her grandma while I rode Ariel's Undersea Adventure by myself and took pictures (I was surprised not to hear a recorded announcement forbidding flash photography or use of recording devices). When I showed Marlow the photos, she was particularly interested in Ursula, the scary sea witch, and she kept asking me to page back to that picture.

Taking turns watching a four-year-old while she napped turned out to be an advantage. Aunt Pat let me go first in the single riders line of the new Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. It only took me ten minutes versus the 45-minute-wait in the regular line. I loved the new ride, and I knew Aunt Pat would love it too, when she took her turn. Marlow had a long nap, so we also took turns going on Soarin' Over California, the hang glider flight simulator.

Marlow loved the Pixar Play Parade in California Adventure. But the best part of the day was when we went into Disneyland park to watch the Soundsational parade. Marlow was bouncing and dancing to the music playing on the speakers before the first float arrived. At one point, when she saw the princess float coming down the parade route, she dug furiously through the items in her stroller, as if she were looking for a camera. When the float passed by, she waved to Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Belle.

What had Marlow been looking for? And where were Mulan and Pocahontas? Where were the princesses of color? Oh, well. Each year, as the cast of characters continues to grow, I know it's not possible to include every Disney favorite in one parade. We continued enjoying the parade.

Once again, Marlow dug wildly through her stroller after seeing the next float coming down the street. She tossed items over shoulder, unknowingly hitting the people sitting next to us. Finally she found what she was looking for: her tiara from The Princess and the Frog.

Marlow had recognized Princess Tiana on The Princess and the Frog float several yards away, before it reached the spot where we were sitting. She was so excited! She wanted to show Princess Tiana that she had the same crown that she did. They were the same! Luckily, when the float passed by, Princess Tiana took a moment to acknowledge Marlow and wave at her.

Marlow is four. Her adoptive parents are both white. I think she understands at her age, already, the joy of identifying with someone in the media, someone you admire and want to emulate. The little Japanese boy that I used to be/still am silently rejoiced with Marlow. I spent part of my childhood in Japan, enjoying animé in the 1970's, so I don't think it bothered me as much when we returned to the states and I didn't see any television characters who looked like me (Does "Arnold" from Happy Days count?). Still, it felt like retribution when the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon series first started airing.

When The Princess and the Frog first started playing in the theaters, my coworker took her half-Jamaican daughter to see it. Her daughter was about Marlow's age at the time. My coworker told me that her daughter stood up on her seat and announced to the audience, "Look, everyone! There's a Disney princess and she looks like me!"

That made me tear up a bit, as well as smile.

As Marlow grows up, I hope she continues to find positive role models in the media to identify with and look up to. It's her turn.


Chris said...

Of course Arnold counts!

And this was a great story, Pete, very touching and enlightening at the same time.


this is great Peter:)
-Lil Inez

Peter Varvel said...

Thanks, Chris and Lil Inez!