Hoping, no doubt, to generate a little more advance publicity for the upcoming addition to the Disney "Princess" line-up, The Princess and the Frog, Disney has re-released Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams, the 2007 direct-to-DVD disc which featured Sleeping Beauty's Princess Aurora's first new adventure since the 1959 classic, as well as a then-new Aladdin adventure with Jasmine. This new "Special Edition" is exactly the same as the previous release (right down to the expired dates on the back cover art for submitting Disney Movie Rewards points), with all the extras intact. The only difference here is an additional "bonus" disc which features a sneak peek at Disney's latest hand-drawn fairy tale, The Princess and the Frog, as well as two music videos culled from other shorts. Since the main feature disc is exactly the same as the 2007 release, I've included my previous review here, and I'll briefly discuss the bonus disc - because there's not much there to discuss, frankly - in "The Extras" section below.
Having hit marketing paydirt years ago by repackaging several animated Disney heroines together under the joint label Disney Princesses, Disney continues to cater to their heretofore neglected market - young girls - with a series of DVDs promoting this incredibly lucrative line of products. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams shouldn't ever be considered anything other than a "product;" it's designed solely to appeal to a certain demographic, utilizing characters that are proven to move units at the retail stores. And while Disney animation purists will sniff at such crass reproduction - particularly here in Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams, where Princess Aurora from Walt's masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty, is given her first direct-to-DVD sequel - it's important to remember that within all that "art" that old uncle Walt was pouring out, he also basically invented the entire cross-marketing technique that rules animation and feature films today, and which spawns product like Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams.
And just because Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is a "product" and certainly not a work of "art," doesn't mean it's not worthwhile or enjoyable in its own right. Taking the central motif of "following your dreams," Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams features two Disney Princesses - Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and Jasmine from Aladdin - and in two short, 24-minute featurettes, teaches young viewers the power of perseverance. Hard, honest work is emphasized in each story, with suspicion and distrust (particularly in Aurora's story) meted out to anything that smacks of taking the easy way out of your responsibilities.
In the first story, Princess Aurora is left in charge of the castle when her father King Stefan, her fiancÚ Prince Philip, and his father King Hubert, all leave for a two-day conference of kings. Worried that she may find running the kingdom a daunting challenge, fairy Merryweather leaves her wand with Aurora, just in case she needs a little magic. Soon, Aurora finds the demands of running an entire kingdom overwhelming, and despite her own admonishments to herself not to use Merryweather's magic, she does, and finds she can't control the magic unleashed by the contrary, dense wand.
In Jasmine's story, Jasmine rebels against the menial royal duties she's required to execute by her father, the Sultan (such as opening rug shops and hosting camel shows). Asking the Sultan for a meaningful and important job, she's offered the chance to become a teacher - a challenge she finds overwhelming when the children proved to be unruly. A further crisis comes up when her father's beloved horse, Sahara, goes missing (thanks to fig-happy monkey, Apu), and it's up to Jasmine to not only find the horse, but ride him back home (something that has never happened before; Sahara would only allow Jasmine's mother to ride him).
It's hard to knock Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams because it's bright and colorful and over quickly, and the little girls who watch it will no doubt love it. And even though I positively loathe "important" messages attached to children's entertainment (not because of the message itself, but usually because such messages are so artlessly slathered onto the product), I admire what's being said in Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams. This isn't Bratz territory. This is still the old Disney work ethic that Walt helped instilled in so many of us during his incredible career. In Aurora's story, magic (and by implication, just wishing away your life) is definitely something not to be relied on; only hard work and perseverance will let you accomplish your goals. That's a great message for young girls to hear at this stage in their development. Aurora recognizes that her cutting corners (she used magic to help a poor farmer, causing chaos in the castle, including gigantic chickens and green pigs) was a mistake, and she fesses up to her laxity. That's refreshing, to say the least, in these days of "hands-off" responsibilities.
Jasmine's story, while less meaningful and more action-oriented as far as the theme of perseverance goes (it comes in the form of her not giving up the search for Sahara), is valuable in showing Jasmine's determination not to be just a "peacock princes." She doesn't just want to be an attractive ornament used by her father to make people feel good. She wants to be of use to her people - another important message young girls should believe in and practice.
Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams certainly isn't perfect. I found the songs instantly forgettable (although I can guarantee that my five-year-old daughter will have them memorized within the week), and the animation, such as it is, is fairly flat and uninteresting (particularly when you compare the look of Aurora's story with its original, spectacular 70mm inspiration from 1959). But seriously, your young children won't mind the limited animation, and most of Disney's classic animated features and shorts are available on disc, so you can always show the little tykes how Disney used to do it. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams isn't "art," but it's serviceable entertainment for young girls, and you can't beat its messages of hard work, personal responsibility, and worthwhile, meaningful service in aid of others.
As for the "bonus" disc included here, it's been slipped into a cardboard sleeve that now features the newest Disney Princess front and center: Tiana (Mulan and Cinderella flank her). On the back, the same text for the Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams back cover is reprinted here - that should confuse the kids looking for extras on this disc that aren't here - with a small menu listing of what is included here in the upper left-hand corner. First up is the sneak peek of The Princess and the Frog. It runs a paltry 4:41 minutes long, and I have serious doubts as to what possible interest it could be to kids, since it's mostly interview snippets with various Disney animators and directors, discussing the movie - and precious few shots of the actual film. I've included some captures from those few clips. Next up are two music videos. The first is Happiness Was Made to Share, taken from Cinderella II, and the second is Working For a Dream, from Mulan II. All three of these "bonuses" are essentially commercials for these films; their value to the young viewers is negligible, at best (particularly if they already own the films, like the last two).
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.