Disney’s newest acquisition, Hulu, is at work on a documentary about legendary teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Greta toured the western world over the past year, making stops in the United States and Canada before heading back to Europe on a catamaran with Australian YouTubers.
She led a protest against world leaders and their climate talks in Madrid. She was Time Magazine’s person of the year. And now she ought to be the next Disney princess. Thunberg is the ideal role model for modern girls: she’s a heroine whose virtue is anger.
Anger is what drives contemporary heroines. It is the key emotion. We know this because it’s what women keep telling us. Books like “Good and Mad” by Rebecca Traister and “Fed Up” by Gemma Hartley make it clear that, more essential than any other feeling, is the pervasive anger of women against the whole world.
Men are not even worth mentioning; they are just the worst. They rape, they privilege, they are bro-y, cis, and straight. Male leaders are miserable greedy excuses for human beings, love is a farce, and motherhood is way too extra in an age when human extinction is a climate prediction. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. With anger as motivation, women can save the world.
Long Braids and a Boat
The logline for the documentary is: “In August 2018, Thunberg, a 15-year-old student in Sweden, starts a school strike for the climate. Her question for adults: if you don’t care about my future on earth, why should I care about my future in school? Within months, her strike evolves into a global movement. The quiet teenage girl on the autism spectrum becomes a world-famous activist.”
But Disney and Hulu should go beyond a mere documentary, and launch Greta as a full-blown princess, in keeping with the 21st-century princess story revamp. It’s the perfect role for her, and she is the model of the kind of heroine corporate pushes these days. She is driven by anger, her greatest love is for the cause, there are no men to steer her off course, she depends on the kindness of strangers, and she’s got long braids and a boat.
The musical numbers practically write themselves. There could be Climate March ballet with a woke teen choir carrying banners and singing about how having children is irresponsible, a duet between Greta and a giant, ugly Trump puppet who spews gas, and a lovely little number where she communes with sea creatures while en route across the Atlantic who thank her for saving the world from corporate polluters.
Hers is the ultimate quest. Greta started local, in her hometown. Maybe she was even ostracized by other kids for believing so fully in her cause. Her parents encouraged her, let her skip school, believed in the world-saving power of her mission, vision, and drive.
Greta makes the sacrifice, abandoning her future and her education to save the actual world, to tell everyone that if only they behaved as though their collective house were on fire, they could save the world, too. Princess Greta’s anger will liberate us.
Youth activism is what being a 21st-century Disney princess is all about. Disney’s Marvel has already turned 12-year-old transgender New Jersian Rebekah Bruesehoff into a comic book hero as part of Marvel’s Hero Project.
Malala Yousafzai could have been a Disney princess, but Greta has the bonus of already being northern European. Plus, despite being attacked by the Taliban, Malala is not as angry as Greta. Neither is Bruesehoff, and that positive message of considered collaboration isn’t as much of a driver for change.
An Angry Girl on an Expedition to Save the World
There is a desirability and power to women’s anger. Brittany Cooper tells us that “anger is the emotion that keeps us honest,” that women shouldn’t quell our anger but harness it as a superpower. Greta excels at this. With fierce expression and tightly plaited braids, sad smile and earnest lonerism, Greta is an angry girl on an expedition to save humanity from its worst impulses.
She says that all political movements have failed, the media has failed, and “now is not the time for speaking politely.” Greta travels the globe—well, the western hemisphere, not the whole thing, because that would mean trying to get the worst greenhouse gas actors in China and India to diminish their emissions and they won’t—to get us to prioritize greenhouse gas emissions over everything else. This is a princess story, after all, and princesses can’t stray too far from their own kingdoms.
Greta’s perspective is easy to understand, because it is simple. There is only one right (stop emissions) and one wrong (don’t). There is no middle ground, no alt take, and for sure, contemporary princess stories have no nuance.
Princess Greta mirrors the classic Disney tales: true love is good, the wicked queen is bad. True love is good, step sisters are bad. Only this time, it’s true love of the planet that’s good, and the wicked politicians and ignorant media that are bad.
The Inverted Joan of Arc
In becoming our new heroine, Greta makes of herself the ultimate sacrifice. It’s her future that will suffer if we don’t fix the world. She won’t fall in love, she won’t be a mother, she won’t graduate from school, or embark upon a career other than her current one with a megaphone– and it will be all our fault. If we can’t make the world right, she won’t have those things, she will deny herself because we have refused her call to anger. Princess Greta is the ultimate climate martyr.
Disney’s merchandising scheme for this princess figure is obvious. Sustainably sourced dolls, perhaps of the corn husk variety (unless that’s culturally appropriative), or made out of recycled plastic bottles, or donated discarded T-shirts, could be sold in support of Extinction Rebellion.
The newest ride at Disney Land could be based on the boats Greta sailed in across the Atlantic—first the zero emissions sailboat, then the catamaran, and finally the first-class train ride through Europe. Maybe first class doesn’t seem to fit her image, but a princess always rides first class at the end of the journey. It’s a symbol of her success.
Princess Greta—driven by anger, pursued by her mission to stop climate change, to reverse course on greed and emissions—is the princess little girls need right now. She’s the princess Disney owes us.
They’ve given us Anna and Elsa, they’ve revamped “Beauty and the Beast,” but the princess who is devoid of love and close relationships, whose only care is the cause, is the one little girls should aspire to. Unless maybe our princess stories and legends aren’t supposed to be about angry little girls who sacrifice their futures and rely on no one. Who can say?