Princess cliche needs to change, says Bell

Actress Kristen Bell, who lets her young daughter ride a motorbike, believes in teaching kids that it is okay to live outside the box

Kristen Bell, who has two daughters with actor husband Dax Shepard, has no problem giving them buzz cuts or letting him teach them how to ride motorbikes.
Kristen Bell, who has two daughters with actor husband Dax Shepard, has no problem giving them buzz cuts or letting him teach them how to ride motorbikes.PHOTO: REUTERS

Kristen Bell knows plenty about fairy-tale princesses - she voiced the main one in Frozen, the highestgrossing animated movie of all time, and has a daughter who likes to dress up as a princess for Halloween.

When you meet her, it is not hard to see why she was cast as Anna in the 2013 hit - in person, she kind of looks like a Disney princess, with porcelain-doll features and a dulcet voice to match.

But the 37-year-old believes the princess myth imparted to children through books and films needs to change, she tells The Straits Times.

This is why she reads non-gender-stereotypical princess tales to Lincoln, four, and Delta, two - her daughters with actor husband Dax Shepard, 42.

And she has no problem giving the girls boyish buzz cuts or letting her husband teach them how to ride motorbikes either.

At a recent Los Angeles press day for the new film A Bad Moms Christmas - which is in cinemas now and sees her play a stressed-out mother - the actress displays a sense of humour about her skills as a mum.

Asked what she is like as a parent, she quips: "Excellent. Perfect!"

But she pauses thoughtfully when asked if the princess cliche in children's stories is evolving.

"It is broadening - and it's about time.

"I think lines are being blurred in a great way. Nobody should have to fit into one box - that's the problem with Earth for the last hundred years - everybody is supposed to be in some box and then people don't want to be and we all start fighting."

At story time, she reads her girls books such as A Gold Star For Zog (2012) by Julia Donaldson.

"It's about this dragon that's in dragon school and has to kidnap a princess, but she keeps healing all his wounds from dragon school and it turns out she wants to be a doctor and he becomes her ambulance.

"She says, 'I don't want to be a princess - the world is full of cuts and bruises and bumps, let's go be doctors.'

"So people are teaching kids it's okay to live outside their box, which is a theory of parenting I really believe in," says Bell, who also stars in acclaimed comedy series The Good Place on Netflix (new Season 2 episodes available on Fridays).

Anna, her character in Frozen, was not a stereotypical princess either. In the movie, which won Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, it is Anna who saves the day after her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) unleashes a perpetual winter on their kingdom.

But Bell laughingly admits that her daughter Lincoln "wouldn't be caught dead in an Anna costume".

For Halloween earlier this week, the girl insisted on dressing up as Elsa for the second year in a row.

"I said to her, 'You're young, you're supposed to have your finger on the pulse, we're two years late with Frozen.' She's like, 'I don't care. Not only am I going to be Elsa - you're going to be Elsa (for Halloween).'"

And the girl continues to surprise her.

Bell's husband went on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show recently and showed a video of Lincoln on a dirt track riding a mini motorcycle, which he had secretly bought while Bell was away in Florida shooting a film.

The actress feigns horror.

"Can you believe that? (The bike is for ages) 13 and over - that's what the tag says."

But while she may have initially been worried about this, she and Shepard have the same "weird, quirky and open" approach to parenting as they do their marriage.

"He is her father, I cannot change that. He has the right to expose her to things I may not agree with. What I have to do is try not to micromanage it and say to myself, 'What do I know? I know he doesn't want to kill my kids.' She's wearing a full-face helmet, so I'm not going to wind myself up.

"I trust him," she adds. "He has a different point of view about the risk factors. I'm sure there's a ton of stuff I do that he would feel the same way about. He can be like, 'They don't eat broccoli every day? Calm down, they're fine.'

"But we share these children, so I don't think it's okay in a marriage for either one to say, 'I'm not going to let you do that.' It's got to be a compromise and discussion.

"And," she adds grudgingly, "sad but true, she's really good on that bike."

Bell also offers a few details about the long-awaited Frozen sequel, which is due in 2019.

She cannot divulge specifics "without getting in trouble", but says: "I expected it to be good, but it's better than I thought. It resonates. It comes correct, this movie.

"It will be evidence of why we didn't make a second one immediately. This will be the result of our creative team sitting in a room for months and months, saying, 'Is there another story that needs to be told about these characters? Is there something that needs to be said that is helpful and relatable and resonant?' And there is."

• A Bad Moms Christmas is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2017, with the headline 'Princess cliche needs to change, says Bell'. Subscribe