The always-creative Virginia Postrel discusses the continuing fascination with princesses in an American culture where the real item has been defunct for a few centuries. With five sons, I haven't come up on this issue much, other than to hear mothers express concern about the values taught when one allows a daughter to go in this playtime direction. And all those who disdain popular culture are honor-bound to dislike Disney Princesses, just as they do Wal-Mart and McDonalds.
Don't take that as a Disney endorsement however, has I find them a bit tiring myself. They're all Spunky Gals, trading on the one cultural universal for American women. Even as far back as Snow White, which seems a bit, er, traditionally feminine stereotypical to modern eyes, the Disney version is quite an elevation in status for SW over the earlier versions. In those, she appears at the dwarves' home and becomes rather a servant. In Disney, she becomes more The Mother, clearly in charge of these knuckleheads and setting a disorderly household to rights.
They're all likeable certainly - and why not, as they are carefully designed to hit buttons both ancient and modern in our psyches. And they are Spunky Gals, after all, which I suppose is a good thing. Postrel concludes with the adaptability of the princess role - a base of specialness, independence, and aspiration which can be decorated with whatever local ornaments mothers and daughters can negotiate.