Speaking only for myself, my issue with mainstream princess movies isn't that they're mainstream, but that they're princess movies.
You may want to check out some Dollar Store etc DVDs- they often have knock-offs of Grimm tales, etc, that are animated by bottom-barrel studios, but they may be friendlier for a youngster than big-budget films. They also will give a different take on the story and provide a different (though unlikely more positive) physical Cinderella or Belle.
Doctors aren't out to kill you or your children. Childbirth isn't inherently safe. Science is actually smarter than your intuition. Lighten up. Use sunscreen.
We avoided princess for as long as possible, but DD has started discovering them a bit. So I don't have too many specific book recs, but...
DD loves to watch the movie version of Once Upon a Mattress. Princess Winifred (ie Fred) is pretty cool. DD is young enough that the adult stuff goes right over her head. And it's WAYYYY more gentle than the Disney princess movies.
We also watched the modern TV version of Cinderella (Rogers and Hammerstein), with Brandy as Cinderella. It was only an okay version of the play, but it was colorful, pretty progressive, and DD still got the girl in a big gown dancing around scene she was hoping for. Plus, it's hard to find a cast that diverse!
We like The Paper Bag Princess, too.
Maybe check out Barefoot Books? They tend to have progressive stuff. Also, if you look on Amazon, I know I have found a whole string of positive princess books there, and then it recommends another, and another... or there are lists people make on there.
"The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert N. Munsch
Usborne "First Picture Fairy Tales"
Schleich Fairy Tale Figures
Cloth Fairy Princess Doll
"Jane and the Dragon" books (VERY pro-girl) and the related DVD
Princess are not quitters (a book)
dd LOVES this magnetic dress up set
My DD has princess dresses, dolls and stuff but we mostly read and tell stories about princesses instead of watch the disney movies. We did see frog princess though and the barbie 12 dancing princesses.
*sigh* i tried. but it was of no use.
so instead of taking it away, i 'allowed' her. i think for her though the princess thing was no so much the story or the prince but it was more about the dresses. i will admit i looove the princesses too. mostly for the same reason - costumes. i found her some international princess story books from amazon and our local bookstore. apart from the books already suggested. AND i was soooo lucky to find dressy stuff for her - all silver and gold thread and sparkley from the thrift store and from local markets, from india, malaysia, iran and russia.
but funnily enough her favourite princess was princess fiona from shrek.
and tinkerbell too. she loves fairies too.
she didnt get into princesses till she was 5. before that she ignored them. and she was out by about 7. even with the movies she saw she didnt really focus on the story line but more on the side characters.
however she was never truly into princess stuff. her stories were more around super princess spidergirl. she never pretended to be a princess who waited for her prince, but a princess who kicked ass and saved people. her gma also made her a super princess spidergirl cape and she loved it.
something that i discovered about life from her princess stage was that - you have to try out something to see if you like it or you dont. she was partially into it and came out unscathed.
I also like the idea of making up your own stories. You can act them out with princess dress up clothes!
We don't allow Disney Princess stuff in our home either (in short, here's why ) but my 5.5 year old DD does love magic, fairy tales and princesses. Here's some of her favorite stuff:
Now I want to read it again!
Liz Lovin' DH DS (12) and forever missing DD (12/02/07)
From the withered tree, a flower blooms~ He's here!!! So crazy in love with my boy!!! 12/14/11
Maid of the North
wife of 8 years to DH , mama to DD (2006) & DS (2011) (Dec. 2012) due Nov. 2013
My advice may not be appropriate for you. That's ok. You are just fine how you are and I am the right kind of me.
she sat spellbound and discovered her love for period pieces at hte same time.
dd1 lovesjane and the dragon.
there are a lot of great princess stories from around the world books made by barefoot books that we get from the library.
You can also get tons of non-Disney coloring and sticker books:
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a good book as well.(Although it is not technically about a princess) I loved it as a child and I will read it to my DD when she is older. There were a few movies made of the book, most notably with Shirley Temple, but there is a remake as well.
Anyway, just wanted to point that out....there are ways to let them enjoy the commercialism and make it a positive thing, IMO.
For older children, there are some good books - too young for a 3 y.o., but they might be good for read alouds in a few years:
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (also a movie)
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (although there is a horse that's killed and his head talks to the girl)
There are some good re-tellings of Tam Lin, a fairy tale where the girl rescues the knight - but unfortunately every single title escapes me right now!!
We don't allow Disney Princess stuff in our home either (in short, here's why )
Not sure if you're a knitter but if you are you can find a nice felted princess hat on ravelry. I put some tulle from the top and my girls love it! It's totally pink and homemade!
mom of three with on the way