It should go without saying that I have no real interest in the Disney Princesses. So, to say that Disney’s Frozen is the best princess movie of all probably won’t mean much. But it is the best. The heart of this film is a love story centered around family, and that makes it a unique and compelling story. Frozen depicts life, love, and self better than any other Disney princess movie.
As the father of a little girl I think often about what might influence my daughter. I readily recognize that my wife and I have the most influence on her and that she will interpret the rest of her world through the lenses that we give her. So I don’t get overly concerned about what movies say to her, but I do think about them. I think particularly about what Disney Princess movies tell her. Peggy Orenstein has written a compelling warning against the Disney princess culture (Cinderella Ate My Daughter). She doesn’t like Cinderella. Because, after all, Cinderella “doesn’t really do anything.” She’s not exactly the quality role model a 20th century parent wants for their little girl.
Princess culture has the potential to communicate all sorts of ideas to little girls about what it means to be feminine. Ideas associated with the three P’s of “girlie girl” culture: pink, pampering, and purchasing. What is a princess? She’s a symbol of a girl obsessed with how she looks, and with shopping while she waits for her prince charming. Orenstein is correct when she writes:
In the end, it’s not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They’re just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. (“What’s Wrong with Cinderella”)
I understand her frustration. I want my daughter to feel and embrace her femininity. But I don’t want that femininity to be defined exclusively by princess culture. I am especially disgusted with the princess habit of waiting on prince charming. My daughter doesn’t need prince charming, and she certainly doesn’t need him at age six! I want her to know that her worth, value, and personhood are not dependent on some guy. The Disney Princesses don’t help me confer that message all too well. The air that these girls breath is all girlie girl. This is why Frozen serves as an icy blast of fresh air.
Frozen is a story about two princesses, sisters. Elsa and Anna were best friends as little children, until Elsa’s magical powers get out of control and she accidentally harms her sister. In response her parents hide Elsa away, away from the kingdom, the staff, and away from her little sister. Anna, not knowing why she and Elsa can’t play together anymore, feels alone and abandoned. As each wrestles with issues of identity and love the story unfolds. In the end it is the love between the two sisters that becomes the focal point. The romantic love interests play a role, but they are largely contrasted with the true love story – the love the two sisters have for each other. Nick Olson has reviewed the film over at Christianity Today, clarifying the film’s depiction of true love:
In Frozen, true love is a sacrificial act performed by one sister for another, restoring a friendship that had fallen apart because of tragic circumstances. (“Frozen“)
Viewers are set up to believe the true love is going to be of the romantic sort. Two men enter into the main frame of the story line leading us to believe that either one of them is going to be the harbinger of salvation. But, in a great twist, the act of true love comes from the sisters themselves. Anna ends up freeing herself, the whole kingdom, and her insecure older sibling with an act of sacrificial love. It’s a powerful message in tone and presentation.
In Frozen true love is about familial love. The love interests, first Hans and then Kristoff, are pushed to the background. The “love-at-first-sight” scenes depicted between Hans and Anna reveal the young girls naiveté, and set the stage for a dramatic, if predictable, twist. Even the budding relationship between Kristoff and Anna never really gets off the ground. Their relationship is slow-moving and takes a back seat at the end of the story to Anna and Elsa’s rekindled love. The love story of Frozen is one I definitely want my daughter to get and embrace.
The story is helpful too in its depiction of Anna as a hero. She’s brave, fearless, and adventurous. She recognizes her need for Kristoff’s help, but she’s not dependent on him for everything. She’s not a demure, helpless, damsel in distress. Much like Brave‘s heroine, she is capable and competent. Her life is not wrapped up in the absolute need for a man. That’s a message I want my daughter to get too. Her life does not revolve around prince charming. The princesses of Frozen are not defined by their marital status, their dependency, nor even by the traditional boundaries of “princess.” Life and identity can be formatted apart from the need to get married. There’s no glass slipper in this story, no prince charming to save the day, no royal wedding to wrap the narrative neatly together. These are a different set of princesses.
These are all the sorts of things that Frozen offered me an opportunity to talk about with my little girl. On the drive home from the movie theater we talked about the importance of family. We discussed how she didn’t need a boyfriend. We talked about love and relationships. At age six she is already learning about these things – Disney isn’t doing me any favors in some ways. But Frozen gave me a unique occasion to speak against the grain. I don’t have a favorite Disney Princess, but if I did I suppose it would be Anna. She’s just the kind of girl I want my daughter pretending to be at this age. She’ll at least give us some good things to talk about while I play tea party with my own princess.