After a long line of problematic princess fairy tales, Disney’s Frozen offers a refreshing alternative
In the past Disney’s princess fairy tales were magical dreamlands for our young imaginations to lose themselves in. Enchanting castles with lofty turrets, beautiful princesses in dazzling ballgowns, handsome princes on gallant steeds and happily-ever-afters shaped our wildest dreams.
Yet these tales frequently offered up a narrative that was damaging to our young impressionable minds. Stories consistently told of weak damsels in distress being saved by strong manly princes, and young girls desperately in love and willing to change beyond recognition for the man of their dreams (who made comparatively little compromise). Most importantly, the stories consistently told of romantic love and of a kind barely resembling reality.
To realise the damaging effects of these plots takes less imagination than conjuring them up. Little girls should not be raised to think that their ultimate wish is to look beautiful and win over a man be it at the cost of who they are and those they love, as The Little Mermaid’s (1989) Ariel does. Nor should they be raised to think they are inadequate or helpless and in need of a man to survive as Princess Aurora, of Sleeping Beauty (1959), and almost every Disney Princess does.
Similarly, little boys should not grow up learning that beauty is the prime quality to seek in a partner as Prince Charming (who, apparently, has no name other than this mark of ultimate male desirability) does on seeing Cinderella, nor that women are weak and needy of them. Yet this has frequently been the narrative relayed by the big budget feature films that have been produced and marketed for children by Disney since its first and perhaps most problematic production, Snow White (1937).
That these cartoons have traditionally focused on romantic love itself is no less troubling. Love is a beautiful and important experience children must be raised to understand. It is also complex and diverse; it is not limited only to romance. In fact, romantic love is perhaps the last kind that the young are in need of exposure to. Familial love, the love of friendship, affection for one’s fellow human being, love for animals, love for the earth, there are countless forms of love that children are far more deserving and in need of learning before introduction to the realm – no less beautiful – of romance. For some reason this fact has eluded Hollywood for much of my lifetime at least.
However, it seems we are finally witnessing a change.
Frozen, the tale of two princess sisters, one with the difficult skill of freezing all she touches, is a visually stunning masterpiece with music to match. Indeed it is likely Disney’s most impressive animated production to date, accompanied with musical scores to rival much that precedes it (watch this sequence of Elsa’s song “Let it Go” by the talented Idina Menzel if you don’t believe me). But what was most remarkable of this production was its tale of love; not romantic, nor dependent on a strong male hero, but that between the two sisters, Elsa and Anna.
Elsa, born with the ability to freeze, is portrayed as a loving and affectionate older sister, mature and responsible, one who deeply cares for Anna and is keen to protect her even at the cost of herself. Anna, is a sprightly younger sibling, idolising of her older sister and desperate to be near her. As younger siblings often are, she is also a little innocent and impulsive, a streak Elsa seeks to guide in order to protect Anna. Meanwhile, Elsa is no less dependent on Anna, whose pure heart and complete loving devotion and faith in her sister crucially guides the troubled older sibling towards reconciliation with her trials and who she is.
The film begins on the sisters’ deep bond and develops, exploring how that bond is tested. Romantic male love interests feature often, but pale before the central love of sisterhood. This love is a bond which stands the trials of pain, loss, betrayal, rejection and estrangement. It is a love that weathers the coldest of storms. It is also a love which produces one of Disney’s most adorable sidekicks yet; Olaf, the perennially positive little snowman who loves warm hugs. And it is a love that culminates in an inspirational resolution and makes one feel that we finally have a Disney film we would wish for our children to watch and learn from.
Frozen joins a refreshing turn in animated feature films which increasingly delve into the realms of the loves less heard. From the bond between mother and daughter in Brave (2012) to the importantly meaningful romance in Up (2009), finally we have films that not only entertain, but also inspire.
Breathtaking animation, masterful music and, most importantly, a heart-warming and inspirational plot of true love; Disney’s Frozen is a must see for all the family.
Image from: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Frozen/Gallery
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