I’ve written in this space before about the befuddling controversy over the Disney princesses. A popular argument holds that the princesses are a negative influence on little girls, fostering unrealistic ideas about love and glorifying a stunning lack of ambition.
While I find that theory mostly hogwash, I am nonetheless thrilled with the newest offering from the folks at Disney: the movie “Frozen.”
Now out on DVD, “Frozen” has garnered critical acclaim, tremendous box office success (to the tune of nearly $1 billion) and two Academy Award wins. While everyone raved about the movie, I was skeptical — I didn’t think it could possibly be that good. But after finally taking my kids to see it, all of us were completely wowed.
Loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Snow Queen,” the movie combines an engaging story, positive messages and an insanely catchy soundtrack.
Offering a potent blend of drama, comedy and surprises, it’s the story of two young royal sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa is cursed with the ability to freeze things with a wave of her hand, but her power — over which she has little control — is kept secret. To keep everyone safe, the sisters are separated for several years.
Their parents, the king and queen, die tragically in a shipwreck. (It is a Disney movie, after all.) When Elsa comes of age, a huge coronation party is planned. Elsa is nervous she might accidentally expose her secret, while Anna is overjoyed at the idea of meeting new people.
Predictably, the party ends when Elsa panics and accidentally turns everything to ice and snow. She runs away and builds an ice castle alone in the wilderness where she believes she can’t hurt anyone. Anna follows to beg her to return home, finding adventure and hilarious sidekicks — like a lovable snowman who longs to experience summer — along the way.
“Frozen” is a landmark departure from traditional Disney storylines that feature a girl-meets-boy, boy-rescues-girl, girl-becomes-princess arc. This time, the two main characters are born princesses and one becomes queen.
(Spoiler alert: plot details ahead.) The younger sister falls in love with a prince and becomes engaged to him within hours of their first meeting. In a surprising turn — one that caused a collective audible gasp in the theater — he turns out to be a bad guy, a revelation that deftly pokes fun at nearly every other Disney princess story.
The movie has been praised for its feminist slant — the strong theme of girl power runs throughout. Elsa doesn’t need a man to rescue her and does not find “happily ever after,” even at the end of the movie.
Anna is deserted and left to die by the prince she loves, but (after surviving) later finds love with the good guy, who actually asks her permission before kissing her. Romance is more of a subplot than a main idea, because the story’s focus is on the relationship between the sisters — not either girl’s relationship with a man — and each one’s journey to self-acceptance.
But the best part of the story is near the end. An act of true love is the only way to free the kingdom from the great freeze; sounds like a classic Disney set up, doesn’t it? A handsome prince can come swooping in with a kiss and carry the damsel in distress off into the snowless sunset. But the brilliant twist of “Frozen” is that the act of true love is found in the form of sisterhood.
Anna selflessly attempts to save Elsa from certain death, setting off a great thaw and allowing Elsa to overcome her fear of herself, the key to gaining control over her powers.
As a mom of three sisters, that scene brought tears to my eyes. Daily, I get to observe the unique and special bond between sisters (and the irritation they cause each other, of course) — it is truly a love like no other.
I’m so glad Disney changed things up by offering a totally different take on the theme of love, as well as a great example to young sisters everywhere about the importance of sibling love.
The movie ends on a happy note, but not a happily ever after one. We’re not entirely sure what the future holds for Elsa or Anna, but it’s still a satisfying ending of a fabulous, entertaining movie — one that can serve as a refreshingly great example to girls and sisters everywhere.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.