Earlier this week I saw the newest Disney princess movie, Frozen. Now, like any human being who grew up in the Western world (or at this point planet Earth), my childhood was shaped by Disney. Especially since I grew up during Disney’s renaissance in the 90s. And while my world-views have changed since I was a 5-year-old naming pet fish after Disney princesses and princes, I still carry my appreciation for the cartoon classics.
Nevertheless, Frozen had me laughing out loud in the theater for its blatant judgement of Disney tropes.
This latest princess film is loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, taking place in a land that looks a lot like Northern Europe and containing a princess with magical ice powers and her feisty little sister. There’s a pet with attitude and a talking snowman, just as you’d expect, and a charming and handsome prince. But the usual Disney storyline differs EXTREMELY in this movie.
*Warning for spoilers!*
Early in the movie there is an entire song devoted to a couple, the main princess Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell. She’s the younger princess) and a prince she’s just met, Hans (Santino Fontana, currently the prince in Cinderella on Broadway). The song is about how they’re just met and have fallen in true love and at the end they become engaged. Classic Disney. Except that from that point on, every other character points out how insane it is to marry someone you’ve just met. Despite the fact that every princess (except for Belle) has done so. In fact, it turns out that Hans was not such a charming guy, and that he was playing Anna in order to steal her sister’s throne. Whoops. Turns out it IS a bad idea to trust the man you’ve literally just met.
This film is consistently modern and has some amazing messages, all twists on the perceived Disney traditions. Anna does have a love interest, ice-seller Kristoff (Broadway vet Jonathan Groff). But the two only dance around each other in the movie. Kristoff’s friends, a group of love-expert trolls, sing to the pair that though they’re both “fixer-uppers,” they can be “fixed” by being in love. But instead of leaving it there, the song makes it clear that love is not some kind of magical catch-all:
“We’re not saying you can change him, ’cause people don’t really change./
We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange./
People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed./
But send a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.
Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper, that’s what it’s all about/
Father! Mother! Sister! Brother! We need each other to raise us up and round us out.”
From the studio that brought you, “true love makes a beast into a non-abusive boyfriend,” we have “love doesn’t change a person, but supporting them when they’re going through tough times helps them!”
But the most important way that this movie is different from it’s predecessors is that it is a princess movie that isn’t about finding some prince. It’s about two sisters, Anna and her elder sister Elsa (the amazing Idina Menzel in a very Wicked-esque role). Elsa has ice powers and has been hiding them for years, terrified that she’ll hurt her beloved little sister. She runs when the kingdom finds out, afraid of losing control and accidentally setting off an endless winter, then again accidentally dooming her sister. But Anna’s love for Elsa, and Elsa’s love in return, saves both of them and the kingdom. When Anna needs an act of true love to save her from her sister’s powers, she assumes it means kissing Hans or Kristoff. Nope. It means sacrificing herself to save Elsa’s life. Because loving some Prince is not the be-all and end-all of her life. But having a good relationship with her sister, her only family, is. Disney has had movies about siblings before. Lilo and Stitch is a beautiful example. And Pixar’s Brave. But Anna is the first princess who’s lesson is not “find a husband,” but, “be a good sister.”
As a younger sister, I related. As a person who grew up with Disney, I loved this shift. Sure, I want Anna and Kristoff to get married and live happily ever after. But more importantly, I know that Anna and Elsa will live happily ever after as loving sisters who build snowmen together and rule their kingdom with love. Nothing is more important than family, whether by blood or by choice, and it’s refreshing to see Disney make that so explicit.
Plus, with 4 of the 5 leads being Broadway vets and an amazing batch or original songs, I’ve had this soundtrack playing on loop for days.