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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Mostly) Love Frozen

If you have a young daughter, one thing has been inescapable over the past few years – Frozen. As a dad of a girl, evangelised by Cinderella Ate My Daughter, I had zero interest in showing it to my kid. So far, the Disney Princess bug had failed to latch on and she was happy with the likes of Studio Ghibli, Wizard of Oz, and Star Wars.

All I knew was this. It was a watered down version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen. Anna or Elsa (I had no idea who was who) were Disney Princesses in all but name. Their inane smiles greeting me in every clothes shop, adorning a sea of pink and pastel clothing. It didn’t stop there. Tableware, magazines, party accessories, etc. all featured the pair. And every little girl around us – including her not yet 3-year-old peers – appeared to have seen it.

I began reading of Frozen themed birthday parties. Where the competition for Elsa performers (I was learning who was who) was fierce. Where birthday girls (and/or mothers) insisted only they could be Elsa.

Other liked-minded parents of girls warned me off. “Don’t show them Frozen! They cannot unsee it!” The song ‘Let it Go’ seemed to be a key offender. My daughter’s best friends had to varying degrees become Elsa obsessed, belting out the song – twirling around with their arms theatrically outstretched – regularly. I often heard a familiar argument between girls developing in playgrounds and playgroups – “You can be Anna, I’m Elsa”. “NO, YOU BE ANNA, I’M ELSA!!”

But I eventually bowed to the inventible. I had to show Frozen to my daughter. While we had seen a few Disney Princess movies, these were not as big a part of the collective girl-hood consciousness as Frozen had clearly become. My daughter could not remain that culturally unaware. All her immediate peers had seen it. But I was really worried about what it might lead to. Was this the Disney Princess gateway drug I had feared?

So last year, we borrowed the DVD from one of her Frozen fan friends (who apparently threw a big tantrum when she spotted it was missing – for one day!). And we watched it.

A funny thing happened. I kinda liked it.

**Some spoilers ahead**

It didn’t start off great. Firstly, for a film that seemingly became synonymous with a form of feminism and/or female empowerment, beginning it with a bunch of men lugging ice blocks seemed odd. When we did meet the sisters, Anna was… well, really annoying. A squeaky voiced little girl, who sings the immensely irritating ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”. Ugh.

But things began to get interesting. Elsa had powers. Magic powers. Superpowers. They were begining to get out of control. And her parents were worried, wanting to hide her away. This is a plot line straight from the pages of the X-Men.

As she grows older, her magical/mutant powers remain contained, but she must withdraw from the world and her sister. Eventually she is ‘outed’ with disastrous results, and she flees.

Alone, Elsa is free to explore her powers and who she is. Much like Christopher Reeve’s Superman, she creates her own icy Fortress of Solitude. Only this is a musical, and so begins ‘Let it Go’. And it was terrific.

As a point in the story (finally being able to revel in who she really is), a spectacular scene (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a musical number with superpowers), and a show stopping song (most surprising), ‘Let it Go’ worked brilliantly. No wonder all these 3-year-olds had decided THIS was the moment – and the character – to latch on to.

More surprising things happened: The story was keen to subvert ‘Princess’ stereotypes. The lead princess actually becomes a queen (and therefore a leader); The handsome prince turned out to be a dick; The men do not save the day; And the quest for a ‘true love kiss’ to remove the curse, came not from an arbitrary romantic interest, but the love of a family member.

In the months since first viewing, my daughter has continued to reference Frozen. I don’t know how much is the film, or the chance to finally engage with this content with her friends. But it had clearly made an impression on her.

Eventually, I asked her THE question: “Who do prefer, Anna or Elsa?” Her answer surprised me. “Olaf”. Turns out, this is the character she has connected to most – her reasoning is that he loves summer, just like she does. He (voiced by Josh Gad) is genuinely funny, and has the second best song (“In Summer”). Olaf merchandise – from toys to t-shirts – have been acquired ever since.

So, Frozen was – overall – ok.

Not entirely. Some other issues remain. However these are nothing to do with the film directly – but the merchandise.

The Frozen sisters had come to dominate girlhood. In every store that sells good aimed at girls, they are there. And the artwork used of Anna & Elsa is generally insipid and passive. The dynamism of Elsa’s awakening is rarely portrayed. The colours are always pastel, and frequently pink – a colour hardly seen in the film. My daughter’s beloved Olaf remained firmly planted in the ‘boys’ aisle.

And the ubiquitous ‘Elsa dress’. I don’t think there is a sadder indictment of the way the film has bee sold to little girls, that Elsa’s plea for self discovery and individuality in “Let it go” has resulted in armies of similarly clad girls, all in the same crappy dress (they’ve replaced the striking elegance of Elsa’s movie dress with an aquamarine polyester frilly horror), all wanting parties with an Elsa performer. To reference Life of Brian, it’s as if they are saying in unison “We are all individuals”.

So while I (largely) applaud the movie itself (another achievement for Disney under Chief Creative Officer John Lassetter), my issues with merchandising remain. Still, my daughter has managed to show off her Olaf fandom well.

girl wearing Olaf t-shirt Olaf jammies Olaf crocs
This was her attire during a recent series of long haul flights to New Zealand and back – Olaf t-shirt, Olaf pyjama trousers, and Olaf Crocs.

Is Frozen feminist? I don’t know. I’ve read articles proclaiming it is feminist, post-feminist, anti-feminist, or an example of false feminism.

To me, at least it’s trying to subvert some of the worst aspects of Princess Culture. It’s not been the gateway princess-drug I feared, and I have no issue with my daughter adding it to her collection of favourite movies.

9 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Mostly) Love Frozen”

  1. There are certainly worse kid’s movies. I’ve probable seen Frozen 500 times now. My daughter likes it because Elsa has superpowers. She still runs around pretending to freeze stuff. I didn’t like that the parents try and stifle something that makes her individual and different

  2. Feminist mom of two girls here… I also read Cinderella Ate My Daughter (and Redefining Girly – – highly recommended). I feared princess culture, and try to make sure what my girls are exposed to are balanced.

    But I totally loved Frozen. It has flaws for sure (I kind of hate Elsa’s overly sexy strut which seems to try to prove how free she is), and the merchandising is pretty awful, but overall I really did love it. I think it helped that I first saw it about a month before my second daughter was born, so I was a hormonal mess (It’s about love between sisters! How could I not get weepy?), but I think it did such a great job of turning the typical princess story on it’s head. The true hero of the film was Anna. She was quirky and funny and brave. And though she was essentially locked away in fear by crazy misguided parents, Elsa was eventually able to be herself and… well, happy ending!

    1. Yup, though I only love ‘bits’ of it, and for me it’s not one I’m keen to rewatch much. I get the Anna love, but Elsa was the most interesting character to me.

  3. I’d like to point out that it’s not just daughters who want to watch the movie. My daughter (now 7) loved the movie and Elsa and still likes things from the movie, but has started to grow out of it a bit (mostly from peer pressure). However, my 3 year old son absolutely loves the movie and his favorite character is Elsa. I do also lament the clothing choices, but from the opposite side – it’s hard to find an Elsa shirt that’s not cut skinny and with little puffy sleeves for my son. He asked for Elsa underwear the other day – not going to find that for boys anywhere. I’m not as anti-pink as you are – I prefer my daughter to be well-rounded, liking both princesses and ball gowns as well as robots and trains and light sabers and I’d actually like the same for my son, so he can play with dolls and Elsa and also like trucks and spaceships.

    1. I reject the idea that I DON’T want my daughter to be well-rounded. Princesses are much like Cola or McDonalds – I see no value in them, I have no interest in my daughter engaging with them, but they’re not banned if she wants them.

  4. This very much mirrors my own experience, except in our case it does appear to have been a gateway to other Disney Princesses, which is what I feared. The reduction of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty et al to passive objects in the Disney Princess comic is horrifying!

    1. Yikes. Stay strong brother. My Little Pony has become a pretty effective alternative here. I quite like it too 🙂

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