The new film Frozen, opening today, adds two new members to Disney's expansive collection of animated princesses. And that's not entirely bad thing.
Among certain circles these days, princesses aren't very popular. Take for instance the suddenly infamous ad for the building toys GoldieBlox, which has generated some controversy for appropriating a Beastie Boys song, but also pointedly comments on the concept of gendered toys. The ad, featuring girls building a Rube Goldberg machine, attacks the princess culture that crowds the girl toy market. (Though the rewritten version of the Beastie Boys' "Girls" has been replaced in a new version of the ad, you can see the original here.) And GoldieBlox, a company markets building toys primarily to young girls, has a very legitimate point. The girlie toy market is expansive and often oppressive.
But as a former princess-lover, something about the ad frustrated me. I may not have ended up an engineer, but I turned out no worse—I'd like to think—for loving my dolls and princesses. And while I heartily acknowledge that the classic Disney princess stories didn't have many feminist messages, I'd argue that my affection for them and other supposedly girlie things didn't stifle my creativity, but instead propelled me to want to be a storyteller. Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican felt the same way about the GoldieBlox spot, tweeting: "Girls should def play w robots, superheroes, construction equipment - but I cringed at how that ad dissed pink-loving princess types." So did I.
Of course, the Disney Princess market is going very strong—in 2012 sales of Disney Princess merchandise amounted to $1.52 billion in the U.S. and Canada—and doesn't need any defense. In the greater scheme of things, GoldieBlox's viewpoint is in the minority and should be championed as much as possible. And with the GoldieBlox debate (yes, the GoldieBlox Debate) ongoing, Frozen enters a strange climate. Should princesses like Elsa and Anna matter any more? I want to say: yes.
There are certainly things you can begrudge Frozen for: it's a very homogeneous world; Anna and Elsa are typically gorgeous, and have tiny, unrealistic waists; the head of animation for the film made some dumb comments about how hard it is to animate women because of their emotions. But when you actually see the movie, there's even more to applaud. The film delightfully subverts the classic Disney love-at-first sight trope. The men in the story really are the sidekicks. It's a story above-all about female power and the friendship and love between two women, topics that are unfortunately rare in mainstream movies these days. Frozen also happens to be co-directed and written by a woman, Jennifer Lee. "It was very very important to us—as a woman, and Jennifer Lee felt this very much too—that we write something that our daughters could be proud of, that our daughters could take into adulthood and learn from," co-songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez told The Wire in an interview this week.
So is it bad for a little girl to put on a dress to resemble Elsa and sing "Let It Go," the centerpiece song from the movie? No. As Sasha Stone wrote in a piece praising the movie at Awards Daily, the song is "such an anomaly in the world of animation where usually women sing songs about love or the men they can’t have. But here, she’s singing about unleashing her own magical power of freezing things." I'd add that it's also about a woman finding herself and embracing a positive power for which she has been demonized. It's the animated version of a woman standing up for herself after being called a bitch.
There's a space where the world of princesses and the world of GoldieBlox can coexist without one diminishing the other. Frozen helps point us toward it.