My daughter discovered Disney princesses around age 3.
I had known to expect this. I read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter a year in advance. My daughter eased us into princesses: she went through an intense Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phase 6 months earlier. (I told her recently how an insect or crab is built, using the term “exoskeleton,” and she responded, “Just like in Mikey’s Monster!”) She has plenty of favorite books unrelated to branding and of impeccable quality: we’ve read Phantom Tollbooth with her twice already. And though she does think of princesses in terms of branding very very often (Band-aids = toddler bling, and Princess Band-aids = a tantrum waiting to happen) she also tells stories about them, like when Rapunzel and Belle go visit a party Ariel’s hosting under the sea. (I think she borrowed from the plot of Anansi’s Party Time for that story, too!)
I have no standing to complain. I remember the first time I heard “Part of Your World”: my younger cousin sang it to me; I was eight or nine. During undergrad I was once in a mixed group of 8-10 people walking past Widener after dark when the song was casually mentioned, then immediately sung through with true passion and without a moment’s hesitation over a single word by every female present. (Admittedly, this was a group of Noteables). In the early-mid-nineties I believed as firmly as anyone that seeing the next big Disney animated flick was not optional but required. (I did have at least the good sense to be thoroughly and permanently disabused of that opinion by Pocahontas.)
The focus of my daughter’s obsession is indeed Ariel; said obsession has only been fed by receiving Little Mermaid birthday gifts from two great-aunts and one grandmother (DVD, novelization, swimsuit). As I already admitted, I have no standing to complain.
And yet … my acquaintance with Frozen is so far limited to a novelization and several dozen repetitions of certain Youtube videos. I live in fear of the day I’ll have to see it with my daughter. My husband says it seems like a fairly good story. That’s the problem.
“Let It Go” was first described to me as, “Because ‘Defying Gravity‘ would be too awesome for a Disney princess movie.” The first time I heard it I agreed – which is funny, because it’s the same singer-actress. I respect the performance (sung and drawn) more now, but I feel terrible thinking about it: this character is going insane. She’s expecting and intending never to see another human being again. She’s not losing her humanity: she’s deliberately renouncing it. The visuals are pretty, but a lyric likening one’s own soul to “frozen fractals” is nothing but sad and frightening. “The perfect girl is gone” not because this person discovers herself to be a different girl, or a woman. She’s becoming elemental, and she’s been so miserable for so long that she actually relishes this prospect.
It seems that the movie Frozen takes place during the first few days with any measurable level of plain speaking inside the royal family after at least 15 years of rigid, unbroken, jaw-clenched withdrawal. So even if some real trust begins to grow during those few days, I imagine so much heartbreak and fear and anger over their next decade or so. Family doesn’t heal so easily.
I read at least once some yammering about Beauty and the Beast encouraging girls to stay with abusive partners in hopes of reforming them. I can’t identify with that concern. (BTW: Fifty Shades of Grey is extremely transparently a “Beauty and the Beast” plot.) I don’t fear for what my daughter may learn from Frozen about family relationships, or for that matter how to deal with wolves. I just feel really, really sad for the characters who had to live through that pain, and I can’t believe the pain really ends for them.