Fine, I admit it: trekking to the movie theater after a day of heavy snow against my husband’s generally sound advice was not my best plan. But I had promised our 4-year old that I would take him to the movie theater for the first time that Saturday night, to see Disney’s Frozen, and I loved the symmetry between the white-covered world outside and the premise of the movie featuring a snow queen (which is about as much as I knew about the plot).
Clad in boots, gloves, and puffy coats, we drove ploddingly to the mall, where I skidded terrifyingly a couple of times and vowed to always take my husband’s advice from then on. But we made it safely and, tickets and popcorn in hand, settled in to enjoy the show.
It was magical. And not just because I loved seeing my adorably inquisitive son’s eyes grow wide with wonder as he took in a new experience with “the biggest TV screen ever,” but because the story itself was a revelation.
Somewhere between re-watching generic princes fall instantly in love with the passive Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and seeing Ariel giving up her family, mermaid body, and voice for a man she had only glimpsed from afar, I realized–amid the magic of talking forest friends and deliciously evil villains–that Disney films of “olde” have some serious flaws. Chief among them is the idea that love happens at first sight (lust, maybe, but real, lasting love?) and the repetitive obsession with storybook romance as the ubiquitously happy ending. This was driven home to me after watching Mulan, which concludes in the protagonist and her boyfriend sitting down to dinner. My son refused to go to bed. “It can’t be over,” he protested. “Nobody got married yet.”
But Frozen’s central love story is not one between a man and a woman. It’s between two sisters: the elder one, a princess named Elsa enabled with the initially-uncontrollable power to create snow and ice with the flick of a wrist and the younger one, Anna, who adores Elsa and cannot understand how they went from being childhood best friends to strangers in their adolescence and young adulthood. When Anna eventually discovers her sister’s secret power, along with the entire kingdom, Elsa banishes herself and inspires Anna to undertake a mission to retrieve her sister and renew their close bond.
Yes, there are men as traditional love interests, including a prince, but they’re secondary characters. The villain is not who he seems at first, and a tad more nuanced one than your basic Ursula or Jafar. Anna is the one who saves the day, and repeatedly shows levelheadedness and valor in the face of danger. There’s great fun poked at previous Disney films and their tendency to have couples fall in love after merely glancing at one another. “You’re engaged, and you just met him today?” asks one character in disbelief. “That’s crazy.” Through everything, it is the story between Anna and Elsa that takes front and center.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my son when his sister was born. He was the first grandchild for my parents, and my husband and I, quite frankly overcome with parental love for him when he was born, showered him with undivided attention. Naturally, I thought he would feel some measure of resentment for the tiny being that was going to prevent this continued trend, despite plenty of big brother books and a conscious effort by us to make him feel secure in our continued love for him.
But my worrying was for naught, because since his sister was born, he has been simply enthralled with her. He coos at her in the morning before I blearily arrive to escort them to breakfast, he rushes to take hold of her hand to help guide her when she’s coming off the stairs a bit uncertainly, and he does any manner of silly things to get her to laugh. Even when he’s annoyed at her for some minor infraction, he is careful to gently reprimand her, and has recently taken to giving her time-outs where his tender warning to her to stay put, while she looks at him confused, hysterically mirror his own time-out warnings word for word. Watching their loving interactions is one of the greatest joys of my life.
I loved Frozen for so many reasons: the stunning animation; the soaring ballads; and every line that came out of the hilarious sidekick’s (the snowman Olaf) mouth. But perhaps most of all, I loved it because it portrays one of the most important relationships that will ever exist for my children, and that is the relationship they have with each other.
There are many different kinds of love stories. It’s about time Disney got hip to that.