The Evolution of How Women View Love Through the Eyes of Disney Princesses
“The cold never bothered me anyway,” is currently the song lyrics on everyone’s lips. 1. Everyone is obsessed with Disney’s newest animated feature, Frozen. 2. Once Upon a Time fans are dying in excitement because we just saw that Elsa will be joining the cast next season. For those of you who have been living under a rock (and haven’t read my review of said movie), Frozen is a re-imagining of Hans Christen Anderson’s The Snow Queen. But in a delightful twist Disney decided to not make this another dumb romantic princess story, but rather a sweet tale of two estranged sisters and how they find themselves and each other through a terrible twist of fate.
Along with writing and making music, I teach kids. In my Pre-K ballet classes, my little girls ALWAYS request to free dance to Frozen, and they always want to listen to “Let It Go.” Whenever they are pretending to dance “like a princess,” they always want to be like Elsa, not Anna. This struck me as strange. Anna seems to be the more like-able princess, and (SPOILER ALERT) she ends up with the hot Norwegian, Kristoff. Then I realized, it’s not the girls who are weird for liking Elsa more, it’s me for not embracing who Elsa really is. This is incredibly sad because I relate more to Elsa than Anna. I’m an older sister, with a boy-crazy sister. And I too feel incredibly misunderstood most of the time because I have magical ice powers that I’ve had to repress. Wait, did I say magical ice powers? Because I meant I am really loud and have an impressive flair for the dramatic, which like Elsa gets me into trouble. I also had my parents tell me to “conceal” and “don’t feel” so that my “powers” wouldn’t overwhelm people.
(Oddly enough this does look like my childhood… my dad did have a lot of sandy blonde hair and a ‘stache… It was the 80’s/early 90’s after all)
Why on Earth am I rejecting Elsa and the woman that I’ve become? Elsa IS frickin awesome! She has the greatest song in the movie, the most fabulous dress, and has ICE POWERS! She’s a super hero, cape and all, and yet, I want to be silly Anna instead. Blurgh. Let’s look at the ending of the movie (AGAIN SPOILER ALERT). The sisters finally reconcile and live together in Arrondale with their new pet snowman, while Elsa reigns as queen and Anna’s romance blossoms with Kristoff. Uh oh. There’s the problem. I’m a little jealous that Anna has found the love of her life, and Elsa is left with a crummy crown and kingdom. What in the world is wrong with me?
But it’s not just me. Disney raised an entire generation of girls like this. We are still in the grips of the old school mentality that to be of worth, we need to have a man… and sadly, it got worse with my generation. Let’s start back at the beginning of Disney, the first Golden Age of princesses if you will. From 1939-1959 we get Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty for all of you non-Disney geeks out there). Each of the princesses has their own personality, but do you notice something about their princes? You can’t tell them apart! I seriously don’t expect anyone except for super nerds to be able to pair an early Disney Princess with her prince! Not only are they all handsome, charming, good natured, and heroic, but they are also laughably interchangeable.
Now let’s look at the women of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Every woman was supposed to marry the man who swept her off of her feet. Women were told that “Someday your prince will come” and “Save you.” In the movies it’s from an evil stepmother or witch, but in real life, these men were saving these poor young girls from a life of *gasp* spinsterhood! And thus Disney began weaving dreams into the minds of young girls. Think about it, from the 1940’s til maybe the 1970’s, you have several generations of girls growing up, wanting to be rescued. Hell, they even mention it in Sex and the City, and say how lame it is. These women wanted a knight in shining armor to come and whisk them away to “Happily Ever After.”
And then came my generation of princesses, starting with The Little Mermaid. From 1989 til 2010 we have a whole new SLEW of princesses including Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Nala, Pochohontas, Mulan, Tiana, and Rapunzel. Thanks to the powerful women of the 1980’s, Disney has finally come to terms with the fact that some women are indeed in power and aren’t going back into the home any time soon. All of these princesses have become more well rounded, smart, and self-sufficient women, but it’s not just the women that changed in these stories. The princes changed too. Now we notice, all of them have serious character flaws. They’re not just prince charming riding in on the white steed to save the day. Naveen, from Princess and the Frog, is squandering his family’s inheritance because he just wants to have fun. Simba won’t face who he truly is. Aladdin is a street rat who trusts a little too easily.
(Really Aladdin? Street Rat Smarts 101: Don’t trust an inmate with Gold teeth… you do not want to know what has he had to do to get those things!)
To get to the point, all of these men need to be saved. GASP! A princess saving a prince? Oh my! Now with women in power, we need to feel like we contribute a little more to a relationship rather than being kind, good, and beautiful. Now, we must, as Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman, “Save him right back.” This is where we get to the romantic issues of my generation’s female population. We no longer want the man who is good, handsome, and wealthy because that’s WAY too easy. No, we want a “diamond in the rough” who will protect us when needed, but that we can rescue as well. It’s the reason why we all think that we can save all of these boys that flounder around from dream to dream and woman to woman. I call it “The Katy Perry Conundrum.”
Katy Perry is not the only female to be doing this right now… nor is she the worst case. BUT I feel that she is the lady most in the limelight, who really shouldn’t be doing this. True story, I was sitting in the car with a dude, who I was slightly romantically involved with, but not really… sadly, a common occurrence in my generation. Katy Perry comes on the radio, and he says, “Ugh, I can’t stand Katy Perry.” WHAT? Really? This coming from the guy who I KNOW has Lady Gaga ringtones. And so I asked him to explain, and he replied, “I love her music, and she’s totally hot, but I can’t stand girls who date guys like John Mayer. She’s hot and talented and funny, why would she date a douche bag like John Mayer?” I almost slapped him. I wanted to scream, “DUDE! Can you ‘stand’ me? Clearly I am in a very similar situation to Katy Perry, and you are the John Mayer!”
Those thoughts made me pause. I totally agree with him. Why am I sitting next to this dude, pining, wishing, and hoping that I can shine up this “diamond in the rough,” when I know that he is not the best man for me? Then I realized. It’s the curse of our generation. It’s no longer good enough for us to get the knight who saves us, but rather we must save him ourselves. I wanted to save that dude!
(Meh, at least all of these dudes are good for something… a darn good break up song.)
Cue Merida from Brave. I didn’t LOVE this movie, but I loved that the narrative was no longer the “princess looking for love” story. And she did have fabulous red hair and used a bow and arrow, Katniss Everdeen style! Merida was the first princess in the history of Disney movies to not have a love interest. For the first time, the true love story happened between a mother and a daughter. “Bravo” Disney for creating a story that makes little girls think about something more than getting married.
And finally, we come back around to what started this argument, Frozen. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I’m a she-woman man hater. I’m not. I LOVE men, and I love spending time around men. I’m just incredibly foolish with my heart. But I hope that this new generation of princesses makes a strong new crop of girls who won’t be objectified, who will break down gender barriers, and who will be happy to be the best they can be, all by themselves.
Since the Frozen-mania has started, I have seen an insane amount of pieces online go all the way from praising this as the greatest Disney movie ever made to calling it the work of the devil. One piece even went so far as to say that Frozen promotes “false feminism,” and while I can see where the author is coming from, I still think that this is a step in the right direction. I only gave Frozen a 9/10 in my review. I didn’t think that it was a perfect film, but rather a jumping off point like The Little Mermaid was for the Golden Age of Disney in the 1990’s.
I want to leave you all with the last line of “Let It Go” because it is so deliciously wrapped in several meanings. “The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway.” Of course, she has ice powers and they’re cold, but the cold also refers to her loneliness. And that loneliness is not only for her being isolated from everyone but also isolating herself from love. And who knows, maybe later on Elsa will find the Fire King with heat powers or something like that. Or maybe she’ll rule the kingdom on her own ‘til the day she dies. Either way, she will remain incredibly fabulous. I’m just glad to see that there’s a new generation of little girls who want to be just like Elsa: with a fantastical song, a fabulous dress, ice powers, and no stinkin’ prince.