So, I spoke a bit too soon about the Snow Queen. Disney has another Tangled-esque movie in the works called Frozen. It seems…loosely…based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, in the same way that Disney’s Little Mermaid is based only loosely on the Andersen tale.
So in Frozen, the main “princess” is a Rapunzel with slightly different CGI attributes named Anna, who lives in Scandinavia. (At least they kept that bit. Although some have wondered, why not use a native Lapp character?)
So Anna replaces Gerda in the story, and there is no real Kay equivalent. Anna goes off to rescue her sister Elsa from, like, herself, ’cause her sister IS the Snow Queen.
Now, I’m all for sisters-rescuing-each-other tales. And I’m fine with ditching Gerda and Kay, for one because I think “Gerda” would be a hard sell as a Disney Princess name. But what about the weird and awesome supporting cast of the original tale? All dudes now. Yep. I’m not saying this will be the worst movie ever or anything, but it sure has been Disnified. And that means funny dude side-characters.
One thing I didn’t properly think about until having a conversation with a friend about this movie was that in “The Snow Queen,” pretty much all of the supporting cast is women. Like, there’s one sort of incidental Prince, and the crow is male. But aside form that, there are: Gerda and Kay’s grandmother, the flower witch lady, all of her (female) flowers, the Princess, the crow’s girlfriend, the Little Robber Girl, the Finn woman, the Lapp woman, and the Snow Queen herself. That’s, with Gerda included, a whopping eight female characters, plus like five flowers. I don’t think there have been that many named, semi-significant female characters in a Disney movie like, ever. (Disney fans please geek-correct me here!) I mean, Disney cannot handle alive, non-evil mothers and several significant heroic females at the same time.
So, for four years I spent a LOT of time on a playground full of multi-racial, multi-ethnic kids from ages 3-6. And I had plenty of thoughts about how they played pretend. Of course there were subsets of kids who would play licensed-character games: superheroes, power rangers (occasionally, still a thing), Star Wars (sorry, everyone in my generation, but they play the prequels. I know. Shed a tear with me.), and of course, Princesses. And I think the way little girls play Princesses is deeply affected not just by the Disney aesthetic, but by its storytelling.
For one, there is no good role for boys in Princess games. They obviously can’t themselves be a Princess, and most of the Princes are so boring as to blend together into a generic mass of maleness. There are a few exceptions to the Boring Prince rule, (like what’s-his-face in Mulan. He’s cool, right? He does stuff.) but by and large there’s really no good boy roles unless a really dedicated boy wants to be the funny animal sidekick. I usually only saw that happen when a little boy REALLY wanted to play with some particular female friend or other. (“Ugh, okay, I guess you can be the dog.”) Otherwise, a boy would occasionally be co-opted as a villain for the sole purpose of chasing the girls around while they squealed.
For the most part, especially at age 4+, gender separated play is a thing. I don’t know how much it’s socially constructed (I, for one, did my part in starting gender-inclusive games of “superhero”, but that’s me) and how much it’s a biological imperative. I just know that little four and five-year-old girls love them some games of Princess. Here’s how it usually goes down: a ringleader or two will claim some of the best princesses for themselves and invite others to join in. The best princesses were usually sort of classic ones, to my surprise: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, even Snow White. Sometimes you’d see a Rapunzel, a Belle, or a Tiana (the one black girl in class, yes, did like to play Tiana. So did kids of other colors and races). Because this isn’t the 80s, I didn’t hear much Little Mermaid and never once did I hear anyone mention Princess Jasmine. Probably 50% of my school was of Indian heritage, so that shows you about how well 80s “multicultural” Disney film worked. In general, the Princesses sort of went off on adventures together. It was either a “dresses/go to the ball” type adventure or a “walk around and talk and climb on stuff” adventure or sometimes a “let’s have this boy chase us” adventure. They rarely re-enacted actual scenes from the movies, in part because they were always dealing with characters from multiple movies. Princesses, to me, felt like a “girly” equivalent of Superheroes, but with more social jockeying for position. Very rarely in Disney movies are two women of equal status seen working together.
I wonder what little girls’ games would look like if there were Disney movies with women working together, mothers that weren’t evil, and/or princes that had more personality and importance to the story than being a quest object. Huh. Next time someone’s asking why people are so frustrated at film’s lack of female main character representation, tell them to imagine being a guy and having most of the film canon be Disney Princess films.
Thoughts? Have you seen kids play differently than me? Do you have memories of your own childhood? What do you think about Frozen? Tell us in the comments, dearie-o.
…Seriously, next time I’ll do my top five villains Disney REALLY doesn’t want. Sorry for the holdout.