Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Distraction: Disney Tries The Snow Queen

…sort of.

So, I spoke a bit too soon about the Snow Queen. Disney has another Tangled-esque movie in the works called Frozen. Elsa from Disney's FrozenIt 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.

"La la laaa...I don't have a soul...and can only get one by marrying a man in a Christian ceremony...and also I die at the end..."

“La la laaa…I don’t have a soul…and can only get one by marrying a man in a Christian ceremony…and also I die at the end…”

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?)

Rapunzel and Anna, looking almost identical

Different hair and eye color mean TOTALLY different character, riiight?

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.

Elsa and Anna from Disney's FrozenNow, 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.

Yeah, the reindeer and the snowman are also male.

Yes, the reindeer and the snowman are also male.

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.

5 Comments

  1. E & I use to make up our own characters to play as (there was a really complicated multi-generational dragon fantasy epic, one about aliens, and another where we could travel through time using a magical stamp collection), but we did love to play as the Sailor Moon ladies, too. I had another friend with whom I always played Digimon characters. I guess the nerd was strong from a young age….

  2. Anne Bean

    September 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Hooray, Geek-Correct achieved! From Twitter, @spookychan writes, “btw Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella both boast 6 female cast members. Cinderella is iffy because I included a mouse.”

    I included a crow, so whatevs.

    …That’s true…I forgot that Sleeping Beauty is actually Fairy Battle Royale with Prince and Princess attached…

  3. I remember vaguely playing Princess and stuff like that as a child. I really liked being goddesses from myths though (big surprise huh?) because in my mind they were like beautiful, cool female super heroes with magic powers. However I spent MOST of my imagination play-time pretending to be different sorts of animals. I would do this all the time, pretend I was a squirrel, fox, deer, otter, eagle, tigers, skunk (they were my favorites because I loved animals with big fluffy tails) and just run around on all fours at times anthropomorph-izing the day away.

  4. The girls I teach always liked playing My Little Pony a lot more than princesses, even some of the boys would join in and sometimes they’d even be girl ponies. One of the boys really liked being Rainbow Dash.

    I never really played princesses with other friends. We played things more based around books we were reading, or stories we had made up. I remember my best friend and I had this elaborate game we played about people who lived inside a magical snow globe. We were also big on playing “underground railroad” I think that was around the time that Addy was added to the American Girl line up. In general we were way more into historical-based games inspired by American girls (even the snow globe game involved a Victorian town in the globe) than we were with Disney based games. Princess-play for me was more at home with my dolls.

    I’m excited for Frozen, because I tend to love Disney in spite of it’s flaws, but I’d be a lot more excited if they had stayed more true to the actual story. The Snow Queen has always been my favorite fairy tale, so it’s a little disappointing to have Disney finally take it on only to have them change the story entirely. There’s a Russian animated version of the story coming to the US this year as well, though I don’t know how wide the release will be. It looks a little closer to the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJrTHEDgHfY though obviously a lot more action-packed and with a new silly (male) sidekick.

  5. Anne Bean

    September 30, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Huh. I’m intrigued by the Russian animation; clearly it’s diverged from the story in many ways, but it seems to have kept the robbers and some other interesting characters. I’d give it a go.

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