Disney’s Frozen, loosely based on “The Snow Queen,” came out at the end of November to rave reviews. But I’m conflicted. I’m not sure if I can get behind any Disney princess, no matter how many times reviewers use the words “strong” or “sisterhood” to describe the film.
I was a cult follower of Disney princesses before the Disney Princess franchise even existed. And I’m still in recovery.
My family had a Beta machine. When VHS took over the market, my thrifty Asian dad did not follow the whims of consumerism. So I grew up on a diet of two Beta tapes: An American Tail and Cinderella. But An American Tail was boring, so I watched Cinderella over and over again.
In 2006, Peggy Orenstein made a splash in a New York Times essay called “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” This led to the release of her book in 2011: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, and popularized a new notion — Disney Princess is evil. But consumers weren’t listening. Last year, Disney Princess still beat out Star Wars and Sesame Street as North America’s top-grossing licensed entertainment character franchise.
Some of my childhood melancholy was channeled by an unhealthy Cinderella obsession. When I became an adult, my brain needed to be re-coded and neurons re-programmed from the following myths:
1. Ugly people are probably ugly because they deserve to be.
And a makeover will change your identity. When I was 13, I put a short boy in a garbage can, confusing human worth with beauty — or height, in his case. I simply depreciated “ugliness” in myself and in others.
2. Princesses are never Asian (and Mulan doesn’t count).
I was eminently unsatisfied when Mulan came out because she looked so flat-faced, so Asian and so utterly unglamorous. Indeed, I was the victim of self-racism. In the documentary Somewhere Between, little Hailey is adopted from China into a white American family. In one scene, she tells us how disappointing it is that she will never be a beauty pageant queen like her blonde-haired, blue-eyed older sister. Hailey, I feel your pain.
3. Day-dreaming will get you to your destination.
Cinderella spends a lot of time staring longingly out the window. Then *poof* one day, her dream comes true. Dwelling on unfulfilled longings can be cathartic — to a point. But mainly, sentimentalizing is cheesy. It tells you that everything will be better once you’re over the rainbow. I wish someone had taught me to embrace the now instead of the future.
4. Your destination is the man of your dreams.
Um, no. Enough said.
5. Being rich will make you happy. So marry a prince.
Most studies agree that happiness is relative to your perception of what you have compared to what other people have,. It also pretty much plateaus once your basic needs are met. Happiness really increases the more you invest in meaningful relationships (with God and people), in gratitude, in generosity and in kindness.
Will I take my preteen daughter to see Frozen? Maybe. Apparently, the good folks at Disney have back-pedalled a bit, thrown some more girl power into the mix and tried to inject more nuance into their fluff. But they still haven’t axed romance completely.
If we do see Frozen, my daughter and I will engage, discuss, wrestle with it. I hope it will save her a lot of preteen, teenaged and post-teen angst.
Flickr photo (cc) by be▲-t