Disney's Frozen was recently released on DVD/Blu-ray and quickly became one of the bestselling video releases in the last decade. It's one of the biggest hits of 2013 (and an Oscar winner to boot), and one of the most popular kid and family movies in awhile. Some have called it the beginning of a new Disney renaissance.
From the very beginning, Frozen was a different kind of Disney fairy tale. The earliest trailer for the film showed only the goofy snowman, Olaf getting stuck on an icy pond. The 30-second clip was funny and entertaining, but gave no hints that the film was actually about two sisters. Later promotional material highlighted the four principle characters (two females and two males), but failed to betray the fact that the film was another princess play from the company that made this trope famous.
But getting kids and parents in the theater is only part of the story. With Frozen, Disney created another mainstay movie that parents and kids love (and already rewatch over and over). So, how is Frozen unique in the Disney Princess world and why are parents and kids—especially young girls – so drawn to it?
Princesses can be complex too. Frozen throws out the typical good versus evil dynamic we've come to expect from Disney animation, especially the classic fairy tales. Instead, Frozen gives us two princesses at odds with each other. Neither one is entirely good nor evil. Both sisters are capable of doing some not-so-nice things (Ana yelling at her sister and Elsa emotionally shutting Ana out), but they are also capable of love and compassion. These Disney Princesses don't just need to be rescued; they can also do the rescuing. Frozen lets Elsa and Anna be more than pretty images on screen. They are complex characters who struggle with relationships and their own identities. Parents looking to teach their young daughters how to be true to themselves have found some great messages in Frozen.
Defy Expectations. Early on in Frozen, it looks as if Disney is delivering another "love at first sight" with a young princess and handsome prince. But the movie quickly rejects the idea of love at first sight and becomes a story about the relationship between two sisters. One of the reasons fairy tales can be so comforting is that their plots are predicable and formulaic. By violating expectations of plot, Frozen demands a lot of thought out of its young audience. Frozen proves that kids don’t always need the simple and familiar stories. Fans of this Disney film are embracing something that defies everything they’ve come to expect (and frankly, love) about the genre.
It's not just about beauty—it's also about the ideas. Some critics have found Frozen's plot to be overly simplistic (or non-existent). But Frozen is a movie with some pretty big ideas. Do you hide who you are or "let it go?" Love is complicated and understanding true love takes work. You have to take the good with bad, and figure out how to balance to two. Kids watching Frozen not only get to see some spectacular animation and sing along to catchy songs, they are also confronted with big ideas and questions. One of the reasons the film has been so popular is that these questions and ideas speak to kids. Kids have a lot of questions about how the world works, and Frozen respects the seriousness of these questions. Kids don’t feel talked down to by the film; instead, they are empowered by it. This is the junior viewer’s thinking movie – and we think parents and kids are ready for it.
Girly-Girls can be strong too. While Frozen is unique and subverts a lot of familiar tropes of the Disney princess, it doesn’t completely reject the genre. Unlike Brave’s Merida, who is sometimes so opposite of a Disney Princess that she potentially isolates the primary audience of the Disney Princess franchise, Anna is allowed to be kind of a girly-girl. Anna has moments where she needs help, but she isn't completely helpless. Young girls who love the Disney Princesses have a lot to love about Frozen, but unlike some early film, they also have a lot to learn about what it means to be a strong girl. And obviously, the strength Frozen gives them.