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The Lingering Chill Of The Movie 'Frozen'

Shirie Leng: "Why is no one talking about the abject parenting failure inflicted upon [this film's] girls?" Pictured: Queen Elsa, from the animated Disney film, Frozen. (Disney/AP)
Shirie Leng: "Why is no one talking about the abject parenting failure inflicted upon [this film's] girls?" Pictured: Queen Elsa, from the animated Disney film, Frozen. (Disney/AP)
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So I'm watching “Frozen,” again, just the good parts, on YouTube, with my three small rabid Elsa and Anna fans. And it occurs to me: Why is no one talking about the abject parenting failure inflicted upon these girls (the movie’s, not mine)? One of them, Elsa, is so repressed, she buries her kingdom in ice and snow and runs off to a palace that must have been paid for with the royalties off that infernal song.

The younger sister, Anna, is so lonely and has such a deep attachment disorder that she accepts a proposal of marriage from a guy she doesn't know, with no last name, two hours after she meets him.

'Conceal, don't feel?' We have a generation of kindergarteners singing those words at the tops of their cute little lungs. What message does it send?

I blame the girls’ parents, who react to having, shall we say, an atypically developing child by hiding her away from everyone, including her own little sister, who adores her. I shudder at this, with its echoes of an unenlightened past (which only ended in the 1980s), when parents were urged to institutionalize and write off the potential of some children, such as those born with Down syndrome. This was especially so if the child had been a danger to other family members, as Elsa was when she accidentally froze her sister’s brain. While I hasten to add that I am not equating Elsa's ability to shoot ice from her fingertips with the unique challenges of real children, Elsa’s parents respond to her in a way that reminds me of those bad old days.

And really, think about it. "Conceal, don't feel?" We have a generation of kindergarteners singing those words at the tops of their cute little lungs. What message does it send? To say nothing of the lyric, “Be the good girl you always have to be.” Is that line not particularly chilling for those of us who grew up with very real versions of this imperative? There are plenty of historic precedents for this expectation, beginning with Eve and continuing right up to the irksome culture of Disney princesses.

Remember Cinderella? “Through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind.” Maybe if she’d been a little rebellious and asserted herself, maybe if she’s gotten angry, she wouldn’t have ended up in rags, crying beside a fountain. Almost everyone chafes at parental expectations sometime. A little rebellion in a five-year-old is harmless compared with the belated self-expression of a grownup who should have, but never did, express herself decades ago. Ice mountains in a ballroom, as Elsa’s child self creates even at the risk of displeasing her parents, are nothing compared with the kingdom-wide deep freeze she unleashes as a long-repressed young woman.

We now know that children do best when encouraged, in a loving environment, to become whoever they want to become. What if Elsa’s parents had done that? What if, instead of hiding her ability, the late King and Queen of Arendelle had accepted and nurtured their eldest daughter’s surprising gift and helped her put it to good use? There would be no lost youth, no burden of being different. Elsa might embrace her fate as a queen. With magic powers. Maybe Washington would hire her to send global warming naysayers into a deep freeze.

I just hope that those songs my daughters won’t stop singing are just words, and not anthems sung to the future of a repressed and too-well-behaved generation.

And what if Anna, instead of spending her childhood in splendid isolation, talking to the pictures on the walls and singing into the keyhole of a locked door to a sister who would never come out, had been allowed to enjoy her sister’s companionship? She might not have ended up leaping at the first man to come along, in this case a crooked prince who knocks her, literally, head over heels into a rowboat when they meet. Anna escapes the nasty prince Hans’s cunning plan, only to be rescued by another man, the burly ice vendor Kristoff. But what if she hadn’t needed rescuing at all? Perhaps then, Anna might have put her feisty nature to work for her own independence, freeing Kristoff, a grown man who serenades and shares his carrots with a reindeer, to branch out of the ice selling business and make his fortune selling whirlpool ice tubs to Olaf and other snowpeople who want to survive the summer. Sven the reindeer could join Santa’s corps — a ninth reindeer!

I don’t mind that my daughters love “Frozen” and other Disney films. They are adorable in their fake fancy dresses and faux glass slippers. I love that they can sing, unselfconscious, with full voices, and that the songs and the movies provide a common cultural ground upon which they can build relationships with other little kids that are far deeper than the ties that bind most Disney heroines with their Prince Charmings. I am heartened by the writer Peggy Orenstein’s take in her book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” that the princess culture might well reinforce stereotypes of beauty and behavior, but the stories also emphasize positive attributes, like kindness, empathy and persistence.

I just hope that those songs my daughters won’t stop singing are just words, and not anthems sung to the future of a repressed and too-well-behaved generation.


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Shirie Leng Cognoscenti contributor
Shirie Leng is an anesthesiologist, mother and writer. She blogs at medicineforreal.wordpress.com.

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