Boys love the movie Frozen, too. I’ve heard many stories of young boys who have seen the movie multiple times, can quote the funniest lines and sing the songs over and over. Given that Frozen just became the best-selling animated movie of all time– and is one of the top ten grossing films of any kind ever– it’s not surprising that boys are a big portion of the audience. This is interesting, because just a few years ago, Disney worried that movies about princesses couldn’t attract boys. After the 2009, The Princess and the Frog, failed to meet sales expectations, Disney made an effort to “de-princess” Rapunzel by changing her story’s name to Tangled, and focusing more attention on the dashing Flynn Ryder. Disney thought princess movies had run their course and even considered taking a break on princess movies altogether, focusing instead on Winnie the Pooh and Wreck-it Ralph. You can see Disney continue this approach in Frozen– originally The Snow Queen– and especially, in the movie trailer which emphasizes the cute snowman, Olaf, the loner woodsman, Kristoff, and his loyal, sidekick reindeer, Sven, rather than the princesses, Elsa and Anna.
All of this makes me wonder– how do these Disney movies and their portrayal of gender affect boys? In a recent post, I talked about my concern with Frozen and the effect of Disney’s portrayal of female characters on girls. And it dawned on me that boys watch these movies, too. They are just as susceptible to the messages about boys, girls, and relationships. On the one hand, I’m glad that boys can appreciate a movie about two strong princesses whose love for each other outweighs romantic love. However, a closer inspection reveals that the romantic partner in question, Prince Hans, was actually a villain, and was only feigning love to become king of the land. He says, “As thirteenth in line to my own kingdom, I didn’t stand a chance. I knew I’d have to marry into the throne somewhere.” Not only did Hans concoct a scheme to convince Anna to fall in love with him, he had to kill Queen Elsa to become King of Arandelle. He’s definitely not the kind of guy you want to bring home to meet the family.
There are a few other male archetypes in the Disney world: it’s mostly a choice between heroes and buffoons, and some are both. Kristoff is a hero who’s a bit of a buffoon; he’s an awkward and sometimes, a grumpy loner with a reindeer for a best friend, who reluctantly helps Anna. He does possess some of the important characteristics of a Disney hero: he’s roughly handsome, strong, and protective of Anna when necessary. I wonder what boys make of the stereotypical Disney heroes who are good-looking in a jutting jaw kind of way, muscular in a brutish sort of way, and humorous in a childish sort of way. For example, here’s what Kristoff says to Anna when he learns she’s going to marry Hans, the guy she barely knows: “Have you had a meal with him yet? What if you hate the way he eats? What if you hate the way he picks his nose…and eats it?” (While I suspect this line was added for the benefit of the boys in the audience, many girls probably also found it funny.)
I’ve raised three boys to adulthood and now I’m parenting a Frozen-obsessed 9-year-old girl. Though there is no denying that boys and girls are different, we want to teach them the same lessons: You can be anything you want when you grow up. Treat others with respect. Treat yourself with respect. Get to know someone before you marry them. Outer beauty is superficial, it’s what’s inside that counts. It’s how you treat people that matters.
And yet, we all know the allure of a good story, the power of identification– whether it’s a little girl who wants to be powerful, build an ice palace and look like a princess, or a boy who wants to be handsome and strong and conquer a brutish snowman named, Marshmallow. I’m trying to be grateful that this movie has at least moved beyond the fairytale ending and celebrates the power of two girls and their sisterly love. However, I can’t help but wish for the day when both girls and boys (women and men) will be portrayed as complex, positive, and fully-realized characters in the highest-grossing movies of all time.
Photo Credit: Wikia
Liz Smith has worked across the globe for many of the world’s major apparel brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Chico’s, Justice, and Hanes. She has earned thousands of airline points and worn out several suitcases visiting factories in more than 20 countries to ensure that production is of the highest standard. Liz has managed all aspects of garment production, from design through fabric development to sewing and merchandising– so she knows what it takes to make high-quality apparel. Liz is thrilled to share her knowledge about clothes to help discerning customers choose the finest products.