As the final treat of the Christmas Holidays I took my 12 year old son and my 7 year old daughter to see the new Disney animation Frozen.
The trailer gave no clues to the story, the comical snowman and the hungry reindeer competing for the carrot over a frozen lake. However did transpire was a sumptuous piece of animation. The story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses living in a far away kingdom, who had to deal with the devastating side effects of the elder girl, Elsa’s powers. With the merely touch of her fingers she was able to conjure up snow and ice. The trouble was she was unable control it and after a playful game getting out of hand, little Anna was nearly killed. The parents’ way of preventing this ever happening again was to keep the girls safe by isolating them from the world and each other
The story then evolved into a quest for one girl’s love and devotion to save her sister from a life of misunderstanding and loneliness.
It was great to watch a Disney film with two strong female main characters, and although there was much talk of the redemptive qualities of an act of true love, the denouement was not a romantic act (I will say no more in case you haven’t seen it). I applaud Disney for continuing to debunk the damsel in distress myth. That all a girl needs for a happy ever after is to marry her Prince. It probably takes quite a bit of pressure off the boys too!
I knew that the film was loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Snow Queen, and as I loved his stories as a child, even though I was unfamiliar with this one, I thought it would make a great bed time story for my daughter that evening.
As we read together the story of the Kai and Gerda it was instantly apparent the film bore scant resemblance to Mr Anderson’s story. In his, the Snow Queen was shadowy malignant figure that entranced Peter and led him away. She was more like a wicked female Jack Frost. I could see parallels to the spirit characters of folklore and I could see that C S Lewis’ White Witch borne many of her icy hallmarks, enticing Edmund with her glacial stare and her Turkish Delight.
The story was much less sentimental, much less feel good, a fairy tale with a darker seam. I know this is nothing new from Cinderella to The Little Mermaid, modern versions of fairytales have been revised and sanitised . Every edition made happy and brighter as not to alarm and frighten children.
When I first visited Amsterdam I left with two deep impressions, (apart from the beauty of the Van Gogh Museum and the horror of the Anne Frank house, and of course just how all the canals look alike in the dark.. I digress). We walked along the red light district and I saw the girls in the windows, ordinary women, not tanned, not super fit, not beautiful and definitely not sexy in my view of sexy. All I could think is why don’t they look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Women? I mean to my 20 something self that is what a sex worker looked like. The tart with a heart of gold. A long way further down the canal I realised that it is Hollywood who is painting the false picture. The women who are selling their bodies for sex do not have the wherewithal or the resources for even the most basic health and beauty regimes.
The next day I was in the Dutch equivalent of Habitat, it might even have been Habitat. It was desirable interiors a-go-go and like in Habitat there was a section for those cool toys that are featured in weekend supplements, but you never see in children’s arms. What I did notice that all the cuddly toys were bears and such like and they all had teeth and claws. Albeit felt ones but they were still there. That they hadn’t been airbrushed out of existence. That children grew up knowing these animals, even in the soft toy form, were able to hunt and kill.
What is the cost to our children to all this lightening up of stories? In a sentence that will probably make Nigel Farage spit out his pint, is the European way the right one? Have we protected our children so much from the bad things in life we have made the world look unrealistically cosy, too friendly and perfect? A world they will not be able to replicate in adulthood, ultimately leading to a life of disappointments as they try to live up to the fairytale. In protecting their childhoods from any darkness have we damaged them by not realistically preparing them for how the world really is? Mostly wonderful but inevitably with bumps and swerves in the road that have to be endured and survived. That no one can rescue you but yourself. Frozen went some way to getting the message to our daughters but in these hyperpink worlds we are creating for them to live in, there is still much more work to be done.