Does Prince Charming Really Need to Be Reinvented?

Critics call Frozen's twist on the fairytale trope a much-needed corrective, but claiming Disney dreamboats are unrealistic or unhealthy just piles more shame onto young girls' fantasies.

It’s well documented by now that Disney’s Frozen is dominating at the box office. This past weekend, it pulled off a rare feat when it reclaimed the top spot in the U.S. a month after its release, and it has now passed the $300-million mark to make it Disney’s most successful animated film since The Lion King. Critics and audiences have also praised its subversive plot, which focuses on the relationship between two sisters and turns Prince Charming into The Villain.

Frozen isn’t without its detractors, of course. In a post for The Atlantic, Gina Dalfonzo wrote that she found the latter twist too scary for children: “There is something uniquely horrifying about finding out that a person—even a fictional person—who’s won you over is, in fact, rotten to the core.” She argues that children need a very clearly defined hero-vs.-villain trope because they’re not mature enough to appreciate nuances.

But there’s another argument to be made against Frozen’s villain, and it has to do with the implicit notion that there was something wrong with the Prince Charming fantasy in the first place. The assumption is that it needed correcting because providing girls with idealized images of romance and romantic partners is inherently bad for them. Jezebel contends that the twist “undoes the very cherished tropes of the other films… It is a counter to the steady diet of falsehoods, and frankly, it’s high fucking time.”

But was Prince Charming himself ever really bad? There’s a counter-argument to be made that he merely provided a safe object of desire for young girls, many of whom have amorous desires but are immature and unready to deal with sexual relationships. In this way, he’s a harmless romantic idol who can help usher girls into adulthood as they aspire to healthy relationships. Providing girls with this fantasy is arguably important to their psycho-sexual development. Last year, The Huffington Post made a similar argument for boy bands, and Prince Charming belongs in that category right alongside teen idol actors like Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. A few years back, popular fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo argued that giving Kurt on Glee a Prince Charming in Blaine was necessary for gay boys to see, because few or no images of romantic love in film, television, or music videos specifically relate to their desires. (Indeed, Disney has often appealed to gay boys as much as girls: Pinocchio thinks traditionally masculine activities like drinking, smoking, and swearing will make him a real boy and help him earn his father’s love; in The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s father doesn’t understand her and she wants to be part of another world; and now even Frozen is being credited with a queer subtext with Queen Elsa’s song as a drag anthem.)

Furthermore, it's insulting to assume that girls can't separate fantasy from reality. Most people don’t assume boys will try to leap tall buildings in a single bound by watching Superman, so why don’t parents or other adults think girls can maintain the same cognitive dissonance? What the Prince Charming fantasy does is encourage girls to aim for good guys. It is aspirational, the way superhero films encourage boys to emulate honor and honesty.

Unfortunately, though, it has become all too common in our culture to shame girls for their fantasies. Much of the vitriol aimed at boy bands, romantic comedies, and Twilight is precisely because girls enjoy them. If it is assumed to be a “girl” priority, popular wisdom seems to imply, then it must be silly.

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Akash Nikolas is a former editor at Zap2It.

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