I figured that, while this subversion of the Prince Charming trope could be a shock to the system of a kid who is old enough to have been beguiled by the fairy-tale romance narrative usually slung by Disney, my girls were so innocent that there would be no cherished beliefs to shatter. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to use moments and themes from my kids’ favorite stories to talk about ethics, relationships, and respect for self and others; or at least to get them to not treat me like the evil step-sisters treat Cinderella. When it comes to love, though, I usually don’t even get into it. During the inevitable wedding scene, I’ll just say, “Yup… they’re getting married,” and redirect their attention to other issues like why being smart or kind or brave is important.
But here, I thought, after learning of this potentially-traumatizing-to-kids plot twist, was a teachable moment I could get behind: Regard the handsome charmer who sweeps you off your feet with great caution and skepticism.
In terms of my didactic expectations, Frozen delivered. And then some. Not only was Prince Charming a jerk, but also, the act of love that saved Anna from death wasn’t between her and the ice-monger to whom she had grown close during the quest for her sister, as the movie led us to believe once the prince’s villainy was revealed. No, it was an act of love between sisters that saved the day in the end! I could hardly wait to get out of the theater before I pointed that out to my girls.
Once we were in the lobby, I squatted down to talk about the theme of sisterly love triumphing over seemingly insurmountable challenges and thwarting cruel interlopers. But they were already having their own conversation:
“No, I’m Elsa!”
“No, you’re Anna!”
“Anna doesn’t have any powers! I’m Elsa!”
“No, I’m Elsa!”
And so on.
Since then, they have moved past which one of them can shoot freeze-rays to have some pretty substantive discussions (insofar as four-and-a-half-year-olds are capable of such things).
For the record, I asked them if they were upset or scared when they found out that Prince Hans was a bad guy. They answered that they were “surprised,” but not upset. Aside from whom you should and shouldn’t marry, we have been talking about what love is—something I would never have attempted in the context of The Little Mermaid or Cinderella.
“Love is kissing,” one of my daughters said as we sang along to the part of the soundtrack where some trolls explain that you can fix flawed people with true love. “And some other things like hugging.”
“Well,” I responded. “You might kiss someone you love, or hug them, but love means—”
“I know,” my other daughter interrupted. “When you care about what happens to someone else more than what happens to you. Like Elsa and Anna care about each other. You already said that. Now let’s listen to ‘Let It Go’ again.”