Recently we had Book Week at my son’s school. Book Week for those not in the know is a week long celebration of books aimed at getting children in primary schools to read more. There are visits from authors and artists who have written and drawn books for children, a book fair and the annual dress up like a character from your favourite book for the Book Week parade.
Now by “dress up as a character from your favourite book” I think the schools must mean “dress up like a character from your favourite movie, cartoon or whatever Kmart has left on their shelves for you to buy your kid” because our son went as a ninja, half the other boys in his school were Spiderman, Iron Man, Superman, Batman or one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a good percentage of the girls were Disney Princesses. And this year, in particular, there was one Disney Princess that ranked higher than all the others…
I have been thinking about this for a while, even before the Book Week parade I have seen many young girls dressed up as Elsa. At the shops, at parks, at birthday parties (even those that aren’t costume parties) and even in the waiting room of my local medical centre. Elsa is everywhere.
But not Anna.
If you google “Frozen costumes” you will find that there are many online stores selling both the Anna and Elsa costumes. In researching this post I contacted Costume Box who claim to be Australia’s number one online seller of costumes and who better to ask about the Anna versus Elsa costume contention. After speaking to one of their customer service representatives on the phone I followed up my line of enquiry with an email. I wrote;
“It seems that I see hundreds of Elsa costumes everywhere and there are many in those cheap shops (possibly fakes) but when I look online at stores like your I see that there are just as many Anna dresses for sale as there are Elsa dresses. If you would know a figure on how many more Elsa costumes sell than Anna costumes, that would be great.”
And this is the reply I received;
“I don’t know an exact figure unfortunately, but I do know that we sell heaps more Elsa costumes than Anna. We do sell the Anna costumes, but the Elsa ones sell far more quickly.” (Jade – Costume Box Customer Service via email)
Now I need you to know that is was Jade who wrote the word “heaps” in bold in her reply so I’m going to suggest based only on anecdotal evidence, that if the contest between Anna and Elsa to sell their costumes was the 110m hurdles, Elsa would be running past the finish line as Anna jumps over the first one or two.
So why is Elsa more popular than Anna?
A Question of Hierarchy
Is it because Princess Elsa becomes Queen Elsa upon the death of their parents? Does every little girl who is currently pretending to be a Disney Princess hope to become the Queen one day? I don’t think this would be a likely reason as Disney’s queens are often evil step-mothers, evil sorceresses, or second-class characters. Elsa is the first official Disney Princess to become queen in the blockbuster movie in which she stars.
Also, once Elsa becomes the queen she doesn’t paint a very promising picture that this responsibility that’s been bestowed upon her is one of happiness and grace. In the hit song Let It Go she sings;
“A kingdom of isolation, And it looks like I’m the queen…”
It’s interesting to note that originally, before the song Let It Go was written and played for the producers of Frozen, the role of Elsa within the movie was for her to become an evil queen just as many queens in the history of Disney or the fables, fairy-tales and fiction upon which the Disney films were inspired. The direction that the song writers took her character in within the space of that 3 minute and 39 second musical piece was enough for the producers of the film to get the writers to change everything that happened after that point in the story.
Little girls playing princesses aren’t looking for responsibility. They want to frolic and sing with the animals, swim and sing with the sea creatures, run and dance through the woods, maybe even whilst singing. Being a princess means having fun, not drowning in ceremonies, protocol and mountains of paperwork (that one can only assume a Disney Queen must read through and sign quite often).
Blonde Versus Brunette Rivalry
Is it because Elsa is blonde? Do blondes really have more fun? Popular culture would lead you to believe that and maybe that has trickled down to the younger girls in society and their want of being blonde and wanting more fun. Mattel’s Barbie is a blonde and adored by many young girls. When you look at cartoons where there is rivalry between to female characters, the good character is generally depicted as blonde or to have a lighter shade of hair, whereas the evil character will be a 50 shades of brunette or have the darker hair of the two. Although there is conflict between the sisters within the film with Elsa being portrayed as the villain within those scenes, that is not a big focus of her character outside of the film.
The fact that the ending patches them up and shows that it’s their love that saved Anna, the marketing pictures and posters showing them looking lovingly into each other’s eyes in a sisterly manner, and the absence of marketing the movies as “Anna versus Elsa” (except for the snowball fight advertisement you might have seen on YouTube; as shown in the header picture of this post) means that their conflict has little to do with the perceptions of the movie. Little girls playing Frozen may role play the scene in the Ice Palace, but one would think that having them as friends and playing nicely together would be the main focus of role play by young girls.
A Little Bit of Magic
I recently at a birthday party and was talking to mother of two Kelly O’Shea. I’ve known Kelly for a few years as she and her daughter have attended a playgroup with my wife and eldest son for about four years. Her daughter was not dressed as Elsa but was wearing a Frozen t-shirt. I quizzed her daughter about which of the two sisters she liked best and the answer was a resounding “Elsa.” Then I discussed my observation about young girls favouring Elsa with Kelly and wondered why that would be the case.
Magic powers. That’s it in a nutshell for her daughter, and I would expect that might also be the same reason why many other little girls would love to be Elsa.
From the ability to create the icy wonderland out of nothing and “build a snowman” as a young child to the power to create the ice palace and transform from her the boring high-neck dress to the gorgeous flowing and sparkling ice dress, those magic powers of Elsa’s are the key to her popularity.
Why Anna Would Be A Better Role Model?
Anna’s role in the movie seems to be lost on the young girls dressing up as Elsa and I think that this is a sad reflection of the mindset of young girls. Sure the allure of those magical powers and that sparkling dress are great selling points for young girls, but surely in this postmodern feminism climate made up of liberal feminism ideals where women and girls can show the world that they are equal in the abilities and actions, Anna is a better role model because of what she does throughout the movie;
- Without magical powers she is able to hatch a plan to bring her sister back and save Arendelle.
- Without magical powers she is able to negotiate with Kristoff to help her on her quest up the mountain.
- Without magical powers she is able to escape from a pack of vicious and hungry wolves.
- Without magical powers she is able to escape from the giant snow creature and fall off a cliff into the snow and survive.
- Without magical powers Anna is able to hold on long enough and not die from the frost that is taking over her.
- Without magical powers Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister.
Okay, I know she freezes by some mystical intervention and it’s her frozen self that stops and breaks Hans’ sword, but everything leading up to that moment is all carried out without the aid of magic.
And it is Anna who is the little activist who suggests that Queen Elsa runs a transparent kingdom where the gates of the castle are never closed off to anyone. She’s like Anonymous and Wikileaks rolled into one; there’s no secrets and full transparency in her ideal government.
I asked my own son who is a massive fan of the movie who is his favourite of the two. For him it’s Anna. I asked him why this is the case.
“Anna is the first one to have a pretty dress.”
Okay. Random. I wasn’t really expecting that answer so I probed him some more. I asked him to tell me about Anna’s role in the movie. Keep in mind he’s a few months short of turning six.
“Anna has to go on an adventure to bring back Elsa and save Arendelle. And she does some really fun things…”
Now we’re talking. He gets it.
But he still won’t let me buy him an Anna dress….
Do your children love Frozen? Are they on Team Elsa or Team Anna? Why do they prefer one over the other?
I am currently studying a Bachelor of Behavioural Studies (Psychology) course at Swinburne University and hope to be able to do further research into the psychology behind topics like this in the future. Who knows, maybe my thesis for my Ph.D might in Disney movies…
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