Portland-fied Disney Princess

Our first Disney princess showed up in the mail a few weeks ago: Anna from Frozen. A week later came her sister, Elsa.

As brands go, it's safe to say that Disney is one of the world’s most pervasive and persuasive. (And I’m pretty sure they know their way in and out of the dark arts of applying esoteric mysticism to the tune of commodified storytelling.) One Frozen anecdote: a year before Anna and Elsa arrived, before my daughter had even caught wind of the movie, we were walking past a pizza shop, outside of which stood a life-size cardboard replica of Elsa. Seeing the six-foot tall blonde princess, my daughter ran up to it and cooed, “I love her! Who is she?”

My mother-in-law’s first attempt to leverage Disney as a way to build a stronger bond came through the Toy Story franchise. Soon Woody and Buzz Lightyear began showing up in the mail in the forms of cards, games and balloons. She even found a way to bypass parental controls and share 20 minutes of Toy Story III with our daughter. And despite enjoying the animated sequence, my daughter didn’t latch on.

Maybe Toy Story was too male, or too “toyish” for her. Or maybe, at three-years-old, she was too young. Flash-forward a year, and with Frozen’s female-driven plot, the story and the sisters have stuck with my daughter like a tongue to a January flagpole.

Children share and spread things around among each other— not just germs. They create their own games, tell stories, and incorporate whatever elements the world makes available to them. So between our first Elsa sighting and the arrival of the dolls, our daughter and her friends had played countless rounds of Frozen freeze tag, where if you’re “it,” your name is Elsa. I’ve watched her swat Frozen piñatas at two separate birthday parties—stick to Anna’s face, punch to Elsa’s. And I’ve heard enough stories about how the girls at school take turns being the characters during dress up, at parties, and pretty much any time a group of small girls gets together. Then she finally saw the movie—in 20-minute segments over four days. Immediately she was singing the songs, acting out scenes, running around calling her self Anna, calling herself Elsa, confusing the issue and forgetting which princess was which.

Then came the dolls.

Here’s one of the critical things with the dolls as far as I’m concerned: I understand the longstanding issues with Barbie’s unrealistic, impossible body. The Frozen dolls, to me, came right out of the same Barbie injection mold. Beyond the body stuff, my other concern had to do with the idea that my daughter’s creativity would lock away into some sort of “Frozen-sanctioned” version of free play.

What if the dolls triggered a new rigid conformity atop her stories and random associations? What if she only wanted to use the dolls to replay the movie? Such is the way of a father’s brain when the father values the mess of story.

No sooner did these thoughts rattle through my inner echo chamber than my daughter, in her own straightforward way, cut right through them. Literally. As soon as Anna showed up, she asked for a pair of scissors—she said Anna’s hair “wasn’t right.”

“I want to cut it all off,” she went on.

“How about we just cut the braids out?” I suggested.

“Okay.”

Anna’s dress went to the wayside next. As did her boots—scale them to adult size, we’re talking some trendy women’s footwear complete with six-inch heels. To my daughter, they were “weird looking.”

Elsa received the same treatment when she showed up. Rather than replicating the movie, my daughter created her own games the way she did with her other toys—corporate branded or otherwise. No longer were the dolls sisters. Now Anna was a baby, Elsa was the mommy, and my daughter was some sort of caretaker who was tasked with protecting Anna. A day later, she carried them against her chest as we walked to the local market. The employees couldn’t stop looking and laughing.

“I love their hair,” one of them said. “They have the quintessential wake up and go hipster Portland girl look. They’re like two Portland-fied Disney princesses.”

This morning I strapped Anna and Elsa into the seat next to my daughter and drove them all to school. The dolls would stay in the car so as not to rile up the other children.

“Do you want me to bring them in when I get home?” I asked my daughter.

“Umm, no,” she said.

“What are the sisters going to do in the car all day?”

She thought for a few seconds.

“They’re just going to wait for me to tell them what we’re doing next.”