The new Disney cartoon Frozen broke a Thanksgiving weekend box-office record, but still got overshadowed by the hyped-up Hunger Games: Catching Fire. You'd think the two blockbusters, starring an icy Disney princess and a dystopian "Girl on Fire," would have little in common, but both movies illustrate the challenges and joys of sisterly love.
At least, that's what I noticed. As my "baby sister" got married before Thanksgiving and my "big sister" will get married this March, sisterly love sticks in the back of my mind.
Viewers initially watched the heroine Katniss Everdeen in the first Hunger Games movie, volunteering herself in place of her sister to fight in an arena against other children. The Hunger Games sequel, which set its own box-office record for all of November, hints at sisterly love as we are reminded of why Katniss is in the games to begin with, amid broader cultural commentary on commercialization and entertainment.
Frozen beat outCatching Fire for the No. 1 box-office spot last weekend and takes a surprising focus on the family. Yes, Frozen is a princess movie. Yes, there's a prince. Yes, it's kind of the anti-Hunger Games movie, given that it kind of highlights the bread and circuses. But Frozen also features sacrificial love in some unexpected ways, especially for a Disney cartoon.
In the beginning, sisters Anna and Elsa (Kirsten Bell and Idina Menzel) are best friends, laughing and playing together until Elsa discovers her own power to turn items into ice, a power than can also hurt people around her. The two become distant as the older sister shuts the younger one out, fearing that her secret power will damage her sister.
SPOILER ALERT/TOTALLY PREDICTABLE PLOT POINT FOR A DISNEY MOVIE: Then, their parents die. My husband and I rolled our eyes, as Disney loves to either kill off parents or simply not include them. Even without Mom and Dad, the family ties remain strong, as the sisters are faced with stumbling out into the world on their own.
Of course, there's a prince, but not the usual kind you find in a princess film. In one dramatic scene, Princess Anna is forced to choose between a "happily ever after" man and her maintaining a relationship with her sister Princess Elsa, who becomes the "Snow Queen," loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen's story.
The film reminded me of my own relationship with my sisters, especially the younger one who just got married. Growing up, I thought I was making so many "sacrifices" for her, loaning her my toys, letting her play with my friends, paving the way for her to get her ears pierced at a younger age. Then I remembered the similar kinds of sacrifices my older sister made for me. Through each other's demonstration, the three of us have learned to pass on the love that has been passed to us by our parents.
Brotherly love gets a lot of play in the Bible, though the concepts are hardly gender specific. " Indeed, "Let brotherly love continue," says the author of Hebrews. The charge seems like an extension of the Golden Rule, where we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love each other as though we are siblings, as though our neighbor comes from our own flesh and blood.
Disney's treatment of siblings in Frozen feels more purposeful than previous films. In Little Mermaid, Ariel is the youngest of seven sisters, but her independent streak simply leads her away from the family. Cinderella faces her cruel stepsisters, but the story is more about her triumph over them in the end than it is about the love she shows them. Or many previous Disney movies simply feature princesses who don't have siblings, like Snow White or Belle in Beauty in the Beast.
Frozen is no match for the complexities portrayed of sisters in literature like Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, or Sense and Sensibility. Then there's C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces retelling of the Greek myth of sisters Cupid and Psyche, which features the themes of rivalry, jealousy, and possessiveness. On the surface, sisterly love, in comparison to "radical" brotherly love, can sound girly or cute. But serious literature has demonstrated the power of sisterly treatment, whether it turns into shared love or mutual destruction.
What Frozen offers is a leap forward in themes for a Disney cartoon, providing children with a picture of sibling challenges that consist of more than bickering and rivalries. As Princess Anna has to climb mountains to reach her sister while Princess Elsa has to come off her mountain to face her fears, it illustrates the persistence they both have in reconciliation.
Frozen captures sibling love by displaying the challenges and the sacrifices love might require of us. Even the romance in the film attempts a creative twist, with a love triangle thrown in the mix. What Princess Anna thinks of as true love is confused by another love interest, demonstrating that love looks different went put to the test.
Initially, I thought I'd be telling people, "Pick Frozen instead of Hunger Games this weekend!" But Hunger Games offers its own powerful qualities, for reasons Alissa Wilkinson has already spelled out in her review for CT Movies. Still, if you're looking for something light-hearted, a movie children can watch, and one that dives a bit into sacrificial love, Frozen will do the trick.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for Religion News Service.