watching Frozen with my daughters: disability as superpower and the power of sister-love

My kids are only two, so I’m still not fully in the loop of kid-culture. Frozen largely stayed off my radar during its run in theaters, because I am NOT crazy enough to take these two to a movie in a theater yet, and I didn’t even see trailers because we don’t have cable and they don’t show ads for movies on Hulu very often. I’d see posts in my social media feeds from moms of older kids complaining about watching it for the umpteenth time, or having the songs stuck in their heads, and I even saw a few videos shared that related to the film, like those self-declared good-looking parents lipsynching. (Tip: unless you’re Derek Zoolander, never talk about how good-looking you are.) 

All that said, the other day we bought Frozen and tried to watch it as a family. The girls had had a long, late nap that day, so we were looking for a low-key evening activity. And I’d been kind of curious about a movie I heard was about two sisters– I have a sister and am raising a pair of sisters and YAY SISTERHOOD, you know? I popped popcorn, and all four of us snuggled on the couch, and we pressed play. Elmo? the girls asked. And kept asking. Basically, through the entire movie they wanted to know where the heck Elmo was, and if Elmo wasn’t in this movie, why were we watching it at all? We didn’t even finish before putting them to bed.

But I caught enough of the movie to dig a fairly feminist message of sisterhood and familial love being as strong and important as romantic love, and I knew I wanted to really watch the film, despite my distaste for Olaf the Abominably Annoying Snowman. So the other day when the girls were napping, we watched Frozen again, without the girls. And upon this viewing, I noticed something different. I started to see a disability narrative where I hadn’t seen one the first time, perhaps because I was distracted by all the demands for Elmo. As I watched this time, I started wondering which girl was Anna and which girl was Elsa, the same way my sister and I used to say, “I’M BELLE!” back before anyone needed a Buzzfeed Quiz to identify with a fictional character.

And it occurred to me, my little white-blond Claire is Elsa. Not just because of the hair, either, but because of Spina Bifida, too. Like Elsa, Claire was born with something that makes her different. Something that has risked her life, something that many might think she should be ashamed of or at least try to conceal and minimize as possible. Like Elsa, Claire will have to learn how to live with this difference, and will perhaps grapple with it, struggle against it, though I hope she will not. I hope she’ll accept her whole self as a whole person, and I want her to see her disability as just another way of being a person in the world, but I do know that like any other part of ourselves that makes us different, she may struggle a bit before she decides how she feels. Elsa, for much of the story, has the idea that her difference is something that must be hidden, that is dangerous to others, that is a barrier to her participation in both family and work life. Notably, this is something she is taught, as at first she plays around with her powers and sees them as a way to connect with her sister. I never want Claire to get the idea that her difference is something to hide. “Conceal, don’t feel” could basically be summed up as the opposite to my philosophy on identity and self.

I admit that I worry that difference will come between Claire and Etta, that one will resent the other either for being able-bodied or for requiring more care and attention, just like Elsa’s powers come between her and Anna. I also must say that I hope they realize the bonds of sisterhood and family love draw them closer than any difference could ever separate them.

Maybe one day, when my girls are a little less Elmo-obsessed, they will be able to watch and identify with Frozen. I hope they don’t get caught up in who has power or who is different. Instead, I hope they understand that for both of them, able-bodied and disabled, the things that make them different are essential to who they are, and that the love and the bond of twin-sisterhood between them is stronger than any difference could possibly be. I’d be fine if they avoid cavorting with annoying snowmen, though.


4 Replies to “watching Frozen with my daughters: disability as superpower and the power of sister-love”

  1. Really really love everything you’ve said in this post, great stuff. Massive fan of frozen, cannot singing the songs though…oops! I think the comparison with disability is really quite an interesting point, for me personally I feel like the film can also apply to depression ‘Don’t let them in, don’t let them see’. The sign of a good film I guess.


  2. I really like your take on this movie. Every time someone is talking about this movie, their all talking about the power in sisterhood, and how that is the only meaning of the movie. I really enjoy that you found something more. I’m happy I read this post because it has opened by eyes to all the meanings you could find in this movie. The comparison with disability is a good point. I use to baby sit a little girl with spina bifida. When she was around three she was extremely jealous of her brother who could do everything she wanted to do. Once I stopped babysitting, because I was to busy with college, she was about six. At this age she seemed more content and she new how to do what she wanted to.
    Great writing <3


  3. Hi Erniebuffalo, I like this post and I just wanted to comment on the thoughts you have around your little twins having trouble when they start to realise the impact of their differences. I have twin boys and while they have nothing like spina bifida, they both have Tourette’s Syndrome and display physical Tics . They own it ‘my Tourette’s’/’your Tourette’s and they both have coping strategies that are different. They display differently it comes and goes in different patterns. When one has a bad time with it, they just understand and accept it. They also have a classic dominant twin thing going on and to my amazement have NEVER turned on each other when one has succeeded in the classroom/sports environment more than the other. I don’t know how they manage it but I think that bond that is formed in the womb is so strong, they are actually two halves of the same whole, with the ability to be a little pod of individual wholeness at the same time. They are identical yet so different. Of course. I am sure your little girls will continue to amaze and delight you with the way they handle the world and I bet one day, your darling without spina bifida will take strength from your darling with the condition. You are such a great mum, I look forward to hearing about how they get on with things – if you continue to share.


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