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Local Expert: ‘Frozen’ Franchise’s Success Is In Breaking With Stereotypes


As “Frozen 2” opens tomorrow in theaters, an expert on adolescent development can share why the Disney blockbuster movie series has cast a spell over millions of fans.

The first installment in the “Frozen” tale is the second-highest grossing animated film of all time with a worldwide box office take of about $1.3 billion. Industry-watchers expect a similar result for “Frozen 2,” which could become Disney’s sixth billion-dollar film this year.

The bond between the sisters who are the main characters is one of the key reasons for the “Frozen” craze, which extends beyond movie theaters into merchandise and more.

“Psychologists see relationships at the core of women’s identity and development, and relationships between sisters occupy a special status among them. The connection between sisters Elsa and Anna shows that Disney princesses can be stronger together. This celebration of sisterhood explains much of the resonance of ‘Frozen,’” said Doreen Arcus, psychologist and associate professor at UMass Lowell.

The “Frozen” phenomenon showcases a new empowerment of Disney’s animated female characters and the popularity of that theme, according to Arcus.

“Disney princesses have become stronger and more independent. But from Snow White to Ariel to Mulan, they have been women apart. Their allies were almost never other female characters but males – whether dwarfs, fish or the Chinese army – and their ultimate attainment was almost always the handsome prince,” Arcus said.

But “Frozen” has flipped this script to wild success. In the first film, Elsa learned to control her powers and discovered that love and attachment – not to a handsome prince, but to her beloved sister Anna – were the key. And while Anna found true love with Kristoff, it did not mean leaving Elsa behind, according to Arcus.

Arcus is an associate professor of psychology at UMass Lowell, where her teaching and research focus on the well-being and development of children and teenagers, especially those with disabilities, in the context of school and family. She is a consultant for the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network.
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