Disney classics and ‘Poisonous Pedagogy’: The fairytale roots of Frozen (2013) | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2042-7875
  • E-ISSN: 2042-7883



Despite a very tenuous connection to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen (1844), the creators of Disney’s Frozen (2013) seemed motivated to keep an affiliation with ‘traditional’ fairytales alive. Having said that, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee also professed to ‘kind of taking a new approach’, while simultaneously wanting to ‘relaunch’ the spirit of the Disney ‘classics’. Although Frozen does avoid a heteronormative love story, I argue that it does indeed harken back to the fairytale-based Disney ‘classics’. This is not because the story actually recalls Andersen’s Snow Queen (1844), but because it operates on a fairytale model used by Disney’s other source for ‘classics’, the Grimm Brothers. In her recent monograph, Willful Subjects (2014), Sara Ahmed begins by quoting the Grimm Brothers’ story of ‘The Willful Child’. The wilful child is one who refuses to capitulate to authority and so is punished by God. This narrative model is part of what Ahmed, following Alice Miller, calls ‘poisonous pedagogy’, a genre of fairytale used to ‘straighten children out’ and ‘cure’ them of wilfulness. I suggest that in trying to retain some connection with the Disney ‘classics’, the creators of Frozen produced a story that leans heavily towards this tradition. Elsa, a child whose will is powerful and visible, is taught that it must be suppressed. When she wilfully abandons her duty, and flouts patriarchal authority, punishment ensues and it is only when she returns to the confines of normal society that life can go on happily. Ahmed’s arguments that this model has been formative in training western subjects to reject wilfulness are affirmed both by the film’s conclusion, and by fan reactions to Elsa’s ‘abandonment’ of Anna and Arendelle. Nevertheless, similar to the ways Ahmed develops a queer reading of ‘The Willful Child’, I suggest that a queer reading of Frozen (2013) may prove fruitful in disrupting the film’s function as ‘poisonous pedagogy’.


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