Originally published by The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/27/frozen-and-the-lesson-of-when-a-bad-guy-is-a-good-guy-in-disguise/
Love it or hate it, one must acknowledge that Frozen is different. Much ink has been spilled over why it struck such a chord with children and parents alike. The girls who save themselves? The best wisecracking, adult-centric character since Robin Williams’ Genie? The relatability of being suddenly shunned or feeling overwhelmed by new responsibility? Here’s a new one: it helps kids rebuff sexual predators.
Say what?! Let me explain.
Hans is the bad guy. Unlike most villains in kids’ films and stories, however, we never see him coming.
He’s charming, but in an unassuming, awkward sort of way. He’s polite, kind even. He saves our heroine from falling. (“Glad I caught you.”) When she does land on her bum, he insists on lending a hand despite her refusal. (Hans: “Are you hurt?” Anna: “No. I’m okay.” Hans: “Are you sure?” Anna: “Yeah, I just wasn’t looking where I was going. But I’m okay.” He gets down from his horse and hops into the boat to help her up anyway.) He assumes she’ll think herself too good for him as a princess. (Hans: “I’d like to formally apologize for hitting the Princess of Arendelle with my horse . . . .” Anna: “No. No, no. It’s fine. I’m not that princess. I mean, if you’d hit my sister Elsa, it would be like ‘yeesh!’”) He gets Anna, liking the same things and relating to her problems in a way no one else does. (“That’s what I was going to say!”) He even divulges the details of his own vulnerability. (“Twelve older brothers. Three of them pretended I was invisible, literally, for two years.”) Without prompting, he promises, “I would never shut you out.” It’s the two of them against the world!
All the while he plots to seize control of her kingdom, killing her and her sister if need be.
In Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane), Gavin de Becker describes these types of behavior as tools used by child molesters attempting to obtain the misplaced trust of parents and children. “Your defense against such people is to recognize the [pre-incident indicators] . . . in the very behaviors intended to put you at ease . . . : forced teaming, charm and niceness, too many details, typecasting, loan-sharking, the unsolicited promise, discounting the word ‘no.’”
“The human being is the only prey in nature that cooperates in its own victimization. Imagine an Impala in Africa looking at a lion and thinking, ‘But this is a nice lion.’ Though people do this all the time, you and your children don’t have to.” Instead, de Becker recommends, “Think of charm as a verb, not a trait. . . . [Tell your]self, ‘This person is trying to charm me’ as opposed to, ‘This person is charming.’ Armed with this shift in perspective, you’ll be able to see around charm.” In order to keep our children safe, “We must learn and then teach [them] that niceness does not equal goodness. Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction.”
When I was nine or ten, my nanny’s husband subbed for her whenever she got sick. He was an affable guy, a happy-go-lucky jokester and proud father of three teenage girls. Luckily for me, I’d been taught—as young Quakers are—that “there is that of God in every man.” In other words, no one can be all bad. There are no good guys and bad guys, just people who sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things.
So when my nanny’s husband put porn on the television, explained “screwing,” and asked me if I wanted to try it, I didn’t think he must be doing a nice thing because he was a nice guy. When he asked if I would move the bubbles in my bath so that he could see me better, I knew he was a person who was both nice and doing a bad thing. I looked him square in the eye and said, “Please leave me alone.” I understood that just as meanness does not equal badness, “niceness does not equal goodness.”
The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” archetype is featured in many fairy tales and their Disney derivations. Take the character of Uncle Scar in The Lion King who manipulates Simba with vile intentions wrapped in a sugar coating of compassion. Even more to the point, some versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” blatantly allegorize a sexual predator stalking a virgin. “Seen the wolf” was once the idiomatic equivalent of “gave it up” or “had her cherry popped”; the sweet talking wolf often asks the little girl to “come get into bed with me”; and in the popular Grimm incarnation he thinks to himself, “that tender young thing would be a delicious morsel.”
Yet in these other cautionary tales, only the fictional character has the wool pulled over his or her eyes. Readers and listeners see the villain for what he really is: a big bad wolf. In Frozen, however, the young viewer is blindsided by Hans’s about-face, experiencing firsthand some of the betrayal and deceit.
For this reason, Prince Hans’s nefariously concealed ill intentions implicitly teach children that “niceness does not equal goodness.” When coupled with explicit parental reinforcement (“He seemed nice and she thought he was her friend, but he planned to hurt her the whole time!”), Frozen does more than give our kids a few hours of entertainment and a framework for winter wonderland imaginings. It offers up a valuable lesson about human nature and prepares them to save themselves, just like Anna and Elsa, and me.