Ice Princess

Anyone who’s read BetaCandy’s articles about Disney’s portrayal of women like this one already knows where I’m going with this. On Saturday, I caught a fluffy Disney movie called Ice Princess.

The story’s about a  girl (really can’t remember her name) who’s so phenomenal at physics she could get a full scholarship to Harvard if she completes an intensive project that puts herself into it. She’s not sure what she’s going to do, but she knows she loves physics. One day, she watches a professional ice skating competition (which she also loves) and realizes her project lies there. She goes to a local skating center and starts videotaping girls practicing for regional competition. Only that’s not getting her personally involved, so she decides to take lessons herself. Surprise! She’s good at that, too.

Skating  quickly becomes dominant in her thoughts, though throughout the film she still uses physics to help her own skating and those of the other girls.  But she starts  to wiggle out of academic things to skate. All without telling her mother because, get this, her mother is uber-feminist and wouldn’t understand her desire to skate at all.

And when her mother finds out what’s been going on, she doesn’t understand. She sees her daughter blowing a future for something that has already changed the girl – her grades have started slipping, she’s wearing a lot more make-up, she’s changed her hair. The mom’s upset. They lose their connection and pretty much stop speaking. The last straw is when the girl blows the interview with Harvard regarding the physics scholarship. The mom asks her how she could give up her dream so easily, and the girl pushes it back on the mom, claiming the Harvard/physics thing was always the mom’s dream and not hers. She begs her mom to just come watch her skate so she can see what passion she has for it. The mom is too hurt. She doesn’t.

And it turns out the mom finally goes and watches the girl skate and has an epiphany. She was blind, you see, to her daughter’s true desires! She should have been more open and understanding!

So, the very Disneyesque, heavy-handed message of the movie is “follow your dreams.” Always a crowd pleaser. The issue I take with it is – the girl was just as passionate about physics. We were given no indication whatsoever that she wasn’t as interested as she seemed to be – she always had her notebook, she was excited to come up with ways to help the other skaters’ techniques using physics, she talked science all the time. I was, frankly, as taken aback as the mother when the girl announced she’s never really wanted Harvard/physics. Huh?

So the big message is “follow your dreams,” and the only slightly less obvious message is “silly girl, you don’t need to use your brain – that’s a far less exciting dream to follow.” And shame on Disney for making the mother “see the light” at the end, after making her over the top feminism apparent in the flick…I don’t care if she stipulated that the girl would have to enroll in college and take at least 2 credits per semester. She was proven “wrong.”

It left a very bitter taste in my mouth, thinking about all the little girls who went to see this movie and left all starry-eyed.


  1. Gategrrl says

    Skating is Glamorous, Physics is Not Glamorous.

    Hmm. I’ll have to ask my daughter if she’s seen this one – she likes to watch the Disney Channel, and I admit, I don’t watch every single movie with her to check on the metamessage. She also likes science, but she’s also coordinated (didn’t get that from ME) and likes sports, so I *finally* signed her up for basketball this season.

    What a strange storyline, though, with the mother. Usually, it’s stagemoms who are like that, trying to live their crushed dreams of a glamorous life through their daughters – whereas this mother actually is an Academic Stagemom. They do exist, to be sure, in both sexes, but frankly, academics and university and college get you farther in life than skating (on a practical level) IMO only.

    I dislike most of what Disney stands for.

  2. sbg says

    Oh, the mom was a stagemom…but we only really realize that after the girl announces how she doesn’t want physics, she wants skating. Up till then, the mom was just eccentric and very supportive of her daughter using her noggin to her fullest potential. She pushed a little regarding Harvard, but, as I said, the daughter didn’t give us any real cues she hadn’t wanted the same until she discovered her hidden skating talent.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    This is one of those metamessages that’s SO bad, even flipping genders wouldn’t help: boy rejects physics for football career. Uh, no. We already have enough kids thinking sports come before education.

    Had she rejected a life of slaving away at the family grocery store just to scrape by for skating, that might be different.

    Or had she rejected physics for becoming a medical researcher or something, it could’ve been a story about parents needing to let kids follow their own dreams, not the parent’s dream.

    But no. Physics isn’t a ladylike career choice. Skating has Barbie’s stamp of approval. That’s the message I get.

  4. scarlett says

    This reminds me of Centre Stage where, at the end of it, an otherwise highly-gifted ballerina tells her steagemother that she ‘doesn’t ahve the heart for it’.
    Yeah, right. You don’t put years and years into something and prove highly talented at it just because you’re technically gifted, but not emotionally passionate about it. I couldn’t buy that she’d put so much work in and never enjoyed it – to me, if you didn’t have the heart, the technical talent for it woiuld never have developed beyond more then just a knack.
    Same again for this scanario. If physics had always been her mother’s dream, I doubt she would have been so good at it. If people don’t have the heart for something, they rarely – if ever – prove to be any good at it.

  5. Mecha says

    Scarlett: I’m gonna have to disagree with you on talent being backed by direct desire in all cases. It is, in fact, generally easy for a significant minority of the population to be good at something, especially at the high school level (or even the college level), but not be passionate about it. Coming from the science and engineering disciplines and private schooling… it’s not a rare concept in the slightest. (Especially when ‘grades’ = ‘good’. If I were doing everything I had the highest grades in, and not doing the things I had the worst grades in, I wouldn’t write a single thing, ever. 😉 Now, that is divorced from this movie’s presentation, which apparently has the girl as being passionate about both, which is a big part of the problem that has been stated, but not with what you said in that post. ^^;

    It’s not rare for people to change, either. Especially before they’re 25. I used to be ‘passionate’ about catholicism until I… wasn’t. I can tell you about many other people I’ve known who’ve been ‘good’ at something, but didn’t have the heart for it in the professional world, and even more stories about how I have changed in the past 10 years. The movie you describe, Centre Stage… ‘She doesn’t have the heart for it.’ has an added word there. ‘Now.’ The ‘Now’ is important. People do change. Even if she enjoyed it before, she doesn’t have to enjoy it now. Even if she’s good at it, it doesn’t particularly mean it’s what they want to do with their life. Especially at that moment.

    On the main subject of this topic… that really is a bleh message. They may have meant to have been doing a childrens’ comparison to ‘businessperson who wants to change their life’, but the idea of dumping mental pursuits for being the Ice Princess is way too overloaded with that bad Barbie-style message to let the attempted warm and fuzzies shine through.


  6. sbg says

    That’s exactly what I took from it. A child probably wouldn’t really even realize what they’re being shown is in any way suspect or should be questioned. It’s cute. Yeah, it’s real cute to establish that Harvard isn’t as exciting a choice as figure skating.

    That’s where the real problem with Disney lies, for me: they’re all too happy to let these kinds of stories influence young kids. They probably don’t even see that there’s a pretty negative flip side.

    Or if they do, they don’t care because they know they’ve got a soft target. Parents might be a tad more discriminating, though. That’s a different rant. 😉

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    I rather suspect they MEAN to send out these messages. Between ads they’ve run that practically urge kids to lie, cheat and steal in order to get their toys, and the story about Walt Disney detecting a single frame of pornography someone sliced into one of his movies as a prank, I just get this strong feeling that Disney is very, very good at sending just the metamessages they want to send.

  8. Glaivester says

    She could have developed her ballet skills entirely to please her mother. I know some people whom I think are pushing their kids into ballet much more strongly than the kids actually want, although the kids do a fairly good job. That someone becomes really good at something to please their parents although they do not like it is not inconceivable to me.

  9. Glaivester says

    Note from BetaCandy: this is a nice example of trolling, i.e., derailing a site to a topic more comfortable to you. Future comments of this nature will simply be deleted.

    Really you don’t like Ice Princess? butit’s a “heartwarming story” that “follows a brainy high school studentwho discovers a passion for ice skating and by using her smarts and following her heart.”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s funny what advertisements get put up on sites.

    (If I was being unclear, the quoted text comes from one of the ads running on this sote).

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    You are so right, Glav! I suddenly realized, why am I allowing a neocon to link to his blog via my comments? So I went right in there and I deleted all the links to your blogs.

    Thank you for showing me the light!

    Oh, and do please read the notice on your above comment.

  11. Glaivester says

    I’m sorry that I offended. I don’t actually disagree with any of your substantive points about the movie. I also was not trying to suggest that you endorsed the advertisement.

    By the way, please note that I am a paleocon, not a neocon.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    I can’t figure out a non-snide way to interpret a remark like “It’s funny what advertisements get put up on sites”. And snide in that context suggests an implication that I am endorsing something hypocritically.

    Of course, if you genuinely find an ad offensive or damaging to the site’s credibility, you can always use the contact form to inform me of it. The comment sections are for commenting on the substance of the articles.

  13. SunlessNick says

    This is one of those metamessages that’s SO bad, even flipping genders wouldn’t help: boy rejects physics for football career. Uh, no. We already have enough kids thinking sports come before education.

    What if she swapped physics for a non-gender-stereotype sport, such as Luge? Your general point of sport before education still applies, which isn’t something I care for either, but a sport that rejects gender stereotype might – might – go some way to offsetting the before education stereotype.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s an interesting idea to consider.

    Hmm. On the one hand, physics-to-luge would be a story that would work equally well for a boy (reducing the problem to the anti-academic message). OTOH, given that it was 1983, not 1512, when the last of the Ivy League schools (Columbia) finally opened their doors to women, ANY message that suggests a woman might be better off doing X than pursuing an academic course of study is going to set off alarms for me.

    But it would reduce the gendered message, even if it didn’t mitigate it. Which is the conclusion you came to. So yeah, I think you’re right.

  15. Anemone says

    I loved Ice Princess. I totally identified with the character, but I suppose if you haven’t been in her shoes you might think the whole thing was a put-on by Disney.

    There are lots of gifted girls who are pressured into going into science because they’re smart. (Men in science want there to be more women, regardless of what women want.) And the girls get straight As in school, because they can, and because they’re supposed to. And when you ask them what they’re interested in, they tell you their favourite science, because they know that they’re supposed to be interested in math and science, because they’re smart. The pressure can be really intense, especially in better educated neighbourhoods. I went into geology at university because I was already tired of the other sciences but I knew I had to study science. One of my sisters studied math at university for the same reasons. When you’re good at academics, the pressure can be intense. (I would have been better off in a fine arts program. But there was no family support for that. And the arts are harder than science – if you want to earn a living – so you do need that support. Sports are probably harder than academics, too.)

    I saw from the beginning that the girl really wasn’t into physics, and really did like skating. You could see her skating on the mini-rink outside her home, and having fun. When the physics teacher “knew” she loved physics by her grades, that was also an obvious cue. The real keeners do it at home, and after school at school, and I didn’t see her playing with physics in her spare time. (Homework doesn’t count.) No, she was skating and watching it on TV. And my impression was that she loved the physical freedom of skating over the straight-jacket culture of science. (I prefer the arts for the same reasons – you don’t have to colour inside the lines like you have to do in science.)

    When you’re gifted, and grades come easily, the real indicator of what to study/pursue is how well you connect with people already in that field. They ask girls (who tend to get better grades than boys) what subjects they like. Wrong question. They should be asking who their heroes are, and who they hit it off with. Because it’s your coworkers who make or break things at work, not the actual job.

    There’s a huge difference between liking school, and being good at it, and wanting to spend the rest of your life studying the same things you studied at school.

    I hope this makes sense.

  16. Maria V. says

    Does the mom start taking classes at comm college or something at the end? It been a while since I’ve seen this, but I thought Joan Cusack talks about why feminism is important to her because of her limited access to education due to her gender/class.

    Also, I thought Michelle Trachtenburg’s character actually deferred admission to Harvard for a year?

    LOL This might have been my brain trying to make the pain go away when I first saw it. It plays OVER AND OVER again in December.

    In any case, I really appreciate this post — I also wanted to add that even though she’s smart and can break down the science of skating, one of the other characters tells her to “feel” it, which I thought emphasized that she’d be happiest (as, of course, all girls are!) feeling instead of thinking.

    :( Nobody ever tells you to feel math or to submit to the equation, even though math and physics have a intuitive, beautiful logic all there own that’s sometimes “felt” more than understood.

  17. Anemone says

    I think the mom is a university professor. She teaches somewhere, and it looked like uni to me. English lit? And I don’t think the daughter deferred for a year (though she could have). I think she said in the interview that she really wanted to be doing something else, and bailed completely.

  18. Maria V. says

    I suspect that the mom being amorphous professionally is a sign of some of the problems SBG mentioned — I think all you need to know about her is that she’s an anti-joy feminist.

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