The Science Behind Our Kids' 'Frozen' Obsession

·Senior Editor

Photo by Disney

You know how the longer you’re a parent, the more you understand that your child’s every precious move and utterance is less unique than you want it to be? Well, I’d forgotten that briefly, last winter, when my then-5-year-old became totally obsessed with dressing in a cape and tiara and performing over-the-top renditions of “Let it Go” for anyone (including our cat) who would sit for the three-and-a-half minutes required. I marveled at how well she got into character! How completely absorbed she was in the storyline!

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And then I noticed that everyone else with a little kid was posting and talking about the same thing — and that there were endless YouTube videos of evidence, not to mention myriad sing-along events, and, by Halloween, more trick-or-treating Elsas than anyone ever wanted to see in a lifetime. And now, just in case we weren’t completely certain of just how thoroughly predictable our kids have been in their love of the icy princess, comes this: A bona fide psychological analysis of what makes the “Frozen” obsession absolutely universal.

The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist Frozen,” a Jan. 6 article in Time magazine, features two psychologists — Maryam Kia-Keating, of the University of California Santa Barbara, and Yalda T. Uhls, of Common Sense Media — laying out their theories with all the seriousness of a scholarly journal article.

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“Little girls have long been drawn to princesses. But what is it that makes Frozen so much more appealing than previous princess movies—and why does it enrapture young children in particular?” they wonder about the Disney film, which raked in $1.2 billion at the box office. “As psychologists (who happen to be sisters just like the heroines in the film) and the mothers of princess-loving daughters, we decided to consider this question.”

What the duo came up with is fascinating, and rings totally true:

A preschooler’s emotional world resembles Elsa’s internal struggle. “Her emotions are strong, passionate — and seem uncontrollable. Preschoolers too, are driven by their impulses.”

Children respond to stories of magical realism. Elsa’s powers are a particular draw, and the potential for horror and fear is averted because there are no witches or constant villains to worry about.

Kids love the connection between Elsa and Anna. “Despite Elsa’s repeated rebuffs to Anna’s attempts to develop a friendship throughout most of the movie, their bond underscores dedication to family above all,” they write. “Preschoolers are deeply entrenched in their families…. [The princesses] preach sisterly love and girl power.”

The emotional sing-along aspect seals the deal. “When asked what she thought the song was about, Maryam’s daughter smiled and put it succinctly: ‘It’s about Elsa being happy and free, and nobody bothering her,’” the piece concludes. “So there it is, the crux of the matter: a universally appealing desire to be happy and free.” Which is a pretty precious thing to be obsessed with, no matter how typical it makes your little ones.