Walking into the Hyperion Theatre at Disney’s California adventure, excitement is in the air. Toddlers wearing princess ball gowns as well as individuals of all ages wearing their Disney park gear gallop through the doors, hunting for the best seats in the house.
As I approach my row and finally sit down after a long day of walking, I begin to admire the atmosphere around me. Before the show even starts, Disney has managed to master the use of projections and lights to create a mountain scene in front of us. The image of the landscape slowly begins to move, signaling the performance is about to begin as the song “Vuelie” echoes against the walls.
Though I have seen the show many a time, I still manage to become quite excited, a magic that only Disney can provide. In the tale of “Frozen,” two royal sisters, one having magical ice abilities, must conquer all odds to find the true meaning of sisterhood while encountering a snowman or reindeer along the way.
This particular showing, though, must have most definitely been the greatest cast I have witnessed on the stage. The cast was nothing but extraordinary and talented, but the real standout was the actress who played Anna, the red-haired, adventurous princess who dreams of true love. Giving a phenomenal performance, she managed to make jokes that I had heard dozens of times before down right hilarious. Both myself and those who had accompanied me to the show believe that this particular actress was the best Anna portrayal we had ever seen.
As my party and I exited the theatre, I heard a little girl behind me ask, ”Mom, why did Anna have dark skin?” To that question, the mother had no response. Now, this little girl’s question leads to another question that has arisen within individuals as well as within society: is it acceptable to change the face of an already established, well-known character in professional adaptations?
Though many may complain that having a Scandinavian princess with dark skin is unacceptable, I must thoroughly disagree. When contemplating this question, it is important to ask oneself what purpose the race of the character serves in the plot of the tale. In films like “The Help,” for example, the race of the characters cast in the film are essential to the plot of this book adaptation due to the fact that the entire plot is based around racial prejudice.
But in cases like the one we see with Disney’s musical adaptation of Frozen, the race of Anna, nor any other character, plays no quintessential role in the story. For this reason, the race of Anna was completely meaningless; talent and passion, though, are what hold true meaning and value.
Another notable example of racial differences in adaptations of famous works of fiction is the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” In this production debuting in the West End, Noma Dumezweni, who portrays Hermione on stage, is black. Many fans of the book and film series were outraged by this, while others were supportive. Using the same line of reasoning as used previously, Hermione’s race did not advance the plot or contribute to the plot of the play in any way, so the race of the actress playing her would, therefore, be arbitrary.
I have since gone back to Disney’s California Adventure and seen the stage magic many more times. On one Saturday, there was an Elsa played by an Asian woman, Queen of Arendelle who, with her ice powers, brilliantly depicted a great journey of self-discovery. A few weeks later, I saw a black woman play Elsa as well who brought the house down with her rendition of the iconic, Academy Award winning song “Let it Go,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
I greatly applaud the Walt Disney Company for allowing talent to be the true criteria of casting the musical spectacular currently running at one of their parks. When prompted with the challenging question of changing the race of characters in adaptations, Disney sets an example for many and answers, as Queen Elsa would sing “Let it Go.”