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Feminspire | April 20, 2014

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Disney’s “Frozen”: The Feminist Fairy Tale We’ve Been Waiting For (With No Prince Charming)

Disney’s “Frozen”: The Feminist Fairy Tale We’ve Been Waiting For (With No Prince Charming)

| On 02, Dec 2013

What if I told you that Disney Animation just released a movie with not one, but two lead female characters who star in that movie as sisters who love and care about each other and are not “saved” by any men? And that it was a Disney Princess movie? Well, hold onto those Mickey ears, because Frozen is that movie. Despite Disney’s awful advertising that leads you to believe that Olaf, the lovable but pretty sidelined snowman, is the center of this movie, the focus is unfailingly on the relationship between Anna and Elsa throughout the actual movie.

By far my favorite aspect of Frozen was the complete reversal and subversion of the Disney Princess conventions. The two sisters are close as can be as children (I need to say before I go on that whenever Disney shows kid-versions of their characters I kind of can’t handle the cute), until Elsa, with her powers to create and control snow and ice and wintery things, accidentally harms Anna. To cure her, Anna’s memories of her sister’s powers are taken away and Elsa and her parents decide that a solitary life is what Elsa needs to lead in order to keep her powers a secret.

Flash forward a few years, after the sisters have grown incredibly far apart and their parents have died (this is a Disney movie after all), Anna, an energetic and fun-loving princess, is all too ready to get out of her and her sister’s unexplained isolation inside the castle walls on her sister’s coronation day. So excited, Anna gets swept up into the arms of Hans, a visiting Prince from another Kingdom where he is only 13th in line for the throne. When Anna tells Elsa, the quiet and sensible newly crowned queen, about Hans, Elsa refuses to give her blessing, because why would you get engaged to someone you just met and don’t know?

The great thing is that moments before, Anna and Hans have the typical Disney true-love duet, ala Aladdin or Tangled, and as an audience member (and someone way more versed in Disney Princess lore than is good for me probably) I thought, well that’s dumb, but this is a Disney Princess movie. It’s pretty standard. And then they toss it right back into your face.

Eventually, Elsa’s powers are revealed, and because she cannot control them when she is really emotional, she turns their Kingdom of Arendelle into a snowy wonderland in the middle of summer. Her lack of control over her powers is later revealed to be in part because of her and her parent’s decision to conceal and repress Elsa’s powers, and by extension her emotions and passion. Anna, seeing her distraught sister fleeing to the mountaintops, does not back away from her powers for a moment and is determined to find Elsa and talk to her. Repeatedly throughout the film, Anna says it over and over again: I’m going to find my sister and talk to her. Not seek answers for herself, not lead an attack on her for being what everyone assumes is the equivalent of the “wicked witch.” The story from start to finish is the tale of two sisters.

Disney's Frozen

Elsa and Anna do finally reunite in the film, but only to have yet another fight, and Anna again gets accidentally hurt by Elsa’s unpredictable powers. Kristoff, who Anna has bribed into helping her up the mountains to Elsa, rushes them to his “family” to find out how to cure her. Obviously, in true Disney fashion, the answer is “an act of true love.”

(MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE ENDING OF FROZEN FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE I REALLY DON’T WANT TO SPOIL THIS ONE)

Kristoff and Anna jump to the same Disneyfied conclusion that the rest of us did: Hans. Remember, that Prince from the begining who’s back taking care of Arendelle? The two make their way back to the castle, and Kristoff leaves Anna without knowing if there’s anything for him to do. Anna gets to Hans and for once it is the Princess who is chomping at the bit for their true love’s kiss, only to be denied. Because Hans, this Prince Anna met and sang one song with, only proposed to get the throne.

In the end it is not a true love’s kiss that saves Anna. It is herself. Anna’s act of true love that saves her sister from the angry villagers is enough to save her as well. It is not the knight in shining armor or the Prince from a foreign land that becomes the hero of this movie. Anna and Elsa embrace who they are and lead their kingdom into a happily ever after that we haven’t seen in a Disney Princess movie ever before. No one is married. No one is engaged (lookin’ at you, Tangled ending voiceover). Anna is even asked for consent before her kiss with Kristoff, that comes not as the final shot of the movie like so many, but almost an afterthought. We of course end where we began: with Anna and Elsa playing in Elsa’s conjured ice as sisters bringing their kingdom back to rights.

I wish Disney had made a movie with Princesses of color. I wish they’d made Princesses with a different body type. I wish they’d done a lot of things. But this movie is an incredibly moving, entertaining tale at its heart about two sisters. I believe it’s the first Princess movie to not revolve entirely around a love interest or romantic love (in Brave the mother/daughter rift is spurred by the mother’s wish for Merida to marry). Anna’s relationships to Hans and Kristoff are completely secondary to Elsa, and they are woven into the plot beautifully. Elsa, notably, has absolutely no love interest. This movie is also breaking records at the box office, which means that there are sure to be Princess movies to come that will hopefully bring us more diverse and liberated Princesses.

Written by Shelby Rosten

  • Notawoman

    I think you are forgetting about Brave…

    • Monica

      Brave is a Pixar film – not Disney…

  • Molly Moon
    • stewart

      That’s not a take on the movie, its just a pre-judgment based on some concept art and a frankly quite poor trailer.

    • Inlustris

      Yes! I’ve read that article and I entirely agree. It might be a feminist film, (and I enjoyed it tremendously) but Disney did so many sexist/racist things in development of it. =[ Ugh. I’m a huge Disney fan, why can’t they make a movie without making it sexist/racist/classist? =[

      In terms of plot though, I wish the sisters had more agency. Elsa was a girl who couldn’t control her powers, I kind of wish she could, or that in an angry, upset bitterness she froze Arendelle. Not that it all happened outside of her control. This is a super common trope with powerful women or evil women and its old. Either they are sexy and evil or they are innocent and can’t control their ‘emotions’.

      And they ended up magically waking up in a lot of places. They were taken and carted around by male characters. Imprisoned and saved. Bleck.

      But I did love it! And I highly recommend watching it, because it still is about two sisters. I have a little sister who is the opposite of myself and I actually saw bits of our relationship reflected in the movie. Plus, many of the characters are downright endearing.

    • AnonyMouse

      Outdated and completely off about everything tho. What part of Disney always twists stories do they forget? What part of marketing isn’t the final product do they miss? All of that.

  • Trivia Lady

    “I wish Disney had made a movie with Princesses of color.”
    What about Princess Tiana from “The Princess & the Frog”?

    • Sidhe

      Yes, Princess Tiana is a WoC, but she spends the majority of the movie as an animal so I’d say that’s hardly enough representation.

    • Alex

      That was one princess…

  • AnonyMouse

    Actually, the sister’s save Anna together. The act of true love that Anna does in saving Elsa from Hans’ attack inspires Elsa to recognise the sacrifice her sister made, that she’d been wrong to shut her little sister out, and together, they break the curse. Funny thing about curses, the person cursed cannot exactly save themselves alone.

  • I agree with you

    There are a ton of non white princesses: Tiana, Pochahuntus, Jasmine, Mulan

    • Sidhe

      There’s four in total, to Disney’s 9 white Disney princesses (counting Ana and Elsa). It’s not a quota that needs to be filled, there still needs to be more!
      Why? Because why not?

      (Also, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan were inaccurately portrayed.)

      • miss

        Elsa is not a princess…

    • Alex

      One Black princess, one Native princess, one Middle Eastern princess, and one Asian princess. Wow. Amongst over ten white princesses. Yep, quite a ton of non-white princesses there.

      • Aldo Dedionigi

        The ACTUAL Disney Princess:

        -Snow White

        -Cinderella

        -Aurora

        -Eilonwy

        -Ariel

        -Belle

        -Jasmine

        -Megara

        -Kida

        -Tiana

        -Vanellope

        -Merida

        -Elsa

        -Anna

        …that’s one African American princess, one dark-skinned Greek princess, one dark-skinned alien princess, one Middle Eastern princess, and ten white princesses.

    • Alexander Nielsen

      So? If you take a story from, say, nordic mythology, do you suggest we… blackwash the characters? That isn’t better than whitewashing. If p(A) is bad then p(B) is bad, well, except for hypocrites I suppose. Skin colour is just an aesthetic attribute. They chose white, and I agree with that choice. Snow is white.
      Why put any more stock into it than that? I really don’t understand why people place so much importance on skin colour. It is not like if I watch a movie about Ra or Vishnu (hardly “white” mythology) that I run around and whine about the lack of white people. How are we ever going to get past racism when people keep bringing up skin colour as if it had any importance?

      • Sam

        Shut up, white boy.

      • Aldo Dedionigi

        Remember the last time Hollywood blackwashed a Nordic character? In the “Thor” movies, the Asgardian god Heimdall is played by a black man. There was an uproar as soon as it was announced, and there’s still an uproar now.

        So, going by THAT, turning Elsa black wouldn’t have been a good idea.

    • The_Emperor

      Problem is since they are not white, feminists don’t consider them strong female characters. Something I’ve noticed. Women’s rights in the Middle East? Not important.
      Katy Perry saying she isn’t a feminist? Oh the horror.

  • Monica

    Brave was released under the Pixar brand – it is quite different to being released under the Disney brand. Pixar is young, edgy, risk-taking. Disney is ultra-conservative, traditional, paternalistic.

    I’d bet money that if Brave had not performed well then Frozen would not have been released – or at least would have been reworked considerably. While Brave does have some of the hallmarks of a Disney princess movie, in the end it wasn’t (songs, anyone?).

    • Chrissy

      No, Brave was PRODUCED by Pixar. It was released by Disney…otherwise, she wouldn’t have been “inducted” by Disney as a DISNEY Princess (and the subsequent disgusting sexualization of Merida.) It is also sold as a DISNEY product. Oh, yeah, and Disney bought Pixar in 2006, so, yeah, there’s that too.

  • MO

    Errr… Elsa had to become Barbie slut to “empower” herself – very feminist! Girls, to make yourselves feel better about who you are, run away, backcomb your hair, wear a sexy revealing (legs) dress and high heels. Also move into a giant ice palace and don’t work out or talk through your problems. Elsa… the perfect role model of 8 year old girls!

    • Jace

      *facepalm* Dumbass.

  • Danielle Colman

    I have to disagree – Frozen isn’t remotely feminist. If anything, it’s the opposite: https://medium.com/disney-and-animation/7c0bbc7252ef

    • ATableHasLegs

      Oh I didn’t realise someone had already posted a link to this article! Awesomesauce.

      I totally agree with you. Frozen is in no way a feminist movie. Older Disney movies are wayyy more feminist than this movie.

      • http://medium.com/@directordanic Danielle Colman

        Well, I did write it! Very glad you enjoyed it though – at very least, I hope it’s got people taking a more critical approach to feminism in Disney movies. There’s a follow-up about the troll scene, too, because for me that’s easily the part of the film with the most disturbing implications: https://medium.com/24-frames-per-second/7b07cd234f9e

        • ATableHasLegs

          Lol sorry it didn’t click that you wrote it. I don’t know if it’s cos you went by the name Dani in the article or cos I just wasn’t paying attention to your name at all eek. Anyway I think I said this on another article you commented (where I realised you were the author) that I appreciate you writing that article and thanks for putting it out there! :)

        • miss

          You should stop comparing frozen to othr movies,it covers hlf the page. anna and Elsa are sisters,of course they’ll look different. Elsa isolated herself because sh doesn’t want to hurt anybody.I swear I think you’re just looking for a reason to be angry, IT’S JUST A FAMILY MOVIE!!!

    • Randomscroller

      I read that article to the end. Well written, but I’m afraid I agree with very little of it. I think that both of us are interested in the way women are portrayed in the media and thereby concerned, however I think you pick some…interesting targets for criticism and defense (read: Frozen and Sucker Punch respectively). You also completely lost me when you used arguments that used movies like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to negate the “no wedding at the end” point (which isn’t the be-all-end-all of that argument and a very over-simplified stance on the point many people were making) and had the Little Mermaid as an example of a movie with as much stress on family love as Frozen and possibly somehow a more feminist one?(???). To clarify my position/confusion; yes, I got that Tritan was the one who finally gave Ariel her legs because he was her father and he loved her. Ariel’s last line is, indeed, “I love you daddy”…as she effectively says goodbye to him, her culture, all of the rest of her family and friends and entire previous life for a man she spent a total of 3 days with prior to this decision. In addition she had run away to be with a complete stranger in the first place after (sort of) meeting him once. In contrast, Anna is willing to give up her life and therefore a romance with her “true love” (not confirmed) to save her sister’s life and the last thing that she does in the movie is skate with the sister that she just reconnected with. Also for Frozen; yes, there is a relationship starting after a short period of time. The emphasis being STARTING.

      I need to stop myself here though. I am 110% certain you have heard these rebuttals before in addition to the numerous others that I can come up with; I won’t be changing your mind and your article didn’t change mine. I think you express yourself well and write very well, but I’m afraid you had many points that were as exaggerated (one last quick example: 5 inch stilettos? I measured that and took a look at the picture you had attached and others. 5 inches is Lady Gaga height, not the admittedly dainty and fragile things Elsa was wearing; Cinderella had as high a heel or higher if you really like old school Disney), out of context and straw-man like as you accused the ‘Strongly Worded Rebuttal’ author of utilizing. It should, however, be noted that you handled that rebuttal with dignity instead of turning it into a mudslinging contest, for which I respect you. Quite frankly, however, you and I will never see eye to eye on this movie, or I suspect a number of interpretations of female characters if you thought Sucker Punch was more feminist than this and “Fixer Upper” was a song about the Trolls trying to rape/get Anna raped….?

      All the best to you nonetheless.

  • Ricardo Aguilera

    So basically the ideal feminist story is one in which men are either completely irrelevant or close to irrelevant….and people say feminist hate men why again lol.

    • todd

      there are plenty of good movies about men where the role women play aren’t important. there are some good movies where the roles of men and woman are (more or less) equally important. however, there are very few movies about women that don’t ultimately revolve around men. we’re all about true equality here.

      • Ricardo Aguilera

        Out of all the films ever created….it would be a fair assumption to assume there are just as many films about women that don’t involve men as there is in the reverse.

        In the case of men, the biggest block buster movies in recent years and of all time involve stories which have women as the central focus of men’s lives….just look at any marvel movie or super hero film.

  • ATableHasLegs

    Lmao. Frozen is in no way a feminist movie. In fact I’d even say it’s an anti-feminist movie.

    Why you ask? Visit this link and read what this insightful person has to say about the topic : https://medium.com/disney-and-animation/7c0bbc7252ef

    I could not have said it better myself! :)

    • http://www.benjaminchirlin.com/ Ben

      A bit on the long side but a great counter point to the Frozen praise. Definitely got me reassessing my take on the film.

  • Charly

    Ummmm, what about Brave?

    In Frozen there was Hans and Kristoff, both of which were loved by Anna at one point or another. I know, Hans was a lier but they still sung a whole song together! In the end too, Kristoff ends up with Anna.

    In Brave, yes there were suitors, but Merida never loved any of them and none of them clearly loved her. Throughout the movie she isn’t in a romantic relationship with anyone.

    I just think that the title is a bit misleading, Brave stole the feminist show first.

    • Aldo Dedionigi

      I’d argue Merida is a better feminist icon than either Elsa or Anna. She is a true Celtic warrior, always ready for battle, always ready to lead her men in combat, who can fight as well as the men, be as smart as the smartest man, and rule over her kingdom with honor and justice.

  • Cameronsettotkill

    If it wasn’t for an impetuous sibling, pressuring Elsa into making a damn snowman, the whole movie wouldn’t have happened. It’s all Anna’s fault and she didn’t deserve a happy ending with Olaf. This has nothing to do with feminism, only to point out that Anna is the real villain.

  • Austin Gzym

    I can’t really say this is a movie about gender. It’s about family, and the love and bonds that can be shared between family. It isn’t about “the man they didn’t need to save them.” It’s about- guess what?- That’s right, family. Shall I say it again?

  • Bella

    How is having two female characters, who are irresponsible and unaware of consequences a good thing? Wouldn’t characters who are strong, like Merida, or Mulan, be a better portrayal of women?