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