Disney movies have been criticized in the past for promoting an unrealistic beauty standard through their princesses as well as constant reinforcement that a man is needed in order to complete a woman. However, in the 2013 movie ‘Frozen’, Disney seemed to have attempted to listen to some of these gendered critiques. The main characters, Anna and Elsa, do still fit the profile of classic Disney princess physically, being white and shockingly thin, however, they manage to challenge the typical storyline of a Disney princess film. Anna goes on an adventure to find her sister after her powers get out of hand and ultimately, the kingdom is saved through the true love of her sister rather than a suitor. There are plenty of progressive and positive themes that child viewers can take from this film. Between Anna’s clumsiness, awkwardness, and honesty, Kristoff’s ability to lead next to a strong woman, and everyone’s reaction to Anna’s quick engagement, and just overall feminist ideals, ‘Frozen’ manages to shake up the usual themes and plot of a classic Disney princess movie.
Anna is not the typical Disney princess. She is clumsy, awkward, naïve, impressionable and emotional in many cases. Viewers are used to a princess that is graceful, elegant and soft-spoken. “Until Mulan, the idea of a clumsy Disney princess was antithetical, and even she found grace and form through her combat training. Until Merida in ‘Brave’, the idea of an outspoken princess was unheard of” (Luttrell). There are many scenes where she knocks things over throughout her family home and she runs into horses on multiple occasions. She’s forward and bold, even tossing a snowball at a building-sized snow monster and at one-point dives off a cliff. And she’s not afraid to call a man ‘gorgeous’, even if it’s awkward. Her overall personality is nowhere near the proper and professional stereotype the viewers usually see in princesses. She seems more real and relatable to young girls. She is not perfect, but she is simply herself. Children can see that it is okay to be a little silly and make mistakes, as well as still being strong and courageous.
Kristoff is Anna’s sidekick on the adventure to find her sister. He manages to be a strong male supporting character surrounded by women. He is not once intimidated or cowed by them. He is willing to admit when Anna is right and values her sense of adventure and brazenness, yet he also is not afraid to call her out, for example, “You got engaged to someone you just met that day?!”. Kristoff represents a modern man that is not a competitor or a love interest, he simply partners with the women. He’s a big supporter of equality, even if it also includes reindeer.
There are countless Disney princess movies where the prince comes and saves the princess and they are almost instantly married. “It encourages young viewers to believe that true happiness for women exists only in the arms of a prince and that their most important quest is finding that prince” (Cummins, 1995, 22). This sends an unrealistic and unhealthy message to children: initial physical attraction is enough to fall in love and get married. Anyone with common sense knows that love takes time. ‘Frozen’ mocks this idea through a musical number ending with Anna and Hans getting engaged. Disney addressed the problem with arranged marriages in ‘Brave’, and then finally in ‘Frozen’ tackles the problematic trope of getting married to someone you just met, but also the notion that all women are supposed to want marriage. The reactions of everyone Anna tells is far more realistic. Elsa refuses to allow Anna to get married to someone she just met, thus creating an argument that causes the main conflict in the story. When Anna attempts to explain her true love to Kristoff, he is “completely flabbergasted by her decision” (Luttrell). Overall, Disney is able to make fun of themselves and their past plot points and let children know that it is unrealistic to jump into a marriage so quickly.
Frozen has gotten many positive reviews due to its “display of powerful, agentic female characters and its privileging of sisterhood over a romantic male-female love narrative” (Rudloff). The movie set a new type of role model for young girls, some critics even comparing Elsa to a female equivalent of a superhero (Rudloff). There are many progressive and feminist themes throughout the movie, some obvious and others subtle. For example, the man in the Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna is probably gay. When he throws in the sauna package for Kristoff, he turns to say, “Hello, family!”. When looking closely, it appears to be a man and children in the sauna. Other themes are more apparent and loud. Both princesses in the movie challenge what past Disney princesses have been known for. Importantly, Elsa challenges the prevalent ‘good girl complex’, a term designated to describe the pressure girls are under to be perfect in all areas. In the song, ‘Let It Go’, Elsa sings “that perfect girl is gone”. She refers to the “pressure of having to be the perfect daughter, sister, and princess. In this song, Elsa releases herself from these pressures and allows herself the freedom to make mistakes and live how she chooses” (Feder). Anna is able to be clumsy and awkward and allowing Kristoff to compliment her as a strong female lead role. This movie opened up a conversation about Disney princesses and what they represent as well as the messages they are sending to the young viewers. The movie promotes equality and female empowerment. It focuses on female strength and does not focus on finding their prince. Strong character development and passionate goals can inspire viewers. Even with their traditionally attractive faces and thin waists, Anna and Elsa are the beginning of a new generation of Disney princesses.
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- “College Feminisms: Slamming the Door: An Analysis of Elsa (Frozen)”. The Feminist Wire, http://thefeministwire.com/2014/10/slamming-door-analysis-elsa-frozen
- Cummins, June (1995). ‘Romancing the Plot: The Real Beast of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 20(1): 22-28.
- England, Dawn E., Lara Descartes and Melissa A. Collier-Meek (2011). ‘Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses’. Sex Roles 64: 555-567.
- Luttrell, Gina. ‘7 Moments That Made ‘Frozen’ the Most Progressive Disney Movie Ever’. Mic, www.mic.com/articles/79455/7-moments-that-made-frozen-the-most-progressive-disney-movie-ever
- Rudloff, Maja. ‘(Post)feminist Paradoxes: The Sensibilities of Gender Representation in Disney’s Frozen’ (2016).