Frozen and Feminism

Frozen

Recently, I made a wager with my younger sister that I would watch Frozen if she watched 12 Years a Slave (don’t worry, she’s 19). To be honest, I was ready to get her to do anything to stop singing “Let it Go.”

However, upon watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. If Disney makes a plush toy out of Olaf the Snowman, I will be buying one…for one of my little cousins of course.

At first, I was convinced Frozen was going downhill, and apparently I was not alone. Numerous feminists are upset with the movie for a number of reasons. From what I can understand, some are upset because it isn’t true to The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. First of all, is the movie titled “The Snow Queen”? Exactly. Disney movies aren’t carbon copies of the source material and if they were, they would obviously not be for children.

Someone was upset that Frozen only represented “first-wave feminism”. Be thankful that it represents ANY feminism, it is a Disney movie remember?

And this person just had a vendetta against the movie for about the first half of her analysis although I found myself agreeing with her on the last half-page of points. I felt that her tables about marriage and betrothal in Disney movies didn’t really take into account that the audience basically knows that the two characters will eventually be getting married by the way that the relationships are going, and that those actions basically happen in sequels to those movies.

I have to say that I connected more with this breakdown of the film. As I watched, I found myself cracking up and having fun. At one point, my sister told me that she saw some of our relationship in the relationship between Elsa and Anna, which was interesting. How many other girls see themselves in either Elsa or Anna? For other Disney princess movies, the characters represented wonderful ideals for girls to aspire to. Belle read books, Pocahontas wanted the ability to choose her own path, and Mulan wanted to bring honor to her family and she fought alongside men. I found myself admiring these characters as I grew up and I’m sure many girls did as well.

However, how many girls said “I’m just like Mulan” instead of “I wish I were like Mulan” or “I want to be like Mulan”? I think Disney did something clever with Frozen and the relationship between Elsa and Anna. More girls are identifying with the struggles, desires, and relationships that the characters are experiencing, and I think that’s fantastic.

When it comes down to it, the fact that Frozen downplays romantic relationships is why everyone is excited about it. In many Disney movies, but especially the princess movies, the crisis is in the wake of some romantic plot. In Frozen, women finding agency for themselves without a man is the main point. That is why people are happy.

Also, if your parents died and you had to basically raise yourself, you’d turn out a little crazy too as the audience can see in Elsa’s self-repression and Auna’s little-to-no common sense in the beginning.

Frozen had all the tenets of Disney (the destruction of family through death, girl meets boy, girl wants to marry boy within 15 minutes of meeting him, and a cringe-worthy song.)

But, I believe every single woman who thinks of auditioning for The Bachelor should watch Frozen and then decide if they still want to go on The Bachelor. Why would you get engaged to someone you just met? I think it happens all too often that people are attracted to someone and then immediately project into the future and start thinking about marriage and the whole nine yards. It’s just a common sense thought, but I digress.

Even though Disney has been subtly subverting the message of perfect relationships and happily-ever-afters, a lot of that thought has seeped though to current culture. Many romantic relationships often end up being co-dependent and/or dysfunctional. I have not watched Don Juan by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but I admire what he was trying to do with the project. No one deserves to have preconceived notions put on them and then be expected to conform to those. Everyone loses in that respect. I actually liked the song by the trolls in Frozen because it’s true to a certain extent. No one is perfect and everyone is a “fixer-upper.” The sooner people are able to come to terms with that, the healthier they will be.

Frozen should not be the end all be all for feminism, because that’s a tall order. And if that’s what feminists were expecting with Frozen, especially being a Disney film, then it’s no wonder that they were disappointed.  What should (and did) happen is that Frozen should be used to prompt engaging conversation about feminism and the future of feminism. And besides, if one little girl is inspired by Frozen and grows up to become a fantastic feminist, won’t the movie have served more than it’s purpose?

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10 comments on “Frozen and Feminism

  1. The point is though that the DP movies usually get undeserved flak for being “anti-feminist” when in truth Disney gave us a myriad of heroines (is in fact the only western animation company which regularly dishes out female protagonists), but as soon as they make a movie and claim that it is “different”, the audience is lapping it up and praising it as “feminist” when in fact both Elsa and Anna are way weaker characters than the princesses which came before them (“I want to marry?” That goal has been out since the classic princesses). They just have a “don’t marry someone after one day” moral in and everyone is lapping it up.
    Frozen is not a bad movie…but it is nevertheless one which has a lot of problems (the placement and use of the songs, the contrived plot, the lack of focus). One of the biggest problem is, yes, the source text. Yes, it is called “Frozen”. But is was supposedly the adaptation of “The Snow Queen”…and usually when Disney adapts a fairy tale, it improves it by giving the female character more of an own agenda. In this case though they took a tale which already was one of the most feminist out there, featuring a heroine (who didn’t need help to travel through snow, thank you very much, because she was competent enough to take care of herself) and some other pretty interesting female characters…and then proceeded to make said heroine incompetent and replaced all the female side characters with an all male cast. I’m usually the first one who defends Disney, but they used to do much better on the equality front.

    • I agree with a lot of what you are saying. The goal is definitely old, but the relatable natures of Anna and Elsa is probably because they are weaker and flawed princesses. I am usually a stickler when movies are adapted from source materials like books and plays rather than just based upon. With fairy tales, it’s interesting to see the different ways they are adapted because everyone has their own spin. For some reason with Frozen, I found a more positive experience than I usually do when seeing adaptions, especially because I shared it with my younger sister.

      • Have you watch Tangled? It’s funny, I spend a whole year defending the design of Anna as “house style”, saying that just because there are some similarities to Rapunzel, it doesn’t mean that she is a copy of her…and then I watched the movie and was very disappointed…because that’s exactly what Anna is, a weaker version of Rapunzel. And Elsa, who was originally planned as villain with redemption arc (I honestly would love to see that) reminds me strongly (too strongly) of Wicked.

    • @swanpride

      Hi. Late, I know, but, I don’t think that Anna is a weaker version of Rapunzel at all. I actually think Anna’s better written. I admit that Anna is more awkward than Rapunzel, but Rapunzel’s isolation had no effect on her. She was locked up her whole life in a tower and convinced that people are evil. However, Rapunzel is able to take out a thief, sings with thugs, and dances with people in the kingdom. May I remind you that she was convinced that people are EVIL? Rapunzel easily adapted to her surroundings. All of that isolation was shoved aside for her to fall in love with Flynn Rider/Eugene and for her inner journey of…um…seeing the floating lanterns. I feel like Rapunzel’s backstory wasn’t handled very well and she was just lucky to meet nice people.

      Compare to Anna and Elsa. Elsa is still afraid of approaching people after 13 years of isolation. She is introverted by everyone (including Anna) and does not open up to people (for good reason). It also makes sense for Anna to want “true love.” She didn’t want a husband, so to speak. She wanted a companion, because she’s lived in isolation her whole life. She wanted to get it with every chance she got because she thought she only one day and doesn’t really go about it very happily (unlike Rapunzel who met only nice people). Yes, she did make stupid mistakes like when she went after her sister in a ballgown and attempted to climb a cliff. But, that’s the point. Wouldn’t it make sense for a girl who was in a castle her whole life with almost no real company (save for a few servants) to do dumb things? She’s adapting to her environments. I do admit that the sisters’ parents’ death had no reflect on them up to Elsa’s coronation, but, I digress.

      • Ymmv…I think that they handled Rapunzel’s development very well. In Anna’s case, I don’t think that it makes any sense to isolate her. She doesn’t have any powers after all. Plus, she isn’t even isolated…there are supposedly servants. And yet we don’t see them. Why? If you grew up isolated, wouldn’t you latch on any human contact available, never mind of servant or not?
        The very premise of the movie doesn’t work for me (especially if you know the fairy tale, which doesn’t have a love story at all, instead a competent heroine who is able to go on a rescue mission alone). Rapunzel, like all the other Disney Princesses, was an upgrade from the original story. But Anna is a downgrade.

  2. Yes I did. I enjoyed your analysis of Tangled, especially the last paragraph when you discuss badly written romances. And Anna, Elsa, and Rapunzel do look very similar, I remember seeing an article about that controversy and a designer talking about how it was so hard to animate the sisters’ facial features and make them look completely different, emotionally. I didn’t think about Anna being a weaker version before. And it was interesting to note that Elsa is the villain, but with the way “Frozen” is written, no one really sees her that way. Although maybe audiences got a tiny glimpse when she attacks her sister. Other than the “don’t marry someone just in one day”, do you think that there are other reasons for people connecting so strongly with “Frozen”?

  3. @swanpride Might as well get angry at the public and not Disney. Disney is not the one making these. http://awesomelyluvvie.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/princesses-problems.jpg Frozen is a response to the degradation of princesses that already occurred in the public’s eye.

    Anna can be viewed as a deconstruction of Rapunzel. They’re both characters that put their trust in men they’ve only met for a few hours. Eugene takes advantage of Rapunzel’s naivete by taking her to the Snuggly Duckling and then that gets played for laughs. Hans takes advantage of Anna’s naivete and that gets played for stranger danger, which in the real world is more likely than a bunch of criminals bursting into song. So people conclude that Rapunzel is a wiser character than Anna purely based on outcome, rather than the actual wisdom of those characters.

    As for Anna being a weaker character than Rapunzel. Meh. She grows, she changes, she takes action, she makes the final sacrifice which doesn’t get trumped by someone cutting her hair.

    As for adaptation from the original Snow Queen. Don’t care. It’s not a displacement of the original, Disney doesn’t have to be the studio to make the most accurate Snow Queen adaptation, there are plenty of other adaptations out there that already exist, go watch those instead. (Also, Gerda relies on the kindness of strangers! She’s awesome but she’s not able to take care of herself until others assist her and give her reindeer and clothes. It is not remotely demeaning to get help from others! Which is what Anna does!)

    We don’t have to limit ourselves to one story and one mould of feminist ideology. We can have the feminist story that quietly presents the alternative woman (Mulan, Lilo and Stitch) and we can have the feminist story that takes on the sins of the past and critiques it explicitly (Frozen, Easy A). They are both useful. You can have a preference for one type of story or another but it doesn’t make one worse than the other.

    Gail Simone tweeted that studios are actively looking for fantasy stories with sisterhood themes based on the success of Frozen. If Frozen didn’t cut it for you, have heart. More stories that explore sisterhood that may be better suited to your tastes will come out because the response to Frozen helped change the game in Hollywood.

  4. I appreciate the perspective – I felt like this was a great step for Disney, but I don’t like how it’s being touted as a feminist movie – we need to keep taking steps forward to even things out. I wrote this parody about it: http://tinyurl.com/op6xqml. Check it out if you’re interested!

  5. Hi. I don’t think that Anna is a weaker version of Rapunzel at all. I actually think Anna’s better written. I admit that Anna is more awkward than Rapunzel, but Rapunzel’s isolation had no effect on her. She was locked up her whole life in a tower and convinced that people are evil. However, Rapunzel is able to take out a thief, sings with thugs, and dances with people in the kingdom. May I remind you that she was convinced that people are EVIL? Rapunzel easily adapted to her surroundings. All of that isolation was shoved aside for her to fall in love with Flynn Rider/Eugene and for her inner journey of…um…seeing the floating lanterns. There is also a lack of an arc for Rapunzel to abandon Mother Gothel’s side. That was her “parent” for 18 years, yet Rapunzel had no problem leaving her side. Then she rebels against Mother Gothel OUT OF NOWHERE. Then, Mother Gothel’s death has no impact on Rapunzel despite being her ONLY companion for 18 years. Overall, Rapunzel was lucky to meet nice people. Heck, even a nice thug.

    Compare to Anna and Elsa. Elsa is still afraid of approaching people after 13 years of isolation. She is introverted by everyone (including Anna) and does not open up to people (for good reason). It also makes sense for Anna to want “true love.” She didn’t want a husband, so to speak. She wanted a companion, because she’s lived in isolation her whole life. She wanted to get it with every chance she got because she thought she only one day and doesn’t really go about it very happily (unlike Rapunzel who met only nice people). Yes, she did make stupid mistakes like when she went after her sister in a ballgown and attempted to climb a cliff. But, that’s the point. Wouldn’t it make sense for a girl who was in a castle her whole life with almost no real company (save for a few servants) to do dumb things? She’s adapting to her environments. I do admit that the sisters’ parents’ death had no reflect on them up to Elsa’s coronation, but, I digress.

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