5 Feminist Reasons to Love Disney’s Frozen

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WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS (and squeeing) TO FOLLOW.

So exams are over, and you know what that means: winter break, and catching up on all the movies now in theaters that I haven’t been able to see yet. First on the list this holiday (and if you know me at all this won’t surprise you): Disney’s new animated feature, Frozen. Stumbling out of the darkened movie theater into the bright lights of the snow-covered parking lot, I looked at my movie companions (also known as siblings) and said without a trace of irony, “That is probably one of my four favorite movies of all time.” What I didn’t mention was that the other three were probably also made by Disney, but the thought was implied.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This blog likes to complain about things. Especially things that are ultimately good and don’t need to be complained about. The author of this blog also has no sense of humor and likes to see good things die in the name of fun-sucking feminism. Let me tell you one thing: this is not true. I am capable of taking things lightly. I have never cried more in a movie theater than I did during my first viewing of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. 

Seriously. Do you remember the end scene where Spirit leaves his Native American friend and runs with his wild mustang lover? PUDDLE OF EMOTIONS.

Sometimes, self-declared feminists can love mushy, princess-centric things. (I do.) And sometimes, princess-centric musicals can give me genuine reasons to love them. (Disney did.)

Here, for those who haven’t seen Frozen (and why haven’t you??), are the five top reasons why I love it to death, and I’m not ashamed. But be warned: PLOT SPOILERS. I wrote it at the top of the post, and I’m writing it again here. You can’t say that I didn’t give you fair notice. If you keep reading, it’s your own fault.

1. That Final Act of True Love

This might be my own personal bias, because my older sister has been one of the people I’m closest to ever since I was little. (You rock, sis. Just saying.) But when heroine Anna could only be rescued from her curse by an act of true love, I punched my fist in the air in triumph when the person to deliver said act of true love was not A) the original, scumbag love interest, B), the secondary, heart-of-gold real love interest, but C) Anna’s older sister Elsa.

Yes! Because relationships between women are one of the most important things that need to be developed in movies and aren’t. Women don’t constantly have to be in competition with each other [over a man]; they can work together, care about one another, and genuinely want the other to succeed and be happy.

Plus, I for one am kind of tired of the sibling rivalry that tends to show up in children’s movies. The evil stepsisters have been played out. Let’s get some girl power in here, please.

I won’t pretend that this scene was the first time I cried watching the movie. But it was one of them.

2. Consent Can Be Freaking Adorable

This is a small note, but it’s still something that made me really happy (more fist-pumping may or may not have happened here). Yes, there was a love story in Frozen. Yes, the movie did end (or nearly end) with the kiss we all saw coming from ninety minutes away. But do you know how it happened?

Kristoff (handsome woodsman slash love interest) asked Anna’s permission before giving her that kiss. And he did not kiss her until she agreed. And though it was kind of fumbl-y and hesitant, that’s what made it sweet.

Yes, folks, Disney “princes” are now asking for consent before kissing their princesses. And the results? Freaking adorable.

Can we think of a few other instances where a scene of Disney consent might have been nice? Like, I don’t know, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty? Because in both cases the princesses were unconscious? 

If this is a step in a new direction, I’m digging it.

3. The Lack of Exterior Villains

Yes, all right, Prince Hans shows up later with his villainous swagger and “Oh look at me and my greed, I’m going to take over the kingdom” bad self, but that’s not until probably the final twenty or so minutes of the movie. For the most part, the conflict in Frozen is internal: how will Elsa manage to embrace her true self and her special abilities in a world that doesn’t understand her? How will Anna manage to overcome the interpersonal difficulties between her and her sister and gain the relationship she’s always wanted? Will Elsa manage to control and repress her emotions, or is there a way that female emotionality can be constructive, rather than frightening?

Elsa’s dilemma verses the people of Arundel is a moving (dare I say feminist?) conflict of a powerful woman confronted with a society that does not accept or understand the source of her power. It’s not woman-seeking-man-confronted-by-skinny-man-wearing-purple. It’s a nice change, and way more relatable for kids.

4. The Bechdel Test Has Been Smashed To Pieces

For those who aren’t familiar with the Bechdel Test for movies, here’s the basic gist. A movie passes this test if:

  1. There are two (or more) women  who both have names,
  2. They have a conversation together, and
  3. This conversation is about something other than a man.

This sounds like a pretty basic criteria for a movie, doesn’t it? However, you’d be stunned how many films do not pass this test. For example (*deep breath*): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, the original Star Wars trilogy, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, AladdinThe Lion KingMonsters, Inc., and Up, just to name a few and skew towards the animated. (Note: if you write in correcting me on any movies on this list, I will be happy to amend this section. I’m pretty familiar with the feeling of getting things like this wrong.)

Frozen, though, kicks the test to the curb. Two women, the sisters Elsa and Anna (who, by the way, are ruling a kingdom without a man by their sides), spend most of the movie talking about how to save the kingdom, how to rekindle their relationship, how Elsa’s powers are dangerous and out of control, how they should behave and how much they care about one another. The love story almost seems like an afterthought, which, for Disney, is a pretty refreshing change.

Another similar test that I’d like to see instated, though I don’t know that it does, would replace the third bullet point of the Bechdel test with “Do these two women talk about something that is not based on their appearance?” Adding this caveat, you can see how many more movies drop out… Let’s make a brief list of Disney films in which the main conflict between two female characters is who is the most beautiful, as though physical attractiveness were the only quality they possessed and which was capable of winning them a man:

Tangled. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. The Little Mermaid. Anything involving Tinkerbell. Am I missing some? I’m probably missing some. These are off the top of my head.

But in Frozen, the conflict is not who is the most beautiful or who deserves to fall in love more. It’s about two sisters taking care of one another and wanting what’s best for the other, even if this often means making hard and painful choices. And  isn’t that what life’s about, in the end? Taking care of others and ourselves, and how these two things do and don’t match up?

5. Pretty Much Everything Else.

This movie is adorable. I laughed. I cried. I want to marry Idina Menzel. Well, actually, I’d like to marry Idina Menzel’s voice, barring a few laws of physics. Seriously, though, have you heard “Let It Go” yet? If Disney can give “Defying Gravity” a run for its money, it’s doing something right.

And besides, Kristoff the ice woodsman loves animals, and provides voice-overs for the thoughts of his reindeer. If any dog owner can tell me that they haven’t tried narrating their dog’s actions, then this person is a horrible liar. Just saying. We’ve all done it.

Is it true that there are huge female body image issues in this film? Absolutely. Disney animator Lino DeSalvo’s comments have been (justifiably) getting press time over the body-diversity-negativity surrounding Disney’s treatment of female characters:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these ranges of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive too – you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

No. Clearly, that sucks. That’s ridiculous.

I could also talk about racial diversity in this film, though I’m not sure how much traction that argument will get because it’s theoretically set in an island in Norway. But it definitely bears mentioning.

But let’s be real here. If I wrote off every movie that had problems with it, I would never be able to go to the theater again. I could never love anything. And I love this movie. A lot.

For the first time in forever, I fell in love with a movie.

Go see it. You won’t be sorry.

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8 comments

  1. I too loved this movie, for all the reasons you highlighted. (Although I disagree with your interpretation of who delivered the Act of True Love–it wasn’t Elsa’s act. It was Anna’s OWN act of true love to protect her sister that broke the magic. She is her own white knight!)

    Anyway, I just wanted to add some perspective to this line: “I could also talk about racial diversity in this film, though I’m not sure how much traction that argument will get because it’s theoretically set in an island in Norway. But it definitely bears mentioning.”

    There’s some major native appropriation and white-washing happening with Kristoff–at the beginning of the film, they play traditional Sami music, he wears clothing I’ve been told is traditional Sami garb, and he has a traditional Sami occupation, and he owns a reindeer. (Even in modern Norway, only Sami people are legally allowed to own and breed reindeer). So it’s pretty clear he’s intended to be a Sami character. So why is he super white? (It’s true that many modern-day Sami people do have white or light skin, after intermarriage with white people and icky attempts to “breed out” Sami people in the 1900s, but historically, most Sami people were darker skinned, with dark hair and more almond-shaped eyes–closer to Innuit people than white, blue-eyed Nordic Europeans people.)

    1. Thanks for this awesome analysis of native white-washing! I’m not personally familiar with traditional Sami culture, but after reading the points you’ve brought up I definitely agree that the “super-whiteness” is an issue here. Why are children only expected to like and identify with characters who look like Disney’s Kristoff? I’d love to see more racial and ethnic diversity in cartoons, as well as body diversity, although I think it’ll take some pressure from consumers to get there. Again, thanks for the comment!

    2. What is a Same and what is a Finn or Kven is pretty hard. For the reindeer herding ones, they are connected to indigenous people in Asia, but the asian part is missing in the rest of the Sami.
      For the rest of the Sami, it is hard to know where to draw the line between Sami, Finns, Kvens and Norwegians, because they had the same lifestyle and technology, and they also frequently intermarried.

      One big problem is that in the Sagas, Finland and Kvenland are mentioned as their own kingdoms, and the Kvens and Finns are groups Norwegians and Swedes are trading and fighting with. Then Scandinavia was Christianized by the sword by Scandinavians, and when the heathens were finally subdued back home, they went on crusades towards the Finnish-speaking countries. Sweden took Finland, Denmark took Estland, and Kvenland goes missing. We know nothing about their history, except what is written in the Scandinavian sources, supposedly because they did not know how to read or write, and not because the Christians burned everything and changed the administrative language. If some book did survive in the beginning, nobody could understand it after a generation, so it did not survive the centuries.

      It is better to pretend that all that speak a Finnish-type language in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia are the descendants some indigenous people unless they are Finns, than to conclude that the borders must have been different in the past. It also leaves the Norwegians, Swedes and Russians off the hook to having killed a civilization, to one where they brought civilization and the word of god to those enthralled in darkness.

      It is also the problem with the other Same-groups than the reindeer herders, that they farmed and fished like the Swedes and Norwegians, except that they spoke a Finnic language in stead of a Germanic one, and tended to live in forests in stead of along waterways as the Swedes and Norwegians. As to how the other kinds of Same look, they are blonder than Norwegians, just like Finns and Swedes are blonder than Norwegians. Up north, dark haired individuals might need extra vitamine D, so blond hair is a strong indication that your ancestors farmed for a living, unless you lived along the coast, and could get extra vitamine D from fish.

      To sum up. It is true that the Same have been oppressed, but it is not true that the Same are more native or indigenous than Swedes, Finns and Norwegians in Fenno-Scandinavia. Under no instances is it correct to call Same people for “People of Color”, something that is especially true for the South, Sea and Lule-Sames, as they basically looks like Finns.

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