Nvate Commentary: Has Disney’s Anti-Feminism Finally Thawed with “Frozen”?

Carolyn Hoy

“Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door!” The lyrics of this song from the Disney movie “Frozen” are quoted in many contexts and have even made their way onto popular radio stations. Movie review site Rotten Tomatoes calls “Frozen,” “the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen.”

Part of what is causing the outpouring of approval for “Frozen” is the fact that the character Elsa, in a stunning detour from Disney’s normal “marry the prince at all costs” mentality, is a strong and independent heroine. She rules a kingdom by herself from a young age and even tells her younger sister, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” It is a line that shocked many who watched Disney princesses over the years fall for any man as long as he was a prince. They live “happily ever after” as a result.

“Frozen” was a shock, but just a year before, Disney created “Brave,” a movie about a princess who rides horses, shoots arrows, and doesn’t fall for a handsome prince. Forbes noted that “Merida is the first animated princess in major American film history who does not fall in love, who does not act on the basis of romantic motivation, and who does not (mild spoiler alert) choose a handsome mate in the end.”

In the last few years, Disney obviously integrated strong female roles into their princess movies, but it has not always been this way, which is why this new style is so revolutionary.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times published, “Resist the Princesses,” which began with the line, “Mothers of America, Disney wants to destroy you.” This is a harsh attack on Disney, with its “sparkly magic wands” and “cute little ‘animal friends.’” The article even claims that “Disney princesses aren’t sweet and innocent. They’re a gang of vicious hoodlums, and they’re plotting against you.” Why though? The LA Times said it is because of how women are portrayed to the little girls who love the princesses. These princesses “rarely slaw dragons, play sports, pilot jets or do open-heart surgery. Instead, they fiddle with their coiffures, linger over invitations to the ball, flee ineffectually from evil crones and swoon.”

Basically, at least prior to 2008, the Disney princesses did “women’s work” and left the professional skills to men, and yet millions of young girls were, and still are, more enamored with them than the princesses with their newly-met Prince Charmings.

Another article on PolicyMic, “How Disney Princesses Went from Passive Damsels to Active Heroes,” which traces Disney’s evolution, said that “Disney’s woman’s issues can be traced to its very first animated feature, [“Snow White”], in which a naïve young girl is tricked time and again, and can only be saved by the men surrounding her.” The article said that the shift to “a new breed of princesses” began with Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” followed by Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” who “is a well-read, intelligent character.” The “new breed” was not all that new, though, because these princesses still focused on men and “true love” in the form of romantic attraction.

Still, perhaps the shift in “Brave” and “Frozen” was not as dramatic as it seemed. Consider “Mulan,” the story of a girl who can’t be a soldier like she wants because of her gender. She dresses up as a boy and goes to war, and she comes back a hero. Of course, in “Mulan” Disney still implies that only boys can do work like this; Mulan had to pretend to be a boy to follow her dreams.

Despite this slow evolution of the Disney princesses, the Los Angeles Times still saw a need to bring to the public’s attention the ways in which Disney was harming society with its princesses. People still complained about what Disney was teaching the little girls who dreamed of ball gowns and glass slippers instead of college and careers. Somewhere between 2008 and 2012, though, Disney made a dramatic shift, more dramatic than Cinderella to Ariel or “Sleeping Beauty” to “Mulan,” that the public noticed.

In its creation of “Brave” and even more with the release of “Frozen,” Disney defied its own reputation. In “Brave,” Disney created a princess who competed with, rather than swooned over, the men. In “Frozen,” Disney created two sisters who didn’t need men in their lives to make them happy and, for once in all the 77 years of Disney princess history, the “true love’s kiss” that saved the princess’ life came not from some man she met yesterday at a ball, but rather from a sister who loved with a deeper-than-romantic, friendship-and-family love.

Perhaps “Brave” and “Frozen” have, for the first time ever, made little girls’ dreams of being “real” Disney princesses possible in a way that is realistic to the world in which they live but also fulfills their wildest Disney princess dreams.

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