Thanks to many positive early reviews, I got it in my head that Frozen was a film to be excited about – a Disney film that for the first time usurped the traditional princess fairy tale of being rescued by a knight in shining armor for a more feminist telling celebrating the bonds of sisterhood.
Though Frozen boasts two female lead characters, passes the Bechdel Test (barely) and defines “true love” as an act of sisterhood, the most straightforward message in this purportedly feminist film – a film whose target audience is young girls – is that which is unique, special, and powerful about you is also dangerous, shameful and must be hidden. A subtler message: girls are emotional time-bombs who can’t be trusted to control their bodies or their minds.
Princess #1, Elsa, has a unique and powerful ability – she can “freeze things.” Princess #2, Anna, is an innocent (i.e.: normal) girl. Together, in the privacy of their castle, the sisters play in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s creation until a misdirected freeze ray accidentally hits Anna in the head. So, the King and Queen, decide to close the castle gates and keep Elsa quarantined from EVERYONE, including Anna. Not only does this alienate Elsa from the entire world but also it robs Anna of her playmate and sister with no explanation whatsoever. Did you know that the first step in the cycle of abuse and colonization is isolation? I’m just saying.
Then the parents die and the two girls are truly alone – Anna left to wonder why her sister won’t speak, play or even talk to her and Elsa confined to her bedroom by fear of her uncontrollable “gift.” When the sisters finally emerge from the castle, years later for “Coronation Day”/Elsa’s 18th birthday, Anna’s desire for connection leads her to immediately become engaged to a visiting prince and Elsa’s inability to control her power leads her to banish herself to the top of a mountain.
And that’s only the first 30 minutes of the film!
WHAT THE WHAT, DISNEY?!?
Overall, the majority of the critiques of Frozen can be attributed to poor storytelling but to use that as an excuse would be to ignore that the holes in the story are a direct consequence of Disney’s commitment to reinforcing traditional gender roles that scare girls into submission.
Here’s how in three easy steps.
1. Being a girl is bad: Elsa has been raised to believe her power, her gift, that which makes her unique (SUBTEXT: HER GIRL-NESS) is what is wrong with her. She is the villain and for no reason at all except she was born different from everyone else. She doesn’t even get a fairy godmother or some dancing snowflake to share comical words of wisdom. I mean, DANG. Even Cinderella had birds helping her dress. Elsa has to be scared of her abilities because what would it mean to acknowledge a girl’s power and teach her how to use it? Seriously, Disney? Hollywood? America? Why aren’t we telling that story?
2. Feelings are bad: “Don’t feel. Conceal” becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. Disney is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of. The fact that this catchy little rhyme is actually repeated multiple times throughout the film guarantees that it will imprint on it’s audience – it’s audience full of young, impressionable girls. In an era where one of TV’s most revered female characters successes relies on listening to her “gut,” Disney is brainwashing little girls to ignore, distrust and devalue that voice. Instead they are telling them to “Let it Go.” Yep, the solo power ballad meant to celebrate Elsa’s claiming of her gift is sung to an audience of none and comes complete with a “costume change” of the typical Disney transformation including loose hair and new dress with a sexy slit straight up her just turned 18-year-old thigh.
3. Power is bad: Elsa is never given any agency when it comes to her ability. It is an innate piece of her make-up that alienates her to a life of solitude and serves no purpose for the greater good or even Elsa herself. The origin of her power is unclear (we assume she was born with it) but what is made icily clear is how her ability is triggered (by her emotions) or controlled (it isn’t). Sure, Clark Kent and Peter Parker were awkward social loners caught within the tension of their “normal” lives and their super powers. BUT, like most male characters with super-human powers, they actively participated in society because they were given the capability to control their powers. They had jobs, they had friends – even romantic relationships, and when they were called upon to use their unique power it was in protection of their communities. Don’t get it twisted, my pretty. Frozen isn’t a super hero story; it’s a princess story.
Final proof that this film is about as feminist as Robin Thicke, the majority of the plot and subsequent screen time is dedicated to Anna’s journey to find Elsa which she does with the help of…you guessed it, A MAN! Thanks to a descriptive opening song and ample dialogue we know more about the character Kristoff than both girls combined.
UGH and SIGH.
Frozen is just another Hollywood vehicle reminding girls and women that if you are talented, especially innately (God-given), beyond explanation (witchcraft) or in a way that threatens the status quo (if Elsa can just make ice appear out of thin air what will the big, strong men do for work?) then you are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. You might still get to be Queen but your talent will be used only for entertainment or self-preservation rather than to solve problems or help you better lead your kingdom.
Just ask Hilary.