I have this condition where, if something is popular on Tumblr, I will avoid it as long as possible. I have never watched Doctor Who, and I have no current plans to. I am leery of the recommendations of the masses. I mean, there’s a reason Family Guy is still on TV.
But this Friday, I got a free rental code from Redbox, so I caved and rented Frozen. At this point in the article, I feel the need to advise you against reading this if you haven’t seen the movie and are averse to spoilers. At least I wasn’t paying for it, I justified. I am way too jaded to Disney princess movies at this point in my life, so after I poured myself a glass of wine — Okay, a couple glasses — I finally put the movie in and started watching it.
Admittedly, I was neither blown away nor struck with fits of laughter. The jokes aimed at children were mostly childish (predictably), and the more sophisticated ones aimed at adults (Kristoff saying “But I just paid it off!” when his sled topples over a cliff, for example) seemed mundane. But when I enter into my child-rearing years in the however-distant future, I will absolutely keep a copy of the film for my children to watch on repeat.
While it was undoubtedly a children’s movie, I certainly enjoyed it on a critical (read: feminist) level. Disney has taken major steps away from the passive princess waiting for true love’s first kiss, even while maintaining some aspects of the damsel-in-distress trope and the magic necessitating an act of true love. First and foremost, both Anna and Elsa maintain their agency in the face of tribulations, unlike Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, et al. Yes, Elsa remains in her room for years and years, but her motivation is self-sacrificing. She hasn’t been kidnapped and confined by heartless guardians; she is secluding herself at the suggestion of her parents and some weird troll shaman in order to protect her baby sister from further harm. And Anna, who does make the typical Disney princess mistake of falling in love with a guy she just met, definitely lives to regret her decision. (Let’s get real, though: Who suspected Hans of being a good guy with sideburns like that?)
The most obvious indication of its being at least acceptable from a feminist perspective was its passing of the Bechdel test with flying colors. Not only are the two main characters in the movie named females, they talk to each other almost exclusively about topics unrelated to boys.
But the most important indicator of Disney’s cultural shift in the direction of gender equality was in the fact that Anna, who needed an act of true love like (but not specifically) true love’s kiss to thaw her heart and save her life, was never a passive character waiting for the kiss to happen. She doesn’t lay sleeping in a tower or dead in a coffin until her true love figured it out and planted one on her unconsenting lips. She actively seeks out Hans so that they could kiss and her life could be saved. Of course, as with anyone with sideburns like that, the relationship doesn’t work out, and Anna has to figure out how to thaw her heart on a time crunch.
With the help of Olaf, Anna realizes that Kristoff truly loves her — though maybe not all along, which adds some legitimacy to his feelings by contrast. When she finds him, though, Hans is poised to kill Elsa, and Anna is faced with the apparent decision between saving her own life and saving her sister’s. In a beautiful moment of karmic sacrifice that mirrors Elsa’s years of self-isolation for her sister’s betterment, Anna jumps between her sister and Hans, shattering Hans’s sword, saving Elsa, and turning into an ice sculpture many a Disney enthusiast has priced for her wedding by this point.
Elsa begins to cry over her sister’s demise, Kristoff is all what-the-fuck. . . and Anna, in true Disney fashion, begins to thaw. The love between sisters, between women, is finally represented cinematographically as deep and true, as it often is in real life. Female characters are finally shown as emotionally fulfilled without a man being the fulfiller.
I definitely teared up when, at the end, Kristoff fumbles over his words as he requests Anna’s permission to kiss her. And when they do ultimately kiss, nothing dramatic happens. They just kiss, with the happy simplicity of reality. Finally, the handsome supporting hero is not shown as the life-changing, earth-shattering event in the princess’s life. He is merely complementary. He contributes to her happiness, but he is not the reason she is still alive. And Elsa, the monarch of the entire country of Arendelle, remains happily single. Neither princess needs a man by her side, and apparently, only one wanted one there.
In Frozen, the women are granted the agency historically reserved only for men in film. While there are many, many, many steps to go in the direction of healthy representation of women in film — both of our heroines were pretty, thin, young, white women who made even this pretty, thin, young, white woman feel a little insecure — I think we’re finally heading in the right direction.
In conclusion, good job, Disney. Good suggestion, Tumblr.