“Frozen” Partially Thaws My Cold Heart To Disney Princesses

The cast of "Frozen".

The cast of “Frozen”.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my mom and I took the kids to see Disney’s new animated film “Frozen”. The kids had been excited to see it for weeks and the previews had me intrigued. This would be Disney’s first princess film made in the aftermath of the national backlash to Princess Culture and I was eager to see if they had taken any of these concepts to heart.

Maybe they did, maybe it was coincidence, but “Frozen” seems to be taking some serious steps towards featuring empowered princesses who are strong, smart, and adventurous.

Seriously, I just typed that sentence about a pair of Disney princesses.

Perhaps my cold heart towards princesses is thawing? We all remember my love fest for Merida. “Frozen” isn’t a perfect film, and I do not dig Princess Culture and the messages girls learn from it, but……

I really like Elsa and Anna, the princess sisters from the film. Following in the footsteps of Merida, these sisters are in command of their own stories, stay awake the entire time (major bonus!), and their main goal is not to find a prince. We see the sisters be funny, daring, stand up for themselves, care about each other, make mistakes, not back down from a fight, climb a mountain, build an ice palace, repel off a cliff and punch out a deceitful prince. Woohoo! While I am still epically tired of the princess narrative used as the vehicle to serve stories to girls, if I look at this movie by itself and let it stand on its own merit then I have to be honest and say that we really loved it and I think Elsa and Anna teach kids some great lessons.

“Frozen” is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”. Very loosely based, so don’t spend too much time getting twisted up about the change in characters and story line.

The film begins as Elsa and her little sister Anna play in a castle ballroom until an accident leaves Anna hurt, the family racing to save her (great shot of the Queen charging out the castle gates on her horse as they speed into the forest to save her daughter), and ultimately the course of Elsa’s girlhood changing in order to reign in this great power growing stronger inside of her.

Elsa and Anna are separated and we see the strain that puts on the girls who dearly love each other. When their parents’ ship is lost at sea Elsa must prepare to become Queen when she comes of age. Anna is desperate for companionship and on the day of the coronation meets a handsome prince who promises a great many things. Anna decides a few hours later that is a great idea to become engaged to him — a move that is heavily questioned by Elsa and later by Anna’s new friend Kristoff.

An argument between the sisters during the ball leads to Elsa exiling herself from the kingdom, the kingdom falling into eternal winter, and Anna embarking on a great journey to bring her sister back. The film does a nice job of showing the love and complexities in a relationship between sisters, which is the note the film finishes on.

 

So, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

~ Elsa and Anna look like Barbie dolls, with giant, giant eyes. Great article about that here. As adventurous and independent as these gals are, the message is still that you must be beautiful while you do it.

~ In one scene we see Anna as a child singing about Elsa coming out to play with her and she flies in front of a great portrait of Joan of Arc and you think “Hey girl power!”  Minutes later in the film we see a teen Anna in the same portrait gallery, this time singing about meeting “the one” and falling in love. Doh! It didn’t bother me so much the idea of a teen girl wanting to find love, more so the idea that once a girl ‘comes of age’ she forsakes adventure and pursing her interests to marry and settle down. The song was an avenue to introduce the story line of the deceitful prince, but he could have shown up regardless after Anna sings a song about her life taking twists and turns and not knowing what her next adventure will be. I mean, Joan of Arc probably didn’t sing about boyfriends before riding off into battle….

~ When Elsa leaves the confines of the palace and can finally be herself on her mountain she gets sexed up quite a bit. My five year old even commented on it, saying she was too sexy. It would make sense for Elsa to let her hair down a bit, but there seemed to be an unnecessary focus on her sexuality. Also I could not stop thinking about Vanna White.

~ Again, for the story to unfold it makes sense, but the scene where the trolls meet Anna and immediately launch into a song and dance number about Kristoff being a fixer-upper but they can still fall in love……it sends the message that boy + girl = love. The song could have been about boy + girl = great pair for finishing their quest.

~ There is one scene where weapons are pointed and Elsa and my kids found that very upsetting.

~ And with films like this, there is always the disconnect between the feisty princesses we meet on screen and the tie-in merchandise that sells beauty and a narrow definition of femininity to girls. We had a big discussion about that here.

 

What I liked:

~ “Frozen” had a female director, and I think it shows in many parts of the film. This princess tale is a departure from the Cinderella/Sleep Beauty we grew up with and the guy-dependent Little Mermaid/Princess Jasmine/Belle and continues to take the modernization of that franchise forward, expanding on the independence we saw in princesses from “Tangled” and “Princess and the Frog”.

~ Elsa is powerful, she knows it, and she owns it. She never backs down to the men trying to control her. She cares about the people in her kingdom and struggles with the responsibility of how to be a good leader.

~ Anna is confident, determined, learns from her mistakes, is quick on her feet, and on the journey to find Elsa we see her rescue Kristoff just as many times as he rescues her. She never backs down from a fight, whether it is snarling wolves or a giant snow monster.

~ There are two love stories in this film, the central one being between Elsa and Anna. But Anna and Kristoff end up falling for each other and while I don’t like a girl’s story ending with the finding of a man, we see their relationship grow over time and Kristoff is a good guy (unlike, say, the princes Merida is introduced to).

~ Olaf the snowman is really funny!

~ Kristoff is shown as a full human being with emotions and complex thoughts, which is the most admirable “prince” we’ve ever seen Disney produce. Kristoff isn’t a prince by birth, but by actions. He is the kind of character I would like Benny looking up to. Benny thought he was really cool and Amelia said she would want to be his friend but definitely NOT do any kissing.

~ The animation is incredible and the songs are fantastic. It felt like watching a gorgeous Broadway play. Disney does this kind of film very well and in that sense, “Frozen” is a masterpiece.

~ Family, above all else, is the moral of the story. The sisters save each other, the guys in the story are the side kicks. Even the romance that blossoms between Anna and Kristoff at the end is a subplot.

~ Elsa and Anna are the authors and heroines of their own story and that is all I ask for in tales about girls. As tired as I am of princesses, these are two princesses I can fall in love with. Merida, Elsa, and Anna are on my A+ list. None are perfect, but I think it is imperfect characters that can sometimes make the best media role models.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.