Frozen can be seen as the third in a ‘trilogy’ of pseudo-feminist animated films created by Disney. With Tangled in 2010, audiences and critics saw a visible effort on the part of Disney to re-create a fairy tale with a story and style more suited to a 21st century audience. The days of helpless princesses waiting patiently for their Prince Charmings are over.
In recent decades, the older Disney princesses such as Snow White (of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and Aurora (of Sleeping Beauty) have earned a reputation of being detrimental to young girls’ self-esteem. Feminist critics have argued that the image of femininity as portrayed by these princesses encourages young girls to strive for a standard of ‘beauty’ that is simply not healthy, not to mention physically impossible. Merida, the protagonist of Brave (released in 2012) is the first official Disney Princess not to have a love interest, making her an important addition to Disney’s official princess court. However, prior to her inauguration, she received a makeover. Her official Disney princess “look” made for a drastic change from what we saw on screen in the film. Her waist was made slimmer; the arrangement and shape of her facial features were altered to give her less of an enthusiastic appearance, and more of a seductive one; she also seems older, as well as significantly more sexualized. Although Disney eventually replaced the scandalous version of Merida’s appearance with the original film version as a result of the naturally ensuing scandal, it was expected to reconsider the appearance of its princesses in its following productions. But Elsa and Anna too possess Disney’s hallmark über-thin waists and big doe eyes.
However, despite their appearances, the Frozen princesses exhibit a confidence and defiance unseen in Disney productions since, perhaps, Mulan. We saw a rise in confidence in the princesses in Tangled and Brave as well, but with Frozen, Disney makes its views on the matter very clear. In fact, it practically satirizes itself. Initially, Anna appears to be falling for a prince, Hans. She meets him one morning, and later the same day announces their engagement to Elsa. Until this moment in the film, it wouldn’t be unexpected for audiences to be squirming in their seats thinking that this is yet another tale of an innocent girl helplessly falling for a handsome prince. But Elsa’s response to the news of Anna and Hans’ engagement is revolutionary. She immediately states that she does not approve: You can’t marry a man you just met. Anna’s impulsive engagement is met with similar disapproval by Kristoff later in the film, who seems shocked and appalled that Anna could fall for such a cliché. Frozen acknowledges the flaws of past Disney films, with princesses who relied on a “true love’s kiss” to save their lives. The true love in Frozen is not between the princess and her love interest, but between sisters, completely redefining what “true love” means in Disney films. It subverts traditional Disney story lines and character types.
A year after the film’s release, Frozen remains one of Disney’s most praised productions for its independent and confident protagonists and valued messages about marriage and dependency. If 2014 Halloween costume sales are anything to go by, Frozen seems to have been a big hit with audiences around the world. After at least ten viewings, it remains one of my sister’s favourite films of all time. And she’s seventeen years old. Clearly, the film is able to connect with audiences both young and grown, perhaps because it so blatantly attempts to move beyond traditional Disney representations of true love and happily ever after, all the while sustaining a clever and witty narrative.
JULES A MAINES