Blog Posts4 Reasons Why “Frozen” is the Most Feminist Disney Movie Ever (Yes, More than Brave or Mulan)

So, apparently I’m the last feminist in America to see Disney’s Frozen, but I saw a week ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. I think it’s the most feminist Disney movie to date, and even if the entire rest of the Internet has weighed in on this subject already, I have to add my own thoughts on the issue.

1. A Princess knows how to use magic.
Disney princesses get to be pretty and sometimes they get to be brave, but they rarely get to be powerful, especially not where magic is concerned.

Oh, there are plenty of Disney female characters who use magic – Ursula, Maleficent, Cinderella’s fairy godmother, and the three fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) in Sleeping Beauty.

Here’s the catch: they’re all either villains or maternal figures. The actual princesses and female protagonists in Disney films do not get to perform magic. Their nemeses or their mentor figures are born magical or learn magic, while the princesses have magic thrust upon them. Ursula turns Ariel human. The fairy godmother gives Cinderella a beautiful gown and an enchanted carriage. Aurora’s fate is determined by an evil witch and three good fairies who battle over her soul for her entire life.

This all changes with Elsa. (She’s technically a queen, not a princess, but she’s marketed as part of the Disney Princess line regardless.) Disney princesses have gone on adventures, performed acts of bravery, and even saved a few princes’ lives, but Elsa is the first who can manipulate the elements in an explosion of power – which is exactly what she does in one of the best power anthems I’ve seen in film.

I’m about to commit heresy against my childhood self: a part of me loves “Let it Go” more than “Part of Your World.” “Part of Your World” is the song of an adventurer who wants to explore new places. “Let it Go” isn’t about simply wishing, but taking action and embracing one’s power and potential (and building an entire ice castle within a few minutes).

2. The message of sisterhood.
I knew that Frozen was the story of two sisters. What I wasn’t prepared for was the complete lack of sibling rivalry in the story. I kept waiting for resentment to erupt between Anna and Elsa.

It never happened. Unlike many fictional little sisters, Anna never shows a moment of jealousy towards Elsa. As a child, Anna doesn’t resent the fact that Elsa is the only one with magic powers; she just thinks her big sister is the coolest. As a young woman, Anna never seems to mind that her sister gets to be queen while she’s a princess; she’s just happy to have another day where she can be close with Elsa again.

This display of female friendship and sisterhood is almost nonexistent in Disney films. Most of the Disney princesses have toxic relationships with other women, or their relationships with other women are nonexistent. Mulan may be a great warrior, but all of her significant relationships are with men, and her mother and grandmother are mostly used as background props. Even Brave is lacking; the relationship between mother and daughter is the most important one in the movie, but Merida and Elinor have to spend the entire movie learning to understand each other.

The sisters in Frozen go on a journey of a different kind. Anna and Elsa loved each other from the beginning and were forced to grow apart because their parents feared Elsa’s power. Their natural state is to be close, and their story is about learning to be close again once Elsa learns to love herself – with Anna’s help, of course.

3. The twist on the act of true love
Probably the most satisfying aspect of Frozen is its take on the notion of “true love.” When Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart, Anna is told that only an act of true love can cure her. At first, she thinks that a kiss from Hans will save her life, and when Hans proves to be manipulative, murderous, and self-serving, she turns her hopes to Kristoff – the ice salesman and the partner on her adventure, the one who actually cares for her. 

But the act of true love that saves Anna’s life is related to the person she cares for the most – her sister, Elsa. When Anna is moments away from kissing Kristoff, she sees Hans holding a sword over Elsa’s head, and jumps in front of the blade to save her sister’s life.

This act of true love is remarkable for the obvious reason – for once, a Disney princess’s true love has nothing to do with romance. In fact, her obsession with finding true love earlier in the story is directly related to being rejected by her sister.

But it’s remarkable for a less obvious reason as well. Anna thought an act of true love meant having a man rush in and save her from death. Instead of being rescued with a true love’s kiss like Snow White or Aurora, Anna performs the act of true love. It’s a great testament to female friendships and female agency all at once.

4. The movie has two great role models for little girls.
As far as Disney princesses go, Elsa is pretty unique. She’s a queen, for one, ruling over a land that seems totally cool with having a female monarch in charge of things. She can use magic and bend the elements to her will and is the most powerful person in the land. Her story is about learning to overcome her shame and taking pride in her unique gifts.

Anna, on the other hand, doesn’t have magical powers and doesn’t seem to possess similar unique gifts. She’s a bit clumsy and too easily trusting. She’s also brave, resourceful, determined, kind, and filled with love for her family, and she saves her own life and Elsa’s with an act of love.

Elsa is a great role model for little girls who possess unique gifts. But Anna is equally important as a character because she’s ordinary and still saves the day. The sisters in Frozen show little girls that there’s more than one way to be strong.

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36 Responses to 4 Reasons Why “Frozen” is the Most Feminist Disney Movie Ever (Yes, More than Brave or Mulan)

  1. Gareth says:

    Watching Frozen was the first time that the love at first sight trope felt off for me. I’m not saying I saw the twist coming because I didnt, I even tried to brush my concerns aside thinking that I had enjoyed it before (see Big Fish) so I was glad when the twist happened

    • Ella says:

      Sorry, but for me, Mulan is the best, HANDS DOWN. It’ll take too long to explain all of the reasons why, but Mulan is the greatest Disney role model ever to date. Plus, the movie was better. Mulan proves that you can take matters into your own hands, and make a difference. Mulan also proves that being smart and strategic can beat physical strength any day, and that feminine can be just as useful as masculine. Also, she has important ideals concerning war and family. She’s a true fighter, she never gives up, and I’ve always looked up to her.

      • Shimi says:

        Yup.
        Frozen is cute, but Mulan and Merida is AWESOME!!

      • Benjamin says:

        Sorry, but I have to agree with OP here. Until Frozen, all of Disney’s attempts at strong female characters have fallen short. Mulan and Brave are no exception. In both of these, the female leads are only considered “strong” because they display male traits. In Mulan, she deliberately emulates a man, in Brave, she’s a tomboy. Moreover, in Mulan, when she does utilize her femininity, it’s to seduce and manipulate her way past guards. That movie also contains the tired trope of the man accidentally falling for a guy in drag, which is transphobic and cliche. I do still like Brave as a coming of age story, and there is merit in her I’m-going-to-like-the-things-that-I-like-not-what-society-tells-me-to-like attitude, but to me Mulan never deserved her reputation as a strong female lead.

  2. I absolutely loved the fact that when Hans and Anna get their big love duet, it’s immediately undercut with everybody saying “what, you are crazy” to Anna for getting engaged after knowing each other for only a day. I think it was great that Disney were willing to undercut their big romantic set piece and it really set the tone for the rest of the movie.

  3. Luke Basile says:

    Now I really have to see this movie. Good article, sister.

  4. Sabrina says:

    Hi! I arbitrarily typed something into the google search box about Frozen to see what would come up. I don’t know what I was hoping for, really – but I found it. This is such a wonderful article and I really liked the way you presented your view of everything. It was a great movie!

  5. Kripa says:

    Tiana had a lovely friendship with Charlotte and a mother who was loving and supportive to her. I liked that the sister bond was there in Frozen but it’s not the first time that female bonds have been present in a Disney film. /nitpick

    • Theresa Basile says:

      I actually haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog yet, so I’ll take your word for it, but I wasn’t trying to imply that female bonds had never existed in Disney before. Frozen, however, was the first film where the bond between two women was the *main* part of the story.

  6. meags says:

    I know Elsa dolls exist, but when I popped into Toys R Us, the vast majority of Frozen merchandise was Anna only. So I don’t think she’s getting the total Princess treatment.

    • Gabriela says:

      I agree. Even though Elsa is the queen, it doesn’t mean that she can’t be treated like a princess. Elsa is my favorite main character because of her love for her younger sister.

  7. Pingback: What’s Sexist About The Faces In Disney’s Frozen | Alas, a Blog

  8. purgis says:

    I think Elsa’s definitely more popular than Anna and it seems many people can relate to her, so I wouldn’t worry about her getting less “princess treatment”. It’s natural for Anna to have much merchandise since she’s the protagonist. Anyway, I don’t think Frozen’s the most feminist movie ever, though it has its points. However I think it was a good article.

  9. Sarah Lee says:

    I don’t think most people remember Lilo and Stitch when it comes to sisterhood. Frozen isn’t the first Disney feminist movie, this coming from a die-hard Disney fan. Also, marrying a guy at the end it doesn’t mean you’re weak, and Brave is a perfect example of a brother(s)-sister(s) relationship, for those siblings that aren’t all sister or aren’t all brothers. Besides the sibling relationship, Mulan was a great feminine movie: She put her life on the line to save her father, family, and the whole country of China, her relationship with her grandmother, and her mother (also her father) was great; in my opinion they weren’t props at all. Sure, she had a guy at the end, but that was more of a bonus and let’s be honest, Mulan was stronger than the other men in the army. But the real definition of “feminism” is that men and women are all equal, not one gender being better or superior than the other. And don’t forget Rapunzel from Tangled, who did the saving for Flynn/Eugene. Overall, I liked Frozen but I think it sort of sends off a negative message that men are weak in love and that the man you’re in love with that happens to be wealthy/royal is bad. It could have sent the REAL definition of feminism out there and more smoothly. People who say that Frozen is the first Disney feminist movie have either forgotten about Mulan, Brave, Lilo and Stitch, and Tangled, and have a screwed definition of feminism in their mind.

    • Brenda B says:

      Definitely agree with this post! Mulan is my favorite Disney movie and it feels like everyone is forgetting about how Mulan was a great movie that shows how awesome a female can be and to do all that for her family. Simply amazing.
      I haven’t seen the other movies you have mentioned, but I did see Frozen and it was good. Not bad, but I think it may be getting a lot of hype. Elsa may have been seen like a b*tch more so than caring. Anna would have been lost without the blond hair guy, so that shows something too. Hans, well he was just a joke. I did like how Elsa said to not marry someone they just met, it was funny and the snowman too. So this movie was cool, but not the best of the best and especially not the first for feminism.

    • Olivia says:

      Thank you that’s what I’ve been saying mulan went to war so her dad wouldn’t have to go in and die mulan saved china. Merida in brave didn’t have a guy she wanted control of her life. The only reason people say frozen is “most feminist “and people don’t even know what feminist means so thank you Sarah lee

    • Theresa Basile says:

      People who say that Frozen is the first Disney feminist movie have either forgotten about Mulan, Brave, Lilo and Stitch, and Tangled, and have a screwed definition of feminism in their mind.

      Then it’s a good thing I said it was the MOST feminist Disney movie, and never actually claimed that it was the FIRST.

      I also didn’t realize there was one single definition of feminism. How enlightening!

      • Kripa says:

        Eh. I just straight up disagree with the assertion that Frozen is the most feminist Disney film yet. I feel like this movie was putting a lot of effort into patting its own back, and I found that offputting. Plus previous Disney princess /goals/ haven’t centered around a man in quite some time, and suddenly, Anna’s initial goal is to find her true love. Yeah, great, Disney subverted the trope of “princess who only wants a man”, but it rings hollow to me when for many, many years they’ve just up and avoided that trope altogether (even Cinderella just wanted a night off rather than her prince charming).
        Meanwhile, The Princess and the Frog did not get NEARLY enough love back in the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. How could it, released right before Avatar and not long after Up? It didn’t stand a chance.

        • Theresa Basile says:

          I feel like this movie was putting a lot of effort into patting its own back, and I found that offputting.

          I can understand that, and you also made a good point about Cinderella. I don’t have a problem with Anna’s fixation on true love, though, because I really thought it stemmed from loneliness after losing her parents and being shut out by her sister.

          • Hayden says:

            Anna’s love is not terrible at all, but is it particularly feminist?…It’s not sexist, but not feminist either. Frozen is not sexist, but not feminist either just like Anna’s love…
            Frozen is not the most feminist movie and Anna’s love probably contributes to that…

      • Kya says:

        It’s hilarious how you got so aggressive over sarcasim later in the post, but you used it very beautifully just there. However I did like your post, I just don’t think it’s correct. In my opinion Mulan is the most feminist Disney movie.

  10. rebeccacello says:

    I agree with Hayden. For me, Mulan is far more feminist. Elsa has magical powers but this fits with her being the antagonist, rather than the lead. And as for the relationship between the sisters – Elsa delivers a fatal blow to (adult) Anna and yet Anna excuses and defends Elsa, claiming that it was her own fault. If this happened between a man and a woman it would be classed as an abusive relationship. The film also shows that power is dangerous in a woman’s hands with Elsa hurting both her sister and her kingdom because of her inability to control her powers. Anna does save Elsa, but if a women saving women is the gold standard for feminism, then Mulan triumphs. Anna saved one woman, Mulan saved millions of them. (And men, too.)

    • Theresa Basile says:

      I have to disagree. If anyone in the film is abusive, it’s Elsa and Anna’s parents for making Elsa fear her powers for her entire life – teaching her to fear her powers, repress them, and hate herself. They meant well – they didn’t MEAN to be abusive – but they were.

      I feel like comparing Elsa/Anna to a real-life abusive relationship between a man and a woman is a poor analogy, since an abuser will use an “it was an accident” excuse to manipulate his victim, while Elsa…really did hurt her sister by accident.

      And I think the point is not that power is dangerous in a woman’s hands, but that Elsa’s power was dangerous because she was taught to fear them her whole life – and once she was able to love herself and accept herself for who she was, she could use her powers for good.

  11. Rebecca says:

    1) A PRINCESS WHO KNOWS HOW TO USE MAGIC
    Okay, so that’s your excuse? Lame, magic or physical prowess does not equal feminism. Duh! I think that’s the fundamental issue with modern feminism. If they see a kick-ass female character, they scream feminist. Uuuugghhh.

    2) THE MESSAGE OF SISTERHOOD
    Anna and Elsa have very awkward or heated conversations throughout the entire film. They’re relationship felt forced – you know what’s an underrated and WAY better sister duo? Nani and Lilo, like seriously they’re ten times better than Elsa and Anna.

    3) THE TWIST ON THE ACT OF TRUE LOVE
    That was the cheapest move I’ve ever seen – Hans’s sideburns screamed evil to me. I was so disappointed by this. I actually would have preferred Hans and Anna together as compared to Anna and Kristoff. All those two did were banter and bicker like a pair of pretentious children, like seriously they had no romantic chemistry until Olaf screamed ‘he’s yo’ twoo wove’. And Kristoff would have been good with Elsa, I mean god – why bash relationships? I liked Merida’s speech in Brave about finding love in your own time. I just hated how all the men were negative roles in the movie.

    THE MOVIE HAS TWO GREAT ROLE-MODELS FOR LITTLE GIRLS?!
    OH MY GOD! No, I am done. Sooooooo done. This article explains it all. Love it. http://wetlandsmagazine.com/2014/05/15/frozens-flaky-feminism-re-examining-anna-and-elsa-as-feminist-figureheads/

    • Theresa Basile says:

      Well now that you’ve been sarcastic and rude and eyerolly on a stranger’s blog, I of COURSE will check out the link you supplied!

      Yeah right. Bye.

  12. I absolutely agree. I only watched the movie because my OT’s grandchildren had it, and I was moved to tears by the heartening, feminist message that this gives to young children. And the final scene is not the princess having found her man, it’s the sisters dancing together. Absolutely wonderful stuff. I keep thinking of the line – ‘the cold never bothered me anyway’.

  13. Riley says:

    I really admire this article, personally I think Mulan is more feminist, but this is still a pretty good article.

  14. Bri says:

    Um, what about Lilo and Stitch. That focused on family with barely any romance. Nani was strong for only being a young adult, taking care of her sister after they are orphaned. Like, did you forget about Lilo and Stitch.

    Also, in Mulan the main character, Mulan, did have to hide under a male guise but that did not mean that she was not being true to herself. She was allowed to break from the strict social structures that China had. She was accepted as a warrior and woman by the Emperor himself. Also she fought Shan Yu as a woman. She had her friends dressed up as woman to use the power of the female guise. She twisted everyones expectations.

  15. Lopene Fair says:

    Thank you for sharing this article, it’s pretty good. I agree with your last three points, but in my opinion, Frozen isn’t the most feminist Disney movie. I found a very good piece explaining why if you’d like to check it out:
    https://medium.com/disney-and-animation/the-problem-with-false-feminism-7c0bbc7252ef

    The reason why I don’t (fully) agree with your first point is that, although you’re right that Elsa is the first female protagonist who can actually use magic and that is a step forward for Disney, it would be more convincingly feminist if she actually did something good or beneficial with her power. In other Disney films, the princesses are ordinary humans i.e without special abilities, yet they still achieve or do remarkable things (which help others) despite that.

    But with Elsa, although she does many remarkable things in Frozen- building an ice castle, freezing an entire nation, breaking out of a prison cell with sheer power etc.- none of these things worked to the benefit of others or made a (good) difference. The only time it did was when she was having fun with Anna as kids (before injuring her), thawed Arendelle at the end of the film (but only after creating a lot of devastation) and created an ice rink (which doesn’t really mean much). Please correct me if I’ve left anything out.

    What I mean is, it’s great to have a powerful character, but that only goes so far on its own. Having a character with abilities who can’t control them is pretty much the same as having a character without abilities.

    UNLESS it contributes to the story- I know it’s supposed to be part of the plot that Elsa’s afraid of her abilities and needs to learn to accept them, and that’s great, but maybe in the future Disney could flesh out this new development by having a female protagonist who can control her powers and use them for good. (Think something along the lines of the great female leads in The Legend of Aang). It doesn’t necessarily have to be elemental powers. It could be anything- magic, mind control etc.

    Another thing I don’t agree with is that Frozen is more feminist than Mulan. This is because in Frozen, the fact that Elsa and Anna are female is purely circumstantial. You could switch their genders to male and it really wouldn’t make much difference to the story. However in Mulan, the fact that she is a woman is central to the entire movie and the story can’t work without it. As an audience we’re constantly wondering: will Mulan get found out and executed for being a female soldier? Will she be able to keep up with her male comrades in training? Can she maybe outperform them?

    I know it’s not a good thing to be constantly reminded of somebody’s gender, but in Mulan’s case, it’s relevant. Because we’re shown that as a woman, she’s just as capable as the other male soldiers, and maybe even more. She’s the first one to reach the arrow at the top of the pole. She improves the most in training. She’s the one who comes up with a plan to defeat the Hun army. And again, she makes another plan to finally take down Shan Yu.

    Another commenter pointed out that Mulan, and Merida from Brave, are only considered ‘strong’ because they display male traits. Whilst Mulan does display these traits throughout most of the movie, we’re also reminded regularly that she can be just as feminine as she is masculine:
    When she first arrives at camp and has no idea how to blend in with the male crowd, when she goes to bathe and bumps into Yao, Ling and Chien Po, when their division is travelling to meet Shang’s father and she’s forced to sing “A Girl Worth Fighting For” etc.

    And through this we’re reminded that she’s an effective warrior regardless of which side she’s showing. She accomplishes many things as a ‘man’, including the defeat of the Hun army on the mountainside, BUT:
    During the last and most significant battle of the film (which roughly equates to all the things she’s previously done as a man), Mulan is no longer in disguise and fights as what she is- a woman. Yet the other male characters follow her and trust her and fight alongside her. This is because she’s proven herself as a soldier, and the fact that she was shamed and left behind on the mountain when they discovered she was a woman does not matter.

    Even afterwards, when Mulan meets the Emperor, her heroic actions negate her gender and her treason and she is instead declared the saviour of China. Again, we are reminded that she is a woman, and more importantly, we are reminded that being a woman did not stop her from doing such a remarkable thing. This is how I think Mulan makes advances for women more so than Elsa and Anna, within the movie in the context of ancient China (you get to see this in the sequel, where Mulan doesn’t just go back to her normal life, but is now a trusted advisor and soldier of the Emperor), and outside of it (in real life).

    I mean, how many children were inspired by and emulated Mulan when it came out? I remember looking up to her so much when I was little. I don’t know if I’d look up to Elsa or Anna just as much if I was a kid, but now, I’m infinitely more inspired by Mulan as a woman than by Elsa and Anna as women.

    • Theresa Basile says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you make a lot of good points.

      It’s funny how our perspectives can change over time, because I don’t think I would write this article again. I look at what I wrote and cringe a little that I even pitted this film against other groundbreaking Disney films in a battle to see which is “most” feminist. They’re feminist for different reasons and they’re all valuable.

      At the time I wrote this, I was a few months away from experiencing a big breakthrough in my own mental health journey, and that’s why Frozen spoke so much to me on an individual level. Seeing Elsa fight against the repression that had held her back for so long was incredibly meaningful to me as a feminist, as a woman, and a person. And Anna’s heroism despite having any special skills or powers – being quite ordinary – spoke to me just as much. But I can certainly see why Mulan would be more inspiring for someone else for different reasons.

      • Lopene Fair says:

        You’re welcome! And that’s very thoughtful of you too. I 100% agree with you- just like how feminism has different meanings for different contexts and groups, Disney films can be equally feminist for different reasons.

        I’m glad that Frozen inspired you so much, and maybe that’s where the explanation lies. I didn’t experience anything that made Elsa or Anna’s troubles resonate with me, but I definitely related to Mulan because I’m a girl and I felt inadequate compared to my older brother and male cousins. It was also the movie of my childhood so I’m doubly attached to it.

        So I guess the answer to which Disney movie is the most feminist is a subjective one, depending on each person. Even if Mulan inspires more people than Frozen, the fact that Frozen inspired others is just as important, valid and empowering, and people like you shouldn’t be shot down for suggesting that.

    • Lopene Fair says:

      Also about your second point, the message of sisterhood- Frozen isn’t much different to Brave when it comes to female relationships. Even if Merida and her mother spend the entire movie trying to understand each other, that’s pretty close to what Anna and Elsa go through as well.

      In fact a lot of the movie is Anna chasing after Elsa and trying to clean up the mess she’s made, and a significant portion afterwards is Elsa getting angry at Anna, failing to communicate with the person she is closest to, and even sending an ice monster after her to make her stay away. That doesn’t sound like a great relationship to me, but you could argue that Frozen is about repairing Elsa and Anna’s bond just as much as Brave is about bringing Merida and her mother together.

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