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.