- YEAR: 2013
- DIRECTOR: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
- KEY ACTORS: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel
- CERTIFICATE: PG
- IMDB SCORE: 7.4
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 90%
SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ This obviously passes the Bechdel Test! It’s about sisters who have more problems than just men.
✔️ And it’s definitely rewatchable. And re-singable and re-laughable…
✔️ OK so this animated series is going to get kind of weird when it comes to this particular question but, yes, I would fuck the cast. Kristoff is hot and kind and feminist, and the princesses are beautiful!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. I don’t have a princess kink and, while there is certainly something about snuggling up warm when it’s snowy outside, this movie didn’t inspire those kinds of fantasies!
✔️ As far as a Disney film can be, this is sex positive! There are important messages about consent and not rushing intimacy.
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: DisneyPlus, Amazon Prime (rent £2.49, buy £9.99), YouTube (from £2.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
[Content warning: homophobia, brief mention of conversion therapy]
Welcome to the first post from my Disney Princess series! Now, I acknowledge that these posts might be seen as simply shooting fish in a barrel – discussions about the feminist credentials of Disney Princesses aren’t exactly new and there are almost more listicles ranking the feminist princesses than there are princesses at all! I found versions by Stylist, Grazia, ED Times, Medium, Refinery 29 and, of course, Buzzfeed, and they all say basically the same thing – the old ones are misogynistic and the newer ones are empowering.
But I think that these discussions are so common because they’re important. For many of us, the Disney characters are among the first ‘people’ who aren’t family that we spend any kind of time with, and so are likely to be some of our earliest role models. And while the impact of the Princesses on girls and people brought up as woman has been discussed fearfully for years, commenting on their lack of agency and control, Disney films also provide a fair few toxic role models for men and perpetuate heteronormative scripts about how relationships are supposed to be. They certainly taught me that love is about happy endings and about the importance of finding the One, without much diversity or variation.
It’s also not unheard of for Disney to be the source of early romantic and sexual awakenings. Just think of Esmeralda tied up in The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Nala’s come-to-bed eyes in The Lion King; that handsome and sexy fox, Robin Hood (I think my first crush was actually Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty but Robin had the largest impact). And the scene in Sword in the Stone with the squirrels was a formative exposure to love and heartbreak – I sobbed so much each and every time we watched it that my mother took to fastforwarding it!
And now we have a little daughter of our own, I am very aware of the lessons we might be exposing her to through watching these films. Do I want her to watch Snow White before she’s old enough to talk about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder and women aren’t meant to be domestic servants? Should I let her watch The Little Mermaid before she understands the value of her independence and her own voice?
So I wanted to look at these movies more closely – looking at the older movies, before the Disney Renaissance in 1990s heralded a stronger, more feminist heroine, to see if they are as bad as they seem, and the newer ones to see if they are as good as they claim. And, of course, I had to start with the biggest Disney phenomenon ever – Frozen.
Frozen tells the story of two sisters, Elsa (Medina) and Anna (Bell), who are princesses of Arendelle. Elsa is able to magically produce ice and snow but, after she accidentally almost kills her sister, she is encouraged to hide her powers and isolate herself for everyone else’s safety. On the day of her coronation, Elsa has a fight with Anna that causes her to lose control, revealing her powers and plunging Arendelle into deep winter. She runs away, singing an incredible and impossible to recreate (no matter how hard I try!) power ballad, announcing that she no longer gives a shit what anyone thinks and is going to be fabulous on her own. Anna follows to rescue her but Elsa doesn’t want to be rescued. Instead, she is taken back to Arendelle in chains by Hans, Anna’s fiancé after a comically brief love affair who is revealed to be evil. Hans tries to kill Elsa but Anna saves her, saving the day and proving that sisterly love is the real true love.
And Frozen was and is a genuine sensation. As of the end of January 2021, Frozen and its sequel were numbers 2 and 3 in the list of top grossing animated movies ever. Perhaps not unexpected for Disney but still significantly higher than all the other Princess movies, with Moana coming in next at number 29. It has inspired a merchandise empire – in her hand-me-down clothes from various older cousins, my daughter has enough Elsa dresses to keep her clothed from now until she is 7 – was blamed for a peak in baby girls called Elsa in 2014, and was so ubiquitous that Serena Williams was asked about it in an on-court interview at the Australian Open in 2019!
I am fascinated by why this particular movie caught the attention of so many young people, and frankly so many older people too! Obviously, the music is incredible and the animation is beautiful, but the same could be said for a lot of other Disney movies. Why is Frozen so special?
My research has suggested that there are psychological reasons why children can’t resist Frozen. Maryam Kia-Keating and Yalda T. Uhls wrote for Time Magazine in 2015 that a preschooler’s struggle to control their new and unfamiliar emotions is similar to Elsa’s battle to control her powers, and ‘the scary parts in Frozen are minimal and temporary, and the villain is an ordinary guy who sings a catchy love song.’ Add to that a story involving a strong family and sisterly connection, rather than a love affair, which is easier for children to empathise with, and you’re on to a winner! ‘The heroines of Frozen are authentic and real, and no longer solely focused on finding a prince. They preach sisterly love and girl power…[and] a universally appealing desire to be happy and free.’ It’s familiar and yet magical and so completely wonderful.
Of course, Elsa and Frozen have also become important to LGBTQ+ communities because Elsa’s sexuality is the most ambiguous of any Disney main character – to quote Emily Van Der Werff in Vox, ‘canonically, Elsa of Arendelle, who sits upon the tiny northern kingdom’s throne at the end of Frozen, is not queer. Canonically, she is not romantically interested in anybody. And lest you wonder if that description means Elsa is asexual or aromantic, neither of those qualities is canon either. Canonically, she’s nothing when it comes to her sexuality. Which also means she isn’t (yet) canonically straight.’ Yes!!
LBGTQ+ representation in Disney movies is a big problem. GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group, described Disney Studios in 2018 as having the ‘weakest history when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion’ of all the studios they monitored and it hasn’t really got better. While Disney has moved on from queer-coded villains like Scar and Maleficent, queer characters tend sit in the background, often without real names, like ‘Grieving Man’ in Avengers: Endgame; or they’re announced as gay, but do practically nothing on screen to support that label, like LeFou on the live-action Beauty and the Beast. Even now, Disney steals the headlines with frustratingly token representation that ‘almost appear to be erasable by design,’ and often are when they pass through censors in less liberal countries.
So while Disney has yet to confirm Elsa’s sexuality, they haven’t really denied it either and that is important: ‘“Not yet confirmed as straight”? We’ll fucking take it. We’ll take it and run with it, baby.’
Much of the commentary on Elsa as a queer icon also focuses on the fact that ‘she is forced by her parents to suppress and hide the powers that she is born with.’ Were they hiding her because they thought she was dangerous or to maintain an impression of normalcy? The mantra that Elsa is taught, ‘conceal, don’t feel,’ also shows how her parents don’t want her to control her powers; they want her to hide them entirely. Dr Angel Daniel Matos comments on the similarity between her mantras and repetitive processes ‘to suppress certain urges and desires that occur naturally’ and conversion therapy, and it similarly fails.
In the original plans for Frozen, Elsa’s failure was going to make her a villain – raising the unfortunate question of whether this is why she has so much queer coding – but, instead, it is a catalyst for her ‘coming out.’ Driven by the residual fear and shame of her parents, Elsa feels that she has to run away to become who she really is, to discover the extent of her powers, and initially ‘lashes out at those who would drag her back to the mainstream.’ But once she realises Anna’s devoted and unshakable love for her, Elsa discovers that she can be herself and be accepted by her family. More than just accepted, Elsa is able to come home and bring her powers with her, making Arendelle better and breaking down the barriers and binaries that had previously confined her: ‘Even the castle itself begins to refute binaristic thinking at the end of the film as Elsa decorates the premises with ice-fountains, ice-sculptures, and ice-covered structures. Rather than presenting a world that is either hot or cold, the castle becomes a structure in which the frozen and the non-frozen coexist–ultimately eradicating the difference between the two.’
Elsa is also pretty radical because she shows us a new way to be a princess. When she rejects her crown and flees the kingdom to be who she needs to be, she sings that the ‘perfect girl is gone.’ She had previously been weighed down by the pressures of that ‘particular gender role of a princess, sister, daughter’ but shows us that she can be happier – and dare I say sexier – when she is released from them: ‘during the course of the song, when she dresses in a sexy outfit and stares directly at the camera with a raised eyebrow, she seems to be suggesting that a young woman can align with her sexuality, unconcerned about what others may think or feel.’ And that is revolutionary!
Importantly, Elsa is also a female presenting character who is allowed to make a mistake that causes significant harm to people she cares about, and still gets a chance at redemption without having to give up her strength – an interesting contrast to WW84. She’s human, not a fairytale. Again, this may be because there are traces of Elsa the villain in her character – ‘she shows herself as someone who has the potency and intent to murder’ and violence when she hurts Anna and creates giant snow beasts. Elsa’s big transformation doesn’t turn her into a lesser version of herself but a stronger one. Unlike silent Ariel in The Little Mermaid or comatose Snow White or Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, ‘Elsa transforms into a lady who is in full and exigent control of her power and autonomy.’ Despite being trained to hide and control her strength, Elsa is given the chance to accept them and becomes better and happier for it. And, importantly, this ‘reflects that Disney princesses no longer need a hero to emerge as their saviour.’ She’s a true feminist hero!!
Because we mustn’t forget that Frozen is a movie about love. It’s just that it takes a different view on love to other Disney movies, and frankly it kind of mocks the instant love seen in some of them. When Anna falls for Hans, it felt like exactly what would happen in a Disney movie and Elsa’s horror at the speed of Anna’s engagement would be enough to show how far Disney had come. Hans then becoming a villain is almost incidental. It’s a massive twist and, proving how deeply I am stuck in the old-Disney mindset, one that caught me completely by surprise, but it would perhaps have been a better movie if Anna had realised on her own that she had made a mistake with him; that her sister was right and true love doesn’t appear in a flash. Perhaps that Hans couldn’t have saved her, even if he wanted to, because they don’t have a true love yet, if they ever could.
The key message Frozen wants to teach us is that true love is earned and ‘it’s the result of time and effort, that a relationship between two sisters who’ve known each other for years and years is more likely to qualify as true love than anything having to do with some guy you’ve just met,’ and I really like that.
I do wonder whether some of these feminist and queer readings of a fairytale are just ‘wish-fulfilment’ when, in fact, all Disney have done is create the ultimate marketing opportunity – ‘enliven and subvert the conventions of typical Disney princess movies while simultaneously remaining true to their aesthetic trappings for maximum merchandising potential’ by creating TWO princesses ‘who didn’t need to be rescued (appropriately PC), but still princesses who could be marketed as dolls (necessarily lucrative).’ But, and I never thought I would say this, I agree with Jordan Peterson’s assessment that ‘you don’t spend tens of millions of dollars on a carefully crafted narrative that’s just a lovely story unless that’s what you’re trying to tell.’ Except that, unlike him, I don’t see this as ‘deeply propagandistic’ and a reason to complain, but as a positive sign for the future. Disney did know exactly what they were doing – they were responding to what their audiences now want. Feminist kickass heros with diverse sexualities!
OK so I’m running out of space but I do quickly want to touch on how amazing Kristoff is. He really comes into the role of perfect boyfriend in Frozen 2, showing his emotions and coming out with perhaps the greatest two lines from a movie boyfriend ever – ‘I’m here. What do you need?’ and ‘Don’t worry. My love, it isn’t fragile’ – but he is pretty important in the original movie too if only because he shows that consent is still hot and romantic. He asks Anna if he can kiss her! At the perfect movie moment where he’s spinning her around in his arms, he doesn’t just kiss her – he asks and it’s awkward but it’s so sweet and lovely and IMPORTANT!
Kristoff: I could kiss you!…I could. I mean, I’d like to. I. May I? We me? I mean, may we? Wait, what?
Anna: [kisses him on the cheek] We may.
It’s perfect. What a lesson to teach young people!
And that’s why I don’t begrudge Frozen any of its success. As a whole, the movie isn’t perfect – it’s very white and both girls are classically slim and beautiful, and if you look too closely there are plot holes and gaps that I can’t explain but, whether by accident or design, Disney have made a movie that better reflects the lessons I would want my girl to learn – powerful women are fab; love takes time; you don’t need a man to save you; diversity and difference make life better and more interesting.
Let’s hope all future Disney movies can meet – or beat – this high standard!
NEXT WEEK…which pre-2000 Disney Princess would you like me to review next?
🎥 NEW MOVIE POLL 🍿— Livvy (@sexlovevideo) February 5, 2021
Today is the start of my Disney Princesses review series – starting later today with Frozen!!
But what should I review next? Almost always at the bottom of ‘most feminist Princess’ lists, which pre-1990 Disney movie deserves a closer look?