God forbid I actually try to engage in a conversation about feminism; even disregarding the fact that my rare participation is usually dismissed, I do seek to be more knowledgeable about the topic before I put out more universally applicable arguments.
Yet when it comes to the new movie Frozen, it irks me that some of my fellow females are exceedingly anxious about the movie’s implications for our gender.
Let me remind you: it’s a Disney movie, for crying out loud. We millennials still have fond memories of the animated films that defined our generation’s childhood, and if this is a film to define the one after us, it’s got some good messages, not all of them negatively subliminal.
Frozen is not supposed to be a cultural commentary, critique, or allegory. The characters do occasionally give off indicators of contemporary slang or mannerisms, and yes, some of its themes are applicable to every day life. But in the context of being a story told to masses of children–including female children–it’s doing a pretty damn good job entertaining and serving even a morsel of food for thought, if we’re talking purely about how Disney depicted its gender roles.
Protagonist Anna is bubbly and fast-talking and your prototypical perky, lovable heroine; but why does she have to have two –if any– love interests, writers gripe. Why do handsome Hans and Kristoff have to be present and relevant to this story at all? A few months ago, Feminist Fan Girl on Tumblr pointed out that the original The Snow Queen story by Hans Anderson had a whole cast of female characters, most of whom were cut out from the Frozen film and may have made for a more pertinent and interesting story. Instead, Disney Studios erased most of those essential female characters and replaced them with males.
Well I, too, would have liked to see a movie with an all-female cast pioneering a new movement in media. But Disney’s revision of the story to include more men does not necessarily indicate a problem with strong, empowered females.
Stories throughout the ages, never mind their origin or platform, have seen the hero/heroine interacting with some love interest; perhaps storytellers believe this gives the protagonists a human side, presenting them with a weakness beyond/potential remedy for the internal vices or scarring past experiences they suffer from.Disney’s placement of Hans and Kristoff more so shows how privvy the media is to continue this (questionably practical) urge to fixate on matters of the heart.
In this case, they aren’t discriminating against girls being strong. It’s not about gender; it’s about a cultural obsession with love. Trading one poison for another eh?
But still: how well-received are male-dominated films that are… just male dominated? Significantly less so than when there’s a love interest involved. In the case of Frozen, Disney has reversed gender roles through two plot-twisty events concerning Kristoff and Hans, both respectively obvious and subtle.
Anna needs a love’s true kiss to reverse her frozen heart, and naturally we turn to Hans, her fiance of one day (and the fact that Kristoff actually scoffs at this is a nice way of decrying the ‘love at first sight’ trope that the silver screen unfortunately encouraged just last year… looking at you, Les Mis). Naturally she’ll go to him while the audience face-palms by how obvious it is that Kristoff is MADE FOR HER.
And then, it turns out that not even Kristoff is the one to save her. No, he’s just been an extra accessory to help her get through to her sister, but in some of the falling action scenes, he’s actually just running toward her -presumably to save her- just to fake us out. As Anna saves her sister, and in turn herself, Kristoff is actually off in the corner looking on dumbly. The fakeout seemed to be a nod to turning the ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope on its head.
But another, more subtle trope came in the form of an interaction between Hans and Elsa. You see, Elsa, who already embodies the lone-wolf, compassionate-but-strong female character who doesn’t have a love interest, is in danger of letting her hardheartedness get the best of her. She nearly kills two soldiers who had originally planned to eliminate her, almost stooping down to their level. Hans, whose previous heroics (even if they were insincere) include attempting to be the hero, ends up stopping her, being the softer one and telling her to not be a monster. This reversal, in which a man is the one to urge a woman to show more compassion, is in my eyes one that actually propels forth the idea that personality types aren’t one-size-fits-all for gender.
So why are we fixating on such small things, such as if the heroine’s wrists are smaller than her eyes? Anna is not supposed to embody some sort of subconscious ideal with animations. When I was little, I was not looking at an animated cartoon and wishing I had that sort of body because I knew it was a cartoon. I can say my focus definitely veered toward admiring the actions and adventures of Disney princesses who were lively enough to look like they were getting a kick out of life (funnily enough, these were some of the daughters. Like Ariel’s daughter Melody and Wendy’s daughter Jane. Harhar).
Frozen isn’t the most progressive animated film, but it’s definitely not inhibiting a feminist message, as some outlets seem to fret. If you want to peg it for something, then focus on the need to have two genders to bring some sort of romantic element into the story. But that element is also found just as much in male-dominated stories, so if anything, stories with female protagonists like this one have merited the same preoccupation with love as a trope.
The two go hand in hand, at times, but in this case, the damsels are perfectly capable of saving themselves, while the males are an accessory. That’s something fresh and new for Disney, and we can only hope that they’ll actually make strides down this path in the future.
**12/27: To add to the mix of referenced articles: consider Tracy Moore’s piece on why Frozen’s destroying the world of unhealthy tropes Disney originally set forward