Now, I always have to take Disney with a grain of salt because I despise a lot of what they have become, but even I can’t argue that they’re all bad. I was never the biggest fan of the Disney Princess movies and there’s pretty uniformly nothing worth scavenging from them when looking for good role models and representation. If you like them, I’m not judging, just saying they’re about as far from progressive as it’s possible to be so I will mostly be looking elsewhere.
Numerous blogs and articles keep popping up on my feeds lauding Frozen for being the most progressive and egalitarian film Disney has ever made. That Anna and Elsa teach girls that romantic love isn’t the be-all and end-all and that family is most important. That girls can damn well save themselves. I’ve even seen a compelling argument that they included mention of a gay family. It questions, even mocks, the marriage trope that Disney arguably helped create in the first place. (One right does not correct that wrong, Disney.) Overall, kudos Disney. It’s great to see it all come together in a one movie, but let’s not forget the other (baby) steps they’ve taken along the way. And seriously, can we not pretend Frozen doesn’t have some issues of its own, small though they may be in comparison to certain other Disney movies, or delude ourselves into thinking this one movie redeems the entire questionable franchise.
Can we talk about the awesome sisters thing first? They’re strong, they’re active players in their own lives, I get it and it’s great. But Lilo and Stitch did it first, and that movie didn’t exactly suck. (It’s possibly my favorite.) Why was Lilo and Stitch something of a moderate feel good movie while Frozen is lauded as groundbreaking and revolutionary? I can only assume it had something to do with placing the sisters in a traditional princess story and, I won’t sugarcoat this, making them white. Yay, progress. Oh, and Lilo and Stitch totally did the whole ‘family being the most important thing’ first, too.
How about Anna and Kristoff’s great partnership as equals, then? I think David and Nani’s relationship in Lilo and Stitch is maybe the best canon Disney romance precisely because they’re friends and equals. He respects that he’s not her priority, is supportive, and continues to be a stand-up guy, respecting it when she turns him down at first. In The Rescuers Bianca and Bernard work as a team of field agents, in Chicken Little the main character and his romantic interest are good friends and work together to stop an alien invasion, in The Lion King Nala is a powerful lioness that is integral to getting the pride to back up Simba in his coup.
But Frozen finally took on Disney’s most problematic trope; that a woman needs a man! Did nobody watch Brave? That was kind of the point of the film, as it pertains to marriage and being your own savior. Mulan saved China without a boyfriend. Esmeralda called out the powers that be on their hypocrisy and cruelty, not to mention lived by her own rules and made her own money and took care of herself. Dori, in Finding Nemo, defied every trope for a grown woman, becoming neither the mother nor the stepmother, never entering into a relationship with the main adult male character, and having none of the delicate or graceful qualities expected of a woman but none of these possible ‘faults’ were treated as problematic, and she still is cool and integral to a positive outcome. Alice doesn’t have a significant other, but she stands up to the Red Queen. And, unlike Brave, in Frozen the quest was not complete without a romantic plot line. Which isn’t in itself bad, but is also probably not the best progress has to offer.
I’m sure I will see Frozen soon, but as it stands I’m more than a little concerned with the way the world is embracing this tale into its bosom. A story doesn’t have to be awful for us to think analytically. You don’t have to dislike something to think critically about it. And let’s not get carried away with thinking about Frozen as a discrete work; its part of a franchise and a legacy, and for good or bad we need to look at it within that framework to see what it’s really doing. Disney has screwed up a lot, but it’s also a reflection of our culture. I’d rather attribute Frozen’s progress not to Disney but to us. We’re changing the world and Disney has taken notice and is slowly starting to cater to what we want to see. We can fix the problem with Disney. We can change the world. But it won’t happen by hand waving things we don’t want to look at.
Yay, things are getting better. This is only the beginning. Just think about what children’s films could look like in the future! So stop celebrating, because we’re not done yet.
Greetings, I’m Kirsten. No nickname, but feel free to try. I recently completed a degree in Sociology, with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. My favorite season is winter, which tends to work out well, living in Montana and all. I have two cats that prefer my roommate’s company to mine. I will take cake over pie or ice cream any day. I am a geek of rather epic proportions and love sci-fi, action, kid’s movies, brit-coms, anime, books and webcomics. I like classic rock and metal, roller-coasters, cold spaghetti, and playing devil’s advocate. My hair has been known to suddenly, if temporarily, become pink and my nails, when I bother to do them, are each a different color. I can be extremely socially awkward. I’m not setting out to do anything big, I just want to be the best me I can be, but if I have to change the world to do so then I’m damn well going to give it a go.