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A Year of Frozen

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It’s officially been a year since Frozen was released into the world, and judging by the Christmas shopping frenzy, the movie is more popular than ever.

Some people are probably tired of Frozen fever by now. But the fact that Frozen and Elsa in particular are so popular with young girls is really heartening. People might comment that the movie doesn’t always have the tightest plot, or isn’t the most beautifully animated thing we’ve ever seen, but it does provide a lot of really powerful things that have been missing, or at least under-appreciated. In a bleak environment of boy-focused cartoons and a dearth of compelling female characters in any media, the popularity of Frozen is an absolute godsend.

Let It Go is an inspiring song

Let It Go is one of the first Disney princess songs to go nuclear that isn’t about the central romance. It’s a song of self-affirmation and self-confidence, a song about deciding to leave criticism behind and be entirely yourself. When little girls sing Let It Go incessantly and emulate Elsa — her footstomp, her declaration of her own independence, her delight in using her magic to create a place of her own — they’re emulating a female character who is taking control of her life and declaring who she is and who she wants to be. It’s a powerful message, and one that young fans must internalize as the sing the song again and again.

Elsa is a very flawed character

Although Anna is sweet and energetic and adorable, Elsa is the character that has won people’s hearts. And this really matters, because Elsa is an imperfect and quite fearful character — she makes many mistakes, she gets scared, she has lots of fears and self-doubt and arguably suffers from severe anxiety after a lifetime of self-repression. Her journey isn’t one of a happy but different girl finding adventure and happiness and true love. It’s an unhappy young woman learning to accept who she is, to control her power, and to become a queen who is free to be herself without isolating herself from everyone and everything she knows. Less glamorous, perhaps, and definitely less traditionally fairy tale, but a far more useful narrative for girls looking for fictional role models and heroines. She feels real, and she conquers real, relatable issues, wrapped up in magic.

Sisters form the heart of the story

Sure, there’s romance, and sure, there’s a couple of cute animal companions and wacky hijinks ensuing, but the central focus of the story is two sisters who became estranged and fight to rebuild their relationship. It’s sisterly love that saves Anna, and the same sisterly love that saves Elsa. It’s unconditional “true love,” and it explores how that doesn’t have to mean finding a handsome prince and living happily ever after.

Love won’t change someone — but it brings out their better side

Although the trolls have some strange moments, their big music number emphasizes the central message of the movie — that although you can’t take a horrible person and change them into a better one by loving them, people will be their better selves if you treat them with love and kindness. Bad choices don’t necessarily make a bad person, just a scared or stressed one, and if you react to them with kindness and patience, you might just be surprised by who they can be.

It’s not been branded as “Disney princess”

Which might be a strange thing for me to say, since I kind of love Disney Princess stuff. But Frozen has been branded as a separate entity, and I think that’s really significant. Girls deserve more choice in their toys and in things marketed towards them — not just princesses, not just pink, not just this pre-selected range of Disney heroines redesigned to be extra-pretty. The fact that Anna and Elsa have yet to be mixed in with the other “Disney Princesses” means that they haven’t undergone pinkification. Their dolls and branded items actually look like the characters do in the movies, rather than being prettied up. They’re themed around blue, not pink. The fact that they’re royalty isn’t emphasized. Anna and Elsa often appear in branding as a pair, or with the other main characters in the movie, and the branding is driven by their characters and by Elsa’s magic. It’s presented as another option for girls (and for boys), and not just an extension of the existing brand aimed at them.

It proves that all these things are profitable

People had written off princess movies as a thing of the past. Companies declared that female protagonists aren’t as profitable as male protagonists, and that girls don’t buy merchandise as much as boys. Better to market a movie with an equal male lead (like Tangled) or just make it all about boys, because then both boys and girls will watch it. But movies about female characters and female relationships are profitable. They can become cultural zeitgeists. And with Frozen being so unbelievable successful, why would the movie companies not wish to capitalize on this “new trend” for female-led movies and children’s brands, and create more?

Add in how fun the songs are and the unbearable cuteness of Sven, and I hope Frozen‘s reign continues for a long time yet.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

9 thoughts on “A Year of Frozen

  1. I think its good that the media promote a story about the love between two sisters however at the same time I believe Frozen is not the big feminist thing its should have been. In the original fairy tale,THe Snow Queen, you have the girl Gerda saves the boy Kai – very unlikeable to find in a fairy tale- with all kind of female character helping her to do it. There is a princess who wants to marry with a man as smart as her, there is a gypsy girl who gives Gerda her reindeer and a old woman from a tribe who tells Gerda where the Queen´s palace is . Yes, Anna and Elsa save each other and Its fantastic that the act of true love was family love but they turned a fairy tale with plenty of different females characters in a man-centered story. Out of all seven “main” character- Elsa, Anna, Hans Kristoff, Olaf, Sven, the Duke, The troll- only two of them are female characters. It is, in my opinion, a stepback from Disney. We could have had the first woman-centered movie since Sleeping beauty. I suppose we are still living in a man man world.

    1. I agree, there were definite issues with the choices made when adapting the story — both in what characters to keep and with things like animation choices (the similar faces of Anna and Elsa). But I do think that what we ended up with was pretty powerful too, even if it’s not as powerful as it could have been.

      1. -In the original fairy tale,THe Snow Queen, you have the girl Gerda saves the boy Kai – very unlikeable to find in a fairy tale
        \
        No. Actually girl going for the quest to save their brother/friend/prince is a very common fairytale trope- very prominent in Grimm, but also present in Andersen (Little Mermaid, Wild Swans). And Russian fairy tales took it up to eleven. Sadly, popular perception forgot about that.

        Frozen as a men-centred story? I doubt. I’d rather say that we really should judge quality, not quantity. In a story when male protagonist is surrounded about female love interests nobody argues that’s female-centric thing. Olaf, Swen and trolls are sidekicks, Duke is presented rather as a political agenda than actual character and only Hans and Kristoff got deserved spotlight.

        I think that we can add two future notes to main elaborate. I’ve written here how I don’t like “female character longing to be free” cliche. Finally, all those years after Kida we have one who WANTS to be the queen- there’s a common trope that female royals are poor oppressed souls that just wear queenly masks and longs for men’s arm. Elsa is a royal, even when she runs away. She doesn’t want to be “like other girls”, she doesn’t want mystical “freedom” but rather solution to named problem. Her escape is wasn’t a goal, but desperate attempt to save her kingdom and family from herself.
        Even on self-imposed exile Elsa is still queen- she is really worried about her country and her internal conflict come from the fact that she is powerless to solve it. Coming back would make things only worse. But when she finally manages to tame her power, she comes back to ruling. not looking pretty and wandering in the garden, but solve matters.

        Another thing that I think is worth mentioning is another shade of “love won’t solve problems”- namely that loving your child is not enough.
        It’s clear that Queen and King are well-meaning and loving parents- but even then they make every mistake that can be done by parents of the child with special needs. They just accepted diagnosis and never seek further for the way to improve Elsa’s state. They learn her to hide, but not to live with her power. Meanwhile Anna is left alone- she is OK, so she will be OK, right? She is wise girl who knows that her sister needs the time and love she is given and never protests, even if she doesn’t know what is going on. She is just so hungry for love, that she falls for the first guy who has a nice talk. Finally, parents pulled away the thought that there aren’t immortal and one day girls will have to deal with their lives on their own.

        1. You are right. I only refered to the most known fairy tales in western culture where there aren´t too many girl saves boy tropes. So my bad, I wish I know more about other fairy tales.
          I agree we should judge quality, not quantity and I am not saying that Frozen is a bad movie but still has more male characters than female characters. Why don´t have Olaf, the Trolls, Sven, the Duke as a female sidekicks? or instead of the trolls and Olaf, have the woman from the tribe or the gypsy girl (tow characters of color) helping Anna. My problem with Frozen aren´t Anna and Elsa which are good characters per se, but the fact that they had a story about female characters helping each others and they end with a story with all male characters although the main arc were the two sisters

  2. Another great thing about “Let It Go” is how Elsa takes her tiara and chucks it before ripping her hair out of her braid. I thimk that was a VERY defining moment for the Disney princess chain.

  3. All of this is true- but I want to point out that, on top of all this, Elsa has become a bit of an icon for queer women. Obviously it’s not canon (unfortunately, I think the days of canon Disney queerness are still far away), but Elsa’s story is a pretty solid allegory for a coming out story, and that’s been hugely impactful for a lot of women.

    That’s certainly what’s been most impactful about Frozen to me.

    “Let It Go” is also turning into something of a coming out anthem. I mean, “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be” and “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” have pretty clear subtext, and then the transition from that into “I don’t care what they’re going to say” or “here I stand, in the light of day”- just throwing this in the mix, anyway. This isn’t necessarily something Disney deserves credit for, but it’s definitely one of the best things about Frozen and its phenomenon, imo.

    1. Well of course she’s an icon for queer women. Who isn’t impressed by the way her peculiarities almost destroy her family and country and by the way she says “Fuck it” concerning the effect on them. Really she’s one of the most arrogant, entitled women I’ve ever seen on screen. Yeah, let it go, responsibilities, jobs, any connection you might have with your sister, the country that paid for your upbringing and that you’re not even going to abdicate from ruling, “no rules for me” no matter who gets hurt. I’m all for declaring independence but “Let it Go” was declaring sociopathy. If coming out were really like that (it isn’t) then I’d say “Stay in”. Coming out doesn’t destroy places, it doesn’t freeze over society, much as traditionalists think it might be a disaster it isn’t.

  4. I was going to interject with a pointless “My niece is obsessed with Frozen.” But then I had a random thought reading the comments… How most previous Disney heroines just wanted to be ‘free’ whilst Elsa is significant, because her struggle is to control her power…. (Still haven’t watched this movie)…
    Well if you think about it… Most generations of women were just desperate to be free (ie not repressed) but this is the first generation of women where enough of us are free that we actually want more than to be “not repressed’ but actually have cool things, like power, control, money etc.

  5. Frozen isn’t feminist at all. Listen to this pitch for a story. A female takes the throne and the kingdom is immediately plunged into chaos by her inability to control her emotions. She then runs away into total isolation, despite having responsibilities to _government the kingdom. She doesn’t even abdicate, she just runs away.

    Her sister tries to rectify the situation by heading out into a dangerous environment with the clothes she had on at a party and is nearly frozen. Fortunately she meets a man who is able to tell her where her sister is, since she had no idea. Her plan for fixing the situation is to talk to her sister, despite the fact that that’s what caused the crisis. The sister and the man are attacked by wolves and save each other’s life, although when the man does it he does it by endangering himself, which she didn’t have to do. They eventually get to the Queen who loses control of her emotions inflicting a dangerous wound on her sister. She does this while she’s claiming to not be able to stop the crisis, despite having tried literally nothing to do so. Man takes him back to his family, because he actually has knowledge of how to fix these things, which none of the human females does. Sister decides only the kiss of her fiancé can save her, so they go back to her fiancé who doesn’t love her. This means he can’t save her, and he actively tries to kill her. The sister has to be told by a male that the man loves her. She is that insensitive. She tries to get to the man and then decides to sacrifice herself FOR THE WOMAN WHO ALMOST KILLED HER TWICE. The Queen cries a lot which is taken as evidence of “True Love” despite the character not acting in her interests for literally 10 years.

    None of this is feminist. The man has to save the kingdom. The women endangered it. Every character with a workable plan is male. Every character who makes even somewhat good decisions, is male.

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