Disney just released a new movie titled Frozen. It’s getting rabid praise for turning a number of societal and Hollywood princess tropes on their heads. Women in the movie are self-determined, they turn down marriage proposals, they’re loving and supportive of one another, they talk about things other than men.( Read more... )
It’s all an amazing progressive step for what is ostensibly the most heteronormative media company out there, right?
Well, sure. If you compare Frozen to other Disney princess-centric movies, it’s a breath of fresh air. That all changes when you compare it to the fairy tale it’s (loosely) based on: “The Snow Queen,” published in 1845 by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s about a boy who gets brainwashed by evil magic and kidnapped by a Snow Queen, and the girl who insists on saving him even though it’s treacherous and most people don’t even know where he is and think he’s already dead anyway. The original tale has a grand total of zero strong, prominent male characters. There’s the boy, who has zero agency and whose personality is compromised for most of the story. There’s the devil who created the evil magic, who appears only in the prologue and is barely a character at all. There’s a Prince, who also shows up for only one of the tale’s seven chapters and is mainly notable for meeting the Princess’s exacting marriage standards. And that’s it unless you count a couple talking animals.
On the flip side, the tale is full of powerful and/or respectable female characters, from revered grandmothers to the aforementioned Princess to witches to highway robbers, and there’s no sense that any of them got to where they are with someone else’s help. There is even explicit admonition that everything the little girl accomplishes, she accomplishes because she is inherently capable of it, not because of assistance or altruism.
”I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart.”
From one point of view, by eliminating the boy from the original tale and rewriting the snow queen’s backstory to something more expansive, Frozen gives us a fully-formed, three-dimensional character to explore who isn’t simply “female” nor simply “evil” nor simply anything else.
From another, Disney has taken a story about a girl who rescues a boy from a kidnapper all by herself and changed it into a story where a girl strikes out with a boy (because girls need help to do things) to help a girl (because a boy wouldn’t have needed help) who can’t control her emotions (because girls are too uterusy — I mean hysterical).
So if Frozen is treated as such a huge step forward, is that because we’re starting from so far behind or because folks are by and large rather naïve about the whole deal?