Dear Girls: You are unique and powerful so please go away. Love, Disney

18 Jan

Disney's Frozen

Thanks to many positive early reviews, I got it in my head that Frozen was a film to be excited about – a Disney film that for the first time usurped the traditional princess fairy tale of being rescued by a knight in shining armor for a more feminist telling celebrating the bonds of sisterhood.

Not so fast, Disney. I’m calling bulls**t.

Though Frozen boasts two female lead characters, passes the Bechdel Test (barely) and defines “true love” as an act of sisterhood, the most straightforward message in this purportedly feminist film – a film whose target audience is young girls – is that that which is unique, special, and powerful about you is also dangerous, shameful and must be hidden. A subtler message: girls are emotional time-bombs who can’t be trusted to control their bodies or their minds.

Princess sisters - Anna and Elsa

Princess #1, Elsa, has a unique and powerful ability – she can “freeze things.” Princess #2, Anna, is an innocent (i.e.: normal) girl. Together, in the privacy of their castle, the sisters play in a winter wonderland of Elsa’s creation until a misdirected freeze ray accidentally hits Anna in the head. So, the King and Queen, decide to close the castle gates and keep Elsa quarantined from EVERYONE, including Anna. Not only does this alienate Elsa from the entire world but also it robs Anna of her playmate and sister with no explanation whatsoever. Did you know that the first step in the cycle of abuse and colonization is isolation? I’m just saying.

Then the parents die and the two girls are truly alone – Anna left to wonder why her sister won’t speak, play or even talk to her and Elsa confined to her bedroom by fear of her uncontrollable “gift.” When the sisters finally emerge from the castle, years later for “Coronation Day”/Elsa’s 18th birthday, Anna’s desire for connection leads her to immediately become engaged to a visiting prince and Elsa’s inability to control her power leads her to banish herself to the top of a mountain.

And that’s only the first 30 minutes of the film! WHAT THE WHAT, DISNEY?!?

Overall, the majority of the critiques of Frozen can be attributed to poor storytelling but to use that, as an excuse would be to ignore that the holes in the story are a direct consequence of Disney’s commitment to reinforcing traditional gender roles that scare girls into submission. Here’s how in three easy steps:

Elsa

1. Being a girl is bad: Elsa has been raised to believe her power, her gift, that which makes her unique (SUBTEXT: HER GIRL-NESS) is what is wrong with her. She is the villain and for no reason at all except she was born different from everyone else. She doesn’t even get a fairy godmother or some dancing snowflake to share comical words of wisdom. I mean, DANG. Even Cinderella had birds helping her dress. Elsa has to be scared of her abilities because what would it mean to acknowledge a girl’s power and teach her how to use it? Seriously, Disney? Hollywood? America? Why aren’t we telling that story?

2. Feelings are bad: “Don’t feel. Conceal” becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. Disney is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of. The fact that this catchy little rhyme is actually repeated multiple times throughout the film guarantees that it will imprint on it’s audience – it’s audience full of young, impressionable girls. In an era where one of TV’s most revered female characters successes relies on listening to her “gut,” Disney is brainwashing little girls to ignore, distrust and devalue that voice. Instead they are telling them to “Let it Go.” Yep, the solo power ballad meant to celebrate Elsa’s claiming of her power is sung to an audience of none and comes complete with a “costume change” of the typical Disney transformation including loose hair and new dress with a sexy slit straight up her just turned 18-year-old thigh.

3. Power is bad: Elsa is never given any agency when it comes to her ability. It is a “gift” that alienates her to a life of solitude and serves no purpose for the greater good or even Elsa herself. The origin of her power is unclear (we assume she was born with it) but what is made icily clear is how her ability is triggered (by her emotions) or controlled (it isn’t). Sure, Clark Kent and Peter Parker were awkward social loners caught within the tension of their “normal” lives and their super powers. BUT, like most male characters with super-human powers, they actively participated in society because they were given the capability to control their powers. They had jobs, they had friends – even romantic relationships, and when they were called upon to use their unique power it was in protection of their communities. Don’t get it twisted, my pretty. Frozen isn’t a super hero story; it’s a princess story.

images-2

Final proof that this film is about as feminist as Robin Thicke, the majority of the plot and subsequent screen time is dedicated to Anna’s journey to find Elsa which she does with the help of…you guessed it, A MAN! Thanks to a descriptive opening song and ample dialogue we know more about the character Sven than both girls combined.

UGH and SIGH.

Frozen is just another Hollywood vehicle reminding girls and women that if you are talented, especially innately (God-given), beyond explanation (witchcraft) or in a way that threatens the status quo (if Elsa can just make ice appear out of thin air what will the big, strong men do for work?) then you are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. You might still get to be Queen but your talent will be used only for entertainment or self-preservation rather than to solve problems or help you better lead your kingdom.

Just ask Hilary.

This post was originally posted on our sister site pop!goesalicia.

4 Responses to “Dear Girls: You are unique and powerful so please go away. Love, Disney”

  1. em 20. Jan, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    I didn’t see this one yet. I probably won’t. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that it’s not The Snow Queen (my favorite fairy tale).

  2. Ashleigh 20. Jan, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    While I am a fan of all things “girl power” (Lord knows I modeled my adult self after a certain flame-haired Spice Girl), my problem with this review is that it ignores the necessity of plot convention.

    For a story to be successful, and in this case to be marketable to Disney’s audience, there must be initial conflict and struggle. Therefore it is unfair to fault the writers for presenting Elsa with the problem of uncontrollable power when if it were accepted and tamed within the first 5 minutes there would be no movie.

    As for Anna’s rushed engagement, it is noted several times throughout the movie that her action was crazy. But who isn’t a little crazy? Do you get automatically kicked out of the feminist club for falling in “love” at first sight? Does wanting a male partner or asking for help from a qualified individual (who’s only fault is his possession of a penis) make you weak? I am inclined to say that Anna would be more of an idiot and a bad role model if she had attempted to climb that mountain on her own when everything we’ve been told about her character makes her unfit to do so. Plus, it’s Disney, so the love story is obligatory.

    And as a self-identified feminist I must address your points.

    1) The supposed theme that “being a girl is bad” and the subsequent criticism of the attitude surrounding Elsa implies that Anna is “less of a girl” because she is not blessed/burdened with a power and is not seen as damaged by her parents. DONT FORGET ANNA!

    2) Internal struggle is something we love to watch. It makes us empathize with characters and is a fantastic. Going back to my initial point, if Elsa was a well-adjusted person right off the bat, there would be no story. It is crucial to the ultimate success of her character arc that she have that darkness of doubt, confusion, isolation, etc. for her ultimate homecoming to have any weight.

    3) The fault in storytelling, in my opinion, comes in the fact that we are never shown the origin of Elsa’s power. My exposition-obsessed mind is yearning for an explanation. And I completely disagree that power is seen as inherently “bad,” moreso, that unchecked and uncontrolled power is dangerous, which is a valid point.

    While there are problems with Frozen, I cannot agree that it perpetuates a culture of wimpy women. In the end Elsa learns to control her ability by herself and is ultimately celebrated for it. I think that’s pretty damn powerful.

  3. Becca 23. Jan, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    I think you may have missed the point a bit. The whole film was about how the parents were wrong to force Elsa to conceal her gift and to treat it as bad – if she hadn’t been locked away, she wouldn’t have been so freaked out and Anna wouldn’t have grown up lonely and vulnerable. It also sends the message that running away from your problems, while temporarily freeing, is never the answer. While Elsa felt great during Let it Go, it wasn’t until she came back and faced her problems that she was able to understand her powers.

    Hans was a bit of overkill, IMO. The true “villain” of the film was ignorance. I thought the whole film represented female sexuality beautifully – it’s scary to parents, but powerful as long as girls are provided with information and help while they learn to feel what they feel.

  4. Jeff 24. Jan, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I disagree with your points.

    1. “Elsa has been raised to believe her power, her gift, that which makes her unique (SUBTEXT: HER GIRL-NESS) is what is wrong with her.” If this were a male character would you think that his power was a subtext for his masculinity? If not, why is turning things to ice a metaphor for femininity? If you can’t explain that it is a metaphor for femininity then how can you argue this point?

    2. “‘Don’t feel. Conceal’ becomes Elsa’s mantra in order for her to cope with her uniqueness. Disney is point blank telling girls that their thoughts – their emotions – are things to be ashamed of.” This is Elsa’s feelings at THAT moment of the story. Would you say that Macbeth is about an honorable man? Of course not. Macbeth starts out that way but over the course of the story, he changes. This is the most basic principle of drama—the story arc. Elsa doesn’t end the fairy tale thinking “Don’t feel! Conceal!” In fact, she ends the tale thinking the exact opposite… as is the case in all fairy tales.

    3. “Elsa is never given any agency when it comes to her ability. It is a “gift” that alienates her to a life of solitude and serves no purpose for the greater good or even Elsa herself.” While I agree that it is a bit of poor writing that Elsa’s magic powers have no dramatic payoff or redemption, I’m not sure any deeper social meaning can be placed on this. Ultimately Elsa’s power is simply a physical characteristic that she dislikes and learns to come to terms with. Very similar to Hairspray or The Ugly Duckling or any number of other stories that deal with this subject. Isn’t that a positive for adolescents? Some kids are short, some are tall. Some men are bald. Some women have small breasts. Some men have small penises. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just embrace it and move on. That’s sort of what Elsa’s arc is.

    The better sexist argument here is that once again, even though true love is a sister’s hug instead of a prince’s kiss, you have female characters who are ultimately saved via the help of a male character.

    Or, how about the villains are all men?! The two assassins, the tradesman from the other kingdom, and the dastardly fellow who leads Anna on. Isn’t THAT a little sexist towards men? All the female characters are saints and the men are wicked? If this film were completely gender-opposite and 2 brothers were at the mercy of 4 female villains and a helpful female ice-cutter, what would you say then?

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