Frozen Hearts Thaw, Grow Empowered

FrozenHow does the evolution of Disney Princesses reflect evolved notions of women? Let’s take a look at “Frozen” sisters, Anna and Elsa. (Spoiler alert!)

We meet the young girls as joyous, inseparable friends. Until the day Elsa discovers a surprising power. In a state of heightened emotion, she unwittingly zaps little sis, freezing her.

Luckily, a magic troll heals Anna and erases the scary memory. 

To protect the royal family, mom and dad close down the castle. And Elsa keeps to her room to avoid harming sis again — which devastates Anna.

But when Elsa takes the throne, the castle opens and the sisters unite. All is well until Anna asks her sister’s blessing to marry Hans, a Duke she’d recently met. Elsa worries the rash decision is unwise. That sets off emotions on both sides and next thing you know the cold secret is revealed. So Elsa escapes the kingdom, and unintentionally plunges it into endless winter.

Anna begins a search for her sister, seeking both reconciliation and an end to winter. They reunite but begin arguing over Elsa returning to the castle. Sparks fly and Elsa accidentally strikes Anna’s heart with ice.

A knowing troll says only true love can mend this frozen heart. So Anna begs Hans for a kiss. But he refuses and plots to gain the throne for himself. When he attacks Elsa, Anna throws herself between them, freezing solid to bock the blows.

This sacrifice is an “act of true love” which unthaws Anna. In the end, she learns she had the power to save herself all along. And Elsa sees that love is the key to controlling her powers.

— And they all live happily ever after.

What strikes me most is becoming aware of our power to save ourselves. A bit like Dorothy’s discovery on that Yellow Brick Road.

An older woman friend of mine thought her life sucked (she wouldn’t use that word) because Prince Charming had never come to save her. She never got that she held the power to create a pretty amazing — or at least pretty decent — life.

Young girls are getting a different message these days. And that’s a good thing.

Another of the film’s notions — that cold, icy isolation won’t save us — seems most relevant to men. Men must be independent and reject emotions as sissy stuff. Even though emotion and connection are simply human. Since we tend to value male over female ways of being, women sometimes devalue and reject these things, too.

For instance, many applaud this Disney story that — for once — is not centered on romance. But of course, the human connection of romance can be a wondrous thing. So long as it is one part of a multi-dimensional life. As it is for Anna in this story.

And while emotion and passion bring out scary powers, they aren’t bad. But both work best when directed in a loving way.

Speaking of passion, Kristoff (the male hero) even asks Anna’s consent before kissing her. Now there’s a great message.

But mostly, sisterhood is celebrated here with two women supporting and staying loyal to each other throughout.

And in fact 1) the film has a female director, 2) the main characters are both female and 3) it passes the Bechdel test:

1. at least two women are in the film,

2. they talk to each other,

3. about something besides a man

You’d be surprised how often that test isn’t met.

So a lot of people were surprised that along with Hunger Games, the two films broke box office records.

So much for the notion that boys and men won’t watch films led by girls and women!

Yeah, the Princesses are white, conventionally beautiful and blondish. But still, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Snow White’s Dark Forest of the Psyche
“Brave” Princess Fights Men, Women Holding Her Back

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 18, 2013, in feminism, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing this one with my girls. I appreciate the empowerment messages, but I really wish the protagonists weren’t, as you’ve said, “white, conventionally beautiful and blondish.” It may be based on a Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, but the adaptation should better reflect its modern audience.

  2. Good to know! Change is happening and hopefully the generations to come will have overall more empowering reflections to see themselves through via the media.

  3. Oh no! I want to read this, but I got as far as spoiler alert. I haven’t seen Frozen, yet, but a friend of mine told me she now has a new favorite Disney Princess after watching it. Man, I have to go see it!!!

  4. Persephone meets Midas :-)

  5. The box office records are probably more likely or the larger number definitely considerable portion greater is of women and girls watching this film. I’m sure this movie is empowering and what not, but it’s not a movie that looks interesting and would be borijng for me to watch and I like cartoons and pixar, computer animated like movies. But I guess I like guys stuff, I don’t know. Then again I did see the movie back when I was a kid and still think it’s a good move called “A league of Their Own”, which was about female baseball players who took over and had a leagure in the 1920s I think when the men were away at war and their husbands were away and runnings sports during this time and getting people to watch. And a very female oritented movie, feminist related movie, so it’s not like I have anything against or think such movies aren’t good. Maybe it’s because of sports and me liking spors movies, but it was just a good movie. And just a classic, because many people have seen it and remember the movie. You know a movie is a big hit when people remember the quotes or the quotes are so memorable. Many people remember Tom Hanks memorable quote “You crying?…..ARe you Crying?!….ohh…..there’s no crying in baseball….there’s no crying in baseball!” He was funny and great in that movie as he’s been in many others.

    • I’m glad you liked “A League of Their Own”

      Also, re: “So much for the notion that boys and men won’t watch films led by girls and women!”

      I expect that boys and girls are seeing Frozen and that men and women are seeing Hunger Games. So, actually I wouldn’t expect that you would want to see Frozen.

  6. Well some men might see Frozen, just like a lot of adults who are parents and have kids. Some men with daughters might watch that movie like you see other adults watch kid movies that they otherwise wouldn’t watch when single, but do when they have a family and watch more family oriented movies.

    Speaking of the movie “A League of Their OWn”. it makes me think in relation to the things you’ve talked about about how men and women are socialized, with women socialized to express their emotions and men to suppress their emotions more so. They used comedy to bring it up and Tom Hanks is great, but it did make me think of the dynamic between men and women with the scene where Tom Hanks say “there’s no crying in baseball” part and him being upset and confused and not understanding her emotional expression like that ha. Because he coached men previously or boys and was coaching women suddenly when the men were away for WW2 in that movie. And he most likely didn’t see guys cry or show it, so it was something that took him back and he was basically telling her to “man up” and stop being a baby ha. But it was cool how as the movie progressed, Tom Hanks character, a macho guy, started bonding with the women players he was coaching and the women players started being influenced by some of his guy tendencies too. It was neat seeing the dynamic there, the differences between guys and women, but how they bonded after as the season progressed.

    • You know I’ve never seen this movie. Maybe because I don’t like baseball. But it sounds like I should watch it. Thanks for telling me more about it and bringing your insights into the emotional evolution of the characters.

  7. I had a good cast of actors in it. Tom Hanks highighted it, by there were other women that were big names in the 90s who were in it. Interesting that Madonna was in the movie as one of the female players, though she wasn’t a main role.

  8. I agree, Geogia. I really appreciated the paradigm shift in Frozen. I just wish Disney would make a film with a male protagonist who embraces his feminine side.

  9. I was just discussing this subject with my friends the other day. We were talking about how far Disney has come with the evolution of the Disney princess, from ‘Snow White’ to ‘Brave’, to ‘Frozen’. I am a big kid and do not feel the need for the presence of a child to validate seeing any kid’s/family movie. I even organize meetups for it in a Geek group on Meetup.com. It is great to see [young] women/princesses go from waiting around for a man/prince, being completely vulnerable and subsequent ‘damsels in distress’, to free-spirited readers longing for more than their provincial lives in ‘Beauty & the Beast’. Then they release ‘Brave’, where a young girl does not have to long for a man & it represents the beauty of a mother-daughter relation, with its own ‘Freaky Friday’ twist. The ‘Princess and the Frog’ brought about our first bi-racial couple & African-American princess. While ‘Frozen’ hit on many different topics: falling for a man too quickly without knowing him, dating people from a different social status, how fear manifests into disaster without communication, and of course, how sisterly love is just as important as the love between lovers/partners. I do feel that they could show some stepparents in a better light and work on showing physical diversity in their main characters, but I think that it is a step in the right direction!

  10. I have always been a big Disney Fan and still love the classic fairy tales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but my childhood favorite was Beauty and the Beast. I have a five year old daughter and over the years have bought the classic Disney movies for her when they come available as well as the newer ones like Tangled and the Princess and the Frog. I cannot wait for Frozen to come out on DVD. A few months back I took my twelve year old son to see Catching Fire which we had both wanted to see when we returned home my boyfriend took our daughter to see the movie Frozen (we had not done a full family movie trip due to our two year old son who does not sit still) both my daughter and her father loved the movie. A few weeks later we were invited to watch Frozen with some friends who had not seen it. Since the rest of us had not seen the movie the three kids and I went to watch it and it was a big hit with both my boys ages twelve and two mind you and I loved it as well.
    Ok so now that I am finished rambling I would like to comment on the topic of the blog posting and how far Disney has come in it’s portrayal of women. My favorite quote from the movie Frozen is when Elsa tells Anna that she cannot marry a man she just met. I have seen postings all over Pintrest with a Picture of Elsa and the quote under it and then to follow the classic Disney Princesses devastated as Anna was. The reason for the devastation is because classic Disney Princesses often marry a man they just met and Queen Elsa’s quote goes against everything Disney even the more recent Tangled movie. I really liked the storyline and how it showed that the bond and love between sisters can be strong enough to overcome anything. I also liked that the movie showed how Elsa had been raised to hide her true self and became afraid of who she truly was but that Elsa was able to face her fears embrace who she truly is and conquer her fear. I am glad that Disney is changing their perceptions of women and showing how powerful women can be having a young woman rule as Queen as opposed to an old man. It is nice that our young girls can watch a movie like Frozen and see strong young women stand up for themselves and love each other and themselves for who they truly are it is nice for our boys and men to see these images as well.

  11. I watched this film when it came out and after taking your women’s studies class, I noticed all these little things you mentioned in class during your lectures which was truly impressive. I was really glad that the act of true love wasn’t Prince Charming’s kiss, but the two sisters love for each other as a family. Having an older sister myself, I found that solution to be more realistic and doable if I was in Anna’s situation. On the other hand, I was saddened by the fact that Elsa could only feel free when she secluded herself in that cold icy mountain. Even though that scene was arguably the best part in the movie because of the beautiful animation sequence of Elsa’s icy magic constructing the castle and the award winning song Let It Go, the message I took from it overall was that Elsa is a strong independent woman, but society fears her strength and banishes her for it. She says she doesn’t mind being isolated, but it’s not fair that she can only be herself at the cost of casting away her home and life simply because she was born a woman.

    Props for Disney and society for making it this far, but my eyes are still pointed toward the goal of true equality where women and men realize that traits aren’t really feminine or masculine, they’re all just traits that make us human.

  12. I just recently watched this movie and although, kind of annoying because of all the singing,it was a great movie. I never really thought of these movie in this way and how it actually breaks the norm about the princess finding there prince charming and living happily ever after with him. So this does seem very interesting to me one thing I did notice was that Disney was that Elsa was the first princess to demonstrate that women can be very strong and in her case she ended up the queen of the palace with out a man. So this does show that the norm is changing and women are now being more empowered.

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