The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Written by Catherine Lester.

Photo from the article As mentioned in my short review of the film, Frozen is the first time (to my recollection) that a Disney Animated Classic has had two princesses, and non-villainous females, in lead roles. Frozen in fact represents another crucial first for Disney animation: it is the first Disney Animated Classic to be directed by a woman (though not solely - Jennifer Lee co-directs with Chris Buck), hot on the heels of Pixar’s Brave (2012), which was co-directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. (However, the first animated film released by a major Hollywood studio to be directed solely by a woman was DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 [Jennifer Yuh, 2011]). Accompanying the theatrical release of Frozen is also the new Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse!; directed by Lauren MacMullan, it is the very first Disney animated film, of any form or length, to be directed solely by a woman.

The significance of all this is that when watching Frozen it is not at all surprising that it has had a strong female presence behind the scenes, especially when compared to the representation of female characters in previous Disney films. While women have been important creative forces at Disney for decades, it cannot be a coincidence that it is when women are given the director’s chair we start to see stories about interesting women appear. Importantly, it is not just that these stories are about a woman, but about women, and, crucially, their relationships with each other, and positive ones at that. Looking back at the history of Disney’s animated films, particularly those based on fairy tales in its Classic period (defined by Amy M. Davis as 1937-1967), we see women pitted against women time after time. When Disney enters its so-called Renaissance period, from 1989 and continuing through the 1990s, we begin to see more dynamic, independent, and realistic women appear in lead roles: Beauty and the Beast’s Belle (1991), Aladdin’s Jasmine (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and Mulan (1995). However, it is interesting to note that, aside from The Little Mermaid’s (1989) pairing of Ariel and Ursula, these characters face off against not wicked witches and step-mothers, but male villains. As suggested by Davis, this may have been Disney’s reaction to feminist criticism of these rather simplified, binary representations of women. As such, while we no longer saw archetypal female damsels and crones pitted against each other, we rarely ever saw women interacting with each other at all.

<i>The Princess and the Frog</i>
The Princess and the Frog
When Disney returned to the fairy tale for its third ‘wave’ in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog, there was a slight improvement in that we saw female best friends with Tiana and Charlotte. (It should also be noted that The Princess and the Frog marks more Disney firsts: Tiana is the first black Disney princess, and Disney’s first leading career-woman, as she aspires to run her own restaurant.) With Tangled (2010) and Pixar’s Brave we then see interesting stories between (step-)mothers and daughters. Tangled still relies on the evil step-mother as the film’s main villain, however the relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel is more complex than any of the preceding relationships of this type (as we can never be quite sure whether Gothel really appreciates Rapunzel for more than just her magical hair). Brave remains the only one of these films (which, being a Pixar film, is a Disney co-production but not considered one of the ‘official’ Disney Animated Classics) to feature a princess’s biological mother not only alive and kicking, but in a central role (even if she is a mute bear for most of the film). This history is integral to the way we consider Frozen, particularly with regards to the issues I wish to discuss in this Alternate Take: the presentations of villainy and love, with particular attention given to gender and the way in which the film cleverly subverts our expectations of the classical fairy tale narrative.

In my short review I criticised the inclusion of a weak villain and another character as a red herring as some of the only drawbacks to the film. On reflection, and after having seen the film several more times, the apparent flimsiness of the villain is in fact a very clever part of the way the film subverts our expectations of villainy in Disney films, and fairy tales in general. On villains in Disney animated films Davis says, ‘We love the villains, and not just because we love to hate them: without the villain, the hero(in)es have no real incentive to move forward in their lives, to undertake their adventures, and to grow as individuals.’ In Frozen the villain of the piece is, technically, Hans. Hans is a prince from another kingdom who is thirteenth in line to the throne. When visiting Arendelle for Elsa’s coronation, Hans and Anna (who is hopeful that she will meet ‘the one’) hit it off immediately and decide, in spite of only having known each other for a few hours, to marry. Thus, in just the first act of the film the supposed hero and heroine have completed the traditional romantic narrative which takes a whole film to resolve in the earlier Disney fairy tales, but with the same amount, or even less character interaction than we see between Anna and Hans. For instance, Snow White only has one brief meeting with her prince at the start of her film. They don’t meet again until he plants his true love’s kiss on her at the end, awakening her and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after. I should point out that it isn’t necessarily fair to criticise Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) for using such a simplified plot; after all, it is a reasonably faithful (if slightly sanitised) adaptation of the Brothers Grimm version of the fairy tale. With it being the first major release of a feature-length animated film by a Hollywood studio, Disney purposefully used a simple narrative with which audiences, used to animated films of no more than about ten minutes, were already familiar in order to ease them into this new use of the medium. However, a great deal of criticism is targeted at the Disney studio’s output nonetheless, especially for seeming to encourage the ideals of love at first sight and the passive princess. Frozen knowingly plays upon this when Anna and Hans announce their engagement to Elsa and ask for her blessing. Elsa is quite rightly shocked, reflecting the attitudes of a modern audience, and refuses on the basis that Anna and Hans cannot possibly be in love and ready to marry after knowing each other for less than a day, thus causing Anna to unleash all her grievances with Elsa. As the audience we know that the reason Elsa has been distant with Anna for years is because she is afraid to lose control of her icy powers and harm Anna again, as she did when they were children, but Anna knows none of this, nor of Elsa’s magical ability. Under the stress of this confrontation, Elsa does lose control of her powers, and flees the kingdom.

We might say that Hans does have a hand in driving Elsa to leave, setting in motion the rest of the narrative. After all, later in the film we learn that Hans does not love Anna, but has contrived to marry her in an attempt to seize the throne. In wooing her and proposing he therefore, albeit unintentionally, is the root cause of Elsa’s outburst, thus providing the incentive that Davis identifies as causing both Elsa and Anna to start their journeys. However, before Hans appears in the film we have seen Elsa struggle to contain her powers with very little success. If it were not for Hans and his hasty engagement to Anna, it is easy to surmise that Elsa would have reached breaking point fairly quickly anyway, whether because of the added burden of trying to hide her true nature while ruling a kingdom, or another event causing Anna to demand answers for her sister’s icy distance. Hans is an important and interesting character and is revealed as the central villain later in the film, but if we consider that Elsa’s struggle to contain her powers would likely have occurred with or without Hans, she is effectively in the place of the ‘traditional’ villain of both her and Anna’s personal stories.

Elsa’s combined status as both a victim and villain is even more interesting when we consider that Frozen is a very loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale, The Snow Queen (which can be found online here. The eponymous Queen is undoubtedly the villain of the story, who abducts a young boy named Kai and causes him to forget his family and his best friend, Gerda. It is then Gerda who travels to the Snow Queen’s palace to free him. According to The Art of Frozen, the idea of developing a Disney feature film from The Snow Queen can be traced back to the late-1930s, with various other attempts occurring over the ensuing decades, but writers were never able to find the right way to approach the bleak, episodic story. It was not until after John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006 that discussion of an adaptation started to gain traction. However, these early developments looked very different to the film as we now know it. It was decided that the Snow Queen and the heroine should be sisters, but the Queen was still resolutely the villain of the piece. Early concept art of Elsa shows her looking very different to her final form: various images show her with jet black hair arranged into a spiked pixie cut, with hooded eyelids, sharp, black eyebrows, and a wicked glint in her eyes. This is worlds away from the blonde, shy-looking young woman in the final film who enforces her own isolation so as to protect her loved ones and citizens of her kingdom.

Elsa is not the only character to have undergone significant changes in the development of the film. Hans works so well as the villain because his true nature is so unexpected. With wide, kind eyes, neat hair and rosy cheeks, he is the epitome of the classic Prince Charming, and we cannot blame Anna for falling for him so easily. Concept art instead shows Hans with a pointed nose, narrowed eyes, and arched eyebrows. Had this version of Hans had made it into the final film, it would have destroyed the twist. The fact that Hans seems so deceptively nice while being rotten at the core also provides commentary on the nature of ‘love at first sight’ and swift engagement to a man you barely know, as presented in Disney’s earlier fairy tales.

We also cannot discuss the visual representation of villainy in this film without a passing mention to the aforementioned red herring, the Duke of Weselton (whose name other characters constantly mispronounce as ‘Weasel Town’). The Duke is presented as so overtly, for lack of a better term, weasely, that it is almost embarrassing to imagine that anyone watching the film could have fallen for such an obvious trick, but that is of course the whole point of his character. The Duke is introduced as a guest at Elsa’s coronation, flanked on either side by two thuggish guards. From beneath a moustache that is larger than the rest of his face he says of Arendelle, ‘Open those gates so I may unlock your secrets and exploit your riches... Did I just say that out loud?’ However, the Duke is soon shown to be not as threatening as he would first seem. When he asks to dance with Anna, it results in a bizarre jig that contains impressions of various wild animals and causes his toupee to flap around comically on his head. The Duke later attempts to ‘put an end to this winter’ by sending his guards to capture Elsa, only for her to completely overpower them. The greatest threat that the Duke poses is in fact not in his actions, but in his words. He labels Elsa a ‘monster’ and accuses her of cursing the land and nearly killing him (when he in fact merely slipped on a patch of ice). However, though he comes across as a paranoid wimp, the seriousness of these allegations must not be underestimated.

Due to the Duke’s incessant harping to anyone who will listen, it is possible that in an alternate story the Duke would have turned the whole of Arendelle against Elsa and caused her to have become a permanent outcast. This would mirror the treatment of the Beast by Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and it is possible to suppose that this might have happened to other famous Disney witches. Were The Little Mermaid’s Ursula and Sleeping Beauty’s (1959) Maleficent just misfits who, without the love of a sister like Anna, lashed out against a cruel society that shunned them? With regards to Maleficent, later this year Disney are releasing a live-action film from the perspective of the iconic sorceress with Angelina Jolie in the lead role. According to the film’s synopsis, it seeks to reveal the events that hardened Maleficent's once pure heart. Maleficent is often considered a far more interesting character than Aurora, perhaps the most passive and problematic of Disney’s princesses, so it will be interesting to see the result of this film, especially as a companion piece to Frozen. What Frozen therefore shows us, and what it seems Maleficent will seek to, is how insidious and damaging mere words can be even in our ordinary lives, particularly with regards to women (especially those in powerful positions) and their appearances.

Another text which is comparable to Frozen, and which seems to have a similar purpose to the upcoming Maleficent, is the Broadway musical Wicked, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. Wicked tells the untold story of Elphaba, or, as we know her, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (1939). The musical portrays Elphaba as simply a misunderstood, enormously powerful young woman who idolises the Wizard and has only good intentions, though her green-tinted skin causes her to be ridiculed by society. Her chance for redemption comes when she is invited to see the Wizard, but this ends in disaster when it comes to light that he is a fraud and a criminal. Unwilling to join him, Elphaba is framed for the Wizard’s crimes and vilified by the citizens of Oz. She uses magic to flee, and as a result of her intentions to do good always resulting in disaster, she vows to live up to the wicked reputation with which she has been labelled. The rest, as they say, is history. Glinda, on the other hand, is presented as a typical high-school mean girl who becomes embroiled in a political conspiracy(!) before seeing the error of her ways and turning into the kind-hearted good witch we see in the 1939 film. An interesting link between Wicked and Frozen is that Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, also originated the role of Elphaba on Broadway and the West End. I like to think that this casting choice was not a coincidence.


Returning to Frozen, further instances of the power of words also lie in how Elsa sees herself and her magical ability. When young Anna is taken to the trolls to be healed after Elsa accidentally strikes her with her powers, the lead troll asks, ‘Born with the powers, or cursed?’, to which the girls’ father replies, ‘Born.’ This distinction is vital. We tend to think of a curse as an ailment, something that must be overcome in order for a protagonist to achieve their happy ending - Snow White and Aurora’s eternal slumbers, the Beast’s entrapment in the body of a fearsome animal, Tiana and Prince Naveen’s transformation into frogs - while we think of something one is born with as a gift, a blessing, something that will help to overcome adversity - Ariel’s singing voice, Rapunzel’s hair. On the other hand, powers with which a person are born can, in the wrong hands, become weapons - usually in the form of magical power. (While magic can be used for good in Disney fairy tales, it is usually held by sweet, plump, elderly fairy godmothers, giving the impression that only women who seem asexual and non-threatening can be trusted to use magical power for good. A notable exception would be Mary Poppins in the 1964 film of the same name: as stern, mysterious and beautiful as a wicked queen, but as aloof, kind and nurturing as a fairy godmother. But, as Mary is a live-action witch based on literature that is not a fairy tale, I feel that she cannot necessarily be discussed in the same way as the magical women in Disney’s animated fairy tales.) Again, in another story Elsa could have become the type of woman who uses her magic for evil, but in Frozen she only ever harms a person with her powers by accident, or in order to protect them from herself. It is her own realisation that her power is a gift, not a curse, and her ability to use that gift for good (ignoring the accusations of the Duke), that marks her out as different from the powerful villainous women that precede her.

Though it takes Elsa until the end of the film to come to this realisation, we do see that she is capable of using her powers for good fairly early on, joyously playing as a child with Anna before the accident sours the situation. Elsa therefore only feels able to use her powers when she is completely alone. The result is the euphoric song ‘Let it Go’, which she sings after having escaped from the disastrous coronation party in which her powers are discovered. As I said in the short review of this film, this sequence shows the first time that a non-villainous leading woman has been shown in a Disney animated film just purely enjoying her magical powers for good, unselfish reasons. An apt comparison would be Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone (1963). Mim plays a relatively small, but highly memorable part in the film and proves herself a worthy match for Merlin the wizard. She is introduced in the song ‘Mad Madam Mim’, in which she boasts to Arthur that she has ‘more magic in one little finger’ than Merlin. Mim sings with unrivalled, egotistical glee about how she finds ‘delight in the gruesome and grim’. She is squat, plump and ugly, but delights in making herself even uglier even though she has the ability to make herself ‘beautiful, lovely and fair’ - and when she does choose to make herself beautiful it is played for comedy. She flirts, bats her eyelashes and wiggles her hips like an over-the-top femme fatale, seductively drawing in her audience before reminding them that it is only skin-deep, and abruptly pops back to her hideous and cackling true form. Similarly, The Little Mermaid’s Ursula uses her comically grotesque-but-sexualised, part-human, part-octopus body (just covered with phallic substitutes) to strut around and teach Ariel incorrectly what a man wants in a woman, and later in the film transforms herself into a beautiful woman in order to seduce Prince Eric. All this is intended to result in her capturing the soul of Ariel’s father, the hyper-masculine Triton, in order to take his place as ruler of the sea. Mim and Ursula are shown using sexuality as a weapon, which is just another part of their inherent wickedness, and their difference to the slim-waisted and beautiful, but virginal princesses. Elsa, it could be argued, is one of these princesses (or queens, as the coronation occurs very early in the story), which would therefore seem to reinforce the stereotype seen in countless other Disney fairy tales of beauty equalling pureness of heart, and ugliness and hyper-sexuality being associated with evil. However, during the crescendo of ‘Let it Go’ we see Elsa let down her stiff hairstyle with the panache of a model in L’Oreal advert, and create for herself a new dress which has a low-cut neckline and a revealing slit in the skirt, which is in great contrast to her coronation dress which covers everything but her face and hands (and even includes practical woollen tights). Though it is a far cry from the idea that a plus-sized, older woman with immense power like Mim or Ursula could be considered sexy without being ultimately punished, Frozen allowing Elsa to enjoy both her power and her sexuality in this way, and use neither of them to show off nor harm another person, takes us one small step closer.

<i>The Little Mermaid</i>
The Little Mermaid

There was, of course, a reason that the antagonistic women in earlier Disney fairy tales were presented as so one-dimensionally wicked. They were not just dreamed up by Disney, but based on characters in fairy tales that are centuries old - fairy tales that have been (psycho-)analysed to death. Drawing upon Bruno Bettelheim’s seminal work on the therapeutic qualities of fairy tales for children’s psychological development, Sheldon Cashdan argues that the wicked witches of fairy tales are so inherently evil because they represent the sinful parts of the hero or heroine - Hansel and Gretel’s cannibalistic witch mirrors their own greed, for example. The fairy tale is a journey of self-discovery, therefore in order for the protagonist (and by extension, the reader) to complete this journey and ‘ensure that bad parts of the self are eradicated and that good parts of the self prevail’, the witch, and her embodiment of the protagonist’s sinful tendencies, must be vanquished. However, in a twenty-first century filmmaking environment audiences are a lot less likely to accept such obvious binary oppositions, particularly tired representations of women who are either purely good or purely evil. Frozen’s Elsa embodies this by possessing not one, but two abilities: one, her icy magic, that could kill as easily as it could create beauty, and the other, love, that can thaw and create beauty in turn. In a twist on Cashdan’s thesis that the witch must die in order for the protagonist to become self-assured, in Frozen the potential witch, who is also a protagonist and victim, need only realise her inner ability to love (and, in a further twist, it is sisterly love rather than romantic love) in order to reach her true potential and achieve a happy ending.

Of course, Anna is also an integral part of all this, particularly when it comes to the power of love, though I would briefly like to discuss the way that Anna also subverts our expectations. Anna is in what we might typically think of as the role of the Disney heroine. She is young, naïve (at first) and eager to get out of the castle in which she has been shut away for years and start her life as an adult. Here we have another fairy tale trope that is used in an interesting way: after Elsa accidentally harms Anna when they are children, their parents close the castle doors in order to keep Elsa’s powers a secret. Several fairy tale princesses have been shut away in castles or towers, but always against their will due to an evil witch, or other villain. This is not the case here: even after their parents die, the girls continue to remain shut inside the castle, and Elsa continues to enforce her own isolation in her bedroom (and later her ice palace). Thus, another way in which Elsa takes on the role of the villain in not only her own story, but Anna’s, too. While on paper this, and Anna’s desire to find true love, might make her seem to be the typical princess shut away in the castle, there are several visual and musical references in the film that play against type. During the song ‘For the First Time in Forever’ she sings of being unsure whether she’s ‘elated or gassy’, and her nervousness makes her ‘wanna stuff some chocolate in [her] face’. We also see Anna wake up looking very unlike a sleeping beauty, and closer to how a very normal person, no matter how beautiful, might look first thing in the morning, with tangled bed-hair and slurred speech. Further anti-princess references are in the deleted song ‘We Know Better’, in which a young Elsa and Anna sing about what a princess ‘should and shouldn’t do’:

‘They say a princess is full of charm and grace,

They say she always knows her place.

They say a princess wears pink and frilly clothes,

They say she never laughs and snorts milk out her nose.

They say she’s calm, they say she’s kind,

They say she never speaks her mind or freezes nanny’s big behind

But you and me, we, we know better.’

The sisters conclude that ‘No one can tell us what a princess should be’ and vow to take care of the people of the kingdom; to them, these are the true and important qualities of a princess, not the superficial and stereotypical qualities such as being ‘poised’ or ‘super duper sweet’. Anna is therefore presented as possibly the least princessy princess in any Disney animated film. (She would possibly be overtaken by the endearingly clumsy, cross-dressing warrior Mulan, however even though Mulan is included in the Disney Princess franchise she is not ever technically a princess, nor is it ever implied that she will become one, as her love interest, Li Shang, is not a prince.) Anna confirms this when Elsa flees Arendelle and resolves to find her and bring her back. She refuses Hans’ offer to go on her behalf, instead insisting that he stay behind and keep watch over the kingdom until she returns. If Elsa is both the victim and the villain in this story, then Anna is the dashing hero. Yes, Anna does receive help from a man, the ice-trader Kristoff, but only because he has already discovered where the ice storm, and thus Elsa, is, and after Anna has asserted her authority over him at the trading post-cum-sauna.

Like Elsa, Anna also has a gift that she uses to save the day, but, also like Elsa, her gift has the potential to be a fatal flaw: love. We see that Anna overflows with love, particularly in her duet with Hans, ‘Love is an Open Door’. She overflows with love, and the idea of being in love, but it is largely superficial love - something of which Hans is completely aware, and that he uses to his advantage. On the other hand, Kristoff is extremely sceptical that Anna and Hans are soul mates and proceeds to quiz her on personal details about Hans - none of which she can satisfactorily answer. Again, Frozen subverts the expected presentation of love that features in many of the previous Disney fairy tales. Despite this, when it is revealed near the climax of the film that Anna, who has been struck in the heart by Elsa’s power and is in danger of dying of a frozen heart, can only be cured by ‘an act of true love’ it seems as if the film is going to take a very expected path: Anna will rush to Hans and kiss him, only to realise that he is not her true love, and that her true love is actually Kristoff (with whom she has much greater chemistry). As said above, the film again turns this idea on its head and reveals that the ‘act of true love’ is in fact referring to the love between the two sisters. When Hans is about to execute Elsa, Anna uses her last seconds alive to stand in his way and save her sisters’ life; although Anna becomes a frozen statue, having been just milliseconds too late, this act of true love causes her to swiftly defrost. Elsa then realises that she can use the love she feels mutually for her sister to thaw the kingdom. Elsa and Anna’s personal journeys are therefore paralleled and linked by their realisations that the powers they possess can be used in different ways to what they initially thought - Anna’s realisation of the importance of familial love over romantic love, and Elsa’s realisation that she can learn to control her power by embracing love, rather than shunning it. It also seems fair here to give a brief credit to the adorable snowman Olaf, who, despite his relative youth and lack of any real brains or heart, makes Anna realise that real love is ‘putting someone else’s needs before yours’, as Kristoff does by delivering Anna to Hans, her fiancé, instead of confessing his true feelings for her. But where does Olaf, a pile of snow and twigs, get this knowledge? Olaf’s first appearance is very early in the film when Anna and Elsa play as children before the accident, though he is not at this point alive. He returns when Elsa conjures him during ‘Let it Go’, unintentionally giving him life. We can therefore conclude that Olaf’s knowledge of true love comes from within Elsa. To return to Cashdan’s statement that the wicked witch embodies the sinful parts of the hero or heroine in the traditional fairy tale, Frozen again subverts this by showing that Elsa, the would-be villain, actually embodies thepositive quality of love that, via delivery by Olaf, saves both herself and her sister Anna.

Before concluding, I would like to briefly take a look at the opening song of the film, ‘Frozen Heart’, in order to bring together these thoughts on the presentations of love and villainy, and how the film succeeds in combining and subverting them so successfully. The song, although sung by ice-traders cutting and hauling blocks of ice, acts as a warning of events yet to come in the film: ‘Beware the frozen heart.’ This can refer to any of the three main players that have been discussed here: Anna, Elsa, and Hans. The first, and most obvious meaning of this warning becomes apparent when, early in the film, the trolls who cure young Anna of her ailment say that at least Elsa only struck her head and not her heart, for a frozen heart is much harder to cure. Of course, we discover this when Anna’s heart is accidentally struck by Elsa later in the film and initiates a race to save her life. The warning can also apply to Elsa. The fear-mongering of the Duke is reflected in the song, and had Elsa become a true villain we might have been able to say that she possessed a figuratively frozen heart. Perhaps she actually did, although not due to villainy, but due to being locked away in isolation for so many years only to eventually have her heart thawed by love. The song supports this with the lyric ‘This icy force both foul and fair / Has a frozen heart worth mining!’ Other lyrics in the song also refer to the duality of Elsa as a powerful force to be both admired (‘Beautiful! Powerful!’) and feared (‘Dangerous! Cold! / Ice has a magic can’t be controlled’). Some of these lyrics even combine both of these attitudes to reflect the feminist slant of the film: ‘Stronger than one! Stronger than ten! Stronger than a hundred men!’ Lastly, the warning of a frozen heart can refer to Hans, who really does have the coldest heart of all the characters in the film, being completely void of love or compassion. All of the clues to his true nature are here in the film’s opening number, and it is a testament to the craftsmanship of the film that the revelation of his true intentions still comes as such a surprise.

Finally, as I hope to have argued in this piece, the joy and value of Frozen lies not just in its cute characters and catchy songs, but in the way it so successfully attempts to redeem the less-than-stellar portrayals of female characters in earlier Disney animated fairy tales and makes us stop to think about what we expect from a modern fairy tale narrative. But with this being said, it should be acknowledged that while it is a joy to see Disney taking strides in terms of its representation of female characters and princesses, it is also fairly disappointing that it has taken this long (it has been 76 years since Snow White first baked pies in the dwarfs’ cottage, singing about waiting for her Prince to come). Furthermore, Frozen is still not without criticism. As mentioned above, it isn’t completely free of Disney’s problematic presentations of female body image. One scholar has even pointed out that the women’s eyes are bigger than their wrists, while others suggest that the female leads are outshone by supporting male characters, whether human, animal, or snowman. However, the Disney studio and its films and characters continue to be popular culture icons and present their princesses as figures for young girls to aspire to be, and young boys to aspire to be with. While their images of princesses in films are becoming increasingly progressive, it also cannot be ignored that, outside of the films, the merchandising of the Disney Princess franchise largely strips these characters of their progressive characteristics. Mulan, for example, is never shown in her armour which she wears for a large portion of the film, but always in her bridal outfit which the film intends to show is a ridiculous façade. We might also question why Mulan is included as a princess (as said above, she is not technically a princess), while another princess, Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) - who actually becomes the queen of her kingdom - is excluded from the franchise. (Whether or not Elsa, who of course becomes a queen during Frozen, will be welcomed into the franchise, it will be interesting to find out.) Yes, Disney might still seem to be lagging behind in some ways, but if Frozen proves anything it is that they are well aware of this, and doing everything they can to fix that.

We also cannot overlook the fact that the Disney studio felt that the only way it could attract large audiences to the cinema to see Frozen was to rebrand it with a gender-neutral title, completely stripping it of its roots in fairy tale, and to hide in the marketing the fact that it is a story revolving around the relationship between two women. However, it is this strategy combined with excellent word-of-mouth that helped to push Frozen to #3 of last year’s US box office, in the same year that the female-lead The Hunger Games: Catching Fire reached #1, dominating both Iron Man and Superman, while the one-woman Sandra Bullock show, Gravity, sits comfortably at #7. If it takes the wacky hijinks of a living snowman and a reindeer to draw audiences into the cinema and see women (and positive images of them) rule the box office, then it’s not really something I think we can sniff at.

This Alternate Take was published on February 13, 2014.

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