10 ways Disney’s Frozen is female-friendly (SPOILERS)

I’ve been asked a few times about how I do the whole feminist thing and the whole Disney thing and they don’t implode in each other’s faces. It comes down to a couple of things really. One is selective fandom (there are things I enjoy and things I don’t, which with something as massively wide-ranging as the Disneyverse, is really the case for anyone) and the other is recognising that it’s possible to enjoy things that aren’t perfect.

do like to be constructive about celebrating when I feel like Disney, or any other company under fire from feminist groups, is talking more to people – okay, women – like me. I’ve already written about how much I enjoyed Frozen from the point of view of a film (and music) fan. But this post is really about all the things in it that I thought were really promising from the perspective of being a woman who cares about how women are represented. For another, also largely positive, perspective (though we see a few points differently), see Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies.

A couple of disclaimers:

I. I am going to try not to be completely obvious where possible, but this is bound to contain a spoiler or two. I’m writing this shortly after seeing the film, but am delaying publishing until it’s been released in UK to try not to be That Guy. Or Gal. But still: spoilers. Probably.

II. I’m completely aware that The Snow Queen is very different, and that it is a very female-friendly narrative, and that this has been changed. Honestly, I don’t really care, because I’m not very attached to The Snow Queen and I think the reworking of this (and relative importance of characters like Kristoff) has been widely misunderstood or misrepresented. Regardless, if that’s your beef with the film, I ain’t going to convince you to give it a try, so thanks for sticking with me until here. See you next time, maybe.

Ten Ways Disney’s Frozen is Female-Friendly

1. There are two female protagonists. Admittedly there are still more men than women on screen, but the two women are the main characters – they dominate the screen time hugely, to the point that I actually slightly lamented one of the men not getting his due as a character.

2. It passes the Bechdel Test. Repeatedly. And not in the wicked stepmother kinda way.

3. (potential spoilers) The much-discussed love triangle is actually quite a subversive take on the ‘love at first sight’ narrative. It gently lampoons the suddenness with which characters in similar films act. More on this later.

4. a) The animation is changing. Much has been written about how slim the princesses still are, and that’s true, but I see a significant difference in style even since Tangled. The shift might still be fairly small at this point, but I’m hoping that we continue to see this move away from Glen Keane’s massively over-exaggerated wasp waists and baby seal eyes.

4. b) (potential spoilers) Interestingly, both characters also resist much in the way of overt sexualisation. Although in Elsa’s dramatic transformation she strips off a layer and adds a split in her skirt, it actually makes sense as part of her arc of self-discovery and new-found freedom – and I don’t believe that any hint of sexuality in a kids’ story is the same thing as sexualisation. She still remains pretty covered up (even for someone whom the cold never bothers, anyway). And – whether terrified or awed – people are consistently far more interested in what she does than what she looks like. Anna’s beauty is also little talked about, even by her love interests; her one love song is basically about how similar their personalities are. The only other song of hers that even mentions love – when Anna considers finally having a shot at romance – is largely comic, instantly scuppering the brief moments of longing: “I suddenly see him standing there / A beautiful stranger, tall and fair / I wanna stuff some chocolate in my face!” (She does). And Fixer Upper deliberately turns the notion of making over female characters on its head (even if it was a shame that the opportunity to give Kristoff a song in his own voice and words was lost).

Also, there is no moment, as in The Little Mermaid or Tangled, where the female character is lingeringly gazed upon by a man, to swelling music.

5. There is a female screenwriter. Jennifer Lee also wrote Wreck-It Ralph, which – not coincidentally, I feel – also has an excellent, stereotype-bending female character.

6. She was so awesome, they brought her on as a co-director. And she directed Get a Horse, the wonderful 3D short that debuted with the film in theatres.

7. (potential spoiler) The love triangle is part-red herring, part misdirection. It exists in order to further the plot which is explicitly about the complex but ultimately positive familial relationship between two women. Unlike, for example, Tangled‘s distressing family dynamic, there is a very pure, honest and real love between the two sisters. And it’s not a sub-plot. It is the plot. Both women are on a journey of self-acceptance usually seen in male characters in films like Aladdin.

8. (potential spoiler) The women save each other. On the occasion when a man appears to save one of them, all is not as it seems.

9. Happily ever after is not defined by a wedding, but by the sisters realising their long-cherished wish for freedom.

10. Though there is a romantic kiss near the end, just for the icing on the fairytale cake, the male character asks for permission to kiss the female character. Enthusiastic consent! In a cartoon! What is not to love there?

Frankly, if Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and Brave are indicative of the direction Disney and Pixar films are going, I am definitely coming along for the ride. I can only see it getting better and better from here.

Film review: Disney’s Frozen

Disney’s 53rd Animated Classic, Frozen is the story of Anna and her older sister, crown princess Elsa, who has some pretty unique talents. Following a catastrophic incident, the kingdom of Arendelle is plunged into perpetual winter, and Anna sets out to save the day, with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his genial reindeer Sven in tow.

Kristen Bell’s Anna is a charmingly clumsy and overexcitable heroine, a natural successor to Rapunzel from the team that created Tangled. Like her predecessor, she’s open-hearted and generous. While she’s accompanied by a man for much of her adventure, she mostly ends up bailing him out of trouble (perhaps it’s no coincidence that a female co-director, Jennifer Lee, came on board during production – having written the screenplay). Gruff ice salesman Kristoff, whose business is somewhat scuppered by the eternal freeze, is done great justice by the always excellent Jonathan Groff, but was really crying out for a big musical number of his own.

Idina Menzel crafts a perfect Elsa, whose triumphant declaration of independence Let It Go is the gut-wrenching pinnacle of the soundtrack. Featuring a score by Christophe Beck and songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, as a whole it actually reminded me a little of Wicked with its memorable but not exactly catchy tunes and piercing crescendos (I always think there are musicals where you can sing along and ones where you feel like you should leave it to the professionals – this is one of the latter). In fact, Elsa’s story arc is not entirely unlike Elphaba’s, which is possibly one of the reasons Menzel feels so right for the part.

One of Frozen‘s real strengths is the way it delightedly doles out the unexpected, from a summer-obsessed sentient snowman, Olaf, to a couple of surprising twists that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling. As a whole, it’s quite an intense offering, with a number of dark themes and scary moments, so Olaf’s sudden appearance in a cloud of goofy light relief – Josh Gad channeling a chaotic mixture of Patton Oswalt, Jesse Corti and Sarah Silverman – is very welcome.

If Anna was straight out of Tangled, the storytelling was very much in the spirit of woefully under-appreciated gem Wreck-it Ralph. It’s really an ensemble piece – the posters, featuring all the main characters, make that abundantly clear –  and all the better for it. A whirlwind of comedy, drama, action adventure and love story, Frozen simultaneously goes back to Disney’s roots in classic fairy tales (this time Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen) while ripping up the rule book on how those stories should be told. And of course, the animation is more gorgeous than ever. Seeing it in 3D is by no means essential, but it does add an even more breathtaking element to Elsa’s spectacular ice sculpting.

Verdict from me: A definite thumbs up for adults and especially kids of 5-11, who’ll enjoy the fast pace and humour. There are some intense moments, including some snarling wolves and a hulking ice monster, which might be a bit much for the younger types and those of a more sensitive disposition.

Verdict from Ramona (aged 3): That was really good. Olaf was really funny! And I like the bit where Anna goes “cold, cold, cold!”. But I didn’t like the scary snow monster. I really liked it, but I don’t want to see it again, because of the monster bits. [It was her first ever visit to the cinema, and she does get scared quite easily.]

Frozen UK trailer:

Olaf’s In Summer:

Disclaimer: I was invited along with Ramona to an advance screening of Frozen in Leicester Square today. We were given tickets to the film plus enjoyed some activities and treats beforehand, as well as a performance of Let It Go from Willemijn Verkaik, who is the Dutch Elsa and is also starring in Wicked in the West End. My opinion of the film is my own, and I was not paid for writing this.

Frozen is on general release in the UK from the 6th of December.