Disney's Frozen: Embracing Your Gifts and The Evolution of Female Protagonists

Frozen. A story of the struggles we face with family, friends, lovers, and ourselves. Anna and Elsa, princesses of Arendelle, and once best friends, are torn apart by the fear that Elsa’s magical powers to create ice and snow with her hands would destroy their kingdom. A magical troll who helped save Anna’s life warned that, if harnessed correctly, her powers could cause a lot of stress and unhappiness. So, naturally, her parents locked her away and forbade the use of her powers. This went fabulously as I am sure you can imagine.

Fast forward to the day Elsa becomes queen, and things do not go so well. Fearing that the common folk and surrounding kingdom’s royalty will discover her secret, she goes into the event nervous and uncomfortable and, as a result, cannot control her powers. Elsa and Anna get into a “tiff” and Elsa unleashes ice spikes and intense cold, terrifying the crowd. Elsa runs off into the mountains where she creates a beautiful castle made of ice and decides that she will hide there for the rest of eternity. She does not realize that she has Frozen all of Arendelle and Anna is chasing after her.

Every Disney princess animated film is full of inspiration and heartfelt messages designed to enrich children’s minds. Frozen struck me as powerful for two different reasons. First, the main underlying theme of this entire film is to embrace the gifts you are given. At the beginning of the movie, Elsa uses her powers to build a beautiful, creative world for she and Anna to play in. After a small accident though, instead of being more careful, she tries to hide her powers and her true self, which ultimately destroys the relationship. Her parents, trying to protect her, demand that she hide her powers from everyone. What is Disney trying to say? Stop listening to our parents? Kinda… but not quite. Her parents had never dealt with something like this before. They were worried about how people would judge their daughter, and judge them as well. While her parents are well intentioned, they are actually doing her a huge disservice. Now, I have never met anyone who has magical ice powers (and even if I did I would most likely not be their friend because snow=hell), but I have met people with extraordinary talents and passions. Sometimes its parents with disapproving opinions or fear of being judged by our peers that affect our decision to embrace our gifts and live the life that makes us happy. Sometimes it is not easy to be the outsider or do something out of the ordinary…especially if you’re from the Midwest and come from a conservative family. But you will never be happy until you accept your differences as a gift or a MAGICAL POWER. So what is the lesson Frozen teaches us? SCREW WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK AND DO YOUR DAMN THING.

Do what makes you happy and share your gift with those around you who will appreciate your differences. You don’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t know until you put yourself out there. The magical troll who warned what could happen if Elsa did not use her powers properly did not intend for her powers to be hidden, but rather for them to be used in a meaningful way. Elsa does not experience true happiness or contentment until she shares her special powers with the kingdom in a way that benefits everyone. So share whatever damn talent you have and help save this world! And the whales! And the fleeting glaciers!

But, as a disclosure, the movie does touch on how you can’t just do whatever you want (like when Anna tries to marry a boy after knowing him for an hour without knowing he’s secretly evil and Elsa disapproves); you must be logical and smart. Duh.

The second thing I took back from Frozen was that it represents a shift in important sociological norms. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, etc. movies demonstrate societal norms that are much bigger than the movies themselves. Most “classic” Disney movies are all about a damsel in distress who ends up being saved by a man. In a sociology class I took last year, I did a project on how women are portrayed in animated films. More recent films feature strong, independent women who do not need a man such as Princess Merida in Brave. But, in order to succeed, these strong, powerful women must exemplify traditionally masculine traits. In other words, women cannot succeed with traditionally feminine qualities. However, Frozen throws in a twist. Throughout the movie Anna dreams of a man saving her from her loneliness, and when she must be cured of a Frozen heart by an act of true love, she seeks a man’s kiss to save her. Towards the end of the movie, when it looked like a man would come to her rescue, I was disappointed and thought it was a step backward for Disney. But, at the last minute, Anna risks her life to save Elsa and turns to thick ice in the process. When Elsa realized what Anna had done for her, she kisses Anna on the cheek and Anna immediately thaws. The act of true love that would save Anna was her sister, an extremely feminine character. Neither sister needed a man to be “self-actualized”; all they needed was each other.

My project also applied the Bechdel Test to animated films, which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Frozen passes this test with flying colors as Elsa and Anna talk about much more than just men. Both of these examples make Frozen a step in the right direction for Disney and represent a huge shift in societal thinking. And I say kudos to that.

Agree/Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading! (And thanks Nathan for editing! :) )

View Disney's Frozen Official Movie Trailer HERE

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