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Why the Feminist Controversy Over Frozen Misses the Point
Frozen's Anna and Elsa

© Disney

I’ve seen a lot of criticism from feminists in many corners of the web and social media leading up to the release of Frozen. Their gripes range from a knee-jerk aversion to Disney’s princess culture in general to the liberties taken with the source material—Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen—to outrage when the studio’s animation supervisor was quoted as saying that animating female characters is hard because you have to make them “pretty.”

I resisted the temptation to comment until now since I hadn’t yet seen the film, and though the early footage and previews seemed to discount these charges as wildly reactionary and having little to do with the actual product itself, I wanted to be sure I hadn’t been taken in by my own anticipation and the formidable powers of Disney’s PR machine.

Now that I have seen it, I believe it’s even more important to confront these accusations head on, because not only are they way off base, they distract from the film’s true message and may actually be detrimental to the promotion of feminism in Hollywood. I believe this because Frozen may just be the most feminist animated film Disney has ever produced. Anyone who supports the depiction of strong, independent women in the media, not to mention the positive representation of sororal bonds, ought to be championing it, not organizing a boycott.

It’s true that Disney has a princess dilemma. The consumer product driven phenomenon is extremely popular and lucrative, yet its detractors are becoming increasingly vocal and demanding of better role models. (I’ve personally tried to stem the tide of princess culture in our house, and I’m here to tell you it’s a constant struggle.) Disney’s response to the backlash has been mixed. At the same time the studio is promoting the resurgence of The Little Mermaid, with its archaic message of “change yourself for your man,” we also get a film like Brave, which actively avoids those tropes and features a princess who dreams of independence rather than the love of a prince. And then that progress was undermined with the infamous slimmed-down, glammed-up redesign of Merida. Even Tangled, with its capable, headstrong version of Rapunzel, left the final heroic act to her leading man. Knowing the studio’s history, you could be forgiven for expecting Frozen to follow suit. But it doesn’t. Instead, it cleverly tweaks the formula, all the while acknowledging that it is a formula.

Frozen directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. © Disney

Without going into too many spoilers, let’s just say that Frozen‘s climax does not involve a man coming to the rescue of a starry-eyed princess. The princesses at the center of this story—sisters Elsa and Anna—are defined by their unique upbringing and estranged relationship to one another, not by the men in their lives. They are fully fleshed out characters with a wide spectrum of human qualities including love, fear, loneliness, anger, frustration, bravery, and vulnerability. What drives the film is Anna’s longing to connect with her sister and Elsa’s struggle to protect Anna by keeping her distance. The stakes couldn’t be higher for them. Romantic love is an aside, a subplot; the men are supporting players in this love story between two sisters. I have no problem with them being role models for my daughters.

That said, there’s no getting around the fact that those who were hoping for an animated adaptation of The Snow Queen are going to be disappointed. There is a legitimate conversation to be had over what happened between the page and the screen and whether Disney should even mention the connection to the book in the credits. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

Let’s dispense with the notion that the finished film is anything other than an original work influenced by, not based on, Andersen’s story. Rather than focusing on what it doesn’t do or doesn’t have, look at what it does do (promote positive female role models and relationships) and does have (fascinating, three-dimensional characters). Frozen doesn’t purport to be a faithful adaptation. In case that wasn’t already obvious, the different title should make it crystal clear. (And yet those same critics have complained about the title change too.) As Elsa sings in her defiant anthem, let it go.

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Elsa has some good advice for critics. © Disney

Finally, we come to the whole “pretty” controversy. Let’s take a look at the actual quote from Disney animation supervisor Lino DiSalvo, as reported by Fan Voice (I’d link to the article, but it is no longer available on the site):

Historically speaking, animating female characters are [sic] really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very… you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to… you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.

A few things about that quote spring to mind. First off, I was at the same press event where this quote was given, although I was in a different group so I didn’t hear DiSalvo say it (the studio divided everyone into groups and rotated us through the various departments). When it was our turn to interview him and two of the lead animators who worked on the film (one of them a woman), DiSalvo spoke about the extensive research that goes into creating each character, how they brought in the actors and acting coaches and discussed at length where the characters were coming from and going to. He made it clear that the inner lives of these characters were just as important as how they looked.

“The ultimate goal at the end of the day was, is always, obviously, honest, truthful, believable performances,” DiSalvo told my group. “And once we kind of got our hands on the script and we realized how well-written and how weighty the characters were and how rich the depth of them [was], we knew that we had to elevate our game.”

Later, he talked about what he called “shape language” and how the animators strove to make each character unique to any other Disney character. There wasn’t any distinction between the degree of difficulty in drawing females or males, he lumped them all together.

“If she was mad or sad or excited or angry—from everything that we learned with the acting coach and the actors coming in and doing our homework—how does that funnel into the actual shape language of the characters?” he said. “And the idea is that when the characters are in a scene together, if you have two characters sharing an angry scene or if there’s a sad emotion involved, that each character still has their own sad shape.”

He also mentioned in our interview that there were as many as 70 animators working on the film at one time. When you have that many artists, each with his or her own style, it can be a difficult task to keep the characters consistent through a wide range of actions and emotions. That’s why they create model sheets like the one below.

Character designs for Frozen's Elsa

Elsa shows a range of emotions. © Disney

If you were predisposed to be offended, you could take these comments to mean that Disney as a company is overly concerned with the attractiveness of its heroines. I don’t think that’s what he was saying at all. I interpret his use of the word pretty to mean “on model,” in other words, keeping the character looking like the original character design. In that context it becomes an entirely innocuous quote. Of course, that’s not the kind of statement that goes viral now, is it?

In response to the heat this quote generated, a spokesman for Disney later told The Wrap:

These comments were recklessly taken out of context. As part of a roundtable discussion, the animator was describing some technical aspects of CG animation and not making a general comment on animating females versus males or other characters.

I have one last thing to say about this, and then we can all move on with our lives. When we get incensed that Disney princesses are too pretty or too white or look too much like the last Disney princess, aren’t we really saying that aesthetics are more worthy of concern than any other aspect of a character? Doesn’t it matter more how they are written and depicted within the context of the story? To focus solely on appearance without considering what’s beneath the polished exterior isn’t just shallow, it’s hypocritical. Anna and Elsa are so much more than pretty faces.

I would urge those who read some of the same feisty reactions I did to keep an open mind about Frozen. I waited until I saw the movie to see if the complaints were legitimate, but you don’t have to take my word for it. See it for yourself when it opens Thanksgiving weekend and draw (see what I did there?) your own conclusions.

57 Comments
Amy Kraft
Amy Kraft

November 23, 2013 9:07 am Reply

Having also seen the movie, I couldn’t agree more, even as someone who walks into every Disney movie with the feminist hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Wonderful, thoughtful post.

Andie

November 23, 2013 9:18 am Reply

I saw the movie early too and I found it extremely good. I didn’t particularly like Tangled’s moral and that pretty much ruined the movie for me, but Frozen has a very beautiful moral in it. The sisters were great too, they made the movie for me. They’re not passive like the old-time princess’ or active but depending on the man when things get too hard like so many of Disney’s movies.

Rebecca Angel
Rebecca Angel

November 23, 2013 11:00 am Reply

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I look forward to seeing the movie now to paint (yup, I did that) my own opinion.

Regina W

November 23, 2013 2:21 pm Reply

Thank you for your analysis! I had been wondering about the controversy. I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. I have a 5 year old princess-obsessed girl and am always on the lookout for movies with strong females and good messages. I, too, fought to keep the princesses at bay but I lost the battle. My daughter is likely high-functioning autistic (undergoing testing right now so it’s not certain but looks likely based on the tests we have done) and she latched on to princesses when she was 2 years old when I allowed her to watch her first princess movie with grandma…. It was a lost cause after that. So now I just try to pick and choose what princess movies she sees, though she knows all about many fictional and real life princesses. A new character to obsess about is always a welcome change of pace. ;)

Ryan

November 23, 2013 5:01 pm Reply

Thanks for this… after recently stumbling into a tumblr obsession I’ve been re-evaluating the way i look at and interact with the world and while I’ve always been very concerned with girls being given a fair shake all these new points of view about how pretty much everything is sexist has been kind of overwhelming. I want my daughter to be more than the ‘pink aisle’ at stores and I don’t want her to just be a little princess. In a family of gamers and readers I want her to be able to identify with characters across the spectrum and be able to see herself as the hero of her own story. I will be taking her to see this next week because I choose to think that despite the fact that there is still work to be done on making gender not so prevalent in everything kid related…(this goes for boys too … why does everything have to be about violent physicality.. boys like to pretend and cook and take care of babies too but seeing as all those things will be pink make parents less likely to buy them those things… ugh anyway) seeing her first theatre movie about sisters and girls who are allowed to be their own hero is a good thing.

Jackie Reeve
Jackie Reeve

November 24, 2013 8:57 pm Reply

This. Is. Fantastic. We’re just starting to have the talks in our house about what to do when our daughter reaches for “princessy” things–when we go to the library, she has an uncanny ability to find the Disney princess books, and she’s not even 2. We’re worried, and putting some dimension into the princess discussion is fabulous.

Matthew Rowe

November 24, 2013 10:43 pm Reply

Thank you! Someone with some sense. I have had an unreasonable amount of flak for standing up tot he feminist backlash to that comment and you’ve shown them for what they are. Reactionary and ignorant. I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. I thought Tangled was fantastic.

Katie80

November 25, 2013 1:53 pm Reply

I did you one better, and haven’t read any reactions – well, until this one. I’m really excited to see this movie this weekend!

Jennifer D.

November 25, 2013 3:38 pm Reply

Now I am excited to see it! I haven’t paid any attention to the PR or any of the buzz about it but it sounds like a good movie from your comments.

Carmel J.

November 25, 2013 4:46 pm Reply

Thank you for this! I (somewhat purposefully) keep out of the entertainment news, so I was only barely aware of the movie, much less aware of any controversy. I have two daughters that are close in age but slightly older than the target princess age. We’ve weathered the princesses and have moved on. I think this will be a movie I make an effort to see (or get on blu-ray) so my girls can see a good sister relationship and not The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry that I usually see. :)

Bethany

November 25, 2013 6:33 pm Reply

In Tangled, while the “final heroic act” was by the man, it was not the only selfless act of that scene. Directly before that, Rapunzel offered her freedom in order to save Flynn’s life. So, not exactly the old prince saving the day while the princess does nothing. I saw it as something more akin to the selfless love displayed in The Gift of the Magi.

And I am looking forward to another princess movie for my daughter where the main goal is not finding a prince.

Kristy

November 25, 2013 9:37 pm Reply

I’m taking my kids to see Frozen on Wednesday. Admittedly, except that it doesn’t follow the source material, I haven’t heard much about the controversies surrounding the movie. But I am excited to hear that, like Brave, there are two strong female leads.

Rose

December 1, 2013 12:50 pm Reply

Thanks for such a thoughtful review. I’m more than a bit princess averse when it comes to the little girls in my life and was worried about this film. From your review it sounds like there’s at least an attempt to flip some of the tropes. You helped move it from the “No way” to the “I’ll see it first and then decide” list of films for my grand kids.

Amanda

December 14, 2013 1:06 am Reply

I’ve never cared for ‘princessy’ and I usually don’t let sexism get in the way of enjoying a good movie. But I watched this movie, and I can tell you….its a gorgeous masterpiece. Both princesses are likable and unique, and yet Elsa has that big sister feel to her that I could relate to (being a big sister myself). The girls take charge on both sides and the guys are supporting roles, yes. And yes, the ending climax was way better then what we were being led up to thinking it would be in the movie.

The music and the animation is gorgeous, to. And surprise! The color pink is barely there and shoved down our throats. So please, don’t avoid this movie. It’s worth paying to see, and I can’t wait to own this movie.

    Amanda

    December 14, 2013 1:08 am Reply

    Oops. Meant that pink ‘isn’t’ shoved down our throats. xD

Liz

December 16, 2013 9:54 pm Reply

i think YOU’RE missing the point. the problem isn’t that she’s a pretty princess, it’s that she’s (ANOTHER) white princess. the problem is that young girls of color aren’t getting to see themselves reflected back on screen, and are still (STILL) only getting to see strong white female characters.

    Cindy White

    January 2, 2014 9:49 pm Reply

    But there are some critics who have objected that the princesses are too pretty (as I mention in the last part of the article), and I was directing many of my points in the article towards those people.

    To you and to those who are upset that I glossed over the race controversy, it wasn’t my intention to be dismissive and I’m sorry if it came off that way. I chose not to directly address it because it was outside the scope of my argument. Of course it’s important to see princesses of all kinds represented on screen, but what is more important to me is featuring female characters who are well-written and multidimensional, with qualities I wouldn’t mind my daughters emulating. What I’m trying to say is that Disney made great strides in this area with Frozen and we should give them credit for that. Does the company (and the media at large) still have a long way to go? Sure. But I personally think it’s unfair to dismiss the film’s positive message and admirable female characters outright because it doesn’t pass the diversity test (or any other test for that matter).

      Corey

      January 11, 2014 3:35 pm Reply

      Hello, Geekmom. For the most part, I enjoyed this article. I absolutely loved that this story is centred on sisterly solidarity and I’ve read some really great articles that interpret the “Let it Go” song as a young woman learning to become more comfortable with her sexuality.

      But as other commentators have already observed, I feel that you dismiss the race argument too readily. You say that your article didn’t intend to “directly address [race] because it goes outside the scope of [your] argument.” But by mentioning the “too white” criticism in your final paragraph – however casually – you implicitly dismiss discussions of race along with discussions of “prettiness,” “aesthetics,” and “appearance.” And this is my problem with your article. Because by extension you are saying, then, that viewers who are concerned with multiculturalism are likewise “hypocritical” and “shallow.”

      I’m sorry, but people who are tired of Disney and Hollywood’s relentless whitewashing don’t ask for more characters of colour simply for the sake of having characters of colour. It has nothing to do with aesthetics. We want multiculturalism on our screens because we’re fed up with the default being portrayed as white. We want multiculturalism because we’re tired of seeing ethnic minorities being painted as caricatures while white characters have the luxury of enjoying all those qualities that you say you want your daughters to emulate – characters who are “well-written and multidimensional,” who are strong, empowered, heroic. You forget, Geekmom, that other parents want their daughters to emulate these things, too, but it becomes increasingly difficult to find movies that depict empowered characters of colour when the current message is “If you’re Black or Asian or Latino, why don’t you settle for being the empowered character’s sidekick?” In short, we want multiculturalism for the same reason you want to find movies that are more in line with your gender politics. And I wouldn’t say there’s anything “shallow” or “hypocritical” about that. Would you?

lauren

December 16, 2013 10:21 pm Reply

Its pretty miserable the way you swept the entire discussion of Disney’s obsession with whiteness and white washing, and the legitimate complaints from People of Colour on this topic. Feminism is worthless if it doesn’t speak for all women, and that includes Women of Colour.

    Chris

    January 16, 2014 4:00 pm Reply

    Thank you! I think this is a good post, and I hate it when quotes are taken out of context, and when people react before having all the information, but the characters developed inner self is just as important as a realistic representation of the outer self. There is nothing wrong with being “pretty and white,” but people who are a different kind of pretty, with a different shape or color, are made to feel like there is something wrong with them because they are nowhere to be found in the media.
    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I generally find Disney movies to be boring and by the numbers. Zany side characters (can’t have a movie without one), a typical story arc and an easily digested message. Pixar is the obvious exception. Their stories are so much better, and the message usually a difficult or seldom told one: not everyone can be special, some people are average and some are above average, deal with it (The Incredibles); you have to learn how to let go knowing that things will not always turn out ok (Finding Nemo); life isn’t over when something bad does happen (Up); not everyone can be great, but greatness can come from anywhere (Ratataouille). Basically, I don’t think Disney Proper trusts it’s audience with an interesting or challenging message, or to be able to handle characters who are more plain (fish vs lions, a sad looking robot vs the Beast, Merida vs the Frozen sisters.) I think at their most pernicious, they promote stereotypes and damage society. At their least harmful, they are boring. Having said that, two Disney features I actually liked were Lilo and Stitch and the Emperors New Groove.
    I will see Frozen (before showing it to my daughter), but unless the story and message is above average, they will have to wait to see it.

Atarii

December 21, 2013 2:00 am Reply

“Aesthetic” means “referring to the senses: Touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight.”

I think the word you wanted was “cosmetics”.

    Cindy White

    January 2, 2014 9:00 pm Reply

    “‘Aesthetic’ means “referring to the senses: Touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight.”

    That is one definition of aesthetic. Another, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a set of ideas or opinions about beauty or art.”

Katja

January 1, 2014 11:19 pm Reply

I noticed that you mentioned Brave, Tangled, and now Frozen in your Disney Feminist Manifesto, but you conveniently left out one of the ACTUAL most feminist “Disney Princess” ever – Tiana from The Princess and The Frog.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

She’s born into a poor family and has dreams of owning her own restaurant, then negotiates a deal with two businessmen who turn out to be dishonest, then negotiates another deal with a Prince/Frog (that goes awry), then gets taught a lesson about love, but also TEACHES HIM a lesson about hard work. Tiana and Raveen are some of the most developed characters I’ve seen in a Disney film in a long time (and the other characters have interesting back stories as well: the crocodile, the firefly, Naveen’s assistant and even the villain). To date, Tiana is the only Disney Princess that started, and ended, her movie with a life goal of her own. The fact that you left her out of the conversation is highly disappointing.

ozzi

January 2, 2014 12:36 am Reply

I agree with lauren, you are dismissive of these complaints from People of Color in your article. This attitude is what is preventing feminist-based achievement in the struggle for inclusiveness in self-imagery and artistic portrayal in mass media, which is the issue. Young girls of color need more princesses of color being portrayed and not another “white princess” movie. They need to see themselves as princesses as well-whether they rescue the prince or not.

And white girls need to see more Princesses of Color as well.

Your attitude seems to smack a bit racist in it’s arrogent dismissal of these complaints.

To paraphrase lauren, feminism is not a white-only, woman-only movement

Ne

January 3, 2014 6:40 am Reply

Why more black princecess, white princesess, asian, native americn etc. ? Why not drop the princess theme altogether and focus on real everyday women if you are going to be feminist? Do it right.
Girls don’t need to know that “They race ois for princesess too”, more like they need to understand that they are part of the 99,9999% of women who are not and are never going to be a “princess” and that there is nothing wrong with this ; in fact the veryy stereotype of princess (which is defined as the Daughter of a king or queen, or someone who marries into it by dating a prince) is one that hurts the whole cause, and is rife with classism and sexism from the get-go.

Dani

February 2, 2014 12:48 am Reply

No. No, I’m sorry, Frozen isn’t feminist. It makes a valiant attempt, but it misses the mark by a huge margin. Just the way it deals with agency and consent is deeply, deeply troubling, and I have trouble believing how many people have failed to see it just because the denouement isn’t the result of romantic love: https://medium.com/disney-and-animation/7c0bbc7252ef

Eric lopez

February 10, 2014 10:17 pm Reply

Thank you… Finally, this movie is not racist or feminist at all. I think the people who usually the sensitive people who look for every little detail to make a movie look bad. Frozen for me is awesome and honestly one of my favorite movies of 2013. I’m a dude and I’ve seen it at least 3 times already lost count after three. Haha

Immy

March 5, 2014 1:16 am Reply

To all those saying this article brushes over the white-washing of Disney: yes, it is a problem, for the company. Not everybody in the world is white, and obviously there are lots of little girls out there who would love to see one of their heroes look a bit like them. However, there is no need to make this one of the main issues in this particular discussion. Why? It’s about a story loosely based on a story set in Russia, or a Russia-type place. All the characters have Russian names. It is therefore very, very likely that they are white. Yes, we need to talk about representing minorities in Disney movies. No, it is not a mark against Frozen.

Chespir

March 8, 2014 5:11 pm Reply

Feminism: Creating controversy out of a non-issue.

Sara

March 9, 2014 12:48 am Reply

I think a lot of the whole thing and the commentary both on here and about it at large misses the point entirely. It’s not about “whitewashing” and the movie isn’t against feminism. People fail to take into account the context of the story itself which dictates the type of characters and their ethnic backgrounds. If someone rages against a particular story and its characters all because of those factors and not because of the characters’ personalities and the message the story itself, its themes, that are being discussed does the story and its characters a serious disservice as well as attempting to censor and limit a storyteller’s ability to be creative, tell a story and discuss certain themes and issues through metaphor. Not every story is going to be or have a certain type of character all the time. To demand that from EVERY story is to demand a one dimensional formula that restricts a dialogue about things that bare no relation to gender or ethnicity. Not all women are the independent type. Some are “old fashion” or governed by the social norms of decades if not centuries past. Maybe those women choose that (personally don’t get that myself but that’s their choice). Maybe some relate to those types of characters which depict what we know to be the “traditional” gender role for women because that’s what they have chosen themselves. Feminism is about the ability for women to have the ability to CHOOSE how they want to be, have the same opportunities afforded to them not have the pendulum swung in the opposite direction and have another stereotype and expectation to be a certain way mandatory and forced upon us. Yes, there needs to be more multiculturalism in media and in Hollywood. BUT, that CAN NOT lead to the degrading of a film, TV show, book, etc if the characters are most of one ethnicity. We have to look at the character(s) and the story itself to see whether or not it’s called for or not. To force that just for a political statement demeans both the character and those whom they were purposely aimed towards. Authenticity is destroyed and the character and story become unrelatable. It has to be organic and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. That applies to ALL ethnicities; white, black, Asian, you name it. All the fighting over the sub groups is actually counter-productive. The whole point to all is for the representation and ability to have something to which each can relate to and have a message, a great message, to point towards to teach both the current generations and the ones still yet to come what we have learned and what we would like to aspire towards. Just because there isn’t a character that is representative of a certain value or message isn’t in a specific story. Not all characters are the same either and not every story will nor is logical to have a representative of any certain ethnicity within it. BUT, it doesn’t cancel out the message it’s trying to get across and make it not worthwhile for anyone because that’s the case. It’s about the HUMAN condition. And, that’s what the fighting and comments really boil down to. Feminism is about the recognition of women’s rights that we already have a natural right for. Multiculturalism is the recognition of the differences and diversity of humanity and have it represented; that we are all not the same ethnicity or nationality, etc and to have that respected. Both come down to gaining the respect and such. It’s about about being treated as HUMAN. Maybe, just maybe, people need to stop seeing everything as a platform for their thing and take a look at the HUMAN element of the story and see how it fits within the story before trying to use that story and its characters for their political and social agenda for such things as feminism and multiculturalism. Some, not all, but some people are becoming as narrow sighted and close minded as those they are fighting against. It can be summed up with this: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche said that. He had his issues with being sexist and that was a product of the time in which he lived and that doesn’t in anyway whatsoever invalidate the point he made with that statement. And, it’s a point extremely valid and poignant even today and with this discussion about this movie and the response to it by some which the post discusses as well as the response about multiculturalism in the comments.

    Briana

    March 10, 2014 3:11 pm Reply

    True. The setting in both place and time also are things that influence the type of characters and how they relate to one another socially and personally with one another. Different time periods, places and cultures have different social and personal norms that the characters must meet in order to be relatable and affect the message the story is trying to say. Frozen is in the place setting of a area, though fictional, of what would be like 1600s Russia or Norway which would mean that the likelihood of the characters would be white. Both had monarchies which give weight to the “princess” thing that Disney is so fond of. During those times, it was the exception, not the rule, for women to be more demure than independent so the message of Frozen about the sisters being more independent by choice is a strong feminism message. There’s a lot of work that Disney still has to do in the messages it delivers to the public but it is a strong step forward. They still have a long way to go.

    And, you’re right. Not every story is going to have a character or characters that are of all the different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. It is too much to ask and a story not having one or more of those ethnic backgrounds in it doesn’t lessen the story’s value. It’s actual multiculturalism to value those stories since multiculturalism is to value and celebrate all cultures and backgrounds. That diversity. What needs to be done is more stories need to be put out there and have the various ethnic backgrounds and cultures represented even if it’s one story for one group. And, even if you aren’t of the group being represented, watch, read or whatnot to support that diversity and gain a possibly better understanding of a background that is different than your own. Look at that human element as you mentioned instead of only focusing on that smaller picture of the divided groups. There’s more than even room for them all in the various forms of media to share and add to the expression of humanity through storytelling. There’s actually infinite room for them all. What we need to do is fight for that all inclusion of those individual stories and have them have the exposure that they so deserve not deride a story already out for not including any given group. That’s the problem. The lack of exposure and focus for the creation of those stories. Instead, people rip apart what’s already out. The lack of that representation should spur us into a greater determination to have more stories with each group being in the spotlight.

    And, people need to make an effort to remember that the setting of time period and place and social and personal cultural norms within a story are the number one things to take into account before judging a story. They do vary widely and make all the difference for how a story and character looks and behaves. My fellow feminists also need to remember that the word “pretty” doesn’t always refer to the physical appearance of a character in the context of beauty but sometimes means clean and distinct in drawing or animation terms. The problem with the English language is that a single word has multiple meanings and contexts that they are used in. It will do us a great deal of good to remember that and find out for sure which context and meaning the word or phrase is meant and used in before going off. Don’t rely on emotionalism which only gives the jerks who are sexist more ammo against use because a lot of them are prejudice against us for being over emotional and going off like that in a hair trigger fashion making us look like we really are not as smart as they try to say we are. When we do give in to the over emotional and hair trigger stuff, we prove them right which makes their day. They aren’t right and we aren’t that at all and we have proved it many times before but all they need is one or two to over publicize and it makes the fight even harder. This is also a case of picking the wrong fight. It’s too superficial and, yes, it goes against everything feminism is by deriding the choice of another woman because she chooses against the independent thing. As Sara says, feminism is about choice and having our natural rights to choose with opportunities equal to men being available to us which should have been that way along. Each individual may not choose a certain choice but each woman should be allowed to make that choice and live it whether it’s the independent woman or the woman who wishes to live in the traditional gender role that woman throughout history have been living. It’s the individual woman’s choice. To deny that is going against the very soul of feminism. We don’t need to be our own worst enemy. It does us all a disservice.

Evie

March 13, 2014 7:31 pm Reply

“When we get incensed that Disney princesses are too pretty or too white or look too much like the last Disney princess, aren’t we really saying that aesthetics are more worthy of concern than any other aspect of a character? ”

I’m sorry, but this really really misses the point. If pretty much ALL the women we see in movies are pretty and white and look similar, that fact sends the message that aesthetics are the most important aspect of a woman. It tells us that women who are not these things aren’t even worth telling stories about, regardless of their strength, abilities or personality.

    Michelle

    March 14, 2014 9:19 pm Reply

    I think the point the author is getting at is: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, Frozen is a very white movie. There’s no advances in racial diversity here. But it is also advancing stories about women in Hollywood where 33% of speaking roles go to women and where plenty of movies with racial diversity do not necessarily advance the role of women anyway (I’m thinking of Fast 6 which is racially diverse but not terribly feminist). That’s not to be totally ignored either. Intersectionality and feminism are closely linked but they aren’t identical concepts and it is possible to praise Frozen on one front while castigating it for the other.

Spike

March 18, 2014 9:02 pm Reply

This is a very sexist movie. It is positively misandric. The men are portrayed as stupid, weak or evil or a variation thereof. Whereas, the women are portrayed as strong, compassionate, intelligent and complex. It’s disgusting that young boys will see this and be influenced in such a way. Also, this is yet another movie which deems violence by females against males as humorous. It’s a terrible movie, it’s a shame there isn’t an outcry against it.

Lynn T.

March 24, 2014 4:47 pm Reply

Kristoff was a great male character. The fact that the two main character were women made for a great story that had not been told before. (Toy Story centered on the relationship between two male characters) I hope Disney will include more women of color (Tiana was awesome!). Our world is so diverse, Disney would be wise to explore that diversity. It would pay off for them financially, which is all they care about anyway.

MintD

April 21, 2014 4:32 pm Reply

This is a wonderful article. I know that I’m late to the game here as the controversy is pretty much being forgotten at this point. But this article still makes valid points and is full of all kinds of awesome common sense. I don’t know if someone else mentioned this (I read some of the comments but not all of them) but I never understood why people were so mad about the fact that Frozen isn’t a faithful adaptation of The Snow Queen. Disney never said they were making The Snow Queen and in the end credits of the film, it says “inspired by” not “based on.” There’s a huge difference there. Anyways, that’s just my two cents. Your article is spot on about everything and I, too am ecstatic about strong females in animated films. Lets also not forget that it’s just as important for young boys to see this sort of thing as well. To help them grow up with a sense of equality about men and women and to change their expectations about women. I say this as a mom of two boys (who love Frozen and Brave by the way).

Alex

May 3, 2014 4:00 pm Reply

More than the impossibly thin and curvy generic Disney bodies, what bothered me was the lazy characterization (Frozen is a movie that is lazy in all that is creative but careful in all that is marketable, even feminism). Disney knows that strong independent women are the new princesses, not thanks to themselves, but to the evolution of culture and feminism. They even use it as a half-baked theme in the movie (that nonetheless, I admit is effective, if cheaply). The songs are derivative, the lyrics are worse, they don’t go much deeper than the typical Disney Channel movies from mid past decade. The story is contrived, looks down on the audience, doesn’t show half the respect that even Pixar’s lesser movies like Monsters University, Cars or Brave show to their audience in terms of story, but worse yet, and more to the topic, in terms of characters. The characters in Frozen are what the next step the Coca-Cola of animation would logically take (and had taken some time already to take, so it is more a reaction than an initiative like Brave could have been). Other than that, the female characters (well, and every character) are cliches: more than feminine, they are girly but with a touch of bitchy, they are the type of girls that would be prom queens in high school themed parodies. They are the second generation bimbo: innocent yet savvy, naive but strong, beautiful, thin, careful with their hair, jewelry, clothes and looks (something that not even Belle or Ariel were as much) and with the kindness to the rest of the simpletons that reminds to that of Mandy Moore’s Saved! character than to a genuine caring person. Yes, they never get mean or nasty, but their cliched characters seem more to propose to young girls to become the artificial seemingly good-intentioned high school blondes focused on clothes and looks the 90s and 00s movies tried hard to destroy and which had just recently started to wane, than authentic, confident in their inner beauty strong independent leads that can still be gracious and beautiful like Brave or even an early Lindsey Lohan character if you want to go generic and cheap.

Still, I am usually one who dislikes negative campaigns against big establishments for cultural problems. My main criticisms for Frozen are the creative ones, feeling that they don’t respect us as an audience as Pixar has (even when we are harsh on them when they aren’t perfect). It just happens that those flaws also happen to be damaging in some ways to the feminist movement that it is trying to sell to. It is also sad that a more subtle, less intent to sell movie like Brave has gotten less feminist hype than this bloated dumbed down product of Frozen.

Marina

May 26, 2014 5:59 pm Reply

The thing is, you DO have to take the flaws in Frozen seriously, you just should not take them too seriously. Anyone who would boycott Disney because of Frozen IS stupid and it IS anti-productive from the feminist point of view. But we do still have to criticize Frozen, just like any piece of art or media. What did they do right and what did they do wrong? As an aspiring artist myself, I would not view criticisms of Frozen as something to either conform to and avoid getting or to ignore; I would view these kinds of criticisms as context for what I’d do next. Maybe I should make the next movie about a black or Hispanic girl, that actually looks black or Hispanic, and that may or may not be a princess. Maybe I should use real people as body templates instead of Barbie more often. Maybe I should give the boys a good role model in the next movie too (but try not to go too deep into the old, evil stepmother vs knight in shiny armor thing). Etc etc.

No single character or movie can sidestep every possible stereotype or problematic interpretation, but it’s how these characters and movies relate to each other and to real life that matters.

Marina

May 26, 2014 6:04 pm Reply

P.S, awesome article btw. Even if it’s a tad bit wishy washy, it’s also impressively logical. :) But just making sure that we’re all on the same page here with the whole “Support Frozen!” thing.

AlexR

May 28, 2014 12:12 pm Reply

Marina, I like your comment when it comes to Frozen, but regarding something you said, I would really hate Disney to have to make a movie about a black kid or hispanic kid just because of peer pressure. The white girl is easy to relate to when race is not what matters. When you add a “race” character, you immediately make it about race. If they don’t spice up a hispanic character, then you get backlash for “whitifying” a hispanic character. The same with a black or Asian. The problem is that more can relate to a character where the race matters little. More can relate to a white character that doesn’t define itself by race (except by race zealots) than a hispanic character that is desperate to show pride in its race, whatever that would be (as if there is something similar to what we dumbly consider “white” culture, we would call it a fake for some reason). Both Aladdin and Frozen use different races without having to focus on racial differences, that is just part of their setting. Aladdin is not typically Persian (though Persians were not Arabs anyway, they were Arians) as the girls of Frozen are not typically nordic (like in Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, Disney character features are impossible in humans anyway, regardless of race, why does it matter more when it is about a non white? That is the evidence of existing racism in society, not the less exposure of a specific culture)

As I said above, I think Frozen does more damage than good, but not enough to boycott. I dislike it as a piece of entertainment, I wish it were smarter in storytelling, in character creation and development, in plot, in excitement, and I also dislike a lot of its values, but I don’t blame it for having white women and I don’t expect Disney to force race issues into their movies, not even feminist or atheist or Christian issues, unless they are really part of a thorough artistic look about reality. Pixar can raise issues without succumbing to extreme political correctness (or what is worse, and as Disney does, to market a supposed political correctness as a selling value.)

Anita

May 28, 2014 1:43 pm Reply

When I went to the theater to see Frozen, I did not know what it was about. I went with my husband, daughter (5) and two sons. It was a compromise. We let her pick because she always tagged along with the boys to see all the superhero/comic movies. I walked out thinking WOW. I did not expect this from Disney. Finally a Disney movie that has a strong minded, level-headed princess. A Disney movie that promotes sibling love, rather than the hunt for prince charming. I have often discouraged my daughter to dress up as the Little Mermaid, who was love-crazy at 16, or Cinderella, who put up with abuse and finally found prince charming. Now I am proud to let my daughter dress up as Elsa and Anna. I can say to my daughter, “Be strong like Anna and Elsa. Act like a real princess.” This is the best Disney princess movie ever. Exactly the role models our daughters need excel in this world and not be victims or leave things to circumstance. Disney finally did it right for little girls everywhere.

Jo

June 2, 2014 4:53 pm Reply

Anita- shame on you for shaming women who don’t conform to your narrow feminist ideals. Ariel was not “boy crazy”- now she’s not my favorite, but she wanted to be in the human world long before Eric. Cinderella was nearly enslaved in an era when there was no were else for her to go, and she usd the common sense you and other feminists apparently lack and stayed in her home where she had food and shelter and refused to let her (female) oppressors break her.

THAT is a strong woman. I love Anna, and she is strong for being so loving, but not because she is “feisty” or whatever. Elsa is not very strong- she refuses to face her problems but runs and hides.

this is not the best princess movie ever, by far. SWAT7D and Sleeping Beauty are not superior in role models (classy, respectful, UNSELFISH princesses who aren’t Amazon feminists who don’t need no ebul man?! count me in!) but in art and music, so much it’s not even a fair comparison. There is no movie that promotes “hunting for a prince charming”.. but you wouldn’t know that, obviously never having seen a single Disney movie outside the horribly overrated, poorly edited Frozen.

Shame on all feminists who shame women who dare to embrace their femininity. Shame on feminists who despise women who have the gall to be shy, timid, wise, romantic, girly, (which means logically you lot should hate Anna and Elsa because they share those traits too). Shame on feminists who shame women who dare to be different. Thank you all for being why so many people cannot support a sexist movement.

Jo

June 20, 2014 9:12 pm Reply

A someone who is not really a feminist and who absolutely loves the Disney princesses, I was enraged by this movie, not because the man doesn’t come to the rescue but because for Elsa to “let it go” and be herself she has to run away from everyone she knows and loves. I am aware that her parents forced her to keep her talents hidden, but true self acceptance comes not through running away and hiding your problems from everyone, but through you accepting and being yourself with your loved ones near you. At the end of the movie, I was pleased that the heroic act of love came from Anna and not the man who loved her and that she essentially saved herself by showing how much she loves her sister, but then Elsa only comes back because of this. I loved the song “let it go” prior to watching the movie and I think the sentiments ring true of self acceptance, and I will have my kids (should I have any) watch and understand why self acceptance is so important, however I will be reinforcing that she went around it the wrong way,

joe35

June 22, 2014 1:41 am Reply

There’s nothing wrong with Disney Princesses. Disney is about providing fun entertainment, not raising your children. That’s the job of you, the PARENT. That said, I thought “Frozen” was one of the worst Disney movies I’ve ever seen. I think I only lasted about 40-45 minutes until I finally had to shut it off. It was just plain boring and not doing anything for me.

    Chris

    June 22, 2014 1:12 pm Reply

    I completely agree that it’s the job of parent to raise their children, and part of that job is deciding what to let your children watch, or when. But clearly, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Disney Princess movies, but I do and so do a lot of parents. I think the movies themselves are boring, the branding offensive, and the Disney belief in “magic” and “wishing upon a star” pernicious.

Holster

June 22, 2014 3:16 pm Reply

You say it’s alright to talk about how hard it is to have two lead female animated characters in a movie because their lives are as important as their looks? Hm. First off, how in the HELL is their gender relevant? Second, I’m pretty sure their lives are more important. If they’re not, then you don’t have a story. Ugh.

Syndell

June 24, 2014 6:06 pm Reply

“I believe this because Frozen may just be the most feminist animated film Disney has ever produced” <~~~That is just ridiculous but everyone keeps saying that. Allow me to clarify BRAVE was the first and did it better. At least in Brave she was interested in herself and being herself, Merida saved the day with no help from anyone. Frozen, while still a good movie, still had the desperate princess who jumped into love because it was the only thing that mattered, the only difference was that he wound up being the villain so not only was she desperate for love she was also stupid.

Michael Price

June 26, 2014 1:00 am Reply

Frozen is PROFOUNDLY anti-feminist. Let’s look at what happens. Female character gets powers* her sister almost dies. A male specialist is needed to keep her alive. Naturally we make sure the female character is kept unaware of her near-death for years, because females shouldn’t be given information on things that might kill them. Nobody questions this decision.

Parents die so kingdom is left in charge of…. I don’t know who but presumably a male. Female character comes of age and is given power. She literally doesn’t last a day without her uncontrollable emotions causing massive damage. Literally NOT A DAY. Having a female head of state is noticeably worse than having the place run by, ummm…, by… well whoever they were it they were a mile better than Elsa. Note that the emotional collapse is brought on by an argument that doesn’t even need to happen. Yes, allowing Anna to marry someone she just met is a bad idea, particularly considering what sort of man he turns out to be. But it’s not a question that needs to be sorted out right there. Royal weddings are big affairs. Elsa would be quite within her rights to say “Let me think about it. I’ll consult my advisers” etc. . Now sure Anna could still make an (entirely unreasonable) scene, but so what? Just keep saying “We’ll talk with the advisers, and see what we can do.”. Nobody has taught this woman how to delay a decision until she knows which way the wind blows. How bad a ruler is that?

So second female character decides to take action like a hero would. Like a very stupid hero would. Nobody questions her decision to ride away without any competent help, any supplies, or even asking someone who knows about winter survival what to do. I mean it’s a straight up miracle that she doesn’t die. The fact that so many people just stand there while she rides away to almost certain death shows how little she’s valued. But before she leaves she leaves the country in the capable hands of a hot guy she’s known less than a day. Can you imagine what you’d think of a MALE character who acted like that? “Well I’m the only one of two heirs to the throne who hasn’t disappeared. I’m going into extreme danger and leaving a hot girl I met at a party in charge.”. It would be seen as the most irresponsible thing he could possibly do.

So hot guy in charge (notice how already she’s depending on a male, who actually performs the tasks she should be doing very well). Actually that’s a point, the BAD GUY is a better ruler than any female character. He defines his goals, organizes to help supply the common folk with what they need to survive (admittedly there’s no evidence that he pays for these supplies or even promises to) and actually does something about the Elsa problem that would have been effective. Admittedly it’s something murderous, but considering how many people would DIE if this problem wasn’t solved, it’s arguably justifiable. So a known sociopath comes within an ace of being better for the country than it’s legal (female) ruler. Better a prick as ruler than someone who hasn’t got one.

But back to the Disney princess who doesn’t need a man. Except she does. Although she has amazing throwing skills (gained where?) she needs someone who actually knows the environment to survive and find her way. So because of that help she gets to Elsa. The ruler of the country is told about a serious, life-threatening problem, and reacts by freezing the messenger. Good work. So Anna needs a man to rescue her AGAIN. Kristoff takes her to the magic trolls where she is told that only an act of true love can save her. She assumes it’s true loves kiss, but that’s not actually specified. She then assumes that what she has with Hans the barely known hot rich guy, is love. The big twist is that far from this being true love it’s about as bad a relationship as it’s possible to have. Hans is a homicidal sociopath who only said he loved her to get power and money. Fair enough, that’s a legitimate thing to do. Anna has been kept away from the world

Now here’s were Frozen gets a little feminist. Instead of the “act of true love” being kissing the decent, brave, handsome but poor guy (thus rejecting status and wealth as reasons for love, which is mildly feminist) she goes with an act of love for her sister. Firstly notice that these are alternatives. Anna has to turn away from a good man to save her frankly dysfunctional sister. Women valuing other women, how feminist! Except she’s only valuing the woman in her family, and not valuing her for anything other than being in her family. She’s going with the woman who almost killed her twice instead of the man who saved her at least once. She’s not making intelligent, independent choices, she’s just making dysfunctional choices that don’t involve men.

But it all works out in the end. Or does it? Sure Elsa is cured of her serious mental illnesses, or rather she isn’t actively suffering from them. But for how long? The ONLY support Elsa has is her sister who has almost no life experience and makes some suicidaly bad decisions. What happens when someone figures out that all you need to do to take over the kingdom is push Elsa into a funk and then kill her? All it would take to conquer that king is one secret arrow in Anna’s heart and then after a week or so, another one shot openly, into Elsa’s. Even if Anna isn’t killed, she’s going to die eventually. Who is going to look after Elsa (which she needs) after that happens? Nobody is going to open up to the person who almost killed the entire country. She is not going to have any non-sister friends. So the end result of having a female with power is that everything goes to hell until she can handle her emotional problems, which she can only do if another female sacrifices what would make her happy. Then things go back to normal, until the next crisis.

* No explanation of how but who cares, it’s a fantasy story.

    Giblette

    July 7, 2014 11:07 am Reply

    Spot on! I agree! The only thing you left out (and it really disturbs me that no one, NO ONE, on this post even mentions) is that her parent’s kept her locked up in a room her whole life! who knows when or if they would have let her out! what kind of parents keeps their child locked up? If I suddenly found out my child has some special winter powers, I would just take her up to the mountains every day to train on how to use them so that what happened in this movie doesn’t happen!

      Alex

      July 7, 2014 5:25 pm Reply

      hehe Michael, Giblette, maybe you are being too harsh! Yes, it is a stupid movie that doesn’t care about sense, story or character apart from what they can sell as cool, aspirational and feminist. Anti feminist things happen in the movie like in life, but that doesn’t mean they promote them. For example Giblette, the movie never says the parents’ decision was right, as a spectator you feel they lovingly messed up and caused a lot of damage. The truth is they are horrifyingly terrible and the movie doesn’t present it like that, but the bottom line is that it doesn’t promote such behavior anyway–you relate to the suffering of the girls more than to the parents’ horrible parenting. There is a lot of pinpointing to details that could make any movie anti feminist. In the end though, I agree more with you two than with the general stance that defends it. Like I posted above, I believe it does more damage than good.

Anna

September 15, 2014 5:22 pm Reply

Oh look. Yet another blog that completely misses the point of the entire movie and in general all of Disney princess movies.

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