In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February installment of my Feminists’ Guide to Disney is all about
But not romantic love. Because isn’t there already enough focus on that in Disney Princess movies?
Today we’re going to look at the love between Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.
One reason why Frozen is amazing – not only for opening up a conversation about feminism with your kids, but also just in general – is the way it turns our expectations on their heads. (This has been a common theme for Disney Princess movies ever since Enchanted. Keep checking in, and maybe I’ll post about Giselle.) There are three specific princess tropes we have come to expect from Disney that are tossed to the side in Frozen. The first is that a princess is always beautiful, and the second and third are different aspects of the importance of romantic love.
Beauty was one of the only characteristics of early Disney Princesses. Somehow it is always something that side characters bring up when they’re meeting the princess for the first time.
image courtesy of Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, via the Washington Post
In fact, when linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer studied the complements that characters give Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, they found that 55% of those complements were based on the princesses’ appearance, while only 11% were based on “skills or accomplishments.”
During the Disney Renaissance, characters complemented princesses on their appearance about 38% of the time, and on their abilities or actions about 23% of the time.
In the New Age of Disney films, finally, princesses receive only 22% of their complements on their appearance, and 40% on their skills.
But the moment in Frozen when the trope is truly turned upside down is when guests are making their way to the newly opened gates for Elsa’s coronation. One of the men walking in states how excited he is to see the princesses, because they must be lovely.
And his companion says, “I’ll bet they are beautiful!”
This is a fleeting moment, which at first glance seems to be purely for humor’s sake. But it is so much more. To a little girl watching the movie, a little girl who longs to be a princess with perfect clothes and perfect hair and a perfect body, this moment is a small victory. To that little girl, this moment says, “Princesses are not always beautiful.”
When it comes to portraying the wide range of beauty present in humanity, Disney has a long way to go. But this moment is a small step in the right direction.
Ugh, love at first sight.
I’ve always hated the notion of love at first sight. Even as an idealistic little girl. Even as a boy-crazy teen. I always thought the very idea of love at first sight was an insult to what love truly is. Because true love is about so much more than what you can see in one instant. True love comes from learning who a person is. And people are complicated. Learning who someone is takes time.
So imagine my delight when I first watched Frozen in theaters and saw what Disney had done with the old “Hey, I just met you – and this is crazy – but I love you so let’s get married and also subject an entire kingdom to the consequences of our impulsive whims, why not?”
Anna and Hans meet one afternoon, sing a duet about finding their other half in each other that same evening, and are engaged to be married before the night is over.
But Elsa, apparently unaware that she’s in a Disney movie, will not give her blessing for their union because they’ve known each other less than a day and Elsa is a sane human being. Later, we find out that Hans was playing Anna for a sap the whole time, and goes so far as to call her “desperate.”
I was briefly worried the movie would still have a let’s-rush-into-love couple, when Anna and Kristoff (whom she’s also known for about a day) start to run to each other for true love’s kiss. Fortunately, even that trope kicked the bucket in this movie…
True love’s kiss has been a staple of fairy tales since they were nothing more than oral traditions. So naturally, when Elsa freezes Anna’s heart by mistake and only an act of true love will save her, the characters immediately jump to the conclusion that Anna needs true love’s kiss.
They rush to the castle so she can kiss Hans. And when that turns out to be a bust, Anna rushes out of the castle so she can kiss Kristoff.
But it’s not Anna’s love for a man that saves her. It’s her love for Elsa. By sacrificing herself, Anna not only saves her sister, but she also saves herself.
So true love does conquer all. It’s just not the same kind of love you were expecting.