We have reached the end of the Princess movies with ‘Frozen’. Not only was ‘Frozen’ the most successful Princess movie Disney has ever produced, it was also the highest grossing animated movie of all time. It won two Academy awards and created a cultural phenomenon. Whether people had seen the movie or not, they knew to ‘Let it Go’. At its heart it is a movie about sisters, how to be family, and learning how to be true to yourself. And, like ‘Brave’, it received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
Like ‘Tangled’, ‘Frozen’ was criticized for not naming its heroine in its title. Even though the movie was based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, it was given a non-gender specific title. In Disney’s defense, ‘Frozen’ bears no resemblance at all to its original source material. “The Snow Queen” was always my favorite of Andersen’s stories. Had I gone to that movie expecting Andersen’s story I would have been very upset. Other than a queen with snow powers, there are no shared story elements.
Many people on the conservative side of the political spectrum found a lot to dislike about ‘Frozen’ and its characters. Neither of the women relied on the male characters for salvation nor were they interested in romance. They were not only proclaimed to be bad examples for young girls, it was said that the movie had such strong female characters that they encouraged girls to hate boys or, alternatively, made the boys feel bad about themselves. Elsa’s anthem of self-revelation, “Let It Go” was held up as selfish and irresponsible as well as being a subtle message to girls about coming out as a lesbian. Kristoff was accused of bestiality. The religious right did not care for the movie.
The left wingers were happier. They liked the changed fairy tale tropes that left the saving to the Princess while the men looked on. They liked that the love at first storyline was both mocked and turned on its head. They especially liked that when the shopkeeper Oaken waved to his family, it appeared on close inspection that he was waving at four children and another man. What they didn’t care for was Elsa’s more sexualized dress. They also didn’t care for animator Lino DiSalvo’s comment that women were harder to animate than men because women were more emotional. Feminists especially didn’t like how pretty or how thin the two Princesses are. While I understand the need for more realistic body images that is not the biggest problem with the movie.
We have two women who are both engaging and flawed in their own ways. We have a deep and loving bond between sisters. We have a script that actively makes fun of the classic Princess true love story. We have heroic women saving each other and themselves. It’s honestly good but once again they are surrounded by men. There are no other major female characters at all. All of the villains are men. The sidekicks are men. The magic troll is a man and Anna & Elsa’s mom doesn’t even speak. All of the poor parenting decisions are made by the King. There are rumors of a sequel, I would hope that they add some more women into the world of Arendelle.
It is sad that the results for this movie are mixed.
Bechdel test*: Two strong sisters who talk about their lives. But they are surrounded by men. There are unnamed female servants and unnamed female rock trolls. If this movie was about a single princess, the results would be different: PASS
Percent of words spoken by women**: 41%. Two Princesses, both leading the film and they don’t even manage to get half of the dialogue. This feels like a significant step backwards after the last two movies. After a change for the better we again have strong women surrounded by men. Men who, of course, are happy to do all the talking.
*The Bechdel Test evaluates film based on whether there are at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
** The data comes from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess movies. The project was reported in The Washington Post by Jeff Guo.