The trailer itself is princess-less, instead following the antics of a snowman named Olaf and a reindeer named Sven as they vie for a carrot. It’s hard to tell what the story will actually be about—as of yet, not much is known about the film’s plot. But what we do know is enough to have put some feminists on alert.
The Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen” is a great tale. It follows little girl named Gerda who goes on an icy journey all alone to find her kidnapped friend Kai, who is a boy. It’s the opposite of a damsel in distress story.
The Disney version has rewritten the classic fairytale in a way that gives the heroine less credit. In the Disney version, the main character Anna goes on a journey to find her sister Elsa, who has covered the kingdom in eternal winter. But not only is she not rescuing a boy, she’s accompanied on the journey by a mountain man named Kristoff.
It’s disappointing to see a story that was originally about a deeply independent and brave young woman on a rescue mission turned into a romance, as it inevitably will be. No one at Disney has inferred that a romantic relationship between Anna and Kristoff will be part of the movie, but romantic love is central to almost every Disney princess’s story—and besides, why else add the character of Kristoff in the first place? Even if they don’t fall in love, and he merely acts as Anna’s guide, the fact that she needs one at all reproduces stereotypes about female weakness and the need for a strong male helper that the original narrative of “The Snow Queen” bucks.
Also disconcerting is the character of Elsa. It’s nice to see a princess with a sister in a franchise where most heroines have few to no strong relationships with other women. But it’s not so nice to see that sister being positioned as the potential villain. This is especially the case on the heels of Brave, which, for all wasn’t perfect in the film, centered on a healthy, empowering, and positive female-female (mother-daughter) relationship. Is it really too much to ask for that to happen twice in a row?
There may be some hope on the horizon. Frozen will, at the very least, be the first feature film to come out of Disney Animation Studios that features a female director (Jennifer Lee, although she shares the credit with Chris Buck). Plus, most of the above is speculation – maybe Anna and Kristoff won’t fall in love, and maybe Anna and Elsa will have a positive relationship, and maybe Elsa won’t turn out to be the villain, or if she is, maybe she’ll survive at the very least. As a kid who grew up with Disney, and an admitted (if ashamed) fan of Disney Princesses, I’d really like to see that. But from where I’m standing, it doesn’t look terribly likely.
Related Reading: We reviewed the pros and cons of Frozen when it came out in theaters.