Many have lauded Disney’s 2013 film, Frozen, as a groundbreaking film in Disney Princess-feminism. While this sentiment is arguable, I don’t think it’s fair to completely write the film off as having no valuable lessons to be learned.
Dani Colman makes an excellent argument against Frozen being some kind of marvelous feminist masterpiece in her article, “The Problem with False Feminism (or Frozen is not groundbreaking).” One of the points she makes is that the two leads simply cannot be construed as “strong female characters.”
Anna is shallow and a noticeably poor example of an independent, self-actualized woman, being the first Disney Princess in quite a while whose main motivation was to find “the one” or love for the sake of being in love and living happily ever after. In contrast, many of the more recent princesses longed for some sort of adventure, broadened horizons, or to be part of something bigger than herself (for example: Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine) and simply got a prince and/or true love as a bonus prize.
Elsa, on the other hand, may not fall under the same umbrella of weak or underdeveloped female characters as her sister, but provides a poor role model given her near self-loathing and tendency to over-react to her problems and just make them worse.
Image from Disney Wiki
Here is where I would disagree with Colman’s view on the characters. True, Anna is a pretty typical adorkable lead without a whole lot of sense, but I prefer to chalk that up to her being, what, sixteen? A sixteen-year-old girl without parents to reign her in. Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it.
With her view on Elsa I both agree and disagree. True, she has some deep-seated psychological issues and that does cause her to make poor choices, ultimately making her out to be a poor role model for young girls to look up to. Despite all that, I think Elsa is an amazing character. I don’t think she was ever supposed to be that woman little girls want to be when they grow up; I don’t think her appeal is to be directed at young girls at all. I think she’s there for adolescents (and adults) to identify with.
Elsa is an eldest sibling that has (or feels like she has) the whole world resting on her shoulders, not an uncommon trait for eldest siblings, boy or girl. Whether it was entirely her parents doing or not, she feels she has to keep herself hidden away to protect her beloved younger sister. It all builds up: the self-inflicted isolation, the pressure to be the “good girl,” the need to hold everything inside for fear of oneself. Then after an unfortunate confrontation causes her glass facade to crack, she has that realization everyone has their first time away from home and on their own: she doesn’t have to adhere to mom and dad’s (or whomever’s) standards.
Image from Disney Wiki
While on the one hand she does run away from her problems, a very immature and irresponsible way to cope; if she hadn’t, I don’t believe she would have been able to come to the realization that she did. It’s something that every person who went through (or is going through) a difficult adolescence had to overcome: realizing you don’t have to hold yourself to the standards of others and that you have to be happy with who you are. For Elsa, this comes in the form of accepting her powers as a part of who she is, for better or worse. In the real world we don’t really have to worry about our magical ice powers accidentally hurting people around us, but we do have to deal with accepting our self image and being comfortable with who we are, no matter what our peers think.
That is (at least in part) the lesson Frozen is telling through Elsa’s self-actualization: you have to be okay with who you are. Sure, she’s no adventurous Ariel or headstrong Belle for little girls to look up to, but she demonstrates that in order to be happy forever after, you have to like yourself.