Monday, June 23, 2014

Frozen In Time: Why Disney's View of Women Fails To Be Progressive

Frozen has been a topic of conversation with some of my young female clients and I finally sat down with the DVD the other day to watch it. While Disney certainly created beautiful scenes and wonderful music, I was mainly eager to be introduced to a newly empowered Disney princess. Certainly the song “Let It Go” seemed all about embracing your true nature and personal power. How refreshing I thought to not have a princess in a coma, kidnapped, locked up, tricked or treated as a slave. Maybe even someone who didn't need to be rescued by a charming prince. I was certainly ready for a princess that was powerful, strong and who could use her abilities to govern wisely.

But, no, I was wrong. In Frozen, Elsa, the princess, has to be isolated and locked away, her powers a danger to everyone. Really Disney??? Are we still so unwilling to portray female power in a positive light?

If this story had a male prince with similarly out of control powers what would have happened? From Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter exceptional powers would be tamed and controlled through support, practice and wise counsel. Luke could consult with Yoda and Harry had Hogwarts and Dumbledore watching over him. In other words, a male would have been portrayed as mastering his powers and then with confidence taking on whatever leadership was needed. Why couldn't Elsa's parents have provided this for her? There could have been great scenes of her practicing her powers, making silly mistakes and then getting better and then taking full control of herself and her powers.

So, what instead, happens to Elsa? Elsa, having had no support or guidance, is fearful of her powers. After her coronation, she recognizes her lack of control, and fearing she will harm others, escapes. The song “Let It Go” comes from all the pent up frustration of having to suppress her exceptional powers. Of course, we've all felt this way. Either we've never been recognized for our uniqueness or have been asked to deny it. I think this universal feeling is why the song has been so popular.

Elsa belts out the song, elated at being able to exhibit her power and in so doing creates a magnificent ice castle and a new image. Elsa's physical transformation, though, is disturbing. She lets her hair down, dons a shimmering dress and is suddenly becomes a sexy Barbie doll. This is not a strong image of real power; it is, in fact, an image of dis­empowerment. There are no symbols of strength; her only freedom comes from her isolation. She is still fearful of her powers. Why couldn't her escape to the forest and high mountains have included finding a wise wizard or the original troll king to tutor her in managing her own powers?

When her sister Anna, comes to find her she is still fearful of hurting her and sends her away. Anna, though, isn't easily deterred because she is so glad to have Elsa back in her life. Elsa then resorts to creating a snow monster to scare her away. Perhaps I'm naive about movie plots, but couldn't this have been a perfect opportunity for the sisters to have an honest talk? Couldn't Elsa have told her about what happened when they were young and why she had to stay so guarded and fearful? Anna, whose memory had been erased, could then have understood their separation as not rejection, but her sister trying to protect her. Together they could have come up with some solutions.

I know the movie's moral is about sisterly loyalty and love and I'm all for sibling solidarity. I'm glad we were not subject to the “saved by the prince's kiss” theme, but this entire movie and even the ending were a disappointment to me. I was just hoping that this time Disney might have provided us with a fully empowered female heroine. Guess it's going to take awhile.

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