Spoilers for Frozen below, but really it’s just Disney and in my opinion you can still enjoy the movie even if you know what’s going to happen, so read what I have to say.
“It’s a blonde sister and a redheaded sister!” I whispered, to my own redheaded sister, as we watched one of the opening scenes of Disney’s Frozen, in which the younger Anna eagerly wakes up her older sister Elsa, asking “You wanna build a snowman?”
We were at the theater on a family outing to celebrate my sister’s birthday. She’s two and a half years younger than me, and I instantly saw ourselves reflected in the movie’s two main characters as they were introduced, and was holding back tears in the movie’s first ten minutes when the toe-headed Elsa accidently injures Anna with her frosty magical powers. In the coming years, Elsa forces herself to withdraw from Anna in order to prevent a repeat accident, leaving Anna feeling lonely and abandoned.
It would seem that if you spend enough time pointing out the kinds of messages that most Disney movies (and many movies for children) send to girls (and boys) about gender roles, eventually they will listen. Frozen delighted me in how it managed to take a pile of sexist fairy tale clichés and turn them upside down (while still telling a delightful, engaging, funny, sing-along worthy story at the same time).
The central relationship in the movie is between two sisters, neither of which was a villain, or even remotely evil. When the younger sister, Anna, meets and falls in love with Hans at Elsa’s coronation (and performs the best love duet Disney has presented us with in years), and announces to her sister that they’ve decided to get married, Elsa immediately advises against marrying someone you’ve just met that very day, this sentiment is later echoed by the reindeer wrangling Christoph. Then, when Elsa, after losing control of her magical powers, causing her Nordic fairy tale kingdom to succumb to an enchanted winter, retreats to the top of a mountain far away from civilization, it is her sister Anna, not a handsome young prince, who mounts a horse and embarks on and adventure to rescue her.
But the movie’s greatest flip-flop comes when, just as she had feared she might, Elsa accidently curses Anna again, this time “freezing her heart,” and causing her to slowly freeze to death. Anna is told that the only remedy for a frozen heart is “an act of true love,” and she believes that act must be the magical “true love’s kiss.” (She must have grown up watching Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast.) In the movie’s climax, Christoph is rushing to save Anna with the required kiss, but just as she is about to freeze over, Anna retreats from him in order to save her sister from being murdered by the movie’s villain. As Anna steps in front of the villain’s sword, she freezes into a solid, icy statue, and Elsa (and I along with her) cries over the loss of her sister and the bravery of her sacrifice. But it is this sacrifice that proves to be the act of true love that breaks the spell. Anna is thawed, and Elsa realizes that she has the power to end the enchanted winter.
Allow me to break this down for you again, in case you missed it: The heroic Christoph, as he rushes to save the day, is made superfluous by two sisters who discover that they can solve the problem on their own. And then, at the end of the movie, just like so many action heros before her, Anna is rewarded for her valor by getting a kiss from the hot Scandinavian Christoph.
I don’t know what has led to this welcome change in tone from Disney. Maybe it was criticism from Feminist Frequency and Advice from a Cartoon Princess, or the success of Brave, or the wild popularity of the Hunger Games (in which the lead character makes her own sisterly sacrifice)? But I hope Disney keeps moving in this direction. And I hope everyone takes their Daughters (and sons!) to see Frozen. Or if you’re lucky enough to have one (or as lucky as me to have two!) go see it with your sister.