It’s feminism 101, right? Disney princesses are terrible role models that teach young girls to yearn for romantic approval from men over all else. Not to mention the significant lack of intersectionality, the waists that are as thin as their necks and the unrealistic expectations that singing birds will do all your laundry.
But the fact is, Disney princesses have acted as models of femininity for young girls since Snow White first graced our screens in 1937.
As a ‘90s kid, my personal princess-heroes were Ariel and Belle. And sure, Ariel got married at sixteen and Belle fell in love with her captor, but those aren’t the lessons kids actually take from those movies.
Belle didn’t spend her time dreaming of a man to come and save her - her one true love was books (something I strongly identify with, then and now). And her love for the Beast could be seen as slightly Stockholm Syndrome-y, but she also set an example of judging someone by the strength of their character, rather than their looks. Ariel dreamed big and fought hard for what mattered to her, no matter what her controlling father said or did. Also, she was a mermaid. You can’t tell a kid not to like a mermaid, sorry.
I’ve remained an avid viewer of Disney films far beyond the point when it stopped being considered age appropriate, and I’ve noticed a shift over time, particularly when it comes to the representation of Disney princesses.
Disney seems to have become a lot more aware of the fact that millions of young girls want to emulate the lives and choices of the latest cartoon princess, and as time has gone by, and progress has been made, these princesses have become (dare I say it?) kind of...great, feminist heroes?
This rings true for all the recent princesses - Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), Rapunzel (Tangled), Merida (Brave) and Moana (well... Moana).
But none more strikingly than Anna and Elsa, the sisters of Frozen (and now, Frozen 2).
When Frozen was released in 2013, Anna and Elsa took the world by storm. The film earned over a billion dollars in the box office. For weeks and months and years, you couldn’t do anything or go anywhere without hearing Idina Menzel telling you to “Let It Go.” A 24-year-old dressed up as Elsa for my Halloween party this October. In 2019!
The film subverted almost all of those classic but tired Disney princess tropes. The true love story of Frozen is one between sisters. Anna’s primary love interest turns out to be the villain, and Elsa has no love interest. At. All. Her story didn’t need one! And it didn’t matter! Every little girl who watched that movie wanted to be Elsa. They wanted to have magical ice powers far more than they ever wanted Prince Charming to pick up their glass slipper.
Frozen 2 was released in cinemas in New Zealand recently, and it follows in its predecessor’s footsteps with its much more progressive messaging. Elsa still doesn’t have a love interest! And more importantly - Elsa has pants! (And a little purple fire lizard!)
What Anna and Elsa teach young girls is not how nice it would be to live in a castle and wear fancy dresses. What they teach young girls isn’t that life’s all about locking down a husband before you turn eighteen. What these sisters teach their audience is the importance of sisterhood. The importance of communication, respect and support for the ones you love.
And if those ideas were present in Frozen’s first edition, they were increased tenfold in the sequel. Go see it. If not for the moral lessons, the feminist messaging or the central relationship between women, then do it for the talking snowman. You know you want to.Support Villainesse