The Internet has exploded with praise for Disney’s lastest princess installation, Frozen. I saw it; I thoroughly enjoyed it; I can’t say it’s the best thing Disney’s ever done, but it definitely has merits. As a writer who plans on writing a lot about the intricacies of sisterhood, motherhood, and womanhood, I was happy about it.
Many people are in love with it because of this:
Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. But I’ve recognized some things.
When I was a TA during my undergrad, I helped a girl with an essay about the evolution of Disney princesses. And kinda wished I had written the essay myself, because it’s such a good subject. Basically, we determined that Jasmine was the first princess who stood up for herself and took accountability for her own life and decisions. Aladdin came out in 1992. Also note that the movie is called Aladdin, and is not actually about the princess, although she is an incredible character.
Snow White was the first animated full length feature from Disney, and it was released in 1938. So we had fifty-four years of submissive female characters from Disney.
The other day I saw a film called The Night of the Hunter, which was released in 1955, seventeen years after the release of Snow White and her passive attempts to find and live for a man. The Night of the Hunter is about two small children whose father was recently sentenced to death. Very soon, their mother meets this “preacher” who claims to understand the Bible better than anyone, and he’ll purify this widow and her children if she marries him. And by purify, he means murder, because he’s a psychopath and believes that women are the root of all sin and it’s his duty from God to exterminate them one widow at a time.
Why am I telling you about this deeply disturbing movie? Besides that it was incredibly well made and if you’re in the mood to freak yourself out, this one is right up there, maybe even worse than Wait Until Dark. But because most of the cast in this movie was female, and there was one, one female out of five, who had any spine at all. The widow submitted to every will of her new husband, even when she saw it clearly endangered her children. The little girl praised and adored her new step-father even after she saw him attempt to murder her brother. Then finally, this kick-awesome woman shows up in the last half hour of the movie, protects the children and aims a shotgun at this psycho before she calls the police and gets him taken in. Case in point, this movie poster:
Now, if this was the message of female behavior – to submit to your husband or father without question, unless you are an extremist wielding a shotgun – that was perpetuated in all kinds of movies in the 50s, and more likely even worse in the 30s (I’m talking about you, Scarlet O’Hara), then why are we harping on Disney for perpetuating the acceptable social standard of the day?
The truth is, Disney, like any intelligent production company, is just giving the public what they want, in a family-friendly way.
One last note: Frozen is not the first time that Disney has given us an amazing female character who had her head on straight about her family and her relationship to men. Lest we forget:
Or did we forget about her because she’s not of European descent? Think about that one, film consumers.