Beyond the Damsel in Distress: A Feminist Analysis of ‘Frozen’

From early days, Disney has been influencing and inducing the lives of children and adults, taking them on a voyage to far flung magical kingdoms of princesses and speaking animals. Disney manifests a major influence on the entertainment industry and only continues to expand from movies, to games, clothing and toys. Surfacing around since the past eighty years, Disney has played a major role in gender roles projection. With changes in modern culture, Disney has also manifested changes in the representation of their female characters.

The media influence is of considerable pertinence because of the major role it plays in influencing the lives of children as well as adults. Research manifests that extensive viewing of the television and other media sources affect the understanding and knowledge of expected behavior patterns and general characteristics associated with female and male gender (McGhee and Fruch 1980).Television viewing has a potent influence since it impinges and defines our perceptions and attitudes with respect to our own self and others(Tonn 2008).Palmer notes that the multifarious images , words and sounds that audience get to see on their television screens does influence their relationships, identity and also blurs reality.

The Disney princess franchise generally projects terrifying and misogynistic fairy tales for obvious economic concerns. These stories impose and ingrain patriarchal opinions towards women that instate a difficult and ideal standard of aesthetics and beauty in the young female characters, who are to serve as examples for children. Disney manifests its failure in representing colored women as princesses and the only recent example is that of Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Despite this addition, Disney largely comes to present princesses as stereotypically inadequate irrespective of the incorporation of their racial variance (Garabedien. J 2014).

The Disney princesses own little control and agency. They are coerced to sacrifice essential parts of their personalities for men (for example the in the Little Mermaid, there is a loss of voice), or are coerced to serve their evil hearted stepmothers for years ( Cinderella and Snow White) and are presented for only a total of seventeen minutes of the entire movie (The Sleeping Beauty). While there are of course exclusions to this rule but the vast majority of the princesses are projected as lacking any sort of vision and goal for themselves without a man to present it for them.

In Frozen, Disney seems to have paid attention to some of these gender tropes and critiques. Frozen subverts these ubiquitous and essentializing frozen tropes with the aid of its main characters, Elsa and Anna , who by being rich , white and shockingly thin do fit the profile of a classic Disney princess , however unlike others they display unparalleled agency and autonomy. In Frozen, a sister’s love saves the kingdom, rather than that of the suitor since Anna embarks on a dangerous voyage to find Elsa, when her prodigious potencies get out of hand. Frozen appears to be the first Disney movie in which the a princess makes am error that negatively informs and defines everyone around her since she freezes her kingdom, however she is still able to be receive redemption at the end.

Elsa unlike other Disney princesses is presented with opportunities to render mistakes. She often feels threatened and impinged, codes the world in the binaries of white and black and often runs into trouble for her ambiguous moral posturing. She shows herself as someone who has the potency and intent to murder to preserve her heightened sense of self preservation and the every time she loses control and agency , her facial expressions with a shocking look depict that she is more prone to violence than she considers herself to be.Abandoning one’s throne is the highest posture of treason a sovereign can commit and Elsa does this at the very first provocation since she chooses her own self over her kingdom and refuses to Elsa’s ambiguous moral compass explain (Ton 2008).Elsa also threatens Anna’s life and exhibits as having no qualms about murdering or killing people, shortly after she creates a snow monster. Even after the realization of her actions, she refuses to come back to come back to Arnedelle and has to be coerced back in chains. Elsa appears to be a hero antagonist, a definitive heroic character that presents obstacles as challenges to the protagonist which must be overcome before the resolution of the movie into a happily ever after affair. By making the hard choice of choosing to lock herself away to protect the people she loves, Elsa comes across as a hero. Her quality of redemption is her yearning to protect the lives of the people she loves , even if it threatens her own life.

Unlike most Disney movies where the princess after undergoing a transformation of their selves coming to be situated at a lesser posturing than before, as in Ariel from a melodious singing mermaid to a human or Sleeping Beauty and Snow White who appear to be cadavers lacking life dynamism and potency, Elsa transforms into a lady who is in full and exigent control of her power and autonomy, ready to partake an active role in her life. The fact that this transformation takes place in the prison created by fear, stigmatization and apprehension –prompts seriously valuable queries for Disney.

Why must there always be a prison to allude to the distance that society imposes upon people who do not fit into its image? Despite possessing the keys to the doors of the prison, why must women always be presented as locked up? (Ton 2008).

The existence of the prison serves as a metaphor and narrative trope highlighting the society’s flaws. By managing to free herself from the prison Elsa defies the narrative trope of a princess in an exigent need of a prince for survival and rescue. This move takes a leap from the concept of male survival hood even though it does not question the presence of a prison.

Additionally, Elsa is the first Disney princess to acknowledge the concern of mental and psychological health for women(Garabedian 2014).. At her coronation, her hands are shaking, prompted by the flight and fight response of her body in the face of hostile apprehensions. Also when Anna and Elsa finally reunite, Elsa comes across as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder , propelled by the fact that she nearly killed her sister. This response is generated by Anna herself as is manifested from Elsa’s flashback to the incident. Critics believe that there are also symptoms of unrestrained panic attacks here. Elsa’s powers are outside her control when she becomes angry. Her singing becomes incoherent until it is nothing but a shout “I can’t” despite her sister’s pleas and sympathies. There is a persistent inclination in the US Culture of perceiving people with mental disorders as inadequate and lacking control (Garabedian 2014).Creating a Disney princess who happens to have an anxiety disorder is progressive in a sense that she is not portrayed as selfish or crazy but a human being struggling and doing the best she can possibly do under the provided circumstances (Garabedian 2014).

Importantly, Anna negates the pervasive “good girl complex”, a term that is used to depict the pressure on girls to be their perfect selves in all areas (Garabedian 2014).In her song “Let It Go” , Elsa sings that “perfect girl is gone” She alludes to the pressure of fitting in to a particular gender role of a princess, sister , daughter and releases herself from these pressures by allowing herself to render mistakes and living how she wills. Elsa also defies the virgin/whore dichotomy. as during the course of the song, when she dresses in a sexy outfit and stares directly at the camera with a raised eyebrow , she seems to be suggesting that a young woman can align with her sexuality, unconcerned about what others may think or feel. She slams the door in the audiences face suggesting that she needs privacy to acknowledge herself and that the audience does not need be there for her sexual awakening. In doing so, Frozen defies the fetishizing of young women for the audience (Garabedian 2014).

.Elsa by challenging the norms of sexuality comes across as a symbol of sexual empowerment. There is indeed ample space for interrogating Elsa’s sexuality in the film (Ton 2008).Elsa’s process of “coming out”, her challenge to the people and her self-understanding are significant aspects to see in this Disney film. Elsa must accept her autonomy and accept her conspicuous powers, which have been stigmatized and tagged as negative by the general society. The movie shows the audience that no one except Elsa doubted the prospect of removing the ice. Eminently, what makes Elsa different and powerful is what she feared about herself. The acceptance of Elsa’s power in a way shows a brimming acceptance of multiple gender formations and sexual alignments. There is increased perceptibility of sexuality and gender difference in popular culture (such as pride parades, LGBTQIAP TV characters and gay rights movement) and Elsa’s character can further contribute to these variations and alterations. The Disney princess is no longer non-agentive and hiding in a castle (Ton 2008).

Elsa’s intricate and messy balancing act between selfishness and selflessness makes her a human being and not reduced to the level of being just a fairytale. She comes across as a human being the audience can relate well too and understand. Like many young women, Elsa was trained to see her potentialities and powers as weaknesses, so her acceptance of her powers makes her s strong feminist. A woman is considered authoritative is she is too bossy and unfeminine if she possesses mental and physical strength. If a Disney princess was presented as showing unprecedented powers, it was deemed to be precarious .Here Disney challenges the unseen limits of what a woman can bear and endure and suggests that there may be no limits at all (Ton 2008). Elsa’s presentation comes across as a feminist model for children who see how a Disney princesses are relevant and accessible. Elsa teaches girls to openly embrace their weaknesses, strengths, potentials and differences and in doing so indeed elevates the bar for future Disney princesses. Although Disney’s version of women empowerment is a little flawed, however contrary to the presentation of agentless women, and showing them as having agency by being in control of themselves and their lives, it is a presentation worth acknowledging as a first step to feminist presentation in Disney franchise.

Elsa’s idiosyncrasies, misperceptions and indiscriminate treatment cannot be acquiesced with the two dimensional caricatures of yore. Frozen brings home the idea that with changing dynamics of power, agency, sex and gender there needs to be an exigent shift in Disney films. Frozen’s differentiation with the notions of superficial romance , “perfect princess” and the need of prince or a hero for survival enables contemporary audience to think of female role models in popular cultural texts. Elsa transcends typical princess presentation and in doing so slams a door on such stereotypes. The Disney movies mark a clear progression in showing princesses conceding their flaws’ and exerting autonomy.

The forthcoming Disney film Moana, scheduled to release in 2018, offers insight into Disney’s advanced modus operandi since it is about a native Hawaiian ocean voyager. Though the motivations for this project will be purely economic but maybe Disney will explore and explicate the histories of colonization. The impact of Disney’s reformist and enlightened agenda on children is something that cannot be undervalued. Disney is restructuring and redesigning their characters to offer inclusive yet diverse and tolerant mirror of the global society. Concepts as sexual autonomy, personal agency, validation of psychological health crisis and multicultural inclusivity is something that will resonate with children who are brought up watching these progressive Disney films (Tonn 2008).

The movie Frozen marks a colossal shift from Disney’s beginnings with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the protagonist possess little or almost no agency. Princess Anna and Queen Elsa depict the change in Disney’s thematic concerns and narrative tropes over the last few years (Garabedian 2014) by showing the audience that women can possess agency, mold and control their own lives and future paths. In doing so, it reflects that Disney princesses no longer need a hero to emerge as their savior, instead they are self-reliant and potent enough to usher in change in their lives to do what truly provides them happiness. Future releases of Disney will reiterate the idea that women cannot be stereotyped or defined in a monolith manner, enlightening the audience’s perception of gender roles by virtue of the films being inclusive and multiethnic.


Garabedian.J.(2014).Animating Gender Roles:How Disney is Redefining the Modern

Princess.James Madison undergraduate Research Journal.2(1),22–25.Accessed from

McGhee, P.E., & Freuch T. (1980).Television Viewing and the Learning of Sex Role

Stereotypes.Sex Roles , 6(2), 179–188.

Palmer, L.(2013).Sluts , Brats and Sextuplets:The Dangers of Reality television for Children and

Teen Participants. Studies in Popular Culture, 36(1), 123–143.

Tonn, Theresa.(2008)Disney’s Influence of Female Perception of Gender and Love. Accessed


Marria Qibtia Sikandar Nagra

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Columnist ,Blogger ,Literati , Independent Researcher

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