Sunday, April 6, 2014

Frozen vs. Brave: What Are Disney's Messages Now?

In years past, Disney's messages have pretty much been things like "girls get married and boys have adventures."  Take Snow White, for example.  The princess is young (did you know she's only 14?), pretty, and inexplicably good at housekeeping -- for a princess.  Basically, she has to be passive and sweet, cleaning and hanging out with animals, while under the protection of non-sexual men (the dwarves are short and goofy, so this -- naturally -- makes them non-sexual beings *eye roll*) and wait while the prince fights off her evil step-mother and then claims her as a prize for his efforts.  Fast-forward five decades to The Little Mermaid.  Ariel is less passive, and Prince Eric is more so, but the whole point of the movie is that the girl changes her life, her body, her home, and her whole lifestyle in order to be accepted by the guy.  He merely has to accept her and change nothing about himself.  Then, in Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, we do get a bookish princess and -- oh my gosh!  -- a brown princess, but the whole message here is "Girls, if you're good and sweet enough, you can change an abusive man or a worthless one into the right kind of husband."  Groan.  Then people praised The Frog Princess and Tangled for being so "modern."  But the whole point is still the same as in Beast and Aladdin, although we do get a Black princess for a change.
Then Brave happened.  And the Wonderful World of Disney finally changed.
Frozen is also keeping right on track, and some folks say it's even better.
Let us compare.
Both movies actually have women dealing with problems that are not about men.  In Brave, it's the mother-daughter relationship that drives the central conflict, and in Frozen, it's Elsa's problems with herself and with her sister.  Score: one point for each movie.
Princess Merida in Brave is (in the movie, anyway) more ordinary in looks and actions.  She is cute but not beautiful.  She tromps rather than gliding.  She is strong, likes archery, mountain climbing, and her horse.  She is not at all passive.  She also prefers practical clothing and natural hair.  She is a princess who appeals to little boys as much as to little girls.  In contrast, Elsa in Frozen is at first reserved and beautiful and then sexy and beautiful.  True, she gets to do spiffy stuff with ice, but she's struggling with internal conflicts and doesn't do anything to appeal to adventuresome boys and girls.  Anna is funny and more adventuresome, but she's still way too perfectly pretty.  Only once in the whole movie does she look anything other than lovely and graceful (the bed-head scene).  Score: Brave 2, Frozen 1.
Neither movie has very many women in it.  Brave has only 4 important women, and in Frozen, there are the two sisters, with briefly their mother and a couple of female trolls.  Both movies are about a few women dealing with a men's world.  Hmm...  However, Brave at least shows the three traditional aspects of women: maiden, mother, wise woman (OK, so she's a goofy wise woman), all of whom work together to solve the problem of family love and respect.  Frozen doesn't really have any generational stuff going on.  Score: Brave still 2, Frozen loses a point to be 0.
Now let's consider what each movie teaches about love.
In Brave, Merida's insists that 16 is too young for marriage.  (Hooray!  It's about time, Disney!)  She also declares -- and her mother finally agrees -- that young people should choose for themselves, in their own time.  In the end, Merida is seen at least accepting a kiss on the hand from the most promising of the young suitors (the one who speaks the Doric, and who is pretty dang hard to understand), showing that she'll be willing to think about acceptable guys when she's ready.  (Then she rides off to have adventures with her mom -- because the time for romance is NOT 16.)  In Frozen, we have that wonderful moment when Elsa tells us all that you can't marry a man you just met.  (Hooray for Disney!)  Unfortunately, this wisdom is completely undermined when romantic love and the fake-marriage of Anna to Kristof occurs within just a few more days.  So, Disney's telling us.... uh... you can't marry the wrong guy if you just met him, but you can marry the right guy.  What the crap?!  Oh, sure, Anna doesn't actually marry him by the end of the movie, but it's clear they're completely paired off.  Score: Brave +1 for a total of 3, Frozen + 1 then - 1 for 0.
So what do the movies have to tell us about men?  Let's look at that.
Brave: Dad and Mom are totally in love with each other and love their kids very much.  Awwww.  Cute.  However, over and over again, we are shown that men are warlike and can't control themselves without a woman there to calm them down.  Boo.  Hiss.  That's no message to give either girls or boys! Making women responsible for men's actions is totally not cool.  In Frozen we have Dad and Mom who are pretty concerned for their children's welfare, but they're more obsessed with public image than anything else.  Not great.  We also learn that you really don't know whether to trust men or not.  It's obvious we shouldn't trust the merchant of Weaseltown, but Prince Hans is just as charming and sweet as can be -- until we learn his true motives.  Oaken is also totally sweet until his temper flares up.  So, how can we possibly trust Kristof?  How do we know, without giving him some time to show his true colors, whether or not he's the good guy?  Uh, well, we know because Disney says so.  OK, right.  Whatever.  So, don't trust men.  Unless... unless something.  What?  This makes no sense.  Score: Brave -1 for a score of 2 and Frozen -1 for a score of -1.
Brave teaches us that parents can love each other romantically and in a friendly way.  It also shows the huge importance of parents and all children (Merida and her little brothers love each other) working together to keep the family going.  Yes!  There's also no sense of Merida's having to give up her family or change herself just to get a man, like Ariel does in Mermaid.  In fact, it's pretty clear that Merida's not going to change herself for any man.  Well played, Disney.
In Frozen, however, we have a broken family trying to mend itself.  The parents have stifled love and joy in the family until Anna, as Hans truly tells us, is so desperate for love she'll take the first person who pays attention to her -- and apparently also the second, as she takes to Kristof mighty fast as well.  Poor Elsa is completely damaged, but love is the answer!  Yes, as soon as she realizes love can thaw things, she does.  Even though this makes no sense.  How did she learn to love?  Yes, she loves her sister, but Elsa's barely beginning to accept herself.  How can she suddenly and completely reverse all the damage done to her and her country just by saying that love is the answer?  Merida takes a whole freakin' movie to understand that she loves her mother and needs to work things out with her.  How can Elsa heal years of abuse (which Merida did not have) in a few seconds?  Love, in Frozen, is presented as some kind of magic spell, rather than as something people have to work on and work out.
Score:  Brave +1, for a total of 3, and Frozen + 0, for a total of -1.
There you have it, folks.  Disney has come a long way from the pathetically passive princesses of the past (here, have some alliteration, OK?), but Brave is still better than Frozen at teaching life lessons to kids.
(Plus, dude, it's set in SCOTLAND, for crying out loud.  Norway's cool and all, but you just can't top Scotland. :D)


  1. Neat comparison! Brave is my fave of the two, but I did enjoy Frozen. It was nice to see two sisters, and their relationship, be a plot point. Lots of gaps as you pointed out, but better on many levels than previous movies. I just wish they'd lose about half the corny songs. I hate musicals and am sick to death of the ear-worm that the "Big Show Tune" causes in my head!!

  2. I'm sorry, you must not have seen Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Black Cauldron(I don't blame you) and ,oh for crying out loud, Mulan!!!!!!!!
    Do you live under a rock,. Is everyone inattentive?!! How many Disney princesses actually marry someone they just met at the end of a Disney movie?!!!
    Disney isn't correcting itself, it wants you think it correcting itself. Also, you want to talk feminism, read the book Frozen was based upon. In the Snow Queen, the girl saved the guy! With the help of other women! And you say Disney is progressing? They are regressing! I hope Moa is good.

    1. Um, I don't think you read very carefully. I certainly never said that all those other princesses were "progressive." Also, yes, I've read The Snow Queen. Yes, the little girl saves the little boy. But it's still a pretty sexist story otherwise -- a product of its time.
      Anyway, you seem to be trying to pick an argument with me where there is none.
      However, I stand by my original point here: Brave is very progressive for Disney; Frozen, not so much.