New Female Image Elsa
Despite declaring progressiveness, society is still bound by quite strong stereotypes that require enormous efforts to overcome. Thus, all new things and phenomena in the majority cases are firstly criticized, and only then, they become a part of modern reality. It specifically refers to the cases when books or pictures made for children introduce an idea about urgent ethical issues and kinds of interpersonal communication. Thus, a fairy tale is the first educational, emotional, and aesthetical experience that often becomes the ground for children’s dreams and future aspirations. Because of this, just after premier, children’s movies become the object of precise attention of not only young viewers but also their parents, art critics, psychologists, etc. This occurred with the latest Disney’s animated film Frozen that presented an essentially new female image instead of an ordinary princess who previously was at the core of all Disney’s movies. Apparently, the new character raises hot discussions about the values it promotes. Someone considers the new princess a reflection of the modern women with inherent challenges she faces, while others emphasize the possible detrimental effect of the film to the young girls who associate themselves with the new princess.
Despite the film’s tremendous financial success and enormous popularity among various age groups, critics have perceived its context and this new female image differently. When one group of observers claims that it is the successful transformation of the princess’ character according to the new challenge of time, another group views it as an unreasonably secular movie as for the children's auditory. Thus, The New Yorker calls Frozen as phenomena of strong woman’s identity that has captured the culture. Alongside with this, Melissa Leon from The Daily Beast calls Elsa damsel in distress and claims that Walt Disney shows how not to make the princess movie with numerous spoilers. These two perspectives can be examined only through a close analysis of the new princess’ character within the story context. Thus, the paper seeks to analyze the new female image on Elsa’s example and research whether it promotes strong identity or undermines high values.
Elsa: Strong Identity or Damsel in Distress
Taking into account that the character of the protagonists is revealed by means of others and the context of the story, one can understand the novelty of the female image presented through Elsa not only addressing her individual traits but also her manner of interacting with the others. Thus, previously, Disney animated movies depicted the characters of their princesses as dependent characters who were abused by the curse of witches or their stepmothers’ jealousy. They were not able to cope with the situation by themselves; thus, they waited for the noble prince who should save them by means of some magic force of sincere love.
As a contrast to this traditional storyline, in Elsa, one can see a more independent female protagonist who has faced rather different challenges in her life. Thus, it is for the first time in a Disney movie when the princess is not influenced by the external evil magic. Her internal, innate ability to freeze everything is the only magic force she has to overcome. Thus, this difference is emphasized just at the very beginning of the film. In the childhood, when parents brought Anna to cure her unintentional injury caused by Elsa during their game, the magical creature asked them whether Elsa had been cursed or her magic was innate. The father confidently answered that it was her natural gift. Although this nuance seems to be minor in this situation, it vividly demonstrates the primary difference between the previous Disney princesses and Elsa as well as new challenges related to it. When traditional Disney’s central female characters were close to ideal unreal women, Elsa was not absolutely perfect because of her magic, and it made her closer to the ordinary people with their weaknesses. Instead of struggle with the outside evil, she had to master her individual internal force. It is one of the most charming gifts in the universe, but without the ability to handle it decently, this force can transform into the biggest threat as the magical creature has said. Here, one can see one more analogy with the real world and daily human challenges, not fairy ones, because each of the innate human traits can be good or evil depending on the individual choice. Elsa’s image says to the audience that creating oneself or achieving decent self-fulfillment is the biggest and the most powerful man’s magic. Such profound moral context appealing to the internal human force implied by Elsa’s magic is one of the new and actual aspects in this Disney movie.
Besides the innate magic, the new status of Elsa supplements the female protagonist with strength and independence. Elsa is the first princess who becomes the queen responsible for the fate of the entire Norwegian kingdom called Arrendelle. The day of the coronation is the turning point in the story and the moment of truth, which underlines the senselessness of fear and isolation, to which Elsa has committed herself many years ago. The coronation seems to promote the human courage to face the life’s problem closely and not avoid them. If this situation had not happened, the princess would never start to look for the solution and the other way to avoid harming others.
Moreover, the coronation could have been the most satisfactory and honorable moment in Elsa’s life, but instead, it became the time of torture because of rejection of her individuality. This problem is a quite urgent and actual for the majority of adolescents who should become aware of their identity and learn how to live with it. Moreover, not only children but the majority of adults often choose the way of least resistance and withdraw themselves from social activity. In Frozen, the actual essence of being oneself is disclosed with Elsa’s new potential that she discovers in the mountains, where she is free from her fears. Having created her gorgeous castle, Elsa becomes aware how powerful she is, and her appearance also changes. Her modest clothes, make-up, and hairdo are transformed into the lighter, brighter, and open items. Some of the critics called this transformation amoral enough for the children’s movie. Indeed, it seems to be needed in these shots as well since the external beauty is one of the things that young girls aspire, but here, it is equated to internal beauty. The authors demonstrate that being oneself is beautiful, and freedom from the fears is the only way to unleash one’s individual potential.
The shift from the traditional Disney’s romantic love with the prince to the family values is one more significantly new aspect for an ordinary princess story. Elsa has no love interest to any of men. Moreover, she never dreams of love. Even when Anna falls in love with the prince of the Southern Seas, Elsa does not approve of their possible marriage. More to say, Frozen does not depict the love story it has also excluded men from the process of saving the situation and endowed them with quite negative traits. Thus, Kristoff, whom Anna meets when seeking the sister, is the only positive young man in the movie but not so active as in the previous Disney’s pictures. In this story, women save the world, not men. Melissa Leon in her article does not approve such an approach, believing that it undermines the phenomenon of true love, marriage, and being just a tender woman. Indeed, the use of traditional love approach may obstruct the viewers’ understanding of the prevailing film’s message, implying the selfless act of sacrifice as the “sign of true love”.
It is worth admitting that sibling relations are the core issue in the film. In the first shots, one can see the girls’ playing fun game; they are happy and friendly. Then, a few times into the movie, the attentive viewer can admit Anna’s desire to get close to Elsa. She knocked on her room’s door, again and again, year after year, but there was no answer. These repeating shots demonstrate the gap in the sibling relations, and Anna’s suffering from loneliness seems to be stronger and more dangerous than the threat from Elsa’s magic. This initial impression is only strengthened with the further development of the story, demonstrating that only family members remain the most devoted people in one’s affairs despite any circumstances. Understanding is the only thing making relatives closer when silence causes alienation in their relations. For years, Anna does not understand the behavior of her sister, and Elsa’s secret becomes evident only during the coronation, so Anna says “If I only know, I understand now”. This situation changes everything in family relations. Thus, by using it, the film’s authors seem to promote sincerity, openness, and trust as the ground for the relations. Moreover, Anna’s falling in love with the prince of Southern Seas is also inextricably linked to the family relations with Elsa. When Melissa Leon claims that evil prince is the way of undermining love, the situation may be read differently if considering psychological context. Elsa’s alienation became the reason for Anna’s lack of love and sister’s attention. A strong desire to compensate these feelings makes Anna instantly fall in love, which is actually nothing other than an attempt to escape from the loneliness. Because of this, strong and perfect family love is the basis for success in the further choice of romantic love object, and it minimizes the chances of being deceived. At the same time, in Anna’s first love story, one can see the pernicious influence of stereotypes on the girl’s consciousness. Anna initially knew that she had to fall in love with the prince and she looked for the hero of her dreams, which did not allow the princess to see at once the true love of the ordinary boy. Kristoff, the ice seller, remains beyond Anna’s attention until she is disappointed with her love dreams. Indeed, even having understood the fact of true love between her and Kristoff, Anna has made a choice of saving Elsa instead of herself. It is another vivid and significant emphasis on the central role of family relations in the life of each person.
Accenting the Novelty Through Traditional Disney’s Elements
Although Disney presents a new female image through the challenging princess Elsa, Frozen still includes the regular fairytale elements that are inherent to the previous movies of the company. The lightness of the movie’s atmosphere and curiosity of the characters are the first elements to be admitted. Thus, the snowman Olaf, who was created by small Elsa, stood out with his hedonism, optimism, and playful self-irony. Moreover, all animals and fairy creatures speak like people, which is one more traditional traits of Disney’s films. Picturesque and vivid animation, as well as the music, used for expressing the character’s emotions or making contextual accents also presents distinct Disney’s style that has been carefully polished through the years. Now, it is one of the most recognizable ones by the target auditory. Fairy powerful magic, which is an integral part of Disney’s style, is also presented in the film Frozen and used in unity with the traditional magic transformations such as creating a gorgeous ice castle, dangerous monster, and changing Elsa’s appearance. All Disney’s characters traditionally encounter difficult life situations. Thus, in Frozen, one can see the elements of these difficulties, including the death of the girls’ parents, need to save the central characters and the kingdom from the winter disaster. Furthermore, a strong accent on Elsa’s internal struggle and the rejection of traditional feelings were depicted by Disney previously, the phenomenon of true love is still used in the film mostly through Anna who dreams about love and prince and finally finds out her sincere love. Frozen has a traditional happy end of the story in regards to Anna seeking her true love and Elsa finding a way to operate her magic.
Disclosing the New Female Image Through Contrast Between Anna and Elsa
One can see that Walt Disney Animation Studios have not rejected the traditional movie approach but successfully used it for creating the contrast between stereotyped female images and ordinary princesses. It could be noticed in the each shot, but the ultimate differences can be noticed in the two central characters - Elsa and Anna. When younger sister embodies the normal Disney princess, Elsa seems to be opposed to her sister’s image. This contrast serves as the primary art tool for disclosing the new image of Elsa.
Thus, both girls are born different. Elsa has a powerful magic when Anna is an ordinary girl. They have different temperaments. When Elsa is a serious, strong, and responsible woman, Anna has the traits of a tomboy, which can be observed in the majority of previous Disney’s princesses. It is worth admitting that the producers underline this difference in the characters’ nature by means of coloring their dresses, skin, hair, and make-up. Elsa’s image is depicted mostly with the white colors, with colors of ice implying her being a more cold and independent person. As contrast to the elder sister, Anna wears bright dresses, she has saturated hair color and make-up, thus making an impression of “warm” princess. This contrast is also presented in the line of conduct of both girls. Elsa solves her problems without the help of others, in her own way. At the same time, Anna is ready to receive the assistance from men. She asked her beloved prince to rule the kingdom while she would go searching for her sister. Later, she asked for Kristoff’s help. The same could be said about love. Elsa is not interested in romantic relations when Anna strives to love and get married.
After all, one can see that the balance between the traditional Disney’s approach and contextual novelty is used to emphasize the new female image presented by Elsa. One can argue about the positive or negative traits imposed on this bright and independent protagonist, but the novelty of Elsa is evident with the naked eye. Moreover, taking into account the fact that not only do fairy tales contribute to the creation of mass culture but they most likely reflect existing tendencies, Elsa’s image can be considered a successful progressive princess’s image, corresponding with modern reality rather than being a simply damsel in distress. One should remember that seeking for the detrimental context is the prerogative of adults who can find it anywhere, but children are the primary viewers of fairy tales and they want magic, beauty and happiness. Indeed, even more than adults, children are sensitive to the new social tendencies they certainly want to see in the kid’s movie. Ignoring this fact and following stereotypes, which are not either actual, would be the deception that is unacceptable in child’s education. Because of this, creating of the new female image corresponding to an urgent reality is the evident and expected shift in the production of children’s movies that promote strong female identity.