When You Wish Upon a Star It Makes a Difference Who You Are
Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White and many other Disney princesses have had a powerful influence on informing the dreams of children for generations. What appear to be fun-filled stories of adventure and romance in fact are highly manipulative messages stemming from hegemonic influences of the dominance of one social group over another strategically incorporated into the Disney princess mythology (Aulette and Wittner 10). Disney princesses were used to teach girls their place within hierarchies including race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and social class in their families and in western society; in happy heterosexual marriages, living in a stable class system with successful heroes who have wealth and power (Pearson 9). Receiving considerable criticism for perpetuating hegemonic masculinity, culturally exalted in male toughness and competition and the subordination of women there was much anticipation over the release of Frozen, Disney’s new film of 2013 (Aulette and Wittner 10).
Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Snow Queen (Lemire). Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee released in November of 2013, Frozen tells a story of the power of sisterly love and embracing your true nature. A wild adventure occurs when Anna (Kristen Bell) enlists the orienteering skills of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) in a race to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) and release the kingdom of Arendelle from the deep freeze that Elsa’s powers have trapped it in. Through intersectional analysis of hegemonic influences in Frozen revealed in gender socialization, race, beauty and ableism this animated movie has subverted contentions of typical Disney princesses depicting strong female characters while holding onto some old baggage maximizing merchandising potential.
Images of Disney heroes and heroines are dictated by hegemonic influences that exalt masculinity characterized by power, aggressiveness, strength and competition and emphasize femininity through the media version of womanhood (Aulette and Wittner 10). The relevance of this is the impact these characters have on the gender socialization of girls and boys as they learn their place in social systems (Pearson 3). Unlike traditional Disney films where the handsome prince rescues the princess and breaks the curse with true loves kiss, Frozen celebrates the power of familial love between sisters. Anna displays agency when she sets out alone to rescue her sister employing Kristoff as her mountain guide. Portraying a girl in an assertive role empowered by her own courage and ingenuity reflects a change to existing patterns and social practices (Aulette and Wittner 11). Devaluing women, portraying them in roles depicting subordination to men, where male strength or ingenuity is required to fix a problem perpetuates the social dominance of men (Tolmie Week 3 Lecture). In this way Disney begins to shift away from perceptions of established gender roles internalized by processes of gender socialization (Ibid). A definite step forward from the myriad of damsel in distress females of previous Disney films.
By creating a story with an unmistakable focus on the power of love and commitment between sisters the dominance of heterosexual romance in previous movies receives a gentle nudge. Addressing the superficiality and risk of instant betrothals from love-at-first-sight, reminiscent of previous Disney scenes, both Elsa and Kristoff reprimand Anna for accepting the engagement of a complete stranger. Alas, heterosexual love does rear it’s head throughout the movie because let’s be honest, romance sells and Disney’s not quite ready to totally change their recipe of success.
Characters portrayed in Disney movies uphold the silence of race through promulgating whiteness. The lack of racial representation in Frozen cannot be completely explained by its geographical setting in Scandinavia. The presence of trolls, anthropomorphic snowmen and sentient reindeer negate arguments of adhering to cultural realism. There were in fact many opportunities for racial variance to be reflected in crowd scenes but they were not. Images of whiteness within Disney films reflects a complicity to perpetuate racial categories of hierarchy and superiority and a willingness to participate in creating disturbed forms of racial authority of the “west and the rest” (Kothari 11). Even when Disney portrays such multicultural princesses as Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan and Tiana their features have been Anglicized away from true cultural representations retaining the silence of race and shaping notions of race within the minds of children (Ibrahim and Tolmie Week 8 Lecture).
Images of beautiful, able-bodied princesses and heroes including characters in Frozen are the product of how society views individuals with disabilities (Pearson 67). The physical representation of slim fair skinned heroines with doe-shaped eyes, long, lustrous hair, ruby red lips, hyperbolized waists with tall, muscular and handsome Prince Charming’s illustrate western societies adherence to the social model of disability (Ibid). In week six readings Pearson states that disabled individuals can be “…feared, distrusted, pitied, overprotected, and patronized” (Ibid 66). Imagine Ariel in a wheelchair or Pocahontas on crutches, would that change their appeal? Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo has created illustrations of Disney’s princesses with missing limbs, seated in wheelchairs or leaning on crutches to highlight the prevalence of ablesim in pop culture (Murray). At best Disney takes a weak step in Frozen revealing a sleeping Anna with messy hair, mouth open and drool on her chin.
Disney takes a few steps out of the past with Frozen. It even passes the Bechdel test; there are two females who engage in more than one conversation with each other that’s not about men (Sarkeesian). Is it perfect, does it completely break down barriers of hegemony? No, it doesn’t. It addresses some issues under the umbrella of gender socialization but falls short in race, beauty and ableism. Once past issues of intersectional analysis (and some eye rolling and cringing) I found myself totally immersed in the magic of Disney and rooting for the heroine! (not the hero!)
– S Entry.
– Aulette, Judy Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds: Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
– An Agenda for Thinking about ‘Race’ in Development (Kothari) Link on Week 7.
– Eitzen D. Stanley, Maxine Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith. Gender, Race, and Popular Culture GNDS 125: Custom Edition for Queen’s University. Toronto: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014. Print.
– Frozen. Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. Disney, 2013. Film.
– Lemire, Christy. “Frozen: Reviews.” Rogerebert [27 November 2013]: Online.
– Murray, Rheana. “Experts Applaud Artist’s Disabled Disney Princess Series.” New York Daily News [27 January 2014]: Online.
– Sarkeesian, Anita. “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
– Tolmie, Jane. “Lecture #.” GNDS 125. Bioscience Auditorium. January – March 2014. Lecture.
– Disney’s Frozen Official Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbQm5doF_Uc
– Image 1: http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20131103205459/disney/images/6/66/Frozen_castposter.jpg
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