Monthly Archives: May 2015

What’s in a Title? Exploring Gender and Naming Trends of the Disney Princess Movies

Standard

Something that’s always nagged at me is the swap to gender-neutral titles for the later Disney Princess movies. Before then, Disney has always taken pride in naming movies after protagonists, so what changed? Let’s take a trip through titling history and find out.

Thus far, there are twelve Disney Princess movies. They are (in order):

  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)
  2. Cinderella (1957)
  3. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
  4. The Little Mermaid (1989)
  5. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  6. Aladdin (1992)
  7. Pocahontas (1995)
  8. Mulan (1998)
  9. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
  10. Tangled (2010)
  11. Brave (2012)
  12. Frozen (2013)

Out of these, 7/12 either contain the princess’ name, or a title referring to her (ex: Sleeping Beauty, TLM). Two of these – Beauty and the Beast, and The Princess and Frog – involve a princess sharing a title with their love interest. There are a few reasons for this.

The majority of the Disney princess movies are named after the fairytale/legend they were inspired from. For example, Mulan comes from the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, while The Little Mermaid was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Little Mermaid. (Seeing the similarities here?) Since Disney takes a lot of inspiration from myths and fairytales, they also tend to use the titles (or similarly stylized titles) as well. Makes sense, right?

reaction yes

The movies are also often titled with a name/title related to the protagonist to show 1) who the story is about, and 2) that this is the heart of their journey. For example, to take an example from a non-Princess movie, Hercules is about Hercules trying to discover who he is, and find his place in life. Mulan is about Mulan, who doesn’t feel like she fits into the confines of her society and breaks free of them when she joins the army and finally uncovers her true self. That’s why for #6, Aladdin makes sense as a title despite Jasmine’s heavy involvement in the plot. While Aladdin and Jasmine both get a bulk of the movie’s POV, Aladdin is the one whose journey we follow most. His character arc (proving his worth and showing everyone that he’s more than their assumptions) drives most of the plot. Thus, he inches ahead of Jasmine just a bit, making him the protagonist (main character) and her the deuteragonist (the secondary protagonist/second most important character).

The titles are also common sense: in marketing, you want to have a title that stands out and makes sense for the story you’re presenting to an audience. By naming their movies after the tale that inspired their story, or naming them after the protagonist, Disney makes it easy for an audience to see who and what their story is going to be about. Example: look at the title of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: it’s pretty obvious that this movie is about Snow White and her seven dwarf friends. The Little Mermaid is about a mermaid. Beauty and the Beast is about a beautiful girl and a beast… You get the picture.

The other three are our latest Disney Princess installments: Tangled, Brave, and Frozen. Notice the stark difference in titling between the early movies and 10-12. All three of these are one-word titles that detail actions or attributes rather than a name or specific tale. So what changed?

The simple answer: Disney wanted to appeal to boys.

The longer answer: The Princess and the Frog was the last movie with traditional Disney styling: it had 2D animation and the fairytale-based name. However, PatF was considered a failure by Disney, despite its success with critics, because it grossed less than many of the other movies that came out earlier in the Renaissance. Disney’s marketing believed that the word “princess” in the title was part of what caused the failure, because it labeled the movie as being for little girls specifically.

seriously? reaction

Now, let’s talk about this for a second. Why does the word “princess” = only girls want this? Unfortunately, that’s because of a little thing called gender roles, and the gender stereotypes that come with them.

According to Psychology Dictionary, gender roles arethe pattern of behavior, personality traits and attitudes defining masculinity or femininity in a certain culture.” A problem with gender roles is that they can often lead to gender stereotypes: pegging girls as one thing and boys as another when that isn’t always the case.

Some examples of this include: Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Girls are emotional, boys are stoic. Men are financial providers, women are caretakers of the home and kids. And, according to Disney, “princesses” are for girls.

Looking at it this way helps explain the title change: in trying to avoid losing out on a male audience, Disney does a 180 and decides to use more gender-neutral titles. It’s interesting to point out that before this, Disney hasn’t really focused specifically on appealing to a male audience with their princess movies. While they never used “princess” in their titles before now, that made sense considering they named their movies after the stories themselves. Most of their Disney Princess merchandise and advertising also relates directly to the Princesses themselves. (Our only exception would be Aladdin, because, as I said before, Aladdin is our main protagonist, so most of the promo would naturally focus more on him.) PatF happened to get unlucky, maybe because of “bad marketing” as Disney said, or maybe because Avatar opened just after it and swept the floor with every other movie out there. Whatever the reason, it led Disney to try something new, and this where the new titling began.

I’m going to go through each of the three movies in order and talk about titles, marketing, and why it’s important to note Disney’s approach to each of the movies. All three of these could have had more traditional movie names, but Disney (and Pixar, in the case of Brave) decided to avoid that. So let’s start with Brave.

pixar_brave_2012-wide

As some of you may know, there was a point in time when Brave was going to be called The Bow and the Bear instead.

bear-and-the-bow-preview

However, while some believe this was the initial title, Brave’s producer, Katherine Sarafian, admits that Brave was always the initial title, although they did consider The Bow and the Bear for a while:

Right, first off the title from the very beginning was BRAVE, so BEAR AND THE BOW was actually a later detour and then we came back to BRAVE. (x)

So why Brave? Mic pointed out to me that before Brave, Pixar hadn’t done a female-led movie, so I think that’s part of the name divergence from traditional princess titles. But in a way, Brave’s title tries back to tradition. Unlike Tangled and Frozen, which are more abstract, Brave is a trait, and one that’s at the heart of Merida’s journey. Much like Mulan, Merida’s journey is all about being brave enough to step out of the confines of the role she’s been placed in and change her fate. Early teasers for the movie illustrate this well with her father’s monologue, in which he talks about bravery:

Now, the advertising for Brave is really interesting, because this is where you can see the start of Operation Appeal to Boys. There’s lots of action: darkened forests with dramatic music, Merida on her horse riding quickly through the woods, the scene at the end with the bear and Merida aiming an arrow at it…

brave merida notching arrow

Merida’s face is also concealed for a large chunk of the teaser, which I found interesting. Did the advertisers want to focus less on her gender in fear it would turn away boys?

brave i cant even brave reaction

The later trailers showcase Merida better, but don’t focus much on Merida and her mother’s bond (although it does show them bickering quite a bit):

While this could be in order to avoid showing the twist (which was also part of the reason The Bow and the Bear was nixed as a title option), one might wonder if the mother/daughter bond, a highly important part of the plot, is ignored for fear it wouldn’t appeal to boys. While Brave had some great promos, ignoring Eleanor and Merida’s relationship loses out on a potential alternative way to draw in more viewers. Instead, the relationship comes as a pleasant surprise to those who weren’t expecting it, but is also frustrating at the same time because it gets no promotion.

brave bear mombrave that's my mother

brave merida and mom

There is some good in Brave’s promotion though. I like that the promo doesn’t classify bravery as a gendered trait (the use of “we” throughout the trailer). Brave is about a girl being brave, and the trailers showcase that. To this regard, Pixar does a better job at following Disney Princess tradition than Disney does in their next two Princess movies.

Next up: Tangled, where things get really sticky.

tangled-poster-0

Tangled went through quite a few title changes, as well as a ton of creative changes. (The concept was a lot different, and more of a spiritual successor to Enchanted, with two teenagers traveling to a fairytale world as a sort of reverse to Giselle winding up in the real world. Very, very different from the actual movie we got. Sounds cool though.)

Originally, Tangled was supposed to be called Rapunzel Unbraided, which 1) is a really awesome title, and 2) actually tells a lot more about Rapunzel’s journey. Much like Quasimodo, Rapunzel’s story is all about stepping out of her comfort zone, leaving behind the known safety of her tower and venturing out into the unknown to discover the world and see the lights. For this reason, Rapunzel Unbraided would’ve been so much more of a fitting title than Tangled.

rapunzel unbraided

(Note how different the writing is from how Tangled is written. It’s more glittery and “princess-y” – those elements are removed from the final logo to make it appear more “gender-neutral.”)

The styling was also incredibly different. While there was CGI involved, it was more 2D-based, and meant to look like traditional oil paintings in motion. This can be seen in the animation of Rapunzel’s hair for the title sequence, and in early test footage:

rapunzel unbraided hair flowing 1 rapunzel unbraided hair flowing 2

My reaction upon seeing this was:

this is the best reaction

totally awesome starkid reaction

Promptly followed by disappointment that Disney didn’t go in this direction.

stewart reaction why not just pull out my heart

Because Disney did not go in this cool innovative direction. Instead, we got the CGI style that they then uncreatively reused for Frozen.

come on reaction gif

not impressed reaction

:,( As someone who loves animation, this wounds me. Let me grieve what could’ve been.

waiting reaction

ugly sobbing reaction

Next up was the title change to Rapunzel.

rapunzel title

Not too drastic of a change title-wise; it relates back to the actual fairytale it was inspired by, it’s simple and to the point…so why did they change it? WHY MESS WITH PERFECTION?

It all leads back to Disney’s attempt to appeal to boys. In Disney’s mind, by changing the title to Tangled, it presents a more gender-neutral title. However, it actually ends up relating more to Flynn than it does Rapunzel, since he gets “tangled up” in Rapunzel’s plot. (One of the promos actually has a line that says “it takes two to get tangled,” which proves this point.) The promotion for the movie is also heavily focused on Flynn, making him out as the protagonist and Rapunzel as the Jasmine to his Aladdin, which is definitely not the case in the movie. The promo though, would like you to believe otherwise:

The focus on Flynn and his thieving antics/adventuring are yet another tactic to appeal to boys, and one that, like Brave, leaves out essential plot points like the fact that Rapunzel drives the majority of the movie with her journey. It also leaves out Rapunzel and Mother Gothel’s bond, which is hugely importantly to the plot. Again, we have a relationship between two women not shown to “appeal to boys” and it’s very unsettling. It devalues both women’s bonds and our lead woman herself, who doesn’t show up until halfway through the promo.

u serious right now? reaction

It also paints Rapunzel’s character as more of a tough girl/badass, and lacks the nuiance of who she really is as a character. It’s quite frustrating, but since we still have one last movie to cover, I’ll move on. (And express my frustration via gif.)

quinn's disdain reaction gif

Okay, onto Frozen!

disney frozen pic

Frozen was originally supposed to be The Snow Queen, since it was based off the fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson. The direction was a bit different initially, where Elsa was the antagonist rather than Hans. (As seen in early character sketches.

Disney's__The_Snow_Queen_

Thus, the title suggests an Elsa-heavy movie, considering well, she’s the Snow Queen.

seems legit reaction

Obviously over time, the direction changed, and Elsa became more sympathetic in nature. The title also changed to Frozen, which is kind of boring, but also like Brave makes sense in a way, considering how central Elsa and her powers are to the plot. Despite Anna being our protagonist, Elsa’s character arc has more depth and more of an impact on the plot, so the title being more related to her makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t make sense is the promotion.

The teaser for Frozen contains neither of the female leads and instead focuses on Olaf and Sven.

frozen wait what

That’s right! It focuses on a snowman and a reindeer, both of whom are minor characters. This is so insultingly “let’s avoid mentioning the women” that it makes me angry.

the lord is testing me reaction

It gets worse. The official promo is so insulting in so many ways that it makes me angry.

First, while the trailer focuses on Anna, Kristoff, Hans and Olaf, there’s a certain important character who is extremely neglected: Elsa. Like I said earlier, Elsa is our second protagonist, and drives quite a bit of the plot. But you wouldn’t know that, based on the five seconds we see her. She’s barely even in the trailer, even though she plays a huge part in the movie. It’s ridiculous.

rude copy reaction

Anna and Elsa’s relationship is also noticeably absent. For a movie that prides itself on being built on a sisterly bond, we really don’t see any of that promoted in the trailer. The only indication we get that Elsa and Anna are even related is when Anna says “that’s no a blizzard, that’s my sister!”

tmz 7 reaction

Just like Merida and her mother, and Rapunzel and Mother Gothel, Elsa and Anna’s relationship gets absolutely no focus whatsoever. Again, this gives me uncomfortable vibes that it was excluded in order to appeal more to boys.

Speaking of boys…we get a lot of focus on Kristoff, Hans and Olaf, especially in what I like to call “the most offensive trailer montage ever.”

frozen who 1

frozen who 2

frozen who 3

frozen who 4

frozen who 5

rejection reaction

This is such a messy promotional moment. First of all, these three guys are focused on before we even focus on Anna, which is insulting considering she is our protagonist – not Kristoff, not Hans, not Olaf, but ANNA.

Second, calling Anna “no man” is incredibly offensive. By having a category of guys/men and then saying “no man” Anna is being Othered based on her gender, which is really gross.

This whole promo is just not great. It’s misleading, focuses more on the guys in the movie than it does the two main characters, and worse, it has weird sexist undercurrents. By trying to appeal to boys, the advertising shuns girls and worse, Others them. We as a society already have a huge problem with women not being valued and viewed as unimportant, and the dismissive early promotion for Frozen does exactly that. What makes this sadder is that The Snow Queen (the original fairytale) has a lot of crucial female characters. Seeing only two women in the cast – and worse, undermining them and their roles – is spitting on the original tale in an awful way.

star vs. evil sad face

Conclusion

A title says a lot about a story. For Disney, their drastic 180 in titling shows their attempt to hook a male audience by hiding crucial female relationships as well as their female characters. Disney’s titles used to have merit and tell a lot about the story. Now, they feel flat and lack depth. Disney’s next princess movie is Moana. Since the title is reminiscent of older (/more awesome) titles like Pocahontas and Mulan, this could be a sign that they will 180 back and show more respect to their female audience. However, Disney has a lot to prove, and considering how poor their previous promotions have been, I won’t get my hopes up just yet. We’ll have to wait and see what the future brings, and hope it’s a lot less rage-inducing.

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments!

Animated Meta can be followed on Twitter and Tumblr. Have a great weekend!

Cheers,

M&M

 

Works Cited

Pam. (n.d.). What is Gender Role? Retrieved May 29, 2015, from Psychology Dictionary: http://psychologydictionary.org/gender-role/

Sarafian, K. (2012, April 13). Exclusive: Katherine Sarafian, Producer of Pixar’s ‘Brave,’ Talks Director Controversy, Pixar’s Reaction to the Chilly ‘Cars 2′ Reception And More. Retrieved May 29, 2015, from SlashFilm: http://www.slashfilm.com/film-interview-katherine-sarafian-producer-pixars-brave-talks-controversy-marketing-cars-2-reactions/

 

 

 

Advertisements

Exploring Feminism and Femininity Through Mic’s Favorite DreamWorks Ladies

Standard

Chel, Fiona, Marina, and Astrid are my favorite DreamWorks ladies. Sadly, none of them are the protagonists—shame. I wanted to look at how DreamWorks approaches feminity and feminism through them.

Fiona and Marina fit the mold of Disney princess pretty well. Fiona is locked in a tower and guarded by a dragon—Rapunzel and Aurora vibes, anyone? Marina is pressured into marriage for the good of her country while secretly dreaming of adventure—much like Jasmine, Ariel, and Belle.

Then we also have Chel and Astrid. Chel, if we’re really trying to give her a Disney counterpart, could be Pocahontas. Chel helps Tulio and Miguel fit into her society, the same way Pocahontas helps John Smith understand her people better. Yet she also has the Ariel/Belle/Jasmine desire to see the world. Astrid I can’t really see fitting any Disney mold, except maybe Mulan for her warrior spirit. My point here is that we can see similar molds and storytelling devices in both houses.

But let’s dig a bit deeper into each charater and their femininity or lack thereof and what that says about being ‘strong.’

Chel

Chel is heavily sexualized. In one way, she represents the damaging stereotype of the ‘exotic dark skinned woman’ or ‘jungle fever.’ Jean-Paul Goude took pictures of his black lover in a cage, baring her teeth, like an animal. Chel has large hips and black women used to be exhibited in freak shows as sexual objects for their large backsides.

el dorado chelel dorado chel

This idea that “black equals erotic” is fetishism in its purest form; it mocks “otherness” while pretending to celebrate it and defines human beings by their genitals instead of seeing them as whole people. [x]

Look at that title! The fact that video even EXISTS!!! ughhh

Chel’s sexualization, while it carries some heavily racial stereotypes, is also a result of animation. Sadly, there are numerous examples of it: Tinker Bell, Ariel, and Jasmine (also racially “Other”) are just a few examples of women in animation being exploited.

i'm in a rage 2 reaction

Let’s move onto some good! While Chel is not a fighter in the traditional way and needs saving by Tulio, she’s smart. She knows her culture inside and out, and maybe you can argue, “Of course she knows this. It’s her life. It’s been taught to her since birth.” However, without her, Tulio and Miguel would have failed. She filled them in on cultural norms, and it was her idea to help them cheat during the ball game. That was something creative she had not been taught at all. Chel is intelligent and creative.

As we touched on a bit, Chel is adventurous. Her introduction scene is important in establishing her character since she’s running away with gold she stole to start her life somewhere else. Chel wants to leave El Dorado and the only reason she partners with Tulio and Miguel to help them con the entire city is because she wants out. Chel is a pretty grey character morally. And I think that makes her very interesting compared to a lot of women heroes in animation that are good and kind (though there’s nothing wrong with that!).

Of course, Chel does get what she wants by the end of the film. She’s escaped and is ready to see the world. Chel, Miguel, and Tulio don’t escape with any gold to their name. Chel has gone full circle from stealing gold in her failed escape, to escaping and that being enough. Of course, now she also has her lover Tulio and friend Miguel, so do they take the place of gold for her? Or, is Chel Tulio’s gold? Does she remain an object the entire film, despite her moments of genius? I think that’s up to your interpretation, but the fact that we could read it this way makes me a little ill.

Fiona and Marina and Astrid

I thought these women went together pretty well and so they could share a section. Fiona and Marina are both royalty and both want more for themselves. Like the Disney princesses rebel against society’s expectations, so do these women.

However, their stories are very different. Fiona’s is ultimately about finding the beauty in yourself and accepting it, while Marina doesn’t really have a lesson to learn. Marina doesn’t have much of her own arc because she’s a supporting character to Sinbad and Proteus and also both of their love interest. Like Marina, Astrid is relegated to an awesome side character and overcomes her society’s stigma of dragons, but only because the plot needs her to.

Poor Marina. I love her. Marina needs her own film! Marina kicks major ass, literally, while also finally getting the adventure she wants. Basically. She saves Sinbad and his crew a bunch of times, while also sometimes being the damsel.

sinbad I'll protect yousinbad knock down the door

Meet my queen.

Astrid is also mostly a love interest and she sees dragons in a new light because well… how could Hiccup get with her if she didn’t? This is slightly rectified in How to Train Your Dragon 2 since Astrid has her own side plot and is a badass.

All three of these women are amazing fighters. Marina kinda learns on the job, but picks it up fast. Marina is also one of the only animated female characters ever to wear pants. She also has short hair which is traditionally seen as masculine, but I’m happy to see that stereotype fading away. Astrid and Fiona both have braids—which I just realized now. I think that’s actually a great, practical, and stylish way to have long hair but also have it out of your face for fighting.

Also, can we pause a minute to appreciate Astrid’s outfit. I love it.

Astrid_How_To_Train_Your_Dragon_2_cardboard_cutout_buy_now_at_starstills_11359.1404453275.1280.1280

Fiona’s green dress is simple and she also wears flats. Also a practical choice for her fighting skills.

shrek fiona pic

I love how the outfits of these women matter and it also highlights Chel’s sexualization as something that was done because of her race. They didn’t do it with Marina, Astrid, or Fiona. Chel was singled out. Chel is also the only non-fighter of the group.

Do they share anything else with Chel? Are they morally grey? Fiona might be since she’s so guided by her quest to be beautiful that she prioritizes that over all else. However, Fiona is also governed by fear of what people will think of her when they find out she’s an orge, so I don’t think that’s quite the same. Fiona is a great example of what fear will do to you. Hell, she agreed to marry Farquad despite having feelings for Shrek because she was so afraid.

Marina definitely has a firm moral compass since she goes after Sinbad for not having one. Marina wants to save Proteus from his unjust death sentence and is there to make sure Sinbad is not going to go back on his word. Astrid gets more screen time in the second movie where we see she also wants to save the dragons with all she has, so she’s pretty straight and narrow, too.

Conclusion

This meta wasn’t to say that DreamWorks is better than Disney. The purpose was to look at different women and their portrayal. DreamWorks has its strengths like practical costumes and lots of different roles for women (princess, dragon rider, sea explorer, etc), but is also lacking leading roles, which is a problem.

this displeases me reaction

DreamWorks has also done a good job of drawing women like people with different faces and body types, but they also seriously messed up Chel. So while some aspects are good, others still need work. Hopefully DreamWorks will provide us with some awesome leading ladies with franchises of their own in the near future. 🙂

What do you guys think? Does DreamWorks need more women in leading roles? Also: who is your favorite DreamWorks lady?

Follow Animated Meta on Twitter and Tumblr. Have a stupendous Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M

Let It Go: Empowering or Villainous?

Standard

Let It Go is one of the more interesting Frozen songs, because while it was originally conceived as a villain song, it ended up with an empowering edge and became a power anthem to a lot of its audience. So which is it: villain song or empowerment anthem? I say both. Why? Let’s dig into the lyrics and find out.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,

Not a footprint to be seen

A kingdom of isolation

And it looks like I’m the queen

As Mic once said, one of Frozen’s themes is about isolation, but I’m going to go deeper and say that it’s more than that: it’s isolation and fear vs. community and love. In my Children’s Lit class, my professor went into literary themes and talked about how adolescent boy leads often deal with isolation and standing alone as themes, while adolescent girl leads often deal with community, and their bonds with friends/family. For example, Hatchet has a male main character stranded in the wilderness who needs to learn how to survive on his own (isolation/standing alone). Meanwhile, Walk Two Moons has a female main character who goes on a road trip with her grandparents in search of her mother (community/family-oriented). Looking at it that way actually makes Frozen intriguing, because they deal with both isolation and community. Anna is the one seeking community; she wants a closer relationship with Elsa. Elsa goes against the literary norm and is the one seeking isolation. At the start of this song, she finds her “kingdom of isolation” far from the rest of Arendelle.

The imagery at the start of “Let It Go” really plays into the feeling of isolation: we pan in on a lonely cliff, with no one for miles around it, and Elsa trudging through the snow by her lonesome. The melody is soft, almost mournful. Being isolated is not a fun thing, guys.

The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside

Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried

frozen elsa fretting

Here we get to delve into Elsa’s true issue: her powers, and how she’s been holding them back for so long. At this point in the movie, we’ve seen Elsa struggling to keep her powers in check in different way: wearing her gloves to center herself, staying away from Anna so she doesn’t hurt her again, staying up in the palace so she can avoid any triggers. That hasn’t really worked out, but here, Elsa has found somewhere that her powers can roam free, and the outside terrain reflects how she feels inside.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see

Be the good girl you always have to be

Conceal don’t feel, don’t let them know

frozen elsa is a deer in headlights

Well now they know

Society is really weird about emotions, so I feel like this is a verse that a lot of people can relate to. Women are often criticized for being overemotional or too clinical and “icy” while guys are told to be stoic and hold their emotions in. Elsa has done both of these things: her icy reputation comes from her holding her emotions in deep in order to keep her powers in check. “Be the good girl you always have to be” is really interesting, because it speaks to the high standards Elsa is held to: she needs to be good, to maintain her reputation as a queen, and because women are held to high standards in society, especially women in places of power.

However, everything she’s been holding back is already known, so all of her concealing is kind of moot at this point. Thus, we get to the chorus (aka that part that gets stuck in everyone’s heads):

Let it go, let it go; can’t hold it back anymore

frozen let it go

frozen let it go 2

Let it go, let it go; turn away and slam the door

I don’t care what they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on;

The cold never bothered me anyway

Let’s talk about what “let it go” means, because that can be a good thing, and a bad thing. On the positive end, “let it go” can mean letting go of negative influences in your life, like people who don’t have your best interests at heart, or things that don’t make you happy. It means you can “turn away and slam the door” on the people who talk crap about you and move on from them. Example: if Gaston had let go of his vendetta against the Beast, he might have survived the battle at the end of Beauty and the Beast. Instead, he literally lost his grip.

beauty gaston falls

On the more negative end: Let it go” can tie back to isolation, though. Someone can let go of positive elements in their life as well, like family. Here, Elsa is letting go of the people in her life by isolating herself up on the mountaintop, and leaving her sister behind. Isolation is a solution for Elsa in the moment, but it’s a Band-Aid fix; it’s only temporarily going to work out. (We see that later on, when Anna comes looking for Elsa.)

The last two lines are interesting, because while the chorus initially feels like a power anthem, it takes a darker town at the end.

“Let the storm rage on” means that Elsa doesn’t care about stopping the chaos she’s caused; she’ll let it keep going for as long as she wants. And “the cold never bothered me anyway”…

There’s a very selfish feeling to the phrase, because Elsa is putting herself above other people’s needs. It’s good that she’s expressing herself, and not letting people hold her back from that, but it’s bad that she doesn’t care about the welfare of all of the people freezing in Arendelle. It’s also weirdly out of place, because Anna’s appearance later on implies that Elsa had no idea this was even happening. Still, her lines suggest that even if it did, she wouldn’t care, which is pretty callous.

It’s lines like these that call into question the morality involved in “Let It Go,” because while it did become a power anthem, elements of when it was a villain song remain. It has the dramatic flair of one, and certain lines and phrases (like “let the storm rage on”) set up Elsa as an antagonistic figure. This is why I classify it as both: it has villainous origins, but is empowering anyway.

(Side note: Mic suggested that “the cold never bothered me anyway” could relate to Elsa’s perception of her powers, and how they never bothered her until she was taught to fear them, which I thought was an interesting take. Who’s right here, guys? Are we both right?)

Moving on:

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small

And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all

Away from Arendelle, Elsa has some perspective. Here, where she can express herself freely, her fears aren’t there to bother her, and she can truly dig into her powers without worrying that she’ll harm someone.

It’s time to see what I can do,

To test the limits and break through

No right, no wrong, no rules for me

I’m free

“I’m free” = being free from society’s expectations, as well as her fears and worries. There’s more gray mortality on display (“no right, no wrong, no rules for me”), but there’s also a giddy sense of adventure as she crafts ice bridges and climbs them, lets snowflakes swirl form her fingertips, forms snowmen.

Elsa hasn’t really been a child, not in the sense that most kids were. The second she hurt her sister and the trolls/her parents made her nervous about her powers, her innocence faded and she’s been locked in a constant struggle to keep everything together.

frozen elsa's innocence ends

Out here, none of that matters, and she can embrace her childish side again with no consequences. I mean, look at the glee on her face!

frozen lil elsa

frozen wheeeee

I am one with the wind and sky

I love this line, because it brings me back to Pocahontas and Colors of the Wind. It gives the song a more spiritual side, letting Elsa be in touch with the world around her and the power inside of her. Elsa has never felt secure in who she is, but for a brief moment, she feels at peace. She is one with her power.

You’ll never see me cry

Great line, because it shows that Elsa has made progress, but she’s still bottling herself up in a way, and that’s something it takes the rest of the movie for her to deal with.

Here I stand, and here I’ll stay

Let the storm rage on

And more isolation! This song is a goldmine for isolation and angst. Even with the empowering melody, there are a lot of lines that are really painful and harsh, like this one. Elsa is at peace with herself and her power, yes, but she’s also alone. She’s still holding herself back from the world and her sister.

My power flurries through the air into the ground

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast

First, there are a lot of ice puns (“flurries”, “frozen fractals”, “icy blast”). Second: this is the first time we see Elsa use her power to construct something without fear or anguish. She’s crafting a structure with her power, pushing ice up and out of the earth, letting it spiral into a fortress. She’s creating herself a new home.

I’m never going back; the past is in the past

When Mic did her villain songs meta, she made this really interesting point about how a lot of Disney villains have a point of no return, where they feel they cannot go back, and solidify themselves as an antagonistic force. Here, “I’m never going back” serves to do exactly that. If this were still a villain song, this would be the moment that Elsa sets herself against her sister and cannot be saved. However, because this is a movie built on sisterly love, it doesn’t quite work out that way.

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

frozen  copy

Let it go, let it go

That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand, in the light of day

This is such a weird stanza for me, because parts of this feel very heroic. There’s a lot of imagery with light, with rising and being triumphant. But it can be read in a darker way. “That perfect girl is gone” sounds like Elsa shedding her label and making something new of herself, which could be a bad thing or a good thing, really. This song is so confused about what it wants to be.

frozen strugglebus reaction

The ending (“let the storm rage on / the cold never bothered me anyway”) doesn’t help clear things up much better either.

frozen cold never bothered me anyway

In the end, I think “Let it Go” has strong lyrics, a very catchy melody, and a lot of conflicting elements buried within it. While it might’ve been nice to see the creators ease out some of the villainous edges to make this more of a triumphant hero taking a stand, it’s also nice to see a character steeped in a darker morality, with the potential to be good or evil. Elsa can either give into fear or embrace love, and in the end, she does the latter and allows her power to truly flourish.

frozen hug

What do you guys think of Let It Go? Would you have liked to see Elsa as more of an antagonistic force? Let us know in the comments.

Animated Meta can be followed on both our Twitter and our Tumblr. Have a nice Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M

That’s What Friends Are For: Disney’s Abundance of Animal Friendships

Standard

Last week Mel talked about a really important issue: the lack of female friendships in princess movies. As I was figuring out how to possibly match her level of awesomeness, I realized something. Princess films were lacking in friendships, but Animal movies weren’t!

Lady and the Tramp
Lady has two friends, Jock and Trusty, whom she consults with when Mrs. Darling gets pregnant and who come to comfort her after her escapade with Tramp. They look out for her, getting protective since they dislike Tramp, but realize he’s a decent enough dog and hatch a plan to save him. They also build Lady up, complimenting her collar and just being good friends to her.

lady and the tramp pushing jockTramps’ like, “Eww, friends.”

101 Dalmatians
We don’t really see Pongo and Perdita interacting with other dogs too much, but there is the impression that all dogs look out for each other when Pongo sends out his distress call and all the dogs pass it along. They meet with the Great Dane, who tells them where their puppies are and takes them some of the way, being super helpful and just really kind. Like, all law enforcement people should measure themselves against this animated dog. They meet up with a horse, cat, and dog that help them escape, just showing everyone in the animal world looks out for each other. While Pongo and Perdita don’t have ‘friends’ (though they do have Roger and Anita), they interact with a bunch of animals in a friendly manner.

The Jungle Book
Mowgli is friends with Baloo and Bagheera, the vultures (they even had a song about it!), and an adorable baby elephant. Jungle Book is an interesting example since it is one of the few Disney films without a love story (until that moment at the very end), so as a result, there’s all kinds of friendships and relationships to explore in order to carry the film.

jungle book mowgli baloo hugMowgli’s like, “I like friends!”

The Aristocats
Like 101 Dalmatians, these cats aren’t really interacting with other animals since they’re a tight family unit and are on a mission. However, also like 101, there’s an impression all cats look out for each other, as seen in Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.

Robin Hood
Robin Hood and Little John are famous, so of course their bond had to be a part of the film. And this song will get in your head and never leave. Sorry not sorry.

The Fox & The Hound
Um, the movie full of feels that we all avoid unless we seriously can’t help it. This one also has a song about friendship because the relationship between Todd and Copper is the heart of the story. Seriously. I’m gonna cry just thinking about it.

Oliver & Company
Oliver’s first friends are the company of Fagin’s gang, but he also befriends Jenny and even wins over her snobbish poodle, Georgette.

oliver and dodger sleep

The Lion King
Before Simba meets Timon and Pumba, he’s friends with Nala—who, yes, he falls madly in love with—and they had epic elephant graveyard adventures together. It’s Nala, his bestie for life, who helps convince him to go back to the Pride Lands and fight Scar.

lion king cutieslion hakuna matata 2 copy

Tarzan
Like Jungle Book, Tarzan was friends with Terk and Tantor. There were also lots of shots of baby gorillas playing together because apparently everyone has friends except princesses.

Brother Bear
This movie hinges on the friendship/brotherhood of Kenai and Koda, similar to The Fox and the Hound.

I’ve blocked Bambi and Dumbo from my mind, but I know Dumbo had a mouse and Bambi had Thumper and Flower.

What gives, Disney? Why do animals have friends but not princesses?????

I mean, it is great we have great examples of friendship in animal focused films and I’m not saying animals shouldn’t have friends. But do we accept this because we think of animals as living in a herd and being surrounded by their own kind? And do we not think of girls as having female friends because girls are pitted against each other and constantly overcoming internalized misogyny everyday?

Animal films also tend to have friendships featuring animals that are enemies in the wild: Simba, Timon and Pumba; Dumbo and his mouse; and Todd and Copper. The message here has to be that we can all get along and shouldn’t be put off by our differences. It’s great to see this message being sent subtly through animal friendships but it is time to be overt! Girls are regularly pitted against each other and taught to see other girls as competitors. Seeing great friendships that they can emulate is important.

Disney can clearly do an amazing job at showing positive friendships, as evidenced above and the few princess friendships we’ve seen, so why won’t they do it in more of their princess/female character driven films?

What do you think?

Follow Animated Meta on Tumblr and Twitter!

Cheers,

M&M

Princesses Need Friends Too: The Problematic Lack of Positive Female Interactions (and Friends) in Disney Princess Movies

Standard

Disney only has two sets of female friendship in the Disney princess movies. I repeat: only two sets of female friends. That’s really, really bad. Come to think of it, Disney Princess movies in general are lacking in positive female interactions. Either we get a lack of women present, or their relationships are antagonistic in nature. There are a few proud exceptions, but not many.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick trip through the halls of Disney Princess history and explore the nature of female relationships.

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The only two women in this movie are Snow White and her stepmother, the Evil Queen. And Snow White’s stepmother spends the majority of the movie trying to kill her because of her beauty, which doesn’t make for a healthy relationship. It’s interesting that the only two women we have in this film have an antagonistic relationship relating to beauty and power; it says a lot about women in society, who are often set up as competitors rather than coworkers. It’s a no for Snow.

mary margaret says no

Cinderella

Good news: Cinderella has a stepmother and stepsisters, which is a step up from Snow White. Bad news: her stepmother is the worst, and her stepsisters aren’t much better.

cinderella and stepmother

Instead of being treated like family, Cinderella is made into a servant by her stepfamily and constantly put down/ridiculed by them. There’s another antagonistic set-up here, with Cinderella’s stepsisters seeking marriage to the prince, and Cinderella inadvertedly coming into competition with them when she meets Prince Charming and falls for him.

There are also a few female mice, but Cinderella doesn’t seem particularly close to them. 😦 So no.

Sleeping Beauty

Our first sign of positive interaction: Sleeping Beauty gives us Briar Rose (aka Aurora) and the three fairies that raise her in seclusion to protect her from Maleficent. While the fairies tend to be a little oblivious, they mean well, and they take good care of Briar Rose. From the few interactions we see of theirs, it’s evident they care a lot about her, and want her to be happy. The surprise party for her birthday is a great example. Despite their no magic rule, they’re willing to go around it to make her present and her cake the absolute best. Nothing but the best for their Briar Rose!

sleeping beautiy cake candles life copy

They also play a key role in getting Prince Phillip free and giving him the tools he needs to defeat Maleficent, so that they can save Aurora. And then there’s that sweet scene when they tuck Aurora in under the sleeping curse, much like a parent tucking their child in.

sleeping-beauty-disneyscreencaps.com-6071sleeping-beauty-disneyscreencaps.com-6054

While Aurora doesn’t have female friends, since she’s secluded in the woods, the fairies are maternal figures to her, so I’m going to fill this one under “sort of.” It could be better, but it’s progress.

The Little Mermaid

Ariel falls into the start of the “daughters with missing mothers and great relationships with their fathers” trend. Guys, I think Ariel’s relationship with Triton is awesome. And I think it’s important that Disney conveys so many great father-daughter relationships in their films. However, the lack of mother figures is really depressing, and I think it’s sad that like in most of the Disney princess movies, Ariel has a mother who isn’t around. It’s also sad that Ariel is one of seven sisters, and barely even interacts with her sisters throughout the movie. A woman she does interact with a lot is Ursula, the female antagonist, who spends the movie plotting against Ariel, steals her voice, and attempts to sabotage her relationship with Eric. No for Ariel.

little mermaid crying

Beauty and the Beast

B&TB doesn’t have a lot of women. The three most prominent ladies in Belle’s village are a set of blonde triplets who aren’t displayed in the best light. They fawn over Gaston and basically exist to be his fangirls.

beauty anf the beast fangirling  copy

In the castle, we have Belle’s wardrobe, who is nice, and we have Mrs. Potts, who is awesome, but she doesn’t interact with either of them a lot. So no.

Aladdin

Jasmine is our only prominent female character, which is really sad, because I would’ve loved if Jasmine had a friend. Poor girl is lonely in that castle with only her tiger to keep her company. Nope.

aladdin done w your shit

Pocahontas

YES. Pocahontas is one of our few Disney princesses with a female best friend, who happens to be awesome. Nakoma and Pocahontas’ friendship is fantastic. They squabble like sisters, gossip about everything (including cute boys), and just hang out like most girls do.

pocahontas nakoma cheeringpocahontas and nakoma assessing men

pocahontas and nakoma 3

Out of the two, Nakoma is the more level-headed and reasonable one, who tries to keep Pocahontas from doing anything too insane. But she’s also loyal, and tries to trust her friend’s judgment, even when she’s a bit unsure of Pocahontas sneaking around with John Smith.

pocahontas and nakoma 2pocahontas and nakoma 1

And while Pocahontas’ mother isn’t around, she does have a grandmother figure around in Grandmother Willow. She’s the one that Pocahontas goes to when she’s in need of guidance, a good listening ear, or just for comfort in times of strife. While Grandmother Willow never tells her what she should doing, she instead teaches Pocahontas to trust her intuition and follow her heart, allowing her to become a stronger leader and have more faith in herself and her decisions.

pocahontas grandmother willow 3pocahontas grandmother willow 2

Mulan

Mulan has won the parental lottery, guys, because she not only has a father and a mother, but she also has a grandmother! Sadly, like a lot of the princesses, Mulan’s bond with her father gets more focus than her bonds with her mother and grandmother. Mulan also doesn’t have any female friends, although in her case, it’s slightly more forgivable considering she’s posing as a man in the army and ends up surrounded by dudes. So no, but one that’s slightly more forgivable than other films due to the circumstances involved.

mulan horse

The Princess and the Frog

Heck yes. This movie is the jackpot of female relationships in my opinion. There is this really awesome close-knit relationship between Tiana and her mother. There’s a years-long friendship between Charlotte and Tiana. There’s even a powerful woman named Mama Odie who assists our heroine on her adventure. But since Mama Odie is more supernatural assistance than friend, I’m going to focus on Tiana and her mom, and Charlotte and Tiana.

Tiana and her mom are awesome and close. We don’t get to see a lot of their interactions, but we get a nice glimpse of them when we see little Tiana, and we get a great scene where Tiana shows her mom the restaurant she wants to lease, which leads into “Almost There.” Unfortunately, after that, we don’t get much interaction from them, since Tiana is a frog for a majority of the movie.

Tiana/Charlotte we do get a lot of. We get a glimpse of little Tiana and little Lottie at the beginning of the movie, showing how long they’ve been friends, and they’re still close when we see them again.

princess and the frog ickle besties

princess and frog lottie and tiana

Despite differing social class and race, Tiana and Lottie have a really strong friendship. Lottie knows Tiana well enough to know she can’t give her bestie any handouts, so she does things like hiring Tiana’s catering services so she can pay her and give her the remaining funds she needs to achieve her dream. She also lends Tiana a new outfit when hers gets ruined at the party, which is total best friend behavior.

princess and the frog

Lottie also cares a lot about Tiana and her happiness. Like Tiana has her restaurant dream, Lottie’s dream is to be a princess. (Which I’m pretty sure a lot of us dreamed of, once upon a time.) When Naveen and Tiana fall in love while they’re stuck as frogs, Lottie offers to kiss him and forgo her dream of marrying into royalty, because she can see how much the two of them care for each other and there’s no way she’s getting in the way of that.

prince and the frog lottie 1princess and the frog lottie 2

These two are fantastic. The whole movie could’ve just been about them being awesome and I would’ve been content.

princess and frog lottie catches the bouquet

Tangled

Tangled has Rapunzel, Mother Gothel, and Rapunzel’s mother. Rapunzel doesn’t get a ton of time with her mother, but we see her with baby Rapunzel at the start, we see her and her husband’s grief after losing their daughter, and we see her at the end when she reunites with Rapunzel. It’s sad we don’t get a ton to go on, but the end of the movie establishes what should be the start of a prosperous mother-daughter relationship, so at least that’s something.

tangled hug

Mother Gothel and Rapunzel have a painfully abusive relationship. Mother Gothel berates and terrifies Rapunzel into submission to break her spirit and keep her in the tower. She wants Rapunzel to be dependent on her, so that she can harass the power of her hair and stay alive. Not exactly a healthy relationship.

tangled gothel bitch 2tangled gothel bitch

She may have a budding relationship forming with her mother, but sadly, Rapunzel doesn’t really have any female friends. Boo.

tangled maximus horse

Brave

I haven’t seen all of Brave, but I do know one thing: Merida, like Tiana, has a close relationship with her mother, and their bond is a big part of the movie’s plot.

brave copy

Merida’s mother and Merida don’t always see eye to eye: they have different goals and outlooks, and Merida doesn’t always live up to her mother’s expectations, thus, they butt heads a lot. But Merida cares deeply for her mother, and vice versa. Merida’s accidental wish – and her attempt to undo it – bring mother and daughter closer together as the movie goes on.

brave bear mombrave that's my mother

I think this is probably the biggest mother-daughter focus we get out of any of the Disney Princess movies, which is pretty awesome because the bulk of Disney Princess relationships tend to be between fathers/daughters, or a princess and their significant other.

brave merida and mom

While we do get a mother-daughter relationship, Merida doesn’t have any female friends though, which is sad. Maybe we can get one in a sequel? 😉

Frozen

And finally, we have Frozen. Frozen is kind of a weird one, because the only two prominent women in the movie are the leads, Anna and Elsa. Anna and Elsa sisters, who used to share a close bond that Anna is hoping to rekindle, despite Elsa’s avoidance of her. However, Frozen doesn’t do a great job of displaying their relationship.

frozen strugglebus reaction

Elsa and Anna are separated for a majority of the movie, and while they connect a little at the palace after Elsa’s coronation, they’re quickly separated afterwards, and only interact for a short time before Elsa’s powers freeze Anna’s heart and Anna and Kristoff are forced to flee. Next interaction: Anna steps in just in time to stop Hans from cutting down Elsa. Her act of true love both saves Elsa and defrosts her own heart, which is a nice twist.

frozen hug

I think Frozen is a draw for me. Elsa and Anna are close, and I enjoy the bond between them. It would’ve been nice though to see their bond better fleshed out, and see more women in the movie in general.

 

Conclusion (Aka, Why Is This So Important, Mel?)

feminist rant reaction

Much like the Bechdel test, checklisting whether a movie contain female friendships or not doesn’t mean that it is a failure. However, it’s telling that there are only two prominent female friendships, and three strong mother-daughter bonds, within 12 Disney princess movies. Why are father-daughter bonds and romantic bonds prioritized over female friendships and mother/daughter bonds? Why are so many of the female interactions in Disney films negative and antagonistic in nature? In a society where women are torn down, pitted against each other, and strive to be “one of the boys”, positive female interactions in Disney movies, especially Disney princess movies, might promote stronger female relationships in everyday life for young girls and women. (It would also be good for boys as well, and it’d be nice to see more parents take an initiative to be more gender-neutral, but that’s another post in itself.)

Do you think Disney movies need more positive female interactions? What are your favorite Disney bonds? Let us know in the comments!

Follow Animated Meta on Tumblr and Twitter. Have a happy Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M