Strong Disney Female Leads: Does Anna from Frozen fit the bill?

Many viewers touted Anna’s character in Frozen as a welcome change from the stereotypical Disney princess–and many thought this was a nice departure from the feminine, perfect, dainty female stereotype. To me, however, this only perpetuated a different female stereotype: the stereotype of the “adorkable,” quirky, awkward, spunky, girl who doesn’t need to be rescued and isn’t afraid to get her shoes dirty–but still looks pretty. Anna’s personality almost seems like a milder, less obvious version of the “cool girl” stereotype (also discussed here)–she’s down for adventure, she isn’t “needy” or “clingy”, she wants to do the rescuing rather than be rescued, but she does it all while still looking conventionally attractive. She sort of reminds me of a Disney version of Jennifer Lawrence–Anna says awkward things but people somehow find it endearing and refreshing because she’s “real”. The truth is, people find this stuff endearing and adorkable because Anna, JLaw, Zooey Deschanel, & co. are still considered pretty–they just portray the sort of cool, guys’ girl-but-still-hot type of character that most find quite appealing. But the same kind of weird and awkward personality on a girl who’s “average-looking” wouldn’t be taken in quite the same way. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it is the truth, as difficult as it is to admit. And it is the truth because characters like the “manic pixie dream girl” or the “cool girl” are just that–characters. They don’t wholly encompass the complexity of real people. These characters were created to fulfill some sort of fantasy of the ideal woman–which in itself is sort of ludicrous because the ideal woman, or the ideal man, is simply a figment constructed, and continually perpetuated, by the media. And I think touting Anna’s personality (and that of any other “cool girl” in Hollywood) as a more appealing personality, or as more “real” and “down-to-earth” isn’t healthy either–it still perpetuates a misogynistic female stereotype that many women try to fit, and it implicitly sends the message that women who don’t share these personality traits are artificial, pretentious, or “crazy”–which isn’t true at all. I think Frozen tried too hard to break away from Disney princess stereotypes, but as a result, the character development felt weak, rushed, and thrown-together–and I don’t think it quite broke away from stereotypes as much as others claim it did.

This is unfortunate, because Disney has previously done a fantastic job of defying princess stereotypes in previous films–Mulan and Merida certainly defy female damsel-in-distress or princess stereotypes in more powerful ways than Anna’s character. Although the former Disney heroines do still fit the conventional attractiveness bill, their beauty isn’t a central part of their character (unlike Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora), and it isn’t what makes them likable. What really makes Mulan and Merida compelling characters is the fact that they undergo real internal conflicts about who they are, what they stand for, and what they’re capable of. And in the end, they do discover themselves. They realize that they’re capable of much more than they gave themselves credit for. In Mulan’s case, she finds that strength, determination, and wit that has been in her all along–and she saves her country. Merida and her mother come to find that understanding and acceptance of each other, despite their different ideologies. Both Mulan and Merida come into their own and learn that they don’t need to mold themselves into somebody they’re not. And, most of all, they no longer mourn the fact that they aren’t like everyone else. They learn to love themselves for exactly who they are, and that self-acceptance is what ultimately helps to resolve the central conflicts in the films. I don’t really see that Anna’s character has the same arc. Her character remains stagnant for most of the film. And I wanted to see that growth for a main character–that kind of development is what makes these stories so novel and yet so familiar at the same time. Because while the story may be new, people profoundly relate to these internal struggles that the protagonists face. People know the feeling of not quite fitting in, feeling a little left out, and wondering if something is wrong with them. And when a character in a story like this eventually discovers who they are and learns to love and accept themselves, that is what gives people hope.

So, in a word, no–I don’t think Anna’s character fits the bill of a strong, female lead. I don’t think her character should be viewed as such. Her character, in my opinion, is a weak impersonation of a different sort of female stereotype–but a stereotype nonetheless. There weren’t any scenes in the film (even her self-sacrifice for Elsa) that made me really want to root for her character, or that made me relate to her character, or that made me view her character as a fresh, modern take on Disney female leads. Anna’s character was flat, and she didn’t learn anything in the end. Her character at the beginning of the film was exactly the same as it was at the end of the film. Her character, like other sort of flat, Mary-Sue-type characters (Ginny Weasley & co.), doesn’t really stand for anything or represent anything meaningful. Had Anna’s character been more fully developed, it might have changed my opinion on Frozen.

3 Replies to “Strong Disney Female Leads: Does Anna from Frozen fit the bill?”

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