#4: Letting Go to Embrace Womanhood in “Frozen”

If you’re in an animation class, chances are that you’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed Disney’s latest princess tale, Frozen. Besides breaking records at the box office, the official soundtrack is also breaking records on the Billboard charts. One song in particular is the driving force behind the current obsession with Frozen. That song is, “Let It Go,” sung by the misunderstood queen Elsa, a.k.a. Idina Menzel.

In this retelling of the classic Disney princess story mold, Frozen accomplishes quite a feat… breaking the curse through true love between sisters! They don’t need a man! In a film with such strong feminist themes, there is room to delve deeper into some of the underlying meanings behind pivotal sequences. The most important sequence of the whole story comes in about a third of the way when Elsa belts out the show-stopping “Let It Go.” On the surface, this song informs the audience that Elsa has realized that she is better off on her own where she doesn’t have to be afraid of her powers and won’t accidentally hurt anybody. She then proceeds to showcase the full extent of her winter wonders and build herself a nice ice castle on top of a mountain. During the sequence, she magically changes out of her clothes and into a dress suitable for the Ice Queen.

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However, it is during this change of clothes, that the audience is subtly shown that Elsa has officially matured from a girl to a woman. The animation allows the physical transformation to occur and not raise any eyebrows in a children’s movie. But my eyebrows are sufficiently raised, so lets break the sequence down.

Lets look at Elsa’s background. Her parents died when she was a pre-teen and she was being kept locked up in her room until she could get her life in order and stop endangering her sister’s life. So she had no one to visit her at the most formative years of her life; no maternal guidance when she entered puberty. Imagine having to deal with that whole mess of new experiences when you’re already terrified of what your body was capable of. She was living in constant fear and utter isolation.

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But it was eventually her time to take the crown and rule the kingdom, roughly around eighteen years old. Just when she thinks that she’s out of the woods after the ceremony was a success, she loses control and is called a witch. Naturally she runs away in a mixture of fear, self-pity and the safety of the kingdom (except she already did enough damage on her way out to propel the action of her sister Anna’s story).

When she starts singing, it is about self-realization and embracing her womanhood. She isn’t afraid when there are no longer any consequences. Running away is the best thing that could have ever happened to her. It is clear skies and a new beginning for Elsa.

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She also drops the reminders of her old life: her royal garbs. She gets a whole new look. Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, felt that the physical transformation of Elsa was actually counter-productive to the movie’s themes of female empowerment:

She suddenly sees fit to express her freshly unleashed power by giving herself … a magical makeover. “Let it go/ Let it go/ That perfect girl is gone,” she declares as she ditches her old look (a modest dark-green dress and purple cloak, hair in a neatly tucked-up braid) for one that’s arguably even more “perfect.” By the time she sashays out onto that balcony to greet the dawn, Elsa is clad in a slinky, slit-to-the-thigh dress with a transparent snowflake-patterned train and a pair of silver-white high heels, her braid shaken loose and switched over one shoulder in what’s subtly, but unmistakably, a gesture of come-hither bad-girl seduction… a familiar sense of deflation every time that pulse-racing song (delivered so gloriously by Menzel) culminates in a vision of female self-actualization as narrow and horizon-diminishing as a makeover.

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It is during this makeover that more than just Elsa’s clothes are changed. During the transformation: her waist becomes skinnier, her hips become larger, her breasts become more defined, she shows a substantial amount of more skin with the slit up the thigh of the dress, and her walk has a certain swinging motion to it that suggests sex appeal akin to Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. To be honest, aside from the color and the translucent ice cape, her dress is a very similar cut compared to Jessica Rabbit, the epitome of sex symbols in animation.

Jessica Rabbit

Now I’m not saying that Disney should have contained the sexuality of a growing woman at the end of puberty. I actually applaud the company for not pairing Elsa up with anybody at the end (but that’ll probably be the first thing the inevitable sequel does). She is an independent woman who has finally come into her own sexuality, as told through the metaphor of her winter manipulation powers. All I’m doing is making a case for the deeper subtext of the song little girls all over the world are singing along to.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a great post! I too had eyebrows raised at the transformation. However, I think there are at least two other ways to look at this costume change. The first is a stretch but has been said by others, specifically an article I really liked the link is below…

    http://www.policymic.com/articles/79455/7-moments-that-made-frozen-the-most-progressive-disney-movie-ever

    The first scene on this link’s list conveys Elsa and Anna’s parents as abusive. You did a great job of summarizing Elsa’s background, her parents locked her away and her little chanted mantra in the beginning part of the movie “conceal don’t feel” is a way abused people cope with their abusive memories. Disney prehaps alluding to a physically abused princess, has her skin covered long layers in the summer the way a parent would cover a kids brusies before sending them off to school. Her ‘Let it Go’ hit could be viewed as a moment free from an abusive life and or memories. Through this lense her sudden revealing of skin shows she is no longer ashamed or hurt by her past.

    Like I said the previous one is a stretch, but what I did find interesting was the extremely risqué wadrobe for the time period, I doubt even the ladies of the night of that time period wore clothes so slinky.

    I won’t lie, I loved that movie and in all its radical Disney~ness.

  2. Pingback: Links to my comments on awsome blogs | History of Animation

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