It’s no secret that Frozen has a lot of lesbian fans. With two independent female protagonists, not to mention the subtext of “Let it Go” as a possible coming out ballad, the movie’s popularity among LGBTQ fans can’t be denied. But why? There’s a wealth of opinions on the topic—theories that range anywhere from Elsa and Anna not being biological sisters to analyses of how growing up apart influenced their development.
But regardless of your favorite theory or ship, the one thing most Frozen fans agree on is that it’s the relationship between the two sisters that drives the movie. These very real and realistic feelings between women is at the heart of Frozen’s massive popularity.
Because, quite simply, it’s not been done to this degree in a mainstream movie—especially a Disney movie.
It’s no secret that in a lot of movies, female characters are not given equal time or treatment. Too often, women in movies are love interests, there to bolster the male ego, or worse, to be a trophy for the male protagonist once he wins the day.
Even more telling is that when two women appear in a movie, it’s often just to talk about the male protag or (ugh) to fight over him. Women are trophies, rivals, bitches, mean girls, love interests—all to glorify the male presence in the movie. Realistic relationships between women are rarely explored.
In fact, comic strip creator Allison Bechdel created the Bechdel Test in 1985 to prove that Hollywood movies were portraying female characters in a stereotypical, unrealistic way. Basically, in a nutshell, to pass the Bechdel Test, the movie must answer “Yes” to the following:
Are there more than two named female characters?
Do those two named characters have a conversation at any point?
Is that conversation about literally anything other than a man?
You might be surprised about the number of movies that fail this test. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, the original Star Wars trilogy, Avatar, the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, just for starters (see links below). It’s no wonder why this portrayal leaves a lot of women cold, regardless of where we fall on the sexual-preference spectrum.
But what about Disney movies? Well, there are, as it turns out, a list of Disney films that do pass the Bechdel Test: Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, 101 Dalmations, The Rescuers, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Brave, Lilo & Stitch, The AristoCats, Mulan, and Peter Pan to name a few.
However, as one adroit blogger points out, those that pass have Heroine/Villainess interactions or Mother/Daughter interactions:
Alice in Wonderland (Queen of Hearts/Alice) Cinderella (Stepmother and stepsisters/Cinderella) One Hundred and One Dalmatians (Cruella de Vil/Anita Radcliffe, Perdita, female puppies) The Rescuers (Madame Medusa/Penny) Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent/Aurora; the good-guy squad of Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather is also all-female) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (The Queen/Snow White)
The AristoCats Lilo & Stitch
Mulan One Hundred and One Dalmatians Peter Pan
(See the rest of that post here)
And while Villainess/Heroine scenes are important as are Mother/Daughter interactions, to be sure, Frozen really broke this pattern—by putting both women on equal grounds and letting the weight of their relationship drive the plot and solve the story problem.
Not only do Elsa and Anna pass the Bechdel Test, they destroy it. Not only do they speak to each other and not about boys (aside from the infamous “You can’t marry a man you just met” scene), the entire movie is their feelings for each other and how those emotions see them through.
From the moment Elsa hides herself away in her bedroom and refuses to see Anna, it’s because she’s afraid she’ll hurt Anna again. Anna, on the other hand, knows Elsa is hurting, so she stands outside Elsa’s door for thirteen years in a show of loyalty that is rarely seen between two women in a movie.
And while the two are separated for a good part of the movie, they still work as a team, coming at the story problem in their own unique way. In fact, you might say they are like two objects in orbit around each other, their gravitational pull constantly acting on each other. Elsa pulls away and Anna comes running.
Of course, there’s no denying that there’s some boy/girl plot in there as well, and Kristoff is a likeable enough character. But truly, the emotion between him and Anna is very stereotypical and tropey. We don’t really see any deep development here. It’s surface stuff.
The deep emotions are between Elsa and Anna.
To digress slightly… It’s very much the reverse of Lord of the Rings, where all the deep, abiding emotions are between the men, and the male/female plot is stereotypical and tropey—shot in idyllic places with romantic music—but again, it’s set dressing. Nothing more.
But Frozen doesn’t just pose a world where the relationship between two women drives the plot, Frozen poses that love between two women can save the world. And that’s where Frozen really sticks the landing.
Consider the ending. Anna must choose between saving her sister or saving herself—or to reframe it, she must choose between her love for her sister and her love for a man.
I cannot tell you the anxiety I felt watching the ending for the first time, because normally, the love between two women would not be enough in a Hollywood movie. For so long, women’s relationships have been diminished and marginalized. We’ve been forced to be love interests and trophies and bitches and mean girls—all to glorify the male presence.
But Frozen, in its ending, defies this idea entirely. In fact, it smashes it. Kristoff, the male chara, looks on while basically the girl saves the girl.
There’s no male savior here. And there shouldn’t be. Elsa and Anna have the moment they’ve fought for. It’s a win for them, and it’s a win for us as women. Because now we have a Happily Ever After that doesn’t rely on a man’s presence, that doesn’t require a damsel in distress to be saved by a prince.
We have a Happily Ever After generated by the love between two women. And while that love is not romantic, of course, it paves the way for future stories that are. Frozen legitimized and made heroic the love between two women.
And that, in this self-rescuing princess’s opinion, is behind the lesbian appeal of Frozen.
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