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The Feminist Movement in Animated Films

Updated on November 28, 2016
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The above picture illustrates how the world of Disney Princesses used to be, one where sex was the woman's only bargaining chip. The newer, more independent woman of the animated world carry a different role. They are strong woman characters who in some way carry feminist qualities. these new female heroines create more attainable roles for young women and girls to aspire to be. They allow woman of today insight into fighting for what they want instead of having a man rescue them in every situation.

Our young women of today need strong independent female characters to look up to in the films they watch or the books they read. They need to identify with those characters in order for us as a society to build a stronger generation of women. In the current world women are thriving everywhere, they are taking on the roles of head of household; they are bringing in the main source of income; and becoming inspiring leaders for young girls to aspire to be. Men are taking a more relaxed role and becoming stay at home dads, in order to support their women in reaching and achieving their dreams. Our world wasn’t always so supportive of this independent woman and in many instances still refuses to acknowledge women as equal partners. The feminist movement is definitely on the rise in today’s world and is taking on new roles to speak to an even younger generation of girls. Animated films have become a main focus for feminist characters and developing young girls who don’t need a man. Now while these films do have feminist ideas, some are not completely feminist films. I believe a woman or girl has to go on a journey to truly find herself in order to be a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man to support her, but are all of these films exhibiting that same idea? And why are we only looking at current animated films for the feminist ideas, when there were ones that could be considered feminist that came way before these new age female heroines.

Elsa free
Elsa free | Source
Elsa's fear once she is free
Elsa's fear once she is free | Source

The first film is obviously the most current one of discussion Frozen. It’s a film about a young princess, Elsa, who has these powers that are controlled by her emotions and if she doesn’t keep her emotions in check or learn to control her powers she fears that she could hurt someone. The idea of hiding one’s true self would in fact go against a feminist point of view, but what she becomes after leaving helps develop her character into a true feminist. She doesn’t need a man; in fact she doesn’t need anyone not even her sister. Once she is alone she is free to be who she wants to be and unleash her emotions and discover her true power, but at the cost of the rest of her country. It isn’t until her sister comes that she realizes the damage she has done and that no matter what she will never be free because she has no control over her powers.

Anna & Hans when they first meet
Anna & Hans when they first meet | Source

Now her sister Anna has no such power and is kept distant because in the beginning of the film Elsa accidentally hurts her. Anna doesn’t understand why her sister shuts her out and so doesn’t have any real relationship with her. Her character I would not classify as feminist just because she is a naïve young girl who falls in love with a man she just met and thinks everyone else is crazy for calling her crazy for wanting to marry someone she just met. Now in by the end of the movie Anna does find herself and realize that not everyone you meet has good intentions. She does become and enlightened character, but not a feminist. Yes she stands up for herself, and yes she puts Hans in his rightful place, but can’t that just be a young woman discovering herself?

There are feminist qualities to the film like Elsa not being afraid to venture out on her own and freeing herself from the limits that have been set for her, but I don’t think this movie is entirely a feminist movie. Yes there is a strong female character, but Anna isn’t at first. Throughout her journey she attempts to be in charge like demanding that Christophe take her to the North Mountain, or attempting to climb the mountain without the aid of a man. She still needs help, without Christophe she wouldn’t have made it to the North Mountain, nor would she have made it back to the palace in time to uncover who Hans (her one true love) really is. Anna needs people, now that doesn’t make her weak she is still finding herself and through her journey I feel she does find herself, but it’s not enough to convince me that she is a feminist character. She discovers what it means to truly love someone and she finds this in the unconditional love one has for their siblings. It’s a love and a bond that no one can break. Now some people have claimed that making the true love be the love Anna has for Elsa is feminist or even making this the first animated film with lesbians, but that’s a stretch. We need to ask ourselves what wouldn’t we do for our family? Do we love them enough to sacrifice our own existence to save them from death? That doesn’t make Anna and Elsa lesbians, it makes them human.

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Brave

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Another film I want to discuss is Brave. In this film a young Scottish princess is being forced into an arranged marriage by her mother! Merida, the princess, doesn’t want this life of marriage she wants her freedom. She doesn’t want a man she wants to find love on her own time, and not be forced to marry someone she doesn’t love. Her mother Helena grew up in this time where women were forced to into marriage and believes her daughter should act accordingly, but instead Merida is the ideal tomboy. She seeks adventure and knows how to wield sword and can shoot an arrow better than any of her suitors. In my opinion Merida is a feminist heroine, she fights for her freedom and isn’t afraid to show the world what she can do. In the scene where her suitors are competing in an archery contest to win Merida’s hand, Merida shows them what she can do. The boys are not up to the challenge the first boy doesn’t even hit the target, the second boy comes close to the bull’s-eye, and the third boy hits it dead on. Merida goes onto the field and begins to shoot an arrow at each boys target hitting the bull’s-eye each time and once she gets to the third boy her arrow actually goes through the middle of the boys’ arrow. She upstages them and embarrasses the boys and insults the different tribes. Oddly enough her mother is more upset with her than her father. In a later scene the tribes are fighting with the king and demanding to know which one of their boys is worthy of his daughter and he responds with no of them are worthy. I find it interesting that during this time the mother is more upset than the father, and the father seems to not really have an opinion. That makes this movie a feminist movie, because it takes away the man’s voice. Women dictate the movie and men just follow their lead.

Now some would argue that Frozen does this same thing, and yes the voice of the film is that of a woman, but what about Christophe. He has a voice and doesn’t just follow the lead of a woman. Instead Anna is seen as more of an equal and yes that quality does make this a feminist film, but there are many holes in that idea that I just can’t ignore. I can’t ignore the fact that Anna started off as this character who wanted to marry someone they just met and not even question their intentions. She was naïve and that doesn’t say feminist to me.

Scene from Brave

This is a scene from Brave where Merida shoot for her own hand. I thought this was important to illustrate how her character stands strong despite the fact that these odds, her mother, are working against her to force something on her she doesn't want.

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Another film that I hardly ever hear about is Mulan, and it’s probably because she had to pretend to be a man in order to project this strong heroine character. Some feminist might not agree, but I like Mulan as a feminist character because she defies the law and joins the army anyway in order to save her father. She does this also to bring back honor to her family, because she feels as if she has dishonored her family by not being the beautiful and graceful woman they expect her to be. She becomes this strong heroine who shows her people that women should not be underestimated. She saves her comrades when she was discovered and told to go back home, hell she ends up saving the Emperor. If that’s not a strong heroine to look up to then I don’t know what is. Mulan breaks boundaries and even though she does so under the guise of a man, a woman is still able to infiltrate a man’s world and succeed and I would call that feminist.

Scene from Mulan

In this scene Mulan finally fights as a woman and it's a powerful scene because in every other scene she fights under the guise of a man.

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    • belleart profile image

      belleart 2 years ago from Ireland

      I really enjoyed reading this hub. I've had a weird relationship with Disney, I wrote a hub about them on a few different things I don't agree with, but at the same time, I still go to see nearly every Disney pixar movie that's released.

      I agree that they are certainly attempting to change things up for the female characters so i guess there's that.

    • Brittany Kussman profile image
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      Brittany Kussman 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Thanks for the read I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. I have been disappointed in the recent animated movies. The last one I enjoyed was Brave. I like that they are allowing the women to be more independent, however they way they are going about it seems almost mocking an I see that in Frozen. I argue with my friends about that movie constantly and I just don't see a strong woman in that movie, with the exception of when Elsa decides to finally be herself after hiding for so long.

    • profile image

      BCasey 15 months ago

      I would add Pocahontas to the list. I've always felt it was a pretty good feminist animated film. Anastasia wasn't too bad on this count either.

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