Imagining a Girlfriend for Queen Elsa of “Frozen”

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In May 2016, #GiveElsaAGirlfriend went viral on Twitter, with its supporters clamoring for Disney to take a huge step forward in representation by making one of its star “Disney Princesses” openly lesbian. The Twitter campaign garnered lots of media attention and sparked conversation about the persistent need for more representation, including in Disney’s highly influential animated films.

At the same time, the issue was quickly dismissed by most commentators as an impossibility: after all, Disney would never jeopardize the massive financial success that “Frozen” was and continues to be for the corporation ($1.3 billion grossed worldwide, with untold amounts made off of merchandise and tie-ins) merely out of a sense of moral responsibility.

Then in February 2018, the issue experienced a revival after “Frozen” director/writer Jennifer Lee told the Huffington Post there were “tons of conversations” about a lesbian story arc for Elsa for the sequel and that she, personally, wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Elsa have a lesbian relationship.

While the news caused a spike in publicity for “Frozen” and inflamed both supporters and opponents of Elsa getting a girlfriend, there was reason to be skeptical: just under a year before, Disney had publicized a gay LeFou in the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” but the “exclusively gay moment” ended up being a disappointing two seconds long (yes, people timed it).

This July, news broke that Evan Rachel Wood was in talks to join the cast of “Frozen 2,” which is due to be released in November 2019. Then in late August, the website Revenge of the Fans posted an article titled “FROZEN 2: Yep, Elsa is Gay.” The author—Mario-Francisco Robles, the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of the site—citing “a couple of very reliable sources,” reported that Elsa was definitely going to be made lesbian in the sequel, and assessed that Wood would play Elsa’s love interest. The report was alluring, but what were the chances Disney had really changed its tune on social responsibility, even at a massive, massive financial cost?

Low, but it’s technically possible. After all, in August, a UK newspaper reported that Disney’s upcoming live action movie “Jungle Cruise,” due in October 2019, will feature a gay male character intended to be “hugely effete, very camp and very funny.”

This gay character will be Disney’s first demonstrably gay character in a more than “blink and you missed it” role, leaving the tiniest sliver of hope for Elsa. Then again, “Jungle Cruise” is intended for a slightly older audience than the “Frozen” audience. In addition, based on Disney’s reluctance to antagonize its conservative viewers, it seems likely that Disney will demonstrate this character’s homosexuality through physical mannerisms and context clues that children will not understand.

The market for children’s themed products, and animated films in particular, is socially conservative at best, Puritan at worst, with huge money at stake. When former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman—who wrote for the show for 13 years—told the gay website Queerty this September that as a gay male, he related to and contextualized the iconic characters Bert and Ernie as a gay couple, Sesame Workshop was quick to release a statement assuring parents that “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.” (That statement, by the way, is almost the exact same one released in response to a 2011 online petition asking the show to marry Bert and Ernie.) It’s not just Disney facing pressure to avoid having gay characters, it’s everyone.

Had Disney boldly chosen to give Elsa a girlfriend as a way of normalizing homosexuality to children, however, Disney would have found itself with a variety of interesting and constructive options.

For example, Disney could have continued its trend of helping empower young girls by making the girlfriend a heroic figure, like Merida or Mulan, teaching young girls that certain modern professions like the military or law enforcement are valid and desirable fields for a woman. Or the girlfriend could have been a high femme princess, like Aurora or Ariel, from a neighboring kingdom, teaching young girls that sometimes Prince Charming is actually Princess Charming and that being something other than straight doesn’t mean that you can’t be a Disney Princess.

Or the girlfriend could have been a commoner like Belle or Cinderella, continuing Disney’s subtle commentary on class. Elsa’s girlfriend could have had long hair, high heels, and a billowing dress—typical of classic Disney animated films—or she could have had short hair and wear pants—a femininity by Disney that is only hinted at starting with Mulan.

The directions that Disney could take with a female love interest for Elsa are literally endless. What if Elsa’s girlfriend came from an Africa-like country, and the two had to learn to overcome their cultural differences in order to understand each other? What if the two had a duet about sledding or ice skating together? What if Olaf had an innocent yet humorous crush on Elsa’s girlfriend? Currently, all that we know about Elsa in “Frozen 2” is that she’s going to be more “fun.” What’s more fun than throwing snowballs at your girlfriend?

Even if Disney won’t jeopardize its golden goose by publicly dubbing a character “Elsa’s girlfriend,” the creators behind “Frozen 2” could always add a female character and put her and Elsa in situations that would allow viewers to infer that Elsa and the character have a romantic relationship or could have one. Intentional subtext, after all, is better than no text, and perhaps that’s ultimately what Wood was brought on to do: play Elsa’s girlfriend who isn’t *officially* a girlfriend.

While still an underwhelming and unfulfilling tactic to gay viewers dedicated to seeing more gay characters in Disney’s animated films, it would nevertheless allow Disney to cater to both its gay and straight viewers through an unspoken policy of plausible deniability. And then maybe by “Frozen 3” Disney will feel comfortable enough in its revenue to make it official.

 

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