Animation student Gianna has blogged an excellent essay critiquing the identical faces of the protagonist sisters in Disney’s Frozen.
Disney has already proven that that they can easily design female characters who don’t have the Exact Same Face. Then they started doing that on Frozen, but someone — probably one of the higher-ups or executives, I seriously doubt it was the character designers — said, “No, make them look like this.” And they knew full well that they looked identical and also extremely similar to Rapunzel, because anybody with eyes can see that.
Don’t even tell me it’s because they’re sisters, because I have two sisters, and I don’t look identical to either of them. I have never met a pair of non-twin siblings who had the Exact Same Face. It doesn’t even make sense for the story, because Elsa’s face in particular hardly fit her character or voice actress. […]
So now that we’ve ruled out laziness, lack of ability, or some story-based cause as reason for their Sameface Syndrome, and taking into account the trend of “good people = pretty; bad people = ugly” that’s always been so prevalent in Disney, the truth becomes clear.
Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa all look the same because they’re supposed to be beautiful.
And Disney has decided, either consciously or subconsciously, that there’s only one way to look beautiful. For women, that is.
I agree with this analysis, but I wonder if it doesn’t additionally have to do with making the characters look more like what Disney’s marketing people believe will be the most sell-able toy versions of the characters.
Elsewhere in her essay, Gianna refers to Disney’s big (and, imo, positive) move away from realistic faces for female leads with The Little Mermaid. I’ve always thought the reason Disney did that is that the title character is mute for huge portions of The Little Mermaid, forcing them to make Ariel’s face extra expressive, rather than porcelain-doll pretty.
But with Frozen, Disney has taken a giant step backwards to pre-Mermaid days. The princess characters are made to look like porcelain dolls, and really have the least expressive faces of any Disney princess since Eilowny in 1985’s Black Cauldron. Gianna writes:
Anna and Elsa’s facial expressions, particularly Elsa’s, were significantly dialed back at the animation stage to prevent their faces from stretching out of shape and making them look ‘too ugly,’ producing the side effect of making them look oddly stiff. Stretching and exaggerating faces to get good overall movement is one of the basic principles of animation, and I’m concerned that Disney decided to throw it out in favor of making their women look slightly more attractive, especially since I haven’t noticed this in any other Disney Princess films.
So no, I don’t think Frozen is the most feminist Disney film ever – that title remains with either Mulan or Brave. And part of the reason why is Frozen‘s distinctly un-feminist character design.
More anti-Frozen ranting: The problem with false feminism. Although really, I liked Frozen a lot. But it had flaws.
Update: Early conceptual art of the sisters from Frozen.