I thought I would take a break from blogging about books for a post and focus on a different media – movies! I went to see Frozen a few weeks ago and I was really impressed with how its themes break from the precedent of other romantic Disney movies (typically with heterosexual “true love” as the holy grail gained by the man saving the woman from some kind of ill fate). I can’t support my take on the themes while avoiding spoilers, so consider yourself warned if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
Here are the reasons why Frozen is unlike other Disney movies:
1. The central love story is between sisters. The Aristocats and 101 Dalmations are the only Disney movies that I can think of that have sibling relationships, but they both are about animals and both contain a romantic relationship that is more central to the plot. This is kind of weird because sibling relationships are a huge deal for children, who make up Disney’s target market. Next to parents, siblings are the people who kids are usually the closest to, so why do Disney movies tend to focus on romantic relationships? And why are the ones that do show sibling relationships about animals?
The situation in Frozen with sisters being separated, or one being cold to another, is relevant to girls of all ages. As a kid, maybe your sibling gets sick or gets new friends and you don’t see much of them for awhile, but it’s even more relevant as you get older and move away from one another. It gets more difficult to keep in contact when you’re separated by distance and different interests… so it has a bittersweet note which makes it entertaining for older viewers, and also a great moment of catharsis at the end when the sisters decide to be friends again.
Frozen passes the Bechdel test (it has two women, talking to each other, about something other than men). The director, Jennifer Lee, is the first woman to ever direct a full-length animated Disney movie and it may be due to her influence that Elsa and Anna’s relationship became as complicated and interesting as it is.
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
2. They give one of the heroines a real super-power, in contrast to most Disney heroines who have to put up with their situation until a prince comes to save them. Elsa’s struggles with her power mirror the struggles that many women have when they feel they’re expected to hold back in order to be modest and feminine and not draw attention to themselves. Sadly, Elsa can’t control her powers, so she’s extremely dangerous. When a woman is portrayed as powerful, mass media tends to skip good powerful and go right to Jean Gray or Carrie-style kill-everything-with-fire powerful, as if the existence of a powerful woman would make the world topple off its delicate balance and and erupt in flames. This might also be due to stereotypes that women are more emotional/volatile/unable to control themselves. In this light, Elsa and similar characters are not great role-model material.
3. It warns about the dangers of whirlwind romances. In most Disney movies, love at first sight is true, but in Frozen it’s not so. The first day Anna is exposed to human beings outside her family (what kind of sadists are the king and queen anyway, keeping a girl locked away from everyone until she’s sixteen?) she is swept off her feet by a prince and decides that night she wants to marry him. It turns out later that he just wanted to marry her for her wealth and the kingdom, and didn’t love her as he’d professed earlier. Love takes time to grow, and it makes sense to be wary of someone who says he wants to spend his life with you without having spent any significant amount of time together (since your personality is less immediately apparent than your looks/money/etc). And, you know, give yourself some time to judge that they’re not secretly an awful person who would let you freeze to death for money.
4. The person the heroine falls into true love with isn’t perfect (although he’s still pretty cute). In most Disney movies, the guy is a prince, Greek statue-beautiful, with a deep voice and suave manners. Frozen dispenses with the princely status and lets him be awkward, but keeps the handsome face (with some quirks) and deep voice. Which is sort of a sign of our generation – aristocracy is out, and working-class politics is in (with Occupy, we’re all about the little guy). Kristoff is an ice-cutter who lives on the mountain with his best friend, reindeer named Sven. He’s a little lonely, a little rude, and certainly isn’t in love with Anna at first sight. They go to see the trolls who are Kristoff’s family (he’s an orphan, I think) and they sing about how he’s a “fixer-upper” but he’s a good guy and Anna should give him a chance anyway. This is a refreshing departure from the perfect-but-kinda-empty guys in The Little Mermaid, Snow White, and others.
5. It could be read as the first Disney film with lesbian princesses. The true love at the end that breaks the curse and revives Anna is her sister’s, not a prince’s. Kristoff’s love for Anna feels shoehorned in, since neither of them seem to actually like each other that much, snipping at each other as they ride up the mountain. Elsa is voiced by Idina Menzel, who played Maureen in Rent, and the lyrics to “Let It Go” sound like a coming out song:
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Though Elsa and Anna have a very platonic sisterly relationship in the movie, it’s not hard to watch the movie and see them as a couple (perhaps Olaf is their child?).
What do you think? Did you like the movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments!