Saw Frozen this weekend. You should see it too. But maybe you’re hesitant for any number of reasons. You might have been hit by the well-meaning, often unfairly marginalized feminist objections to the film’s changes to the original tale. The advertising campaign might have convinced you it’s just a slight little musical fantasy film aimed at children. Or maybe you just object to Disney movies in general.
Now put aside those objections and go see the damned film already.
To address the feminist complaint (which I often agree with by the way), the film does indeed feature male characters in prominent roles. It also does that thing, much like Tangled, where the title is deliberately gender neutral to avoid sending up any “girls are icky” red flags. Despite these initial impressions, the movie is exactly the kind of story we could use more of. Its two female leads are the heart of the story. The male characters function mostly as support, and the central conflict and resolution relies almost entirely on the relationship between the two sisters. Much like the often misunderstood Brave, this film isn’t a love story, and its heroines aren’t the default plucky ultra-capable version of empowered that pops up a little too often when someone is trying to create a strong female character. No, Anna and Elsa are allowed to have flaws, and those flaws (as well as their strengths) are what drive the story.
Much like Brave too, the story doesn’t really go where we’ve been trained to expect it to. Not to get too far off topic, but one of the elements I loved about Brave was that Merida is not an action girl. Yes, she can fight and use a bow and loves to ride the countryside and explore, but she doesn’t have to be a better fighter than everyone. She is plucky, sure, but that same pluckiness (along with her mother’s stubborn traditional nature) that causes every complication, and Merida doesn’t save the day with her strong sword arm, but with compassion, understanding, and self-realization. That’s pretty heavy stuff for an animated film, and not one that even a lot of critics understand about the film. Probably because we’re so conditioned to see Merida and her tale as a typical empowered fairy tale re-imagining.
Back to Frozen, the film is full of subversions, and yet, it never seems to be stretching to reach them. Like Brave, if you’re not paying attention, it’d probably be easy to miss many of them. Anna is plucky and passionate, both her greatest strength and weakness. Elsa has self-loathing and isolation issues, and those plague her more than any outside villain or force.
Heck, like Brave, this movie also suggests that parents aren’t perfect and even when well-meaning, they can make things worse. That’s a complex message for a “kid’s movie”.
Frozen is a wonderful film with a lot of depth to it, and it’s definitely a must see, regardless of any reservations you might have. I’d talk more about the film, but to do so would give away a lot of surprises. Even saying the film has surprises probably gives away a few.
It also reminds me why it is so difficult to get an original story made anymore. Frozen‘s advertising focused on the adventure, the funny snowman, the possible romantic angles because it’s genuinely impossible to tackle the story’s deeper themes and central conflict in a thirty second commercial. Advertising, by its current nature, forces any film with an intriguing premise to be repackaged into something that’s easy to sell, and in thirty seconds, the easiest thing to sell is something you’ve already sold before. Tangled had a similar problem, as did Pacific Rim, I believe. Advertisers must show the BIG moments, and hope the audience will be convinced.
This is where a lot of the objections to Frozen were born. The core of the story, the relationship between the sisters, is impossible to summarize in a sound bite, and dialogue outside of context will never make the same impression as a catchy song and a big visual. The funny little snowman is more than just a few running gags and silly lines. (He’s actually a terrific character, representing boundless optimism and joy, and a belief in dreaming. He’s probably the most standard princess-like character in the entire film.) So the film relies on focusing on the big moments because it really doesn’t have a choice, but it also does so at the cost of making the film seem insubstantial and predictable, two things it definitely isn’t.
Finally, I’d like to address the weird issues of lesbianism that get dropped any time a movie like this comes around. It seems like whenever an animated female character comes along who isn’t focused on getting a boyfriend, inevitably, the cry will go up about a lesbian agenda. This is absurd. I can see why the homosexual community might be eager for their first mainstream gay animated character (and even impatient about it), but it’s puzzling to me that anyone outside that community would feel the need to read anything of the sort going on here. These accusations were thrown around against Brave too because apparently the idea of a young woman who isn’t ready to settle down and hook up with a guy she just met is somehow code for her being gay. And now it’s getting tossed at Elsa, who doesn’t even have a romantic subplot to reject.
I get it. Homosexuality is a hot button issue, but if you’re offended by the notion of a young woman not getting married at the end of a story, then maybe your concerns about corrupting our children are a bit overblown. As for the homosexual community, hang in there, folks. Your characters will come along some day. Though, again, I understand the impatience.
So see Frozen. It’s a wonderful tale, told brilliantly. It’s fun, lively, subversive without being gimmicky, classic while being modern, and a finely-tuned masterpiece of filmmaking.