First Theatrical Release: November 23, 2013
First Home Viewing Release: February 24, 2014 (digital) and March 18, 2014 (DVD and Blue-Ray)
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Where I Found It: My personal DVD collection. It was the first Disney movie I bought since the 2004 platinum release of Aladdin.
Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters include Elsa and Anna, their mother, and some female trolls. Anna and Elsa’s first conversation is about playtime and Elsa’s magic, and only one of their conversations thereafter is about a man — when Elsa is telling Anna she can’t marry Hans. (I once read that this movie would fail a “reverse Bechdel” test because all the male characters are always talking about Elsa and Anna, which is pretty much true.)
I will be the first to admit it: I am one of the adoring masses who can’t get enough of Frozen. Although I rarely purchase it, I am constantly rubbernecking in stores for Frozen merchandise, from Barbie dolls to cereal boxes, and I not-so-subtly told my mom I’d really like some Elsa slippers in my Christmas stocking this year the last time we went out shopping together. And when I got tired of laundering the same washrag over and over, I went out and bought myself a set of Frozen washrags — it wasn’t my intention, it just sort of … happened. They were so soft, and cheap. (Honestly, why have I been using one endlessly laundered washrag for four years when I can get 6 branded ones for $3? But I digress.)
Arguments from Frozen’s detractors are often well-founded — there are some glaring plot holes (seriously, WHY did Elsa’s family think locking her up was the best way to cope with her powers right after the trolls had told them that fear would be her enemy? Who ruled the kingdom between the years when Elsa’s parents died and her coronation? How did Kristof survive to age 4 — when the trolls seem to have adopted him — without any parents? Why doesn’t Kristof tell Anna he spied on her first encounter with the trolls when she was a young’un? Etc. etc.). The movie may not be as feminist as we’d like to believe (as endearing as Anna is, she is portrayed as almost hopelessly incompetent next to Kristof on their journey to and from the North Mountain). But I am willing to forgive all that and more because Frozen was the first movie in over ten years that proved Disney could still “do the magic!”
And ultimately, all those plot holes don’t matter to most viewers because Frozen did not capture our imaginations or our hearts with its rock-solid plotting. Instead, it captured us in the language of metaphor and emotion, tapping into the same primal place from which the canon source material of Disney’s fairy tale retellings came. People loved Frozen because something about their own lives and hearts was playing out onscreen — Elsa’s movement from shame to acceptance, freedom, and joy where her powers are concerned has been convincingly interpreted as a metaphor for feminist awakening, coming out, mental illness, autism, and probably many other experiences that relegate one to “outsider” status.
So, after I just linked to all those really great articles about Frozen, not to mention all the OTHER analyses floating around on the Internet, I come into this post thinking that there probably isn’t much to say about Frozen that hasn’t already been said. But I still have opinions!
Team Anna or Team Elsa
Back when Frozen was first released on DVD, I did a Google search to see whether the captivated public preferred Anna or Elsa. To me the choice was clear, but the Internets said the fandom was divided more-or-less down the middle.
Still, I noticed the same conversation taking place independently, at different times, with two different groups of friends: one of whom had little girls, one of whom didn’t.
Both groups wanted to know why all the little girls were seemingly OBSESSED with Elsa, and both groups lamented that little girls weren’t more interested in being “like Anna.”
Well, let’s see. Up until now Disney movies have mostly given little girls two choices when it comes to what kind of woman they could grow up to be: they could be good, or they could be bad. If they choose good, they get (added bonus!) to be beautiful, too. But if they choose bad, they get to be powerful. Yes, even most of the “good” princesses were strong in their own ways, but to a kid watching Ursula rise up out of the ocean while Ariel trembles in Eric’s arms … well, THAT’s what power looks like to a little kid.
That’s why, when I was a child, I was more interested in Ursula than Ariel, more interested in the Evil Queen or Maleficent than Snow White or Aurora. With the character of Elsa, for the first time (in forever) girls can FINALLY have it both ways. To imagine themselves as powerful AND to be good … and that is a very, very good option to have. Not to mention, Elsa is the only Disney princess who is promoted to Queen within the first act of the film and doesn’t have to wait to marry a prince to, eventually, ascend to that status at some point in the (off-screen) future.
I’m also somewhat uncomfortable that both these groups of adult women (with kids and sans kids) who mostly identify as feminist want to push little girls toward the character who behaves in more “typical” feminine fashion — Anna is much more of a pleaser than Elsa is, she’s more dependent on others for her happiness, and she’s also the one who “gets the man” in the end.
But don’t worry, I’m not hatin’ on Anna. In fact, what I love so much about Frozen is that it shows girls there is more than one way to be a strong woman, that there are different ways to be vulnerable, and that neither one is inherently better than the other. You don’t have to act tough all the time to be strong, nor do you have to distance yourself from love or the affairs of the heart. Anna and Elsa feel authentic to me in a way that gets lost and muddled when Disney seems to try “too hard” to create a character with the trappings of independence who ultimately ends up following the same script in the end. One of my favorite (non-Elsa) scenes in Frozen is when Anna demands that Kristof take her up the North Mountain after she’s purchased the gear he couldn’t afford. She makes her case without backing down, and right afterward we see her all-but-trembling outside the door of the stable as she awaits his reply.
This scene acknowledges how SCARY it can be for girls to speak their minds in a culture full of mixed messages, where the pressure to be “strong” can sometimes feel just as crushing as the pressure to be “thin” or “beautiful.” Raising the curtain on Anna’s emotional state immediately after she’s made her demands lets girls in on an important secret: It’s OKAY to feel scared when you push yourself outside your comfort zone. You’re not weak just because your voice shakes or you tremble before or after you speak up. You’re strong because you proved you could do it anyway.
But as much as I love this particular scene, I’m Team Elsa all the way.
Why I’m Team Elsa
Although I am not autistic, I’ve experienced IRL all of the other experiences people have been projecting onto Elsa as metaphor. Coming out? I’m bisexual. Mental illness? I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety and learned what a game-changer anti-depressants can be. And I probably don’t have to disclose my feminist affiliations anymore at this point.
But what I love most about Elsa is that she appears to be Disney’s first openly introverted princess (technically, queen.) Sure, we’ve been given bookish Belle and a handful of other Disney ladies for whom someone could make a solid argument that they were introverts. Aurora spends her time alone in the woods talking to animals. Ariel retreats to her grotto and would rather explore a sunken ship alone than go to a crowded concert.
Still, with Elsa we see a Disney lady who REVELS in being alone. Indeed, who feels literally transformed once she is freed from the rules and constraints of social interaction. Before she ditches her own coronation party, one could argue that her isolation was involuntary, and I would agree. It’s clear that the growing up years are excruciatingly lonely for both Anna and Elsa — Anna because she is an extrovert and thrives on her interactions with others, and Elsa because she has to keep her authentic self locked inside.
But even in Elsa and Anna’s first scene together, we can see that Elsa is the more reserved of the two — she wants to stay in bed, she talks less than Anna does, and she is pensive rather than ebullient (like Anna) when she experiments with her magic. At movie’s end, there is something tentative in the way she interacts with the crowd before she creates the ice-skating rink, and her pronouncement that they are never shutting the gates again always comes across as a little forced. It is this that convinces me Elsa is an introvert by nature and not just in response to her shame about her magic.
Is Frozen a Feminist Movie?
It shouldn’t be so revolutionary when a movie presents children with more than one option for how to be a girl or a woman, but unfortunately, it still is — and that’s why Frozen occupies such an important place in the Disney canon. It’s also the only Disney movie in which the relationship between women is the driving emotional force behind the action. Despite how often we’ve all watched romance provide the primary thrust for the emotional plot of movies, in real life, women are shaped profoundly by their relationships with other women, whether female friends or sisters. To see a Disney movie finally acknowledge the importance of this aspect of a girl’s or woman’s development is incredibly gratifying.
Maybe that’s enough to make Frozen a feminist movie despite its perpetuation of mainstream beauty ideals and its insistence that Elsa run around in heels for the whole second act.
Or maybe it’s just what can happen when you don’t have to wade at least four screens in during the end credits to find your first female name. For the first time (in forever – reprise), a woman’s name appeared on the first page of the end credits — it’s Jennifer Lee, who is both director and screenplay writer — and perhaps that is what made all the difference.
Well, my friends, it is the last day of 2015, which brings my Year in Disney Movies to a close. It’s not the last entry in this blog, though — I still have Big Hero 6 to watch this Sunday. (53 Disney movies in canon, 52 weeks in a year). You can consider it the epilogue. 🙂
For further reading
- How Disney “got it right” in the sexification of Elsa
[And because I couldn’t resist, my favorite “spoof” on “Let it Go”]: