January 8, 2014
The Short Review: This is the movie I wanted Brave to be.
Now I have to unpack that a little bit. I liked Brave, it was cute and Merida is a fun character. But it wasn’t exactly subversive. I mean, she ends up saving the day with sewing, not archery, which left more than a few of us feeling like the story was a bit incomplete and unambitious.
Frozen: subversive and feminist. It’s wonderful. Spoilers follow.
When Anna meets and falls madly in love with Prince Charming in the space of a song, and everyone says, “You can’t marry someone you just met, that’s crazy!” When everyone in the movie assumes that “an act of true love” is necessarily a kiss between the girl and the guy — because they’ve been trained to assume that, as we all have — and it turns out that no, there are lots and lots of different kinds of true love and they’re equally powerful. I sat through the third act seeing that this was coming and hoping that they didn’t screw up the potential of this storyline — and they didn’t. It isn’t anyone else’s love for Anna that saves her — it’s her own love for others that saves her. A princess movie where the princess’s own agency is the key. Oh my goodness, it’s breathtaking.
I read a thing written before the movie came out expressing fury that Disney changed the Hans Christian Anderson story so radically, that the Anderson story is wonderful because it’s one of the few fairy tales that features more female than male characters, and that has a girl saving the passive guy, and what did Disney do but throw in a bunch of guys to serve as love interests. Here’s the thing: the original Snow Queen story might have lots of female characters, it might have a girl saving a guy, but it’s also a story about the evils of female sexuality, and how the only thing that can defeat a rapacious powerful woman is a sweet and innocent (i.e. nonsexual) girl. I’m so, so incredibly grateful that the movie changed everything. Disney’s given us enough evil queens, how wonderful is it to have a good one? And to have two women characters who aren’t at each others’ throats the whole movie?
And how does the film do with women and sexuality? Well — Anna expresses herself and her desires, and she makes mistakes, and this is depicted as normal and healthy, and she’s a wonderfully driven and well rounded character. And Elsa — turns out, she doesn’t need to fall in love and get married at all. She can be whole and complete and powerful all by herself.
You guys, the more I think about this movie the happier I get. This is upper level feminist stuff, but it’s important. It explains why the Resident Evil movies are feminist but the Underworld movies are not, even though they both feature kick-ass women main characters. It’s why a lot of urban fantasy frustrates me. Because you need more than a kick-ass woman character to be subversive. You need to tackle the whole status quo.