Frozen

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.

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15 Responses to “Frozen”

  1. Ron Lionus Polubinski Says:

    Indoctrination served up as entertainment?

  2. Jaws Says:

    Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” really does not pass the Bechdel test. I’ve not seen Frozen yet, but it appears to pass the Bechdel test.

    But then, Andersen did have that birth defect (the Y chromosome) himself…

  3. sef Says:

    I’d like to see the version of this movie where they spend more time with Elsa, and more deeply explores how love can withstand an abusive family member, and even move that family member to get past the abuse and guilt.

    There were *parts* of that, but they very obviously *stopped* at a particular point, presumably to keep the movie marketable to children.

    (It was also one of the very few musicals where I would have liked *more* songs. Except for that troll song, which I despised and would have rather been cut from the movie entirely.)


  4. I had every expectation of hating that movie (as I was part of the “it’s not ‘based on the Snow Queen’, it just HAS a Snow Queen, dummies!” camp) but I went anyway because my kids wanted to go, and holy smokes did I love the heck out of that film. My daughters clutched one another and sobbed and my son told me to never, ever go anywhere in a boat.

    But yes, it was a total subversion of the typical storyline and a celebration of the power of familial – and sisterly – love. So awesome. And there were SO MANY OPTIONS along the way to veer the story back into familiar territory. And each time, they made the bold choice.

    I will probably own this one. For sure, I’ll see it again when it reaches the cheap theaters.

  5. carriev Says:

    Ron Lionus, care to elaborate?

  6. Vickie B Says:

    I loved taking my 10-year-old daughter to see this. She saw what it means to be a strong female who can still make mistakes, but come out stronger in the end. My favorite moment was hearing her squawk when Anna fell in love so quickly. “She’s making a big mistake!”

  7. Ron Lionus Polubinski Says:

    Generally since Ancient times a story revolves around a main character solving the story problem without any accompanying overlayer of political correctness or message: “Subversive and feminist”, altruistic “love for others”, “female sexuality”, “upper level feminist stuff” and “tackling the whole status quo”.

    A character can be a strong character with values he/she will not surrender without being typecast as gender-ist or “kick-ass”.

    Queen Elizabeth I was certainly not feminist by any standard, but she put her stamp on her country’s development as no other English monarch did. The same may be said for Catherine the Great and Russia. Heh, but of course they are not suitable subjects for a Disney sweetness and light feature suitable for the entire family. :-)

  8. Carriev Says:

    Here’s the thing: all those stories about princesses who have to wear the right clothes and sit passively to wait for their prince to rescue them are just as political, and promote their own brand of indoctrination — we just don’t notice because it’s considered “normal.”

    A lot of us really like having a different kind of story.

  9. Griggk the goblin Says:

    Not sure I understand what makes the movie subversive an/or feminist. I did note that the story could just as easily been about two brothers, or a brother/sister combo without making any real changes…and I’m fine with that. Give me characters acting believably in unbelievable situations, and I really couldn’t care less about the genders involved.

    When folks start obsessing over making sure that both genders are represented, and neither gender is shown in a manner that would suggest inferiority…well, you get “The Hobbit: DOS”.

  10. Carriev Says:

    Griggk: the fact that you can swap the genders without the story changing is exactly what makes this feminist. Try doing that with Cinderella.

  11. Griggk the goblin Says:

    “Feminism” is a weird word to me. According to various dictionaries, it means equality for both sexes…but if it’s equality one is striving for, why use the “fem” prefix? “Equalism” seems a better term as it (for me, at least) implies no preference between sexes.

    As for subversive, the root word, subvert, means to attack secretly. I think the gender equality in “Frozen” was pretty much visible, intentional and overt. And, as I said, I have no problem with that.

    As for role reversal with Cinderella, if you have a young male oppressed by older step-brothers and a callous stepfather, who isn’t invited to the tournament, but receives assistance from a supernatural guardian…well, you have “Sword in the Stone”.

  12. carriev Says:

    In Sword and the Stone, Wart wins through his quest and gets to be King. In Cinderella, she wins through her quest and gets to be…married?

    When I say role reversal, I want to see the story where the guy’s focus is on winning the affections of Princess Charming, who then swoops in to rescue him.

    The roles that these traditional stories offer men and women are fundamentally not equal. Feminism is the tool we use to shine a light on those inequalities so we can maybe try to fix them.

  13. quantum sufficiat Says:

    “It isn’t anyone else’s love for Anna that saves her — it’s her own love for others that saves her.”

    This reminds me of the surprise ending of the 2006 film “Penelope” with Christine Ricci and James McAvoy. Everyone just assumes that love from a peer in the form of marriage is necessary to break the family curse that has bequeathed her with a pig snout, albeit a pretty cute one. (Penelope’s family is British aristocracy, so she is sort of princess). But in the end, she gets really tired of all the nonsense of endlessly looking for a potential groom among the peerage who are frightened away by her unusual appearance. Penelope decides that she likes herself the way she is. Amazingly enough, this breaks the curse, as “Penelope has at last been loved by ‘one of her own kind’ – herself – and her pig snout and ears disappear…(wiki on Penelope). I think that this cannot be said enough to young girls – the only person who can fully make you happy is you – when you pleased in yourself and accept it, roses and warts and all. A husband and kids are great, but pleasing them, if it involves not pleasing yourself, is not something to strive for. The princess can rescue herself. Thanks for your always interesting thoughts and ideas, Carrie, both on the blog and in your books!

  14. Doruk Says:

    All that was nice, yes, but I still wish you-know-who wasn’t evil… The setup would have worked well with him being good, and that would have presented an interesting conflict towards the end, I think.

  15. Michael Says:

    “I mean, she ends up saving the day with sewing, not archery.”
    I can’t believe that’s what a writer like yourself took away. ;)
    She *thinks* that sewing is going to save the day, but it doesn’t. Nothing happens until she breaks down sobbing and apologizes to her mother. The broken bond she’s supposed to mend is her bond with her mother, not a tear in a tapestry.


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