Oh Disney, you are so complicated. Such beautiful art, such a weird and twisted empire. So many great movies, so many terrible ones. But one thing has remained constant for your empire: you are a feminist’s nightmare.
I fell in love with Disney when I was 14, when The Little Mermaid came out. The colors! THE SINGING. I didn’t have a filter then for deconstructing the anti-feminist qualities of that film. And oh, it’s awful for girls. Silence your voice to win a cute boy’s heart? UGH. Then there was the horrible, racist Lion King. Don’t get me started on that.
Did you read that right? Yes, you did. This notoriously unpleasable feminist, the one who rained on everyone’s Thor 2 parade, loves Frozen.
I always like to get the bad things out of the way first. There are a few typical Disney tropes that I hope die in a fire someday soon. First, we’re still telling stories about princesses. You’d think women didn’t deserve stories unless they are royalty. Secondly, the princesses’ faces, bodies, and especially eyes are really creepy. I’m tired of the wasp-waisted, tea-cup-eyed women Disney keeps drawing. Thirdly, the songs in this film are forgettable – except for the one that Elsa sings alone in her ice castle. Holy moly, can Idina Menzel sing. I prefer my animation without songs.
Lastly, there was some weird, racist stuff going on with the adorable trolls. Why is their ceremonial garb possibly Polynesian? Why does the lone non-’European’ voice belong to a troll? Disney’s inability to effectively portray anyone other than white, Euro-centric Americans is deeply problematic, and yet this was less of an issue than it’s been in past movies. I’ll take it a wussy step in the right direction.
Typical annoyances were delightfully downplayed. Usually I hate the ‘funny animal’ sidekick. In this case, Olaf the Snowman was a hoot – and strangely made sense!
Now, why on earth am I writing about a Disney movie in a blog devoted to spirituality? Because besides finding this film feminist and with a dash of my favorite theology (spoiler alert: the ladies save themselves and each other!), I liked most of what the movie had to say about magic. Or rather, I like that this movie introduced old tropes and then worked against them.
In past Disney movies the evil character is usually a female and a witch. She’s ugly or at least fearsome, ruining the lives of her hapless victims out of jealousy or just to delight in malice. Spoiler alert: There is no villain in this movie! There’s a bad guy or two, but they are not the Big Bad. The witch in this movie isn’t a witch at all. Elsa is a sorceress, led to believe that her powers were dangerous. Both she and her parents genuinely didn’t know much about her ice powers and didn’t want anyone to get hurt. Instead of learning about her powers, her parents kept Elsa isolated. This is the source of conflict.
What we see throughout the movie is that the powers themselves are neither good nor bad. What steers them are the intent of the sorcerer. As Victor Anderson is credited with saying, “White magic is poetry; black magic is anything that works.” There is no dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ magic. But magic or power feared can lead to misuse. Only by claiming one’s power and abilities can a person wield them positively, or with choice.
There is a strange and, I think, misguided mention of this idea in the beginning. Due to an accident of Elsa’s, her parents take her to the trolls for help. The head troll uses fiery images of a ‘hellish’ nature to indicate magic gone wrong. It sets up an either/or that I don’t think holds in the rest of the film.
I loved that magic was not an outright evil in this movie, nor that a woman possessing magic was an evil witch. One man in the movie wants to make Elsa out as a ‘monster,’ but that theme is shot down repeatedly. Elsa reveals how when we step into the fullness of our voice and powers we find wholeness and learn to stop fearing our strengths as weaknesses. This along with the strong female characters and their bonds make Frozen a movie that I can unreservedly recommend.
Besides, it made me cry. Twice. Outside of Brave, I am not sure that’s ever happened with a Disney movie. But better than my recommendation is that of my kids. My 3-year-old was riveted. And my five-year old son was rooting for the ladies. Who says strong female characters have to exist at the expense of the men or can’t be box office draws?