Frozen: A review

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.

Frozen-movie-posterBut with John (Pixar) Lasseter’s move to Disney things have been looking up. I didn’t hate Tangled. Brave was good. But Frozen, Disney’s most recent offering, is great.

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?

9 responses to “Frozen: A review

  1. Good review. Most kids movies like to just appeal to the little ones and nobody else, but this movie does the job in hitting marks with both the younger, and older demographic that may get roped into seeing this.

  2. 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.

    Um, well. There’s actually been heaps of race-stuff going on behind the scenes with this film related to the erasure of darker-skinned people from it; I am by no means wholly versed in the details but you can read about some of that here.

    I still haven’t seen it – I’d like to, because I saw the bit with Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go” and was instantly, instantly sold – so I can’t comment on the rest of your review, but I just thought I’d add that link, because, well. Race stuff, Disney could be doing so much better at it.

    • I shouldn’t make it sound like I let Disney off the hook. Hence my “wussy step.” I have no idea what behind the scenes were like. Disney is a morass for race related stuff. Just awful. Most people think I’m crazy when I say that The Lion King is one of the most racist kids’ movies of all time.

      I also didn’t see the Frog Prince. BUT Disney did do Lilo and Stitch, which -wow- talk about non princess, non waspy bodies! We’ve seen that movie several times in our house. It’s a good palate cleanser to the overwhelming whiteness of most animated movies. I wish for more of that.

      • Yeah, I didn’t think you were letting them off the hook necessarily, but it also seemed like more information wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, so, you know. Linkdrop! And yes, Disney is just awful at race stuff, I frankly don’t know how the miracle of Lilo & Stitch ever came out of that company. And I’ve seen their Frog Prince adaptation – we own it, and love it, but it’s got its problems too.

        And now I’ve actually seen Frozen, and I love it a lot, despite the racist ish going on behind the scenes and the weirdness with the very adorable very underutilized trolls. I console myself with the thought that at least my kids are still into “girl” movies, since they’re rapidly approaching the age where they’re learning that “girl” things are laughable interests for boys. (Ugh, school.)

        • SCHOOL. Do not get me started! We actually just pulled our kindergartner from school at Thanksgiving. I haven’t written about it, as its not directly ‘spiritual’ but I’ll be talking a bit about it in an upcoming post.

          I’m so glad you liked Frozen. I hope this is a glimpse of change (however small and slow) to come, but it’s Disney so I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this review… clearly I need to read more of your posts. I went to see the movie based on your recommendation. I could not understand the purpose of the trolls at all, nor their recommendation that, while partly misinterpreted, led to the parents’ emotional sequestration of their eldest daughter. Odd. Incongruous.

    Otherwise, what a hoot, what a joy. I absolutely loved the ending. I have been waiting for this for decades. That kind of interpretation of “true love” in a widely viewed, large studio kids’ movie was so refreshing. It was everything I wanted.

    I cried three times. The construction of the castle scene was so raw. It killed me. Remarkably subtle emotional depiction next to such visual grandeur.

    You so deftly recognize and relate the ways entertainment distorts humanity and contributes to inequality, I want to add a criticism of this film of a similar ilk, but relating to non-human life. The portrayal of wolves is an injustice. “The Grey” and “The Day After Tomorrow” and so many more can rot for this, too. Wolves have harmed fewer people in the history of existence than were hurt by bees yesterday. I could go on…

    Disney alone owes the world, and the wolves, and reason, an entire movie devoted to the family bonds and loving relationships and cute pups and wonderful aspects of wolves. In frozen, the use of the wolves was a cheap, easy, unreasonable way to add a chase scene. DUMB.

    • Wow! I am so glad you liked the movie – even though are some really DUMB aspects to it. There are a couple of other plot holes regarding the trolls, too, that I didn’t mention. But they are minor in the face of the movie’s strengths.

      I agree with you about the non-human portrayals. Again, I thought the wolves were minor in the face of things. Especially because humans are, generally, afraid of wolves. However, ALL of modern Western society struggles to interact with the non-human.

      Have you seen Princess Mononoke? I’ve been meaning to rewatch this film and write about it, because the idea that all is holy and full of spirit is powerfully realized in an animated film (and in just about all of Hiyao Miyazaki’s films). But Americans – steeped in our Calvinist Christianity – see the world as our dominion, not as our partner. Nothing but humans have souls and therefore are not worthy of sacredness. If we did see everything as holy, we would be forced to see how selfish we’ve been as a species and how we’ve devastated our most holy of partners.

      Thank you for writing in, Greg.

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