Frozen – The cold never bothered me anyway! Disney’s princess’ go feminist. (Film Review)
Please note there are spoilers in this review.
Frozen is purportedly based on the Hans Christian Anderson children’s story, ‘The Snow Queen‘, but it actually seems more like Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris had a moment of inspiration when they heard “Let It Go” written by the wife and husband team of Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez (who worked with Disney on Winnie the Pooh) and decided to build a story out of that song – or were commissioned. The Hans Christian Anderson ‘Snow Queen’, first published in 1845, attracted Disney, but the story was too problematic and it got shelved, but to be honest seems far more like the Edmund, Lucy and White Witch story of the ‘Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ which was first published in 1950, even down to the “frozen” figurines the young Gerda finds scattered around the palace of the Snow Queen when she enters in order to save her brother Kai. The version that Disney has come up with is absolutely, positively, nothing at all even remotely connected to the Hans Christian Anderson classic, and having distanced so far from its narrative base it suffers from a peculiar wandering plotting that keeps equally distancing the film from the story of Elsa which is flat-out more interesting and ultimately more important than the story of Anna.
In many ways, Anna is nothing more than Disney’s apology for all those lame princesses. Anna is tomboyish, and even though we’ve seen that before, what we have not seen before (to my knowledge – I haven’t seen all the Disney Princess brand films) is a potent meta narrative that pokes fun at the princess who has fallen in love at first sight. Pretty much everyone has a go at Anna for falling in love with the first man she meets after being locked up in a tower for a long time, and that clearly and decisively goes against the previous Disney princess meme, and it is laboured with a capital L. It adds no real value to the story at all, except that everyone is proven right, as another apology Disney wants to make is the good v’s evil dichotomy that is generally so crystal clear. There are a couple of villains (male) but they are defeated for their wimpishness as much as for their naughtiness, and neither of them has the power to transform the princesses from one thing to another or teach her the meaning of courage or anything. Anna learns her lesson of not falling for the first guy, primarily from falling for the second guy she meets, which sort of means you never know what’s around the corner, or flirts have more fun or something – who knows what. Anna is definitely a secondary character that strangely is given the primary coverage on her odyssey, and that means events such as the visiting with the trolls, the freezing of Arandelle and the relationship with Kristoff all have this tacked on feel, as none of them are fully and properly developed.
In fact the most interesting and climactic moment of Frozen (and it also represents a climatic moment for Disney) is the “Let it Go” song sung by Anna’s sister, Elsa, and this is partly why I say this seems to be the root source for the film rather than anything else. Elsa shakes off the shackles in “Let it go”, which has to be, easily, one of the greatest Disney moments ever, not just for herself, but for all the trapped and constrained Disney heroines before her, particularly the infamous “Queens” so often represented as evil / powerful. As she climbs the mountain, placing herself in solitude because of her fear of her own power, she sings of a kingdom of isolation in which she is the queen, contemplating the swirling torment that resides inside; the direct consequence of her previous obedience:
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, Be the good girl you always have to be,
Conceal don’t feel, Don’t let them know.
Well now they know.
Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.
Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say, let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
After this first verse of defiance, she moves into the second verse about testing her own power independently of all that has gone before her that intends to define her. This isolation that leaves Elsa alone with her own power is declaritively sung (in easily the best song in the film, and the best Disney song in a while) as a freedom she gets to experience that will lead to her transformation ultimately, into a Queen. The isolated queen who rules her own heart. Here I’ll stand and here I’ll stay, she says, then builds her glorious new ice home. And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast, she says as she throws away the crown she wore back in the sunny world of Disney: The past is in the past!
Let it go, let it go, I’ll rise like the break of dawn,
Let it go, let it go, that perfect girl is gone
Here I stand, in the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway. (sung with a cheeky arched eyebrow)
This isn’t just the most interesting song of Frozen, it’s the most beautifully animated, the most detailed and the most spectacularly imaginative. The rest of the film doesn’t just hinge on it, it exists like an excuse for it. Even the character of Elsa, undoubtedly the most interesting character in Frozen, is never as interesting, nor as fully expressed as she is in “Let It Go”, making it really seem like Disney just wanted to find a way to make this one three minutes and twenty-three seconds make up for decades of poor female representation, not to mention a pretty ordinary rest of the film. Nothing in Frozen comes close to stealing the power of the scene, and everything Disney has ever been, is wrapped up in making this a crowning achievement of excellence. The morality of the transformation of an act of love comes from the love between sisters, not from the love between a man and a woman, and this crucial understanding stems from the transformation of Elsa, not Anna. Anna remains the old world princess, and the transformation Elsa underwent during “Let it Go” on the mountain top becomes the new pattern for princesses, rightfully determined when fully expressed as Queen’s.
Frozen may be just another cynical way for Disney to sell a lot of snowman covered lunch boxes, but something deep inside them has changed forever, and Frozen is a new demarcation point.