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#52filmsbywomen 9 – Frozen

Posted on: April 17, 2016

frozen swing

Oh guys, be really careful searching for Frozen on Tumblr, people seem to be working through some interesting feelings on there.

No. 9 – Frozen (Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, 2013)

By now, it seems pointless to start a conversation about Frozen. It propelled itself into the canon within a year of its release, surpassing critical and financial expectations when the lights of Disney seemed to have dimmed since its mid-90s glory days. Frozen has been the axis around which so much of culture has revolved, be it appreciation of feminist credentials, turning away from stereotypical tales of princess and one true love, or think pieces on unsettling eye to waist ratio, a triumph of traditional animation, a shot of adrenaline to Disney, alarming levels of merchandise, memes about building snowmen, the bane of karaoke nights, and the spectacular introduction of Adele Dazeem. Frozen has permeated so much.

But I hadn’t seen Frozen. And I’m someone who had seen Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I was fairly confident I knew what Frozen was about, unavoidable as it was, and I had heard the Oscar winning Let It Go, the highest charting Disney single since Pocahontas’ Colours Of The Wind in 1995 (unless you count The Climb from the Hannah Montana movie, which no one does) and certainly more worthy than the whole Oscar winning Phil Collins-does-Tarzan oeuvre. But I kept my Frozen ignorance hidden, to avoid being berated by, you know, everyone. Because it’s not just that Frozen is a good film, or that people enjoy it, and their kids connect with it. People love Frozen. People are obsessed with it. It inspires a degree of passion we rarely seen in a film that isn’t a Star War. Loosely based on the Ice Queen tale, then altered to make the titular queen Elsa not a hero or a villain but a frightened, vulnerable woman with no control over her powers or her emotions, crushed by the weight of expectations, then reviled when she reveals her true self. Or at least that’s the subtext, some pretty complex themes for a Disney film. Which is probably why the film is told through the perspective of her devoted younger sister Anna, locked out by her sister and kept in the dark as the powers manifest. But she never stops reaching out to Elsa, never stops trying to connect, and every other aspect of the film revolves around this central relationship. And it is refreshing not just for a Disney film but any film, where sisterhood is woefully underexplored. Anna’s romantic interests, Prince Hans, who she gets impulsively engaged to, who turns out to be the villain searching for a kingdom of his own, and Kristoff, who she falls in like with but not enough to save her from the last act’s conflict – that’s Elsa’s job.

It’s a nice film. The music works, the faux-Finnish setting allows for beautiful scenery and design, the script and acting is good, though the story is spotty at points (who raised Elsa and Anna when their parents mysteriously disappeared? The castle servants, normally a sure thing for Disney characterisation, have only a few lines. How did Elsa keep a secret when only her parents knew? This seemed very badly organised.). But nothing in the film explained to me why Frozen became such a cultural touchstone. It’s nothing wholly unique – the character design doesn’t tickle my personal fancy, though it’s inevitable that the stylised 3d-esque look of Pixar and Dreamworks would emerge as a compromise between contemporary tastes and the classic Disney of yore. Anna and Kristoff are charming but Elsa is kind of characterless and, Let It Go aside, a missed opportunity for a really interesting exploration (though how much psychological realism should we be trying to shoehorn into a kid’s movie?). And those criticisms are minor in filmic terms, but just enough to push it down my list of Disney favs.

I don’t know why Frozen broke through. The real gem in later Disney is The Princess And The Frog, criminally underrated, filled with beautiful songs, memorable characters, Creole/New Orleans design and a firefly that will make you cry. I don’t regret seeing Frozen, but less than a week later, I don’t remember much about it, apart from what I already knew because of its place in the cultural canon. But I do know we aren’t about to stop seeing Elsas at Halloween for a long, long time.


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