Boy meets girls, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Here we go again, or so I thought as Disney’s new, skinny, pretty white princess, Anna, meets prince charming. The image of a Disney executive listing off all the necessary ingredients shrouds the screen: Hero, check, damsel in distress check, antediluvian conceptions of Love, check, holiday cash in, double check. Bias is the greatest act of blasphemy a critic can commit, but come on!, it’s a Disney princess movie. Writer and co-director Jennifer Lee, the first female to helm a Disney animated film, must have had fun overturning most of these expectations. While not necessarily revolutionary, Frozen, does participate in beginning to rewrite the derivative “True Love” narrative and the 1950’s female archetypes of Disney’s patriarchal tradition.
Frozen, however, isn’t the snowplow to push away all dominant ideologies. Our princess is still as white as snow, as popular standards of beauty as can be, and you will undoubtedly catch story deja vu. The film is about two sisters and what could be seen as the origin of the “evil” ice queen, an engaging reimagining of the wicked witch cliche. Older sister Elsa, and heir to the throne, has ice powers, which she cannot control and must be kept secret. Problems, romance, heroics, and singing ensue. Lots of singing. Although it made me cringe at times-probably because of my own projected embarrassment caused by some false sense of emasculation-the songs are well written, catchy, and even hold back on the cheese a little by remaining humorously self aware. The film overall is entertaining and worth a few laughs, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Frozen lives up to its name, taking the icy cold to heart. The film is overdetermined in its use of water in its many frozen forms. Ice is expertly interwoven into the script’s thematic preoccupations, utilizing simple yet poignant puns, e.g. a cold heart, to elaborate on these themes. Every opportunity to slip, slide, skate, snow, cool, crack, crunch, glaze, glisten, freeze, and melt is fully realized. The animation is gorgeous as expected, but moreover, the ice motif brings a satisfying sense of texture to this plasticky world. In the tradition of classic 2D Disney, Frozen pays particular attention to the kinetic possibilities of animation, while still maintaining the modern focus on character psychology. In this sense, Frozen is as much about overturning the tradition of 2D art, from Mickey to Baroque paintings as it is about subverting patriarchy, which may just go hand in hand. The elegant merger of themes and the medium in question is brilliantly illustrated in a sequence where our heroin sings and frolics, imposing her three dimensional self upon classical paintings, notably parodying Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing,” a painting about an aging man pushing his young wife on a swing while a fine gentleman hiding in the bushes sneaks a peek. I’ll let you do what you will with that.
Now, for some romance. The western “True Love” narrative hasn’t really changed much since Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium, explained to us all that belly buttons are proof of why we’re all looking for our other half. He was even nice enough to include the love between the same sex (don’t mind that noise, it’s just Walt Disney stirring in his grave) in the story. Aristophanes was apparently a really chill dude.
While Frozen doesn’t stray too far away from the notion of navels and the “one,” the film makes commendable attempts to illustrate that there are alternative forms of love (and maybe interchangeable at that), albeit heteronormative and familial ones, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Lee and the other writers continually poke fun at the the stupidity and shallowness of the “love at first sight” trope, and use all of the feminist momentum the film builds up to make one final and thematic uphill push to untie the first knot in Disney’s tired “True Love” yarn.
Most the film will follow the familiar beats of romance, ultimately ending in the expected sum of the “boy meets girl” formula, but the final twist in the film arrives a bit unexpectedly because of how engrained the “True love” narrative is into the western love discourse. This final character decision, which some may see as contrived, transforms Frozen from yet another Disney princess movie into a volta, a significant turn, in the overarching Disney narrative (Brave is excluded, being primarily a Pixar production). Although it’s not paradigm shattering, Frozen may be the first swing of the pick to break the ice of tradition.