Disney’s Frozen: Breaking the rules and Slamming the Door!

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.
It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!
– lyrics from Let It Go (from Frozen) by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

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In the midst of a family beach holiday four women and one little girl – ranging in age from four to fifty five – settle on the couch to watch Frozen. We have just returned from the sunshine and surf on Clark’s Beach and it is time to put our feet up after lunch and have some quiet time with a DVD. Most of the group have already seen this film but it was first a viewing for me. I am happy to admit that I unashamedly love this movie. The fact that this is the first Disney children’s film to be co-directed by a woman (Jennifer Lee) is evident in the characterisation of the princesses and at every turn of the plot.

The story centres around two sisters, Elsa (who possesses magical powers with which she is able to produce ice and snow) and Anna, the younger sister, who yearns for love and friendship. Asked who she would like to be, the four year old in our family emphatically answers, “Elsa”. This is the clear response that I have received from every four year old girl since viewing the film (and I have asked quite a few). My heart lifts each time I hear this answer. These little girls staunchly choose magical power (albeit a very weird and potentially destructive one) and a life of freedom over romantic love. Yaay for them!

There is no handsome prince to rescue these sisters. In fact the prince is a scoundrel and a self serving cad. He is not even formidable enough to be a real villain. There is a nice bloke with a reindeer who hangs about and offers gratuitous male advice to Anna. We like him but not even Anna is really swooning over him. There is the usual Disney sidekick (you know – the Eddie Murphy style Donkey in Shrek or Dragon in Mulan) in Olaf the little snowman. He’s cute and funny however it’s the sisters who own this film.

We relate to Anna – the lonely girl looking for friendship and love – but in all our female hearts we want to be Elsa. A woman rejoicing in her freedom, striding about in her icy castle wearing a gorgeous sparkling blue dress. A complex and vulnerable woman – powerful and independent yet capable of love and sacrifice.

Before Jennifer Lee came on board as director the plot line and characterisation of this film were going in a completely different direction.

“In the original script Elsa was evil from the start; she kidnapped Anna from her own wedding to intentionally freeze her heart, then later descended upon the town with an army of snowmen with the objective of recapturing Anna to freeze her heart properly.[45]:8:42 By the time Lee came in, the first act included Elsa deliberately striking Anna in the heart with her freezing powers; then “the whole second act was about Anna trying to get to Hans and to kiss him and then Elsa trying to stop her.” (Wikipedia).

Well none of this is very surprising really – put a group of male directors and writers in charge of a film about women and you are almost always going to end up with a Wicked Witch of the West or Snow White’s evil stepmother (jealous, vindictive and cruel) and a dependent, fragile princess waiting to be rescued. So kudos to Jennifer Lee who has given us a film about strong, loving, independent women. Her direction has added a depth and complexity to the Disney Princess and turned the usual story of pretty but feeble girl, malicious witch and handsome prince into a much truer and more satisfying narrative.

And kudos to all those four year old girls who want to be Elsa – a princess with magical powers but no boyfriend. The fact that romantic love fails to save the day and sisterly love wins out gets a big cheer from all of us!

© Anita Patel, 2015

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