There’s a quiet revolution happening at Disney. Perhaps it was inevitable given the changing times in which we live in, but the role of Disney Princesses is a far cry from the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty of old.
Since Mulan (although the seeds were sown before this), we have seen princesses who are far more likely to be rescuers than rescued. In Princess and the Frog we see one who runs her own business and is much more of a leader than her male counterpart. In Tangled, Rapunzel is not rescued by the male that stumbles upon her tower, but instead knocks him unconscious and blackmails him. Finally, in Brave we see a princess who does everything possible to avoid getting married to her male suitors.
Frozen sees a similarly well-balanced portrayal of its two female protagonists. With more than a few nods to the stage play Wicked, it mixes music, humour, and magic to create a re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.
The story sees Elsa (Idina Menzel) having to hide her ability to turn things to snow from her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell). fThus creating a gulf between the two siblings. When Elsa accidentally reveals her powers to her sister (and the rest of her kingdom) she is unable to control them and freezes the whole land. Elsa takes refuge in a snow palace, thus locking herself away from the world. Anna takes it upon herself to try and rescue Elsa and bring her back to be Queen once again.
Frozen is a Disney Princess film that knows it’s a Disney Princess Film in much the same way as Hot Fuzz knows it’s a buddy cop movie or Princess Bride knows it’s a fairy tale film. As such the first act is spent creating a typical fairytale princess land, and the next two acts set about dismantling and playing with some of the tropes of the genre.
It’s not that the film ever feels the need to step outside of its mythical setting, it’s that it’s prepared to move off the path already well worn by films like Snow White and The Little Mermaid.
So yes there is romance, but more important is the idea that love can come in other forms. And yes, there’s a villain but they don’t necessarily need to be defeated with violence.
If modern male directors like Scorsese and Tarantino reflect the apparent masculine need to resolve problems through violence, then Frozen proposes an alternative. So we see Anna asked what her master plan is for dealing with her sister’s trip to the dark side. Her answer?
“I am gonna talk to her”.
The simplicity and casualness with which it is delivered made it one of my favourite movie lines of the year. After all aren’t most problems best resolved through talking it over?
There’s plenty of other stuff to love about Frozen beyond these strong themes, it’s witty, beautiful to look at, and has a surprising number of surprises for an animated family film.
Overall then it effortlessly pulls off the trick of feeling like a Disney film while still being incredibly fresh, innovative and having a message that’s heart-warming without feeling cliché.