Disney’s new princess film Frozen hit theaters last week and it scored big at the box office, raking in enough cash to become the most successful opening weekend for an animated Disney movie ever.
Frozen is about two princesses: Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and her older sister Elsa (Idina Menzel). Elsa has a curse (not very well explained) that lets her manipulate snow and ice, but she isn’t good at controlling it. On the night of Elsa’s coronation, Anna meets the charming prince Hans (Santino Fontana). She believes it’s true love and they get engaged. But when Anna asks Elsa for her blessing, Elsa gets angry and accidentally freezes the land into eternal winter. Elsa runs away so that she doesn’t hurt anyone else and Anna heads out on a quest to find her. Along the way, she meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice seller who becomes another love interest for her.
Frozen earned some feminist criticism before it premiered—and for good reason. Frozen is based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale where a girl rescues her male friend, but the film writers changed the story to make main character Anna need a man’s help. On top of that, the film’s head animator said that it was hard to animate two female characters in the same scene because they both had to look pretty. Also Anna looks really similar to Rapunzel from Tangled, showcasing once again Disney’s lack of diversity around race and beauty.
But even with all the bad press, I still went to see Frozen last weekend. Personally, I can’t help but get excited about Disney princesses even though I realize that they reinforce many real problems. Growing up in the nineties, Belle, Ariel, Mulan, and Jasmine were a huge part of my childhood, so I wanted to give Frozen a chance.
After emerging from the theater, I felt like Frozen was a mixed bag: not as bad as I feared it would be, but not as fun to watch as Tangled or as subversive as Brave. Here are my pros and cons.
Mild spoilers ahead.
Pro: It passes the Bechdel test. There are two female characters: Anna and Elsa. They talk about a lot of things other than boys, so we can check that off the list. It’s notable that the last three princess movies (Tangled, Brave, and Frozen) all featured central relationships with two females who are related to each other. It would be nice at some point to explore friendship between girls who aren't related, but as it is, the two leads have a good and complex relationship.
Con: The plot doesn't make a lot of sense. The movie rested on the fact that Elsa was “cursed” but they never explained how or why she had magic and Anna didn’t. They also didn’t do a great job of explaining why there were magical rock trolls who were “love experts.” There are just a lot of plot holes here, people.
Pro: Kristen Bell. Kristen Bell voices the main character Anna, and she was great. Though the animators apparently have trouble giving real emotion to female characters, Bell brought real some wit and sass to Anna. This saved the character from being just a typical 21st century heroine: generically brave and endearingly clumsy and awkward. I didn’t even know Bell could sing, but she carried the film.
Con: The other main characters aren’t very well developed. Elsa, Kristoff, and Hans have a lot of potential, but it seemed like there may have been too many characters and not enough time to flesh all of them out. This was especially disappointing for Elsa since it was exciting to have two main female characters, but not as exciting when one of them doesn’t have a real personality.
Pro: Elsa isn’t evil. It seemed ambiguous from the marketing whether Elsa was going to end up being a villain, but she turned out not to be. This was a refreshing deviation from many films that feature two main female characters where they’re typically plotting and scheming against each other.
Con: Annoying love triangles. I personally don’t mind romantic plots in general, but I’m with the folks who think that love triangles are an annoying and tired way to create conflict. Having the love story with Hans gave Anna less time to develop a real relationship with Kristoff, which made both relationships come off as generic. As it was, I definitely wanted some more Kristoff scenes. They didn’t even have a sappy love song together! Bummer.
Pro: The girls don’t wait around for princes to rescue them with kisses. I’m not going to totally ruin it for people who haven’t seen the film but, as you would expect from Disney, there’s a climatic scene where someone can only be saved with the magic of “true love.” It seems like this act of love is going to be a kiss between romantic interests, a la Sleeping Beauty/Snow White, but it’s not! Instead, the true love is an act of sisterly devotion. So yay for forgoing the notions that romance fixes everything in the world.
Con: The music wasn’t that great. I’m not a music expert, and maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel like I’m going to be singing along to the soundtrack for the next twenty years like I have with the nineties classics. And while some people didn’t love the music in Tangled, I personally thought it was better than the music in Frozen. I will say props to Idina Menzel for having the best song, “Let it Go.”
Pro: No one gets married. When Anna tells Kristoff that she got engaged to Hans after knowing him for less than a day, he tells her she might be being hasty. He points out all sorts of valid reasons that challenge the notion that “true love” is all that matters: she doesn’t know his last name, she has never seen him eat before, and she doesn’t know if he picks his nose. In the end, the message seems to be that you should really get to know the people you date and build a relationship, rather than leaping into marriage.
Con: It’s a $10 ticket. In the end, I recommend going to see Frozen if you’re the kind of person who secretly or not-so-secretly indulges in Disney movies despite their problems. If you're not that kind of person, just stay home and watch The Princess Bride again.