Thursday, April 17, 2014
April 17, 2014: Animated History: Frozen
[Inspired by my recent viewings of The Lego Movie and Frozen with my boys, a series on what animated films (including those two) can help us AmericanStudy. Leading up to a special Guest Post on a particularly complex and under-appreciated American animator!]
On challenges to our expectations, less and more successful. [SPOILERS for Frozen follow!]
If the subject of yesterday’s post, The Princess and the Frog, significantly revised the existing canon of Disney Princesses, the newest and now most financially successful Disney animated film, Frozen (2013), goes further still. The film overtly seeks to revise a number of the tropes and myths at the heart of virtually every prior Disney film, including romantic narratives and their reliance on the concepts of love at first sight and true love, heroines/princesses and their arcs and goals, and even the relative importance of familial vs. romantic relationships in our storytelling. We’re not talking Who Framed Roger Rabbit? level meta-textuality here, exactly—but for a Disney animated film, I was struck by just how much Frozen comments on and challenges those traditional tropes.
All of those challenges are interesting and meaningful, but it’s also instructive to note which ones work and which, to this viewer, don’t. In the latter category I would locate the film’s challenge to romantic narratives, which it achieves by first linking its princess heroine Anna with the dashing Prince Hans and then eventually revealing him to be a heartless villain instead. It’s true that Frozen foreshadows that character shift through multiple characters’ reactions to Anna’s instant love and connection; she is repeatedly, incredulously asked, “You’re engaged to a man you just met?!” But it’s also true that much of the early section of Frozen makes happy use of the romantic tropes, including the extended song and dance number “Love is an Open Door.” So if Hans’ sudden shift feels somewhat unbelievable (and to this viewer it did), the film’s own heavy earlier reliance on those romantic tropes would have to be seen as contributing to that effect.
On the other hand, I found Frozen’s challenges to the traditional heroine arcs and emphases very successful and quite moving. That’s true for the two individual characters, as both Anna and (especially) her sister Elsa have journeys that are far more about their perspectives, experiences, and identities than about finding a romantic partner. But it’s even more true for them as sisters, as their stories are deeply intertwined and come to a powerful conclusion that remains more about them, individually and as a pair, than it is about the love interest character or indeed anyone outside of this complex duo. To see a pair of complex women whose relationship is rich and evolving and multi-layered, and whose most powerful emotional notes depend on that familial history and bond—well, I don’t know that I was ready for a Disney film that could pass the Bechdel Test. But I’m very glad that this one does.
Last animated history tomorrow,
BenPS. What do you think? Thoughts on this film, or other animated histories and stories you’d highlight?