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Monday, December 8, 2014

December 8, 2014: Cold Culture: Frozen

[To complement last week’s series on winter histories, I wanted to focus this week on cultural representations of the cold, wintry and otherwise. Add your cultural connections for the cold, in all media and genres and with all meanings, for a frrrrrrrigid weekend post, please!]
On challenges to our expectations, less and more successful. [SPOILERS for Frozen follow!]
If one animated film I’ve analyzed in this space, 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.
Next cold cultural connection tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Other cold connections you’d highlight?

2 comments:

  1. I really want to get in line to applaud Disney's _Frozen_, but I just can't. Maybe it's my evil frozen heart but this really isn't that great a film, and it's not a feminist text. Yes, we have two female characters, who both have names and talk to each other and don't talk about men (hooray!) but that's the main problem: they RARELY speak to one another and when they do it's either "oooh, chocolate" (eyeroll.. I don't like chocolate) or oh wait, nope. The other times they talk to each other they are NOT ACTUALLY TALKING. Because their parents raised them to live in isolation from one another and not discuss this big freakin' elephant in the room. The trolls did say that fear would be the worst enemy, so what possessed you to lock your kid up and make her terrified of her "powers".... oh, I get it, we're not talking about power. This is the sex talk that we all get and you guys get to go to the gym and play dodge ball! Remember girls the first time you have sex will be painful and terrifying and "there will be blood" and you girls (and you alone) are the guardians of your vagina! (that was actually the first title to Guardians of the Galaxy, I think they changed it so it would do well in the Midwest) Ugh, Second Eye Roll.

    Hans is a straight up dick, but he's got more brains than Anna who falls in love when his horse rescues her from a fate worse than death... getting her hair wet. He then plays a total dick move by having her fall in love with him, and pretty much anyone could see he was a dick from like a mile away as he keeps alluding to her kingdom in that "love is an open door" song. Also, a guy that repeats everything you say is a troll or stalker or just boring and stupid. And speaking of stupid... Lars or blondie or whatever and his trusty steed, trope.

    Both girls play damsels in distress, and really neither is the hands of her own rescue. Elsa is brought to heal by the guards, placed in jail, manages to get free but is only hunted and almost killed by Hans. Yes, she's saved by her sister... the very sister she didn't trust enough to go "oh, hey, yeah I have these powers and when I get upset I'm not really in control." No, she just runs off, because as we all know when women get upset we run off, or to the mall, or to the bathroom. Third eyeroll and face palm.

    Anna, the genius, rides off to save her sister, you know as opposed to making sure her kingdom is secure just says "my boyfriend who is way handsome and has the best side burns is in charge because he's tots qualified cuz, well, have you heard him sing?" And why was she locked in the palace when she could freaking leave at any moment as demonstrated by the film when she WALKED OUTSIDE.

    Anna strikes a deal with blondie, which is fantastic but has to be saved by him and his weird adopted family who for some reason do not remember her from the FREAKING LAST TIME. How many princesses get zapped by their ice-power sister in this neighborhood? Like 10?

    Yes, it's nice that there are female leads and they don't fall into the usual trope-holes. But women draw strength from working together. We can't get into fist fights and get our way out of danger with our physical strength... unless we are Angelina Jolie or Chung Li. We are strongest when we find others with different qualities and work together. Our strength and bond comes from open and frank and frequent communication. So thanks Disney you gave us two women, now if you could make them act like women.

    And why the hell did it open with the lion king theme!?

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  2. My comment is longer than the OP - For The Win!

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