I’ve finally had the absolute pleasure of watching Frozen, this year’s Oscar winning animated feature that the Internet has been freaking out about since its theatrical release. I expected the movie to be good, but what I didn’t expect was for it to impress me on a level that would inspire an entire blog post series. There is a lot that this film did right in terms of representation and story telling that shows a major shift in how stories are speaking to us. Its largest blemish, however, is the utter lack of PoC. Many have already extensively written about this particular issue with much better expertise than I, as a white person, could ever express. I’ll summarize my opinion thusly: I don’t see many people take issue with the fact that Disney movies are hardly ever true to their source material story-wise. This type of historical inaccuracy seems just fine with creative licenses and such. But when people begin to question the lack of PoC, especially in Frozen, suddenly maintaining historical accuracy becomes a very important reason why there are none at all. This blog post covers the issue quite well, and includes some historical analysis of the presence of PoC in Denmark.
As I’ve said before, most of the stories that I give lip service to on this blog are merely steps in the right direction, and I don’t think any one story will ever “get it right” in terms of representation. What Frozen does well is that it subverts the princess story arc that Disney itself popularized. In this blog post series, I will discuss three ways in which Frozen has challenged what we’ve come to expect from Disney stories about women, especially princesses. The first, and perhaps the subtlest, is Elsa’s queerness. The second is the way that women take action instead of waiting for men to help them and the third is the complete redefinition of true love as expressed in the film’s final scenes.
Conceal, Don’t Feel
It’s not only Elsa’s long gazes at Anna that make me read her as not-so-straight. Of course, the pain of not being able to even hug your own sister would probably make anyone look at someone that way. It’s how everyone, especially her parents, reacts to her icy powers. As far as we know, Elsa is the only person to have any sort of elemental gift, though the first scene with the trolls reveals that people can be born with these powers or cursed with them. Elsa was born with her magic and it’s clear from her father’s reaction to Anna’s accident that her parents have never been comfortable with or approved of Elsa using it. As the girls grow, Elsa is never encouraged to learn about or understand her powers. Instead, her parents teach her hide them from everyone and “conceal, don’t feel” becomes Elsa’s motto. She learns to resent her powers and keep a huge part of herself a secret from the outside world. For most of her life, Elsa is quiet literally in the closet–she locks herself in her room all the time and becomes even more secluded when her parents die.
“Conceal, don’t feel” subjects Elsa to a life of lying to herself, hating a huge part of who she is, and generally not allowing herself to be happy. Since this philosophy was imposed on her at such a young age, her entire story becomes an allegory of what many queer people experience in their own lives. When queerness is seen as something to be feared and pushed down instead of understood, “conceal, don’t feel” is what many queer people end up doing to stay under the radar. The allegory isn’t perfect–Elsa’s powers do legitimately hurt Anna, so the negative reaction is more understandable in the movie; however, everything else about Elsa’s story speaks to this experience, especially since her powers are strongly tied to her emotions.
Let It Go
In keeping with the queerness allegory, Elsa experiences a dramatic coming out scene at her coronation when her fight with Anna causes her to accidentally expose her powers to the entire kingdom. Not only do these powers shock everyone due to their rarity, but because Elsa can’t fully control them, she’s easily subjected to the fear mongering that pigeon holes her as a monster. Again, this is a familiar experience for many queer people when they come out to friends or family members. In Elsa’s case, the backlash hurts so much that she runs away, which reflects cases where young LGBT people are kicked out of their homes or made to be so miserable that they leave of their own volition.
At this point, the “Let It Go” number begins. Now that everyone knows Elsa’s secret–and now that she’s placing distance between herself and her home–she finally begins to embrace her powers. Her physical change (loosening her hair, tossing away her cloak, and donning a fabulous new dress) mirrors her emotional change into a more confident person. Coming out to oneself has this freeing effect. Elsa’s not completely fixed at this point, but she does realize that at least being in a place where she doesn’t have to hide her powers is infinitely better than living at home where she could be persecuted for them. If that means living alone for the rest of her life, she’ll make that sacrifice.
As the film progresses, Elsa gradually becomes more comfortable with her powers and subsequently gains better control over them; however, she doesn’t have complete control and that nearly becomes a fatal factor in the story. Still, “Let It Go” is an emotional turning point for Elsa–the point where she decides to take ownership of her happiness.
Though Elsa’s queerness is never explicit, her story parallels many of the non-romantic experiences of queer people. Elsa finally accepting herself is one of many examples in the film where women take action to pursue their own happiness. In “Let It Go,” Elsa starts living for herself a little bit, an important step in understanding and loving who she is. This kind of representation is sorely needed in a world that continuously rehashes the same stories about women. In the next post of this series, I’ll analyze other ways in which women are the agents of their own happiness as opposed to waiting on someone else to provide it for them. Anna’s story specifically breaks what we’ve come to expect of princess tales.