Frozen is really something special. For almost all of its brisk 108 minutes, the only antagonist is a wall, both physical and metaphorical, put up between two sisters. There are other antagonistic personalities in the story foolishly vying for control of a kingdom, but everything hinges on one woman’s suppressed potential and on her sister’s inability to understand why her sister shuts her out.
We don’t see movies like this often, and we certainly don’t expect them from Disney, a studio that is often blamed for perpetuating the worst kind of feminine ideal. That blame is increasingly unjust. Between Tangled, Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, and now Frozen, Disney is giving us story after story about multi-faceted women in the middle of complicated relationships with one another and others who are ultimately capable of leading their respective peoples, not as avatars of masculine ideals, but as unique women uniquely fitted to the positions of authority appointed them.
That’s enough reason to see and love Frozen, in my opinion, but the movie has even more to offer. It’s routinely hilarious in an earnest way. Even when the visual and spoken jokes seem a little obvious, there isn’t a hint of sarcasm or satire. Unlike many animated movies in recent memory, we’re not being entreated to laugh because we’re laughing. We just being invited to laugh.
This is also a Disney musical in the tradition of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, animated musicals cut from the cloth of Broadway’s curtains. Most of Frozen‘s musical numbers even bare the imprint of the story’s location, Scandinavia. I particularly liked the Lutheran choirs and Sami (think Eskimo) chants that undergird some of the songs. The other numbers, while not indigenous, are as fun and catchy as anything on the radio and much more beneficial. We could all learn a little from the troll’s song about what lasting love looks like, and I’d rather listen to “Let It Go” than any of Katy Perry’s anthems against repression.
There is a point in Frozen where a traditional antagonist emerges. It’s unfortunate, because I was enjoying the non-traditional narrative so much. Thankfully though, the filmmakers use the wrinkle to add complexity to how true love can manifest itself. Too often, Disney princess movies have orbited around romantic love exclusively. Love is certainly more than romance, and its insistence on that something more is what makes Frozen more than your typical movie.
There’s a Ted Talk circulating in which the speaker asks what effect all these female warrior movies like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter franchises and the recent revamping of Snow White are having on our sons and daughters. The speaker contends that we need to be open to other stories. If the idea of an animated movie about the relationship between two sisters doesn’t appeal to you, you need to consider why you are going to the movies in the first place. Are you going to have you already formed values reinforced? Or, are you going to have your understanding of what it means to be human enriched and expanded?
Movies like Frozen make us more well-rounded people by adding complexity to our ideas about masculinity and femininity and how they fit in the world. They fill us out. They have the potential to make us aware of other people in a way we wouldn’t otherwise be. Renowned Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer said that the best effect of movies and the work of faithful filmmakers “is to enrich one’s fellow human beings by engrossing them in emotional experience they would not otherwise encounter.” We seldom encounter movies like Frozen, movies about women that don’t hinge on romance or include sword fights and where self-sacrifice and empathy win the day. Go see it. Be enriched.