18 December 2013

Frozen: some thoughts

note A: This is a re-write of sorts. I wanted to revise my thoughts a bit.
note B: this post will contain spoilers for the movie Frozen. Just a warning!

J., E., and I recently went to see Disney's new movie, Frozen. E. stared at the previews, fell asleep during the opening sequence, woke up for a feed in the middle (one of those moments when I like breastfeeding), then dozed off again and woke up during the credits. J. and I loved it, but as with any movie, we had a few quibbles with it.

I didn't know much about the film before we went; I'd seen the YouTube video of "Let It Go" because, well, Idina Menzel singing. That was it. I loved the sense of freedom the song invokes.

It's a great song. But I had a couple issues with it. The problems that arose for me were mostly minor, but I think that they contribute to the overall effect of the song and the story. Elsa's costume transforms part-way through the song into a spangled ice-themed outfit. I don't have a problem with that. My problem was that she went from a beautiful character to a sexy character. Her make-up was more enhanced; there was a slit in her skirt (which was jarring because the overall aesthetic for the film doesn't support that style very well; honestly that's probably the thing that irritates me most. They could have left out the slit to maintain consistency with the rest of the costumes, and she still would have looked fabulous and sexy); and her "confident" walk involved a hip sway. Sexiness isn't a bad thing, but when Elsa takes ownership of herself and her power, she becomes sexualized in appearance. I doubt that Disney was trying to imply that power in women must be mitigated by sexualization, but the implication is there.

Elsa is an adult character, and her transformation occurs when she is alone, so her choice to appear sexy isn't necessarily problematic: she is choosing how she wants to look, and it is very obviously about her desire to express herself rather than about her catering to the male gaze. But my concern is about what young girls watching the movie are going to take away from it--that it's about being sexy, rather than about being yourself. I like feeling attractive and I like trying to choose flattering clothes, but these days most of that is about how I feel when I look good and less about how other people respond to my clothing choices. Will young women absorb the message that expressing themselves must be about whether or not they are sexy? I'm probably overthinking it.

There are other points of contention. When the younger sister, Princess Anna, falls for a man and wants to marry him as soon as she's met him, this is met with opposition, as it should be. (Instead, she ends up with a guy that she falls for 1-2 days after meeting him). Anna is a great character, but the trope of princesses getting to fall in love with handsome men continues. The queen, on the other hand, Elsa, is permitted to stay single--no partner appears on the horizon for her (does this imply that power requires singleness in order to maintain control, or that Elsa's a strong character and can rule on her own without any male interference?).

However, on the whole, Frozen handles gender roles much better than many Disney films. Like Brave, Frozen is primarily about familial love and relationships. When Anna's heart requires "an act of true love" to be thawed, her saving her sister's life at risk to her own is what cures her, not a true love's kiss. I was thrilled with that turn of events. The denouement is about how the two sisters' reconciliation teaches Elsa control over her magic, thus saving the kingdom. And though Anna does end up with a cute guy, he's not a prince, and they don't get married at the end.

Having a daughter has suddenly made me far more aware of what books and movies teach; I'll let E. watch Frozen when she can understand it, but, like with any movie, I'll want to talk with her about it, see what she understands from the story. I'm definitely happier with the idea of her watching this movie than with her watching, oh, say, Snow White."Someday my prince will come?" To begin with, that's not what life's about, and contrary to what fairy tales say, there is a serious shortage of princes out there.

Other scattered thoughts about the movie:

The script was good--there were great lines, good jokes, well-written songs. The return to the more musical Disney movie has made me pretty happy. I love musicals with all the passion of a former theatre junkie (oh high school drama classes...how I don't miss thee, but I do miss thy music).

The snowman, Olaf, was a tad extraneous--the main characters were carrying the humour pretty well on their own, and then Olaf showed up to steal the spotlight. But he was cute. It's hard to dislike a character who introduces himself by saying, "I'm Olaf, and I like warm hugs!"

The textile artist in me wants to get out the inkle loom and play around with a few ribbons inspired by the trims in the film, but I'm crap at pick-up patterns right now and need more practice with set patterns before I try to make my own.

A linguist's quibble: The writing system they show in the movie is a futhark, one of the runic alphabets in use a good thousand years before the styles of the characters' clothing. Futharks are beautiful, and I suppose they wanted to go "timeless" for the era, but early-to-mid 19th century clothing (not a costumer so that's just a rough guess) plus the futhark was kind of funny, due to the chronological inconsistency.

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