Thursday, April 10, 2014

DVD of the Week: Frozen

Frozen has become quite the thing, hasn't it? A few years ago, it seemed that Disney's in-house animation studio was on the way out for good, unable to compete with the Pixars and Dreamworks Animations of this world, and would be left to producing inferior straight-to-DVD sequels to past glories forever. The Disney Princess herself, consigned to history where it belongs. Right? Right? Well of course not. The Disney Princess, for all its problems, has had a grip on the collective imagination since the 1930s and that is feeding on something far older. They just needed a way into the modern world, and with Frozen they've seem to really hit a nerve.

There is a strong section of people that really don't like the idea of the Disney Princess. The whole idea of it, the dresses, the privilege, the whole heterenormative culture that surrounds it can and does raise hackles in places you'd expect and some you don't. But for me, I'd hate to replace an orthodoxy that tells little girls they have to grow up and find a prince to marry and a kingdom to rule with one that says that these things are wrong and somehow not allowed. I also thing that if you're going to have a Princess to hold up as a role model, then you could do a lot worse than Elsa and Anna.

The story is loosely - very, very, loosely - based on the Snow Queen, but really apart from a prominent female character with Ice powers that's about as far as it goes. Elsa is the older of the two sisters, and born with a power she finds hard to control, and after nearly accidentally killing her younger sister they are raised separately by their panicked, over-protective parents. Who then go and get killed. Elsa grows up repressed and scared of her own power, and Anna grows up a lonely dreamer. When things inevitably all go wrong, Elsa runs away, and Anna has to go after her.

There is some interesting subtext throughout the film that I rather liked. Elsa's journey into understanding a power she has been told is dangerous but in fact she needs to embrace certainly resonates with a lot of people, from the number of homages to empowerment anthem "Let it Go", probably the films stand out song. Anna meanwhile, starts out with more traditional desires - have balls, marry a prince - before learning a pretty important lesson; some men are real jerks. And finally, of course, we have a nifty subversion of the whole "true love" trope, where the love is between sisters and Anna breaks her own curse. All the best Princesses are the ones that rescue themselves.

In other respects, Frozen is very traditional. Its structure revolves around big songs and interspersed its plotting with comic relief hangers on, although thankfully the snowman, Olaf isn't as prevalent as he is in much of the publicity. Its plays big and wide with its emotional cues, and for all it has a scattering of traumatic moments for its characters it's always pushing forward to the next joke. But it is hugely entertaining, very polished, and great fun. And y'know, our 12-year-old son was rapt throughout, which probably indicates its tapping into something wider than simply trying to program little girls to buy frilly dresses.

Tangled is still better, though!