Frozen and the Disney Princess

Over a month after its theatrical release in the US and I’m finally in a postion to sit down and reflect on Frozen, the last Disney princess film for the foreseeable future. The movie is, in a word, wonderful. It’s not a perfect film by any means but after years of princess movies wallowing in mediocrity (I’m so sorry, Tangled. I really am), it was such a glorious relief to watch a movie that’s progressive, entertaining and genuinely unpredictable.

Despite some pacing problems and a few unwanted songs (“Fixer Upper” … really?) Frozen is pure gold at its core and, to elsafrozen2my delight, my predictions for the film were  almost entirely incorrect. Frozen is fundamentally a movie about sisterhood supported by a fantastic cast of characters. Kristoff is a genuinely odd and endearing reindeer enthusiast, Hans … serves his purpose and does little else and Olaf is actually funny. Who saw that coming? The most significant characters, however, are the two sisters.

Elsa and Anna deserve their place in the pantheon of animated princesses (Elsa becomes Queen early in the film but she’s too interesting not to include). Anna is, indeed, a duplicate of Rapunzel in both appearance and personality but she’s still an engaging heroine whose social isolation and headstrong optimism make us care about her. Elsa, Anna’s anxiety-ridden, magical sister whose resemblance to Elphaba goes beyond Idina Menzel‘s presence, may well be one of the best heroines Disney has created to date. Both sisters are memorable and likable heroines in their own right but it’s when they are compared to other Disney princess franchise members that they really stand out.

Elsa and Anna have distinctive personality that take more than a single adjective to summarize. As much respect as I have for Snow White, Cinderella and Princess Aurora for their significance to the history jasmineof animation, those are three bland women. What defines them beyond their wistful pining for men? Even some of princesses of the Disney renaissance are a tad one note. Really, what is there to say about Jasmine other than that she doesn’t want to get roped into an arranged marriage? By contrast, Anna and Elsa’s personalities are multilayered products of their upbringing. Anna is extroverted because she’s desperate to connect after years of isolation and Elsa is tormented by powers she can’t control and the fear that she’ll hurt anyone who gets close to her.

To be fair, bland princesses have been passé for several years, now. It’s evident from films like The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Brave that studios are trying to create heroines with well-rounded, relatable personalities. The problem with these films is that they haven’t got a story that’s strong enough to support their characters. The Princess and the Frog spends too much time hammering home its work ethic, Brave is tonally inconsistent and clearly suffers from the battle of “creative differences” the studio underwent during production and Tangled‘s sweet, generic story and design fail to take risks that could have set it apart. With Frozen we have at long last a movie that tells a solid, interesting story driven by two protagonists who are engaging characters as well as feminist role models for little girls. The movie quietly subverts classic elsaannaDisney tropes such as love at first sight and true love’s kiss yet these take a narrative backseat to the genuinely compelling question of how Anna and Elsa can undo the spell of eternal winter.

Frozen bodes well for the future of Disney animation. It’s made enough money that the studio is likely to look to this film as a reference point for future projects and I’m optimistic about this so long as they don’t get complacent and recycle Frozen‘s formula in the future. Frozen is a good film, but Disney should only take this success as motivation to continue pushing itself and creating new and innovative stories.

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