Like any card-carrying Disney nerd, I love “Frozen.” It’s definitely the best of Disney’s computer-animated non-Pixar animated movies: “Tangled” is good, “Wreck It Ralph” was really good, “Bolt” was meh, “Meet the Robinsons” was cute, “Chicken Little” was just ‘nope,’ and did anyone actually see “The Wild”? That being said, I belong to the camp that believes “Frozen” is getting more praise than it deserves. People are claiming “Frozen” is original in a multitude of ways, and while there are some original elements of “Frozen,” it’s not the following five things:
5.) “It’s so progressive because the act of true love is between the sisters!”
People seem to remember the cash cow that this movie became, what with its sequels and Disney Channel show and ride at Disney World, and not the movie itself. But Nani and Lilo have a similar sisterly bond to Elsa and Anna: they lost their parents, too, they squabble, and Nani would give anything to protect Lilo. But while losing your sister to your destructive ice powers is, well, not likely to happen in the real world, being separated from your sister by social services is a very real possibility for dozens, if not hundreds, of families. Knowing the context of this scene, that Nani and Lilo are about to be separated when Mr. Bubbles picks up Lilo in the morning, watch it and tell me it doesn’t give you the same feels that the last third of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” does:
Yeah, Disney had a “progressive” sisterly bond eleven years before “Frozen” came out. Imma need y’all to know your Disney filmography before you repeat things you read on the Internet.
4.) “It’s so progressive because it subverts the typical Disney romance tropes!”
I don’t really blame you for forgetting this film existed. I think even Disney has forgotten this film existed. However, when people say Frozen is “self aware” or “a parody” of Disney’s fairy tale heteronormativity, this movie is all that comes to mind for me. If you like for Disney tropes to be subverted, I highly recommend this movie, because it addresses everything from the “woodland creatures that help clean the house” trope to the “we just met and now we shall be wed!” trope to the “true love’s kiss” trope to the “everyone sings and dances to random songs” trope. Hell, this movie even belongs in the “James Marsden gets dumped for other dude” meme.
And, interestingly, as Asshole Disney on Tumblr has pointed out, this movie shows some hypocrisy on animated Idina Menzel’s part.
Furthermore, even before Enchanted came out, there was already a handsome man who turns out to be a jerk. Remember this guy?
Well, fine, he was a jerk from the beginning, but he’s harmless until halfway through the movie. In both “Frozen” and “Beauty and the Beast” we spend most of the movie with a sneaking suspicion that Elsa and the Beast, respectively, are going to be the villains, but they turn out to be damaged, misguided heroes. Granted, Hans’ reveal is more shocking and happens later in the movie than Gaston’s, but he wasn’t the first awful handsome guy in a Disney movie.
3.) “’Let It Go’ is the best Disney song for misunderstood people!”
“Let It Go” is a great song for misfits who want to be accepted for who they really are. Some people in the gay community have adopted this song as their anthem, interpreting it as Elsa’s coming-out anthem. But the song itself is not that groundbreaking. It’s not the first of its type in a Disney movie, and it’s not even the first of its type sung by Idina Menzel. That distinction goes to “Defying Gravity,” which, while not a Disney song, might as well belong to the genre of “Disney misfit songs.” I mean, “I’m defying gravity and you can’t pull me down” is the “The cold never bothered me anyway” of its time. And if you really want to split hairs, Idina Menzel literally sings “Take me as I am!” in the 2005 “Rent” movie.
This song isn’t bad, it’s just not . . . new. It was written specifically for Idina Menzel and she nails it (unless you’re watching the Oscars, but everyone knows that performance was by her nervous twin Adele Dazeem). But is “Let It Go” the best “Disney misfit” song? In a category with such songs as “Part of Your World,” “Reflection,” “Belle” (the opening song of “Beauty and the Beast”), “I Wanna Be Like You,” “Out There,” “One Jump Ahead (Reprise)” (where Aladdin is singing in his loft) . . . well, I’d just say it’s the best recent “Disney misfit” song.
Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on the song and I need to
4.) “It’s the best Disney movie since ‘The Lion King’!”
I’m really tired of Disney, the general public, and critics saying “ ‘X’ is the greatest Disney movie since ‘The Lion King’!” “The Lion King” is like the overachieving older sibling of all Disney movies—heck, of all animated movies. Like your parents reminding you that your brother is at Harvard studying to be a doctor, Disney will forever remind us of “The Lion King” and try to reclaim that former glory. A couple of critics have said that “Frozen” is the best Disney movie since “The Lion King” and everyone has run with it, which, besides being a tired thing to say, is simply not true. But I will discuss that in my next point. Some people have even said that since “Frozen” has topped “The Lion King”s box office totals it’s better than “The Lion King,” which . . . no, because a.) it’s poor reporting: “Finding Nemo” topped “The Lion King”s box office total a long time ago, and b.) if a film is “better” because it makes more money, then by that logic “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” was “better” than all three of the aforementioned movies. It’s not like Disney stopped making good or even great movies after “The Lion King,” which now brings me to the point I want to discuss:
1.) “Finally, Disney releases a feminist film!”
What, what, what, what . . . no. Don’t get me wrong, the film is, for all intents and purposes, feminist. But it is not the first, and let’s face it, Disney has a love/hate relationship with feminism, teetering more on “hate.”
First of all, the “feminist” praise for this film is mainly for the reasons I listed above, for tropes that had been subverted in previous Disney films. The inclusion of the aforementioned subverted tropes all in one film is a sign of progress. But Disney doesn’t like the “f” word. They want their films to reflect their audience’s values, certainly, but they’d rather feminist messages be a happy accident than a result of a conscious effort. Keep in mind that a few months before “Frozen” was released, Frozen’s head of animation said that it was hard to animate women because they had to stay pretty while they emoted, and apparently “Frozen” addressed this by applying Rapunzel’s design to Elsa and Anna:
This is . . . decidedly not feminist.
Moreover, there is a feminist Disney film that came out before “Frozen,” and before “Brave,” even. And if I have to reveal to you that it’s “Mulan,” you need to watch this film posthaste.
Is “Mulan” a perfect film? Nope: the Asian stereotypes are cringe-inducing, it’s historically inaccurate and factually wrong like “Pocahontas,” and it has a surprisingly short running time, even compared to other Disney films. And like I said earlier, the feminism in this movie was probably accidental on Disney’s part. But “Mulan” is a better film than “Frozen,” and it is more feminist for a lot of reasons, but this one is chief among them:
Consider the end of Frozen, when Anna punches Hans over the side of a ship.
Although all of the audience wants to punch Hans at that moment, Anna’s punch is not warranted. Nothing in Anna’s character indicated that she would do such a thing. There was a popular “Frozen”-bashing article that lamented the fact that Elsa and Anna weren’t more physically violent “warrior” types and therefore they were Not Feminist. So . . . does this author want more shoehorned-in “You Go Girl” acts of violence in children’s films? It’s lazy writing to show only physical strength in a character, especially since the rest of “Frozen” focused on acts of inner strength.
Which brings us to Mulan, a character who is, yes, a physically strong warrior. But that virtue alone is not what makes “Mulan” a feminist film. “Mulan” begins with the titular character being clumsy, scatterbrained, and unsure of herself, and she finds her confidence in training and fighting. Her physical strength is incidental; she could have made the same character transformation by taking up farming or animal husbandry. This, coupled with the whole “woman succeeding in a male-dominated field” is what makes “Mulan” a feminist film: she earns her strength.
And yes, I think “Mulan” is actually the best Disney film since “The Lion King,” which, by the by, was also a phrase used in “Mulan”s promotional materials.