Thursday, January 30, 2014

Disney's Frozen or "You Can't Marry a Man You Just Met:" Reasons To Love It

The first few minutes of Disney's Frozen did not enchant me: there were songs that droned on, pretty girls dancing about with sorrowful gazes, a dash of typical magic, a good looking man-boy, and a faithful, if not slightly silly, sidekick.

Then. Frozen stands up. Straightens it's back. And:

1. "You can't marry a man you just met"
Thank you to the older sister, Elsa, for stating this to her younger and quite naive sibling, Anna, after the latter asks for her older sister's blessing to wed Mr. Man-Boy (Prince Hans), a man she just met, merely hours ago, at a party. Some song and dance ensue, and they're in love. This statement, spoken in categorical terms, is the movie's turning point. It defies Disney's 'princess' mould: one where the princess and prince fall head over heels in instant love. Anna is angry at Elsa's comments and Elsa's magical icy powers spin out of control as her emotions run high: she runs off into the mountains - leaving the city blanketed in freezing snow.

Outside of the movies, women's lives do change significantly after marriage - and you shouldn't marry someone you just met. In fact, if you marry before the age of 25, you're much more likely to end up in divorce, and this by the time you're 30. Anna might want to think about getting educated first - because college degree decrease your risk of divorce by about 15%. Also, Anna might want to look at her parents and Prince's Hans parents - if you see your parents happily married, chances are, you will do the same. The only good thing is that they don't live together before tying the knot - that augments your chances of divorce by a whopping 40%. (More facts? Go here.)  Don't forget how marriage and divorce negatively affect women's economic opportunities - or how children can put an even further negative skew on things for women.

When Anna leaves her kingdom to the charge of Prince Hans, she returns to find that he has betrayed her, and she recourse or redress. This is all too often the case: in marriage, women often leave the financials and particulars of ownership up to the husband, assuming that he will take care of everything. This comes as a serious disadvantage when divorce comes along, and exposes women to fraud and bankruptcy. Women, always know where and what your money is doing and know how to protect yourself. This is not betraying love. This is being logical in love.

2. Women are Saviours Too. 
And not in the pious sense. The very act of Anna riding off into the treacherous snowy hills to save her sister, valiantly going forth on horseback is rare in movies and rare in our perception of a woman's role. We prefer if she stays home and keeps everything safe, the men fight the wars and rescue the damsel in distress. Not Anna, sure of herself and her capabilities. When she meets a bumbling ice vendor, Kristoff, in the mountains, she embarks on a journey with him (as opposed to him offering to save her) and the trials and tribulations they encounter force both of them to help each other; she saves him as much as he does her.

3. "You want to marry a man you just met?!"
This time, its Kristoff that says this to Anna. He can't believe it either, and repeats this statement in bewilderment. We learn that he thinks people should get to know each other first, and that both women and men have their faults: he's a fixer-upper, and so is she. Relationships are built on many qualities, but inherent in this is that no one is perfect, and no one completes the other. Relationships are work, work on yourselves, work on the couple, and in defying gender stereotypes of the perfect Prince Charming, he has his faults and is willing to work on them.

4. True Love gets a Makeover
When only 'an act of true love' will save Anna from her sister's icy (but remorseful) curse, I sighed. True love? Not this again. Even with all the niceties between Anna and Kristoff (as opposed to the evil Prince Hans), it just doesn't fit. But Frozen doesn't disappoint: the true love is between the sisters, the binding sisterly love that saves them both.

When there is a kiss, Kristoff asks Anna if he can kiss her (which I love, given all my thoughts on consent: Parts 1 and 2), and receives consent when she kisses him, on the cheek - demonstrating the start of a young relationship, and not the passionate ever after kind of love (into what exactly?) that movies tend to present.

5. And so do the Consuming 'Mean Girl' stereotypes of Women Hating Women
We know by now that women are an intrinsic part of patriarchal structures; some are like foot-soldiers in behaviours that favour men over women (think catty, backstabbing behaviour, think of the stereotype that 'women can't be friends with other women,'). This is a constant in movies: the universal 'mean girl' is the common belief - one that entrenches women in specific gender roles: competition, betrayal, jealousy - and all to win the ultimate prize: the male attention. It's very rare that women are portrayed as equal friends: at times you get the best friend to the main woman, but this is usually someone quirky, who wishes she could be like her friend, who supports her no matter what.

In Frozen, the sisters play together at a young age, are separated and then meet again at Elsa's coronation - and the meeting is funny and friendly. There is no jealousy or cattiness. Even when the sisters disagree, the disagreement is purposeful, and not based on back stabbing or jealousy - and certainly not a man. Its a beautiful portrayal of reality, and one not often represented in Disney or in movies. In reality, whenever powerful women display female friendship, it butts heads with the status quo that prefers women to be fighting among themselves, and usually about men (or the male gaze). It forgets that women are beings with their own agendas and capacity for friendship that does not require male definition.

6. Beauty gets redefined (slightly)
Disney didn't stretch it too much in Frozen: the women are still white, slender and pretty in a conventional way. But two things happen that are great for women, power and beauty.

The first is the song Elsa sings when she builds her ice castle in the mountains and proclaims her strength. Its a powerful song, and doesn't take on a negative or dark edge - she is not the villain or demon sister. In fact, she has so much power to unleash, so many capabilities that she wants to explore and are presented in an empowering way. The message seems to be that women should use the power they have, and grow it to the fullest extent, but like any power, it mustn't be used to hurt others.

In this process, she sheds her regal but plain garments and wears a beautiful blue sparkly dress, her hair falls in luscious blond braids and suddenly her face is all made up. I'm torn on this one. I want to love her new looks, but I wonder why it's happened. At the same time, Im glad it has - because her new looks aren't sexualized - at least not by men. This is confirmed when Anna arrives and exclaims:
"Wow, you look different. Good, just different," she hastens to say.

This seems to acknowledge the power and acceptance of fashion and makeup: its not all for sexuality, and can be used to feel good without a male gaze present.

The second defining theme is that nowhere in the movie is there that quintessential Disney/romantic comedy moment when the guy looks at the girl in awe and says "You're so beautiful." In fact, beauty gets very little airtime in Frozen. No princess walks down winding staircases in flowing gowns and into her prince charming's arms. In fact, the only time Kirstoff does look at Anna in wonder is when her whole body is covered and she is wearing a crown of grass. It is her regal self that he is admiring, the possibility of a future with her and not her ephemeral physical beauty.

7. Happily ever what?
This movie does not end in happily ever after. Anna is beginning a relationship with the young man and they're both full of issues, so there's a lot of learning to be accomplished. Elsa is back in the palace, but now she must learn to control her powers and how to rule. The sisters are finally in the same space and must learn to once again be sisters. Sure, there's happiness, but the happiness is in motion, its evolving, its in flux. Again, chock one up for reality.

I'll be the first to say that there still wasn't a single person of colour in the movie. There were some haunting chants at the beginning and end, supposedly to throw some nondescript culture into the mix, and even this is poorly done. Nevertheless, for women and relationships and gender roles, I was impressed.

Can Hollywood take note? Can Disney continue?
Finally a movie with two female leads, no definite prince charming, passes the Bechdel test (women talking to each other, and not about men) more complex version of love.

This movie is not an ending, its a beginning.


Anonymous said...

I know I'm late - randomly stumbled across this post and I think it's a good one, but I have to point out one thing: the "haunting chants" in the opening/ending that you find poorly done is not some "nondescript culture" - it's a Norwegian ( the film's country of inspiration) song Disney bought for the soundtrack and it's sung in Saami, the language of the indigenous Norwegian people- "Eatnamen Vuelie"

Clara Vaz said...

Thank you so much for this clarification. That makes perfect sense - and it is now very culturally insensitive of me to make that claim. I should have taken the time to do some research into it. Thanks for this!

Emily said...

I don't think having no people of other colour is necessarily a bad thing (speaking as an Asian). When I saw a black guy and an Asian guy in Thor, I was really distracted and annoyed, because it's ridiculous to have an Asian as a Norwegian god.

I think having people of colour should depend on the cultural context, and in the context of Frozen, they had enough of other races that would realistically be there being shown in the party. If they had any races outside of European ones in Frozen, I'm sure I would've had the same reaction as I did in Thor.

Anonymous said...

Good post. The coronation day fight is about a man, but that's nitpicking.

As mixed race, I wholeheartedly agree with Emily. It's a scandinavian kingdom; adding noneuropean characters just to be politically correct would have been as annoying as adding nonasian characters in Mulan.

Arlete Tury said...

Concordo com muita coisa, inclusive com a retrataçao da realidade. Bem, se estão retratando um reino de periodo da idade média (o protocolo da coroaçao deixa essa impressão) nem tem muito como retratar pessoas negras, a menos q fossem escravos o q nenhum filme com classificaçao livre faria. Mas não tem muita possibilidade de um negro aparecer nesse período como alguém livre sendo q até mesmo escravos eram brancos (algumas parte, já q as guerras eram os meios de conseguir mao-de-obra)

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Marsha said...

I would like to draw attention to the term" people of colour".. I am a white woman, white is a colour. When we say people of colour we are saying everyone but white people. Lets dig into this statement .. everyone is a person of colour..everyone!.. We are differentiating ourselves or 'othering' by using colour as the descriptor. Is this about class, race , gender?.. I have a colour..I am white.. is this a perceived dominance ? I am a white woman, I am a 64 year old white Canadian woman.. on it goes!

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Thanks for the updates with clarification. Colour does not affect love. Keep posting.

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