Frozen: a blast from the past

So here’s the thing:

I really, really like Disney movies.

I like the adventures, I like the songs. I like the swishy dresses, slapstick sidekicks and saccharine endings.

I like them the way I like junk food or politicians — in small quantities, tempered by reality, and without looking too closely at the fine print which makes my heart sink.

Classic Disney may have catchy tunes and cute creatures, but even a fleeting glance at the ingredients list and I’m bogged down in a mire of social, political, ethnic and gendered mayhem and prejudice.


Enter Disney Deux: a post-Lassiter rejig of the traditional tales with feistier heroines, unconventional less conventional plot lines, and more emphasis on character development than choreography.

I want to cheer for Merida when she becomes her own suitor.

Merida Shooting

I want to root for Rapunzel when she takes prisoners instead of swooning.


And I want to like Frozen.

On paper, it’s a story of sisters and an enduring commitment to loved ones.

It’s a tale of growing up and facing demons and trusting yourself.

It’s the liberation of two young women tied down by expectations and rules.


But on screen it’s something far more insidious.

Elsa gives up [read: runs away from] all the confines of royal power and all the expectations of her kingdom to embrace herself (confounded, powerful magicks and all).

In true Disney style, this is duly signified by a sheer, off-the-shoulder, slit-up-to-there dress and the best belting anthem of the show (you can listen to it here, just scroll down).

elsa before

Nice, buttoned-up Elsa

elsa sexy

Dangerous, sexy Elsa

Now I have no problem with allegorical stories addressing emancipation and sexuality in the undertones of liberation and early adulthood.

But the idea that her power is naturally uncontrollable and threatens her family? That she should be afraid of her own impulses?

That if she is to embrace this side of herself she must be alone and wild and dangerous (and dressed like a chanteuse)?

That if she is tempted to give herself over to this power and strength (despite the loving intervention of her clear-eyed, innocent sister), she’ll become a monster of her own making?

That is the kind of sexual politics that mucks up all kinds of things.


And the true-blue little sister?

She is all gung-ho. She has her own adventures and lives life on her terms. She brashly and boldly faces all sorts of dangers in pursuit of her dreams and her family.

She is all the lovely sweet things you’d expect from a Disney princess in the new millennium.

… but for all her chutzpah, she constantly needs saving from snow drifts and ice storms and curses and villains.

And to top it off, in the end she falls in love with the boy who keeps saving her.


Which, frankly, wasn’t even necessary.

Given her sheltered childhood and hunger for connection, she and this stereotypical fairy tale lad (but oh! with ukulele!) could have become great friends. Or, I don’t know, business partners.

The story and ending wouldn’t have changed a jot, but it would have left room for so much more for them both.

But no. Despite all the promises of modern ideas the girl with the power ends up alone and the nice one ends up with her hero.


In the end is it so different from this?

Disney-Princess lessons


And don’t even get me started on the gender-defining male roles in all this.

A bippy Act II number called He’s a bit of fixer-upper has lyrics like  “The way to fix this fixer-upper/ Is to fix him up with you.”   Gives me the willies.

Disney Prince lessons

From Jennifer Tells a Story



I so want to believe the semi-ironic pleasures of Enchanted and the creative reimaginings of Frozen are a step forward.

That the world and the movies do take young women seriously. That heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

That we’ve moved past the themes presented in the ultra-Western, super-conservative, 300 year old versions of “happily ever after” presented in traditional fairy tales.

But from where I sit, it looks like glossy new versions of the same old stereotypes.

The hero saves the girl. Princesses are fragile. Good girls fall in love with the saviour, and good boys are burly and built.

While these new stories seem to challenge conventions (blended families! complex anti-heroes! endings without weddings!) underneath it all, I can’t help but feel like Disney Deux is just reinforcing the old tropes of family, gender and social order.

In the end, I can’t decide. Are these modern fairy tales a small step in the right direction despite some old conventions clinging to the margins?

Are these nominally progressive efforts a devious wolf in enlightened sheep’s clothing?

I haven’t a clue. But the promise of better sticks in my heart the way the infectious songs stick in my head. And I’ll just keep hoping next time it’s going to be different.

2 Responses to “Frozen: a blast from the past”
  1. Excellent review and analysis!


  2. greg says:

    I see your point…but I have questions along the lines of a chicken and egg conundrums..,

    Is culture (ie. man/ woman relations, adolescent growth expectations along with budding sexuality) reflected by film and tv ? And therefore a mirror of what exists and by your account in the blog today ..has existed for a long long time?

    Or does Tv and film bend our culture toward some sort of perceived values of the authors?…

    If the latter is true then why hasn’t more change been made socially/ economically since we have more access to media as a world wide culture than ever before…now for decades?

    Does this latter viewpoint include some type of incredible hubris the author/poet/ cartoonist possesses some vast power to alter the thought AND actions of a culture?

    Or aer the creative talents tapping into a line of thought that is already there and shining a light on it for us all to recognize it easier?


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