Disney’s Frozen hits DVD this week. In the time between the theatrical release and the DVD release, I’ve read countless Frozen reviews and reflections. Because of some odd herd mentality, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on Frozen as well. Besides, many of my friends, relatives, and well-wishers still haven’t seen the movie yet, so this is my last chance to “preview” it for them. Please be warned, this will be a rather self-indulgent reflection, rather than an actual movie review.
Overall, I thought Frozen was a good movie. It mixed a new kind of plot with classic Disney storytelling. It was a crowd pleaser, garnered well-deserved accolades for Disney animators, and completing some work on the international versions kept my logo-designing cousin employed and out of trouble.
Producer Peter Del Vecho and my cousin, Brian Rishel, at the Studio’s award party.
So, yeah, I liked Frozen, but I probably would have liked it more if I had known what it was about it before I watched it. The articles I read before actually seeing the movie had given me some false expectations.
I first became aware of Frozen’s existence early last fall when I read a blurb from one of the animators. This animator was discussing the challenges of working on an animation that featured “two female protagonists.” Two female protagonists? What a promising description! Princess stories have long been criticized for not including enough other female characters for the princess to relate to. Two princesses would certainly help right that wrong. Plus, while growing up, I was always very close with my own sisters, so this was a kind of relationship that I wanted to to see explored.
Unfortunately, the blurb was misleading. Frozen is not a story with “two female protagonists.” It is very much the story of Anna and her quest to save her magical sister.
Here’s a mostly spoiler-free plot summary: Elsa and Anna are the daughters of the royal family. Elsa was born with magic powers that let her conjure ice and snow. As she grows, Elsa becomes afraid that her powers will hurt someone, especially her beloved sister, Anna. So Elsa withdraws from everyone, including Anna. Finally, when her powers become too much to conceal, Elsa exiles herself. So Anna sets out on a quest to find her sister, help her control her powers, and save the kingdom from eternal winter. Along the way, Anna finds friends to help her and, somehow, acquires two handsome suitors. So, yeah, while Elsa may be the one who puts the plot into motion and gets the best song, the story clearly follows Anna’s journey.
There’s nothing wrong with making Anna the main character. (In fact, I find it interesting that the girl without magic powers gets to be the leading lady.) But I wanted to see more of Anna and Elsa working together. That line “two female protagonists” had me holding out hope that they would team up and cooperate sometime before the big finish. While familial love and sisterhood is the heart of the story, we rarely get to see the two girls enjoying that relationship.
I sort of thought kids would get more out of Frozen if they could see more of Anna and Elsa enjoying each other’s company. When I was a kid, I loved animated Disney movies, but not all of them stayed with me. The princess stories were the most quickly forgotten because they were the least relatable. Relatable stories were the ones I wanted act out with my brother and two sisters after the movie was over. If you suspect that my brother was the one who put a stop to princess tales, you would be wrong. My sisters and I gave up on princesses before he ever had a chance to veto them. Why? Because a princess has too much power, and that makes the narrative impossible to share with other girls. The girls who didn’t get to be the princess felt stuck waiting their turn in the spotlight. Playing the princess was even worse because of the guilt that came with putting oneself so far above the other sisters. So my family gravitated towards the stories that were about teams instead.
As an adult, I could see that same scenario play out whenever my little, princess-crazed cousins would try to reenact their favorite princess tales.  As soon as the idea to play princess came up, it either turned into a battle over who gets to be Sleeping Beauty, or their was lot of awkward hemming and hawing as they tried to figure out how to tell a fairytale with multiple princesses.
I wanted little girls to see Anna and Elsa getting along so that they could incorporate the friendship into their own narratives, and, perhaps into their own lives.
But, just because Frozen didn’t meet this expectation doesn’t mean it failed. Instead of a story of cooperation, Frozen is a tale of understanding. Everyone who’s ever had a sibling knows how Anna feels when she’s waiting for Elsa to spend some time with her, as well as how Elsa feels when she can’t give Anna that time and can’t quite explain why. Frozen is not the story of how we feel when we’re together, it’s about how we feel when we’re apart and what we’ll do to be together again.
-Marjorie Rishel