There are many things to love about Frozen. True love between sisters, a princess who saves the day and herself, a blonde mountain hunk, magic, ice, snow, and an excellent soundtrack thanks to Bobby Lopez and Kristen Andersen-Lopez. (It's all I listen to practically).
People are also praising the film for its subversion of the love at first sight trope, but they're doing so wrongly. I will get to this later.
Frozen subverts some things, but it continues the trend of impossibly thin white heroines. I identify with Anna so much, being a goofy kid sister and optimist myself. I sometimes wear my hair like hers, so if she had been a girl of color, there's a chance I could have even resembled her. Lots of little girls could have looked up at the screen and seen a heroine who resembled them. I don't understand why some Disney fans think the handful of nonwhite protagonists is enough to satisfy us. Is it okay that Anna and Elsa, darlings regardless, are two more white princesses added to the official lineup? Yes we have Tiana, the first (I hope not the last!!!) black princess, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan.
But why can't we have more?
And why can't the portrayals of different cultures actually be done in a way that is sensitive, respectful, and accurate? Disney should be taken to task for often doing the opposite.
This company isn't the only one we should demand diversity from. All media should be inclusive. And mainstream Hollywood is still a mess today with its blatant racism, whitewashing, and erasure of real people. In Disney's case, criticizing them comes from a place of great love. If we didn't love the company and its films, would we want to see ourselves reflected there? Probably not.
Now back to Frozen. It's a film which places two sisters at the center who repair their relationship and defeat evil men. One is bursting with love, the other is a misunderstood villain. They didn't have to be white. Stories about girls existing in fantasy worlds who rescue themselves and others shouldn't be exclusive to white girls. Anna could be quirky, clumsy, and nonwhite. Elsa's arc would still be fascinating if she was a queen of color.
That's where my problems with Frozen end. I don't think it's the magnum opus of the Walt Disney Company, but there's no end to what I do love.
Let's talk about that blonde mountain hunk. I love Kristoff. I think he's gorgeous. I have a weakness for guys with floppy hair that fall across their foreheads. And if they're cartoons? Be still my beating heart, hush my distempered breath. But there is more about Kristoff that isn't appealing at all. The guy is gross. He swaps spit with his pet reindeer,
Kristoff's personality and physique are obviously subversions of the traditional Disney prince. He even represents aspects of Anna and Elsa. He's awkward like Anna, which is why they make such a great couple. Like Elsa, he's isolated and depends on Anna to draw him out.
Hans is also a subversion of the Disney prince. Sure he fits the bill appearance wise, and that's partly how he's able to fool Anna and the audience. Underneath his slender, handsome, side burned, sharp nosed exterior is a raging villain. "I love crazy." Hmm, I wonder why?
But how exactly does Frozen subvert the love at first sight trope? And how does it parody Disney films of yore? In my opinion, it doesn't. Love at first sight meetings in early Disney films never involve marriage. Hans is the first prince to actually propose to the leading lady right away.
Did the prince ask Snow White to marry him at the well? No.
What about when Cinderella danced with Prince Charming? No.
Aurora and Phillip shared the most ethereal song and dance routine in the woods, but did it end in a proposal? No.
Ariel and Eric? Like the above couples, marriage didn't come until much later.
The same goes for Aladdin and Jasmine.
Now I understand that these first meetings are still brief and do involve love at first sight. It's "unrealistic" for these kids to marry the first person they become romantically involved with. Of course it would be unrealistic for cynical people without imagination who can't seem to understand that these films are operating on fairy tale logic, and cannot be analyzed from a modern perspective. If you want to examine the ways these films can harm children due to the lack of racial and body diversity, then please do.
But how is love at first sight problematic? Of course you shouldn't marry the first person you meet or duet with. Do we really think children aspire to these kinds of relationships when they're older? Is there research to confirm this? So maybe there isn't. Maybe love at first sight isn't damaging, but it's boring and cliche. The great twist with Hans actually is refreshing, but says a lot more about Anna's naivety and inexperience than it does about love at first sight.
Paul Briggs, story artist on Frozen, said that because Anna had so much love to give at home which wasn't reciprocated, she ended up giving her heart to the first person who would accept it. That happened to be Hans. And he turned out to be the wrong one. There's a good lesson there. The same is not true in the earlier Disney films. Snow White and Cinderella actually grow up in abusive homes, but they never seek out marriage as a solution.
When the prince sings to Snow White at the well, she is understandably surprised. What does she do? Sing with him and wait for him to propose so she can leave home? No, she runs away! She heads back into the castle and leaves him there. She shows a lot more prudence and judgement than Anna would in that situation.
Cinderella dances with her prince at the ball, has a lovely time with him, and then, the clock strikes twelve. The girl up and runs away too. She doesn't wait for the spell to wear off, confess to the prince that she's actually a victim of torment at home, accept his hand in marriage, and live happily ever after. He seeks her out. Lady Tremaine smashes the glass slipper once Cinderella is able to escape from the attic, but lo and behold, this passive little weakling is a lot more clever than her detractors give her credit for. She pulls that other slipper from her pocket like the sly little lamb she is, smirking all the while, and gets her happy ending and her man. Don't knock it folks.
Aurora was unwilling initially to even give Phillip the time of day. But then she's swept up into the unrealistic romance of a tall, handsome stranger singing sweetly to her. And when their dance is finished, there's no marriage proposal. They stare off into the distance and Phillip asks her for her name. Aurora freaks out. It's so great. "Oh no I can't!" she exclaims as she tries to get away. She remembers her frumpy aunts at home who have always warned her about strangers, even if they are babes you find in a forest. And what does Aurora tell Phillip? To meet her later at the cottage. That way, she can introduce him to the fairies. They would appreciate that. And also, she'd be able to learn his name, likes, dislikes, what have you. Sure, inviting a guy you barely know to your house is a little foolish, but guess what? This isn't happening in 2013. It's a fairy tale.
Ariel sees a hottie on a ship, saves his life, sings to his unconscious form about how much she'd like to fall in love with him. This is a fairy tale where the heroine is a mermaid. Is the way she meets her love going to follow a standard pattern? I don't think so. But in any case, Eric doesn't fall for Ariel right away. She can't talk, so she can't be the vision with the haunting voice who rescued him. He proves Ursula wrong. Yet he does find Ariel endearing even though she can't talk, and isn't even appalled that she's a mermaid. "I lost her once, I'm not losing her again."
Aladdin meets Jasmine after the audience does. Same with the couples before this one. That's important. He comes to her rescue, they talk a little and decide that they dig each other. He's impressed by the way she's able to handle herself ("I'm a fast learner." !!!), and she thinks he's sweet. They've got some stuff in common. Their kiss happens later. Marriage happens in the sequel. Yet the two have to overcome lots of obstacles before they can finally be together. And Aladdin tells the truth about Who He Is (TM). Is that realistic enough? But Jasmine is the one who's able to choose for herself when and who she will marry. Excellent. She's not even the main character here, so really, we should be criticizing Aladdin for getting all soft over some beauty he's seen for the first time ever in the marketplace. But we shouldn't, because he's not a girl. Whoops, lost some sense there for a second.
So let's bring this back to Anna and Hans. Why is it important that the audience meets Jasmine before Aladdin? Or the same way we meet Phillip before Aurora? Eric before Ariel? Charming before Cinderella? Because the filmmakers want you to know that these are the ones our leads will end up with.
Do we meet Hans at all before Anna does? No. We don't know anything about this guy. Of course we're going to want Anna to proceed with caution. Don't say yes when he asks to marry you! We find out later that he's evil, but even if we didn't (although, once again, "I LOVE CRAZY" is a huge hint), we know he's not the one. That is why "Love Is An Open Door" is so ingenious in addition to being insanely catchy and perfect.
Kristoff is the one. We meet Kristoff as a little orphaned boy with Sven. He's the one who witnesses Pabbie healing Anna. He doesn't know Anna and Elsa, doesn't even understand what's going on, but already he's been woven into their story and tragedy. He's the one Anna enlists in her quest to end the winter and bring Elsa home. When Elsa accidentally freezes Anna's heart, Kristoff brings her to the trolls yet again for a solution.
There's not even a hint of marriage. That's the way this film subverts Disney films that came before. But in true Disney princess fashion, their kiss doesn't come until much later. And so does their eventual marriage.
Love at first sight is never a problem in live action films. One night stands? What's wrong with those? How can something like a one night stand be problematic if it's happening in a film marketed to adults? It's only children with their tiny brains who must be shielded from the adverse affects of animated characters falling in love at first sight.
Give Frozen credit where credit is due, but don't do it at the expense of wonderful storytelling that's come before.