Think Movies: Frozen 2

Think Movies: Frozen 2

by Alan Grant
article from Sunday 22, December, 2019

OF ALL THE DISNEY Princess characters there are to choose from, Elsa, the ice-slinging heroine of Frozen and now Frozen 2, is perhaps the most likeable of them all. She’s kind, but not stupid or gullible, smart, but not obnoxious about it, tough, but not callous, and wouldn’t be caught dead dangling her hair out of a window for some random Johnny or accepting a suspicious apple from the evillest witch since Hilary Clinton.

In Elsa, young girls especially, but young anybody, can find a refreshingly complex but overall admirable character from whom they can take inspiration. You’ll find no ‘Ok Boomer!’ worthy condemnations here of the voice that brought us ‘Let it Go!’, arguably one of the best songs in a Disney movie to date, against this interpretation of the Snow Queen. In fact, if a hunch that I have is proven correct by later iterations of the Frozen series, she may have more to offer than many currently realise.

She’s helped of course, as is her entire second adventure, by having been part of one of the best Disney animated pictures in decades. Frozen (‘Frozen 1’ now? I hope not!) was a genuinely lovely film that followed a familiar set of beats but had enough innovation in it to restore faith in Mickey and Pals’ ability to produce real knock-out successes. I especially enjoyed the original’s approach to the aspects of the traditional Disney fare that just don’t suit our modern times – especially, as I hope I’ve made clear, the character of Elsa herself.

The good news for fans of the original, or more likely their parents for whom I imagine going to a Frozen follow-up is a bit like being commanded to go on a pilgrimage, is that Frozen 2  is very much more of the same in terms of both quality and story. We pick up with Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, now Queen of her kingdom, and her entourage, including the wonderfully funny Olaf the snowman portrayed by Josh Gad, feisty sister Ana, and the bumbling but good-hearted Kristoff all settled in at the castle. When Elsa hears a mysterious calling from the woods, she and her snow-covered Scooby-gang head out to get to the bottom of things. On the way, they learn new things, uncover some secrets, undergo some personal growth, and overcome their own personal obstacles… it’s about as quintessentially Disney fantasy as it comes. The songs are catchy, the writing is great, the climate change and other metaphors (more on which later) are tastefully handled and don’t obscure the action or the film’s kid focus. Oh, and it looks lovely but Disney, much like their cheeky little brothers and sisters at Pixar, stopped getting points for that a long time ago – that’s just what we expect from them now. They’re big girls and boys, they can handle it.

So, rather than an in-depth discussion of the movie’s plot, production, or characterisation, which would be essentially a verbose way of saying “yep, it’s a good Disney movie” in 1000 words or so, I’d rather tackle one of the more esoteric issues that had floated around Frozen 2 ever since audiences left theatres after Frozen back in 2013 – that of its protagonist’s identity, in particular, her romantic orientation.

Oh, don’t give me that look! Of course, characters in Disney movies have romantic orientations. We’ve had decades and decades of “true love’s first kiss” and big, hairy lads with ostentatious libraries needing a peck on the cheek from some arrogant French peasant girl so of course there’s romance and therefore romantic inclination in Disney but, thus far and with one example too bad that Mickey gets a generous mulligan for it, it has always been strictly between male and female characters. 

This 100 per cent win streak for team hetero, combined with our more socially-progressive-than-ever times, gave rise to the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend movement on social media which caught a significant amount of traction. On top of demands from the LGBT community, who surely deserve a fairy-tale to claim ownership of by now, there was already a lot in Frozen that was coded, at the very least, ‘not-straight’. 

Elsa is quite content being a ruler on her own, she sings a song about letting go and being true to herself (both themes are reprised in Frozen 2, making the case even stronger) and the influences on her life and her entire worldview are very female-centric. I am not saying that Elsa as a character definitely has an interest in girls, what I am saying is that it would not take very much tweaking at all with her character and presentation in the inevitable Frozen sequels, because you better believe the House of Mouse is going to mine this particular source until we’re all sick of it, to make it explicit rather than a matter of subtext.

However, as I may have spoiled already, it does not happen in Frozen 2. In fact, Frozen 2 does not present its main character with a love interest whatsoever in favour of continuing the romantic subplot with her sister Ana and Kristoff to fulfil its obligatory romance quotient.

This much was obvious to anyone going into the movie for one big, very cynical, reason. If Elsa was going to be partnered up with another lady in this movie… we would have heard about it ages ago! This is because if there is one thing that Disney is phenomenally good at, aside from owning and weaponizing nostalgia and building theme parks, it is marketing and as such, if this big step was going to happen in Frozen 2… it would have been pitched to us long before the film’s release. 

Think about it for a moment; the very instant that it was announced then Disney would have benefited from a tidal wave of positive publicity, one-sided and very clear-cut controversy, and would have come out looking like a progressive beacon of hope, optimism, inclusiveness, and acceptance and no billion-dollar corporation worth the name, no matter how smiley the face it puts on, is going to pass that kind of boost up.

This column is not usually in the business of making predictions for future movies or even guessing how well they’re going to do, either at the box office or as part of film history. But since Christmas is a time for grandiose gestures that are out of the ordinary, I will go on record as saying that Disney will absolutely give Elsa a girlfriend at some point in the future – and that this movie, continuing the themes of female empowerment, Elsa’s disinterest in men, and her appealing to female spirits and aesthetics as it does, that possibly the next one will set the groundwork for that to happen.

There are those in LGBT activist circles who will find this approach, should I be proven right, very capitalistic, materialistic, and shallow; and they’re right to do so. I don’t suspect for a moment that when Disney does eventually pull the trigger on its first explicitly non-straight heroine that it will be doing so for purely moral or ethical reasons. They’ll be trying to sell movie tickets and generate the free positive publicity required to do so; but to dismiss the worthiness of what will be a side-effect from their perspective of that action would be wrong.

Imagine, if you will, you’re a young LGBT person, particularly a young lady who is beginning to discover that she is, to borrow an old and hackneyed expression, ‘not quite like other girls.’ Then, further imagine that you find yourself sitting in Frozen 4 or whatever sequel number the franchise gets to before the subtle hints become something more concrete and you see something on the big screen that tells you that not only is that perfectly fine but it also doesn’t preclude you from being the hero of your own story. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

If the Frozen movies continue to release in the run up to the holidays, surely none of us would deny that young person that kind of early Christmas present, even if it was bought with the money from some big corporation doing it for some other reason? As someone who believes in the power of stories, and of movies in particular, to make, shape, and improve lives, seeing that kind of messaging on a big screen would be, I believe, wonderful.

Let’s just hope that, like the hero of Frozen 2, Disney have the guts and the brains to do what’s right at some point down the road. That kind of decision would take a superb franchise, already containing two movies that you really ought to go see, and turn it into the kind of cultural touchstone than it is fully capable of being. They wouldn’t have to settle for building a snowman, they could build a sense of confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth in a whole generation and surely that is something we would all want to see?

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