When Disney was coming out with The Princess and the Frog, it seemed like everyone was talking about it. Reasonably so, I mean, Tiana was Disney’s first black princess. Still, I think all the hype was the primary reason I didn’t watch it, along with some petty annoyances I had about it. Like the idea that a 1920s Louisiana girl had a name like “Tiana.”
Then there was Tangled. I watched this one with my younger siblings and it was pretty cute. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the male protagonist nailed in the head with a frying pan. Not for any real reason, just because it was fun. Both films were very well-received on the whole.
Overall, Disney has been slowly making their princesses more and more free-thinking and independent; their stories less and less about love being the sole motivator. Sure, Belle wasn’t the kind of girl who cared much what everyone thought about her, but it’s still a pretty typical fairy tale of a girl falling in love. In recent years, they’ve tried to give their princesses a story that doesn’t wholly revolve around getting married.
Then came Frozen, and everyone lost their shit.
Frozen has been touted as Disney’s best work yet. Lots of viewers saw it as an advance in feminism, encouraging girls away from the traditional love-at-first-sight concepts of princesses past. If you’re not familiar with the plot and don’t mind me throwing spoilers around, I’ll sketch it out. To skip ahead past the synopsis, move to the sub-header that says “The Reception.”
Elsa and Anna are sisters, about three years apart. As kids, older sister Elsa’s cryokinetic capabilities manifest in an accidental injury she inflicts on Anna. In response, their royal parents take Anna to the troll king to be healed, where they also have her memory of the incident wiped. They discourage Elsa from using her powers and she recluses to her room, rarely interacting with Anna as they grow up. She begins to control her abilities to an extent, keeping from any more chilly disasters for a while.
After the predictably untimely death of the king and queen, Elsa’s coronation takes place. Anna meets Hans, a handsome and charming Prince of the Southern Isles. Within a couple of days, he proposes to her and Anna seeks the blessing of her big sis on the pending nuptials. Elsa, in a serious change from the Disney norm, tells Anna she cannot marry a man she just met. Whaaaat?
Anna is obviously unhappy with this answer. During the ensuing argument, Elsa exposes her abilities in an emotional outburst. Terrified of hurting someone, she flees the castle in an attempt to protect everyone in Arendelle, leaving in her wake an eternal winter. She wanders out into an isolated area, inadvertently bringing to life her childhood snowman, Olaf. The “Let It Go” scene unfolds as she builds herself a pretty little castle of cold, hard loneliness.
Anna seeks her sister out in an attempt to end the freezin’ season, with the assistance of Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven. As they approach, the full spectrum of Elsa’s very productive temper-tantrum is in view. Anna gains entrance to the castle, in which she tries to patch up the relationship. They come to terms with their argument and make up, but Elsa refuses to return to Arendelle and insists Anna leave her alone.
During Anna’s persistence, Elsa again lashes out, causing Anna’s heart to be frozen. As Anna and Kristoff are forced back out of the range of her sister’s frosty mood swings, her condition worsens. Kristoff takes her to his adoptive family who are, incidentally, trolls. They tell Anna that her only chance of thawing the ice in her heart is an act of true love, such as a kiss. Anna beats feet back to the kingdom for Hans, who turns out to be quite the gold-digging jackass. He refuses to kiss her and outlines his plot to get hitched, let her die and kill Elsa, taking the throne for himself.
Hans’ men retrieve Elsa by force, bringing her back to reverse the weather, which she is unable do. As Elsa escapes and unleashes a terrible storm, Anna and Olaf decide that Kristoff is, in fact, her true love, setting out to brave the blizzard and find him. Hans finally tells Elsa what is happening to Anna and in her stunned grief, the storm dies down, allowing Kristoff and Anna to see each other. Hans takes advantage of Elsa’s shell-shock to attempt a quick homicide, which Anna prevents by stepping in, just as she turns completely to ice. This act of—you guessed it—true love melts Anna’s heart, thereby saving the day.
Happily ever after ensues, Elsa figures out how to end the winter without melting Olaf, Hans goes to jail, and Anna gets what she wanted: a relationship with her sister, and a loving boyfriend in Kristoff.
Elsa’s haphazard abandonment of restraint in the “Let It Go” sequence is enticing and the animation is nothing short of beautiful. In fact, the song has reached such popularity that it plays on the mainstream pop stations on a daily basis. The final plot twist in the end, in which Anna’s life-saving act of love is to save her sister’s life, has proved to be one of the most well received ideas in ages.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about the morals of the story, including allusions to the LGBT community and a wider understanding of what love is. But let me tell you what I learned from Frozen.
I learned that denial is never a lasting solution. You cannot escape your past by pretending it never happened, even if those affected have forgotten it. You cannot escape your faults and quirks by pretending they don’t exist, or by hiding them in your closet.
I learned that running away from your self is pretty tough. Turns out, you follow pretty close behind. Pretty much in your own footsteps.
I learned that people who really love you will come hunt your moody ass down and drag you back to your life, whether you like it or not, because no matter what you think is so terrible, it isn’t worth them losing you.
I learned that infatuation is not only different from love, but potentially dangerous. Putting your whole life’s trust into someone is a heavy decision, and making it before you know the person or against the admonitions of your family can be detrimental. Physically and metaphorically.
Most importantly, I learned that you can be yourself, but you have to find a way to do it that doesn’t hurt other people. In this generation of people treating each other like we live in a caste society and calling it “personality,” this is a lesson we all needed. I fully support the idea of being yourself and embracing who you are. I do not support the idea of treating others like garbage and saying that’s “just who you are.”
The big push when Generation Y was still in training pants involved self esteem. The mentality that everyone is unique, that everyone is a winner, that everyone is special… Those things are not inherently bad. They have, unfortunately, encouraged those kids to lack the empathy necessary to see how their unique may traits hurt other people. We’ve grown so accustomed to the idea that everyone should just accept us as we are that we’ve become incapable of accepting that “as we are” might not be the best “we” we can be.
As you are, you might be an intelligent person who gets things done, works hard, and tells people like it is. As you are, you might be an asshole. Yeah, we all have the power to make our own decisions but when someone treats you like dirt, it tends to affect those decisions.
Watch Frozen. Sing “Let It Go,” voluntarily or because you can’t help it. Incessantly ask people if they wanna build a snowman until they crack. Marvel at the amazing animation and, yes, be happy that Disney has come so far as to stop making every movie about same-day, boy-girl love.
Then go to bed, and as you’re having those drifting-to-sleep epiphanies, think about why you do and say the things you do and say. Think about how your “brutal honesty” was received and whether it was necessary. Think about how you can be yourself without hurting someone else.