I believe it was John Calvin who said “Human nature is like a cow-pat covered in snow; inherently bad but made to look good by a delicate white covering.” Of course, Calvin was referring to a completely theological subject, but a certain snow-themed Disney movie has been making its way back onto my dash and it has provoked ire from the depths of my soul that has not stirred since the winter of 2013.
That fateful winter I went with my family to watch Frozen in theaters, a film that had been praised by critics as “the best Disney movie since The Lion King,” but instead I was delivered a steaming pile of mediocrity that I could not escape in any aspect of my life. Elsa assaulted my eyes across my tumblr dash, Anna filled the fronts of department stores with annoyingly pink pillows, and that accursed power-ballad followed me like a pestilence any time I turned on the radio. To me, Frozen is an overhyped pile of reindeer scat and there are nine reasons why.
1 – Hans
When I first watched Frozen, I loved Hans’ reveal as the villain. Disney has delivered us manipulative, evil relationships before, Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, Scar from The Lion King, and Mother Gothel from Tangled come to mind first, but most of them had some preexisting connection to their victims that enabled the manipulation. Simba was raised with Scar, and viewed him as a benevolent uncle due to his naïveté. Lady Tremaine and Mother Gothel both raised their victims, and Gothel especially abused the relationship between parent and child.
All of the aforementioned examples came upon their victim incidentally, however. In contrast, Hans sought out Anna and manipulated both her and everyone else in Arandelle. Hans shows a cunning mind and is able to adapt his plans to account for any situation, sometimes on the fly. Heck, Hans might fit in well with characters from A Song of Ice and Fire. However, all these positives are viewed in retrospect. Throughout the narrative there is no foreshadowing that Hans was a villain (and no, his single line in “Love is an Open Door” DOES NOT COUNT). His reveal was pure shock-value, and in successive viewings it really begins to loose its punch (so maybe a character from Game of Thrones then). I still really like what they wanted to do with the character, but they just executed it very poorly. And speaking of poor execution…
2 – Trying (and Failing) to do Too Much Too Quickly
The narrative failings do not rest on Hans alone. Disney movies thrive on a very small cast that goes through development, complemented by an array of secondary, static characters. If all of these secondaries are given their own narrative, the story becomes muddled, looses it momentum, and fails to flesh out any character anyway. Frozen is beset with this.
Let’s count all the stories that are happening in a ninety-minute time frame
- Elsa is trying to come to self acceptance
- The Duke of Weselton is trying to connive a plot
- First it is manipulate Elsa into a favorable trade agreement
- Then it is to kill Elsa
- Then it is antagonizing literally everyone for no reason
- Anna wants to reconnect with Elsa
- Anna has to go and find Elsa
- Kristoff learns how to love people, not reindeer
- Anna has to be cured of her freezing curse by an Act of True Love
- Hans is trying to take over everything
- Olaf wants to see what happens in Summer
- Elsa learns to control her powers
- The Trolls are trying to set Kristoff and Anna up
Contrast this to Beauty and the Beast, widely regarded as the greatest Disney animated movie, and with about the same run-time.
- The Beast learns to love
- Belle saves her father
- The household wants to be human again
- Gaston wants to marry Belle
Books can thrive on complicated plots with multiple narratives because the do not have a run-time. TV shows can as well. Movies, however, must be streamlined so that they can be consumed within their allotted time. If Frozen were launched as a TV show, this could have all worked. Instead, everything was crammed in half-baked, leading to poor pacing overall and an unfulfilling narrative.
3 – Anna Has Almost No Character or Character Development
When Frozen came out, everyone was a titter about Anna, the “feminist princess of our times,” (trust me, I will get into that last part thoroughly). To be a strong female character, the portrayal must show depth of emotion and complex personality. Character development is optional, but recommended.
Anna misses all of these marks. Her sole purpose in the narrative is in service to Elsa, so by all rights Anna should have been a secondary character and it shows. All she does is wander around stupidly, almost dying in every situation she comes across. She goes head over-heels for one man after knowing him for an evening, and head-over-heels for another in two days. Sure, she does not want to marry the second guy, but they are all the way to first-base by the time the movie is over. For an arc that is supposed to criticize the traditional Disney story, Anna sure as heck fulfills it in the end.
Even the thing that almost everyone praised, “the positive bond between sisters,” is forced and has no emotional payoff. Based on the movie, Elsa and Anna seldom interact with each other while their parents are alive and even less so after their deaths. They are said to have been close when they were young, but Anna is shown to be no more than a toddler when Elsa shuts her out. After After being separated for a over a decade, Anna’s devotion to Elsa is nonsensical, so their “reconciliation” at the end of the movie has no heft to it. We do not care if they get back together because we never see them together.
4 – Elsa is not the Main Character
For a movie called Frozen, and boasting the vocals of Idina Menzel, Elsa has almost no screen-time. Here we have a character that has all the depth that Anna lacks: tortured from within by a power she cannot control, desperate to reconnect with her family, crippled by fear of what might happen if she loses control, Elsa could have been the best character Disney ever made. Instead, she is shunted off into the mountains to hide while we are forced to suffer through Anna’s bumbling through the snow. When we do see Elsa, her appearances are very fleeting, and any hope to feel for her relationship is dashed by the aforementioned failings of the narrative to develop said relationship.
Elsa is actually the first Disney main character with supernatural powers of any kind (the three good fairies notwithstanding), and her lack of control over them is one of the main issues that starts the story. For all this, we never get any foreshadowing of how she might control these powers. The finale’s ham-handed attempt to explain it had no buildup, and instead it plops onto the screen as a half-formed pile of narrative goo. Again, no emotional payoff. If Elsa’s powers represent homosexuality or mental illness, as so many have claimed, then yes love is an important component in overcoming the difficulties, but there are so many other issues that are hinted at earlier in the narrative, but are never addressed again in the finale.
5 – White-Washing Kristoff
The introduction to Frozen consists of a chorus singing in the Sami language. The Sami are an indigenous people in northern Europe, and one would think that having a Sami chorus the introduction to the film might indicate a diverse cast and a role for an oppressed, underrepresented people. That’s right: white people have been oppressing non-European cultures even within Europe! In the story which inspired Frozen, Hans Christen Andersen’s The Snow Queen (which is a super feminist masterpiece and far superior to the movie it inspired), the main character, Gerda, gets the help of a Sami woman as she journeys to save her friend Kai from the Snow Queen. In all the old translations and film adaptations of that story, this woman is called “the Lapp Woman.” L*pp is a slur against the Sami, since they were too poor to buy clothes they were often dressed in rags, which in Danish translates to lapp.
Disney doubles-down on the racism of the original with Kristoff. All of Kristoff’s clothes are very obviously Sami in design and motif, but Kristoff himself is entirely removed from the culture in appearance and nature. While modern Sami have more typically European features, in the 1840s (the purported date of Frozen) they would have appeared to be much more similar to Native Americans or Mongolians, with broad cheekbones and with dark skin and hair. Kristoff is pale, narrow-faces, and blond. Also, even though the costume appears, Kristoff is never connected with Sami culture in any way outside of that aspect. This could of course, be attributed to the fact that he was raised by trolls, which brings me too…
6 – More Holes in the Plot than Holes in a Sieve
Gosh, where do I start with all these plot holes?
- Where did Elsa’s powers come from? No one else in the entire movie displays any kind of magical aptitude, and no one mentions past incidents or occurrences of them.
- Why wipe Anna’s memory? There was literally no reason to aside from contrived conflict that the writers wanted to inject. Siblings fight and injure each other all the time. My sister chipped my tooth once, and she and I are still on very good terms! Why wipe it?!
- Why was Anna kept locked away? In the nineteenth century, royalty was still a pretty big deal and having two daughters would have caused a problem of inheritance in most societies. Sure, maybe Arandelle practices absolute primogeniture, but there still needs to be heirs to continue the line! Since Elsa is not prime for marrying, Anna would HAVE to be their hope for the future, and thus she would have been paraded around in search of a suitor as soon as she hit her teen years. Keeping her locked away had no good explanation, and just stunted her emotional growth.
- What are the trolls? Really, what are they? They do nothing.
7 – The Most Sexist Character Design Ever
I am not the first to make this criticism, and I hope I am not the last. Disney needs to be held accountable for this. Most Disney women look similar, both because of traditional standards of beauty and their style, but the level of same-facing that Frozen uses is an affront to animation. LOOK AT THIS!
Not convinced!? LOOK!!!!!
Lino DiSalvo, head of Disney animation said “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty.” Ok, as the head of WALT DISNEY STUDIOS YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THAT. THAT IS NO EXCUSE. LOOK AT THIS:
THERE IS NO EXCUSE, DISNEY.
8 – The Dialogue
Children’s media has to be understandable to all ages, I understand that, but Disney has never suffered from a lack of clarity. Many of the Studio’s more highly acclaimed movies are loaded with subtlety and emoting in the characters faces. Think of Lilo & Stitch for example; the scene where Nani sings “Aloha O’e” with Lilo is heartbreaking and deeply moving, and no one feels the need for Nani or Lilo to stop in the middle of it and say “Gee, I feel sad.” It is beautifully implied, shown, not told to the audience.
Because Frozen is so overly crammed with content, the time for subtlety is lost. Everything must be served up as soon as possible so we can move on to the next scene. The level of explanation that the writers put in insults the capacity of the audience to comprehend what it is seeing, and to chalk it up to “It has to be simplified for the kids,” is absolute horse-hockey. Children are much smarter than people give them credit for, and to say that the kids are too stupid to understand the work unless it is spelled out to them is incredibly aggravating. Of course, all of this might be forgiven if it were not for one tiny thing:
9 – Fake Feminism
In my time at university, I have met a few scum-sucking creeps. My former roommate was one of them, and he was a vile cretin who used many nuanced manipulations to achieve his ends (namely bedding girls that he liked). One of his most functional tools was a flagrant use of fake feminism, and that is why I take such umbrage with this film.
Case in point, Anna is the ultimate fake feministic character. She spends the entire movie being saved by men and depending on men for almost everything. When she leaves Arandelle to find Elsa, she puts Hans in charge rather than someone else who might be more qualified, such as a head of household that Anna grew up with. Anna spends most of the first part of her search for Elsa almost dying in the snow because she had no forethought and rushed forward, as women are inherently emotionally unstable and cannot execute long-range plans. Lo! She is saved by a hapless trader, who is also a man, who gives her proper clothes so that she can survive.
Then, Anna is completely dependent on Kristoff for the entire rest of the movie. He saves her from wolves, navigates the mountains, saves them from the abominable snowman, brings Anna to the healing trolls, and carries her all the way back to Arandelle. Without her handsome savior, Anna would have probably been found this year as the glaciers melted and her freeze-dried corpse washed downstream. Her sole moment of agency comes in the finale of the movie when she saves Elsa and punches Hans in the face. To say that Anna of all people is the modern, feminist Disney Princess does a disservice to all the other female characters that have preceded her.
So, now that Frozen is returning with the #giveElsaaGirlfriend tag, I feel the need to reiterate that we should not have to settle for fake feminism and insipid portrayals of female characters. In this day and age, we deserve a better caliber of character, especially in LGBT+ representation and Women’s representation. That is why Frozen, like Avatar before it, will eventually fade and be recognized for the mediocrity it is.
Images property of Walt Disney Studios, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon.