Disney’s Blockbuster ‘Frozen’ Scores Points for Feminism—With Jewish Spirit
Male reviewers who’ve been lukewarm about the Golden Globe-winning children’s movie have failed to understand its true spirit
Frozen won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Picture this week and was nominated for an Oscar a few days later. And it just keeps raking in the box office. Last week, it took in nearly $20 million, more than any movie ever in its sixth week of release except Avatar and Titanic. It’s currently the No. 4 animated movie of all time (after The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Up) and the No. 2 animated Disney movie of all time. And remember, it’s still in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter predicts it will overtake The Lion King.
But most of the reviews have been meh. Critics agree that the animation is gorgeous but find the narrative confusing and/or complain that the characters aren’t interesting. The New Yorker said of the plot: “Everything is set for vengeance and spite, but nothing happens.” Time Out New York: “Goes tediously through the motions.” The Toronto Globe & Mail: “While there’s lots of talk about true love and melting hearts, the emotions never quite ignite.” Variety: “Longer on striking visuals than on truly engaging or memorable characters.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “As a story, Frozen is mush.”
All these critics are boys. This movie is an extraordinary, subversive story about sisterhood, and it is funny and surprising and weird, and they do not get it because they are writing with their penises.
Quick plot summary: The movie is very, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale “The Ice Queen.” Elsa and Anna are princesses of Arendelle. Big sis Elsa has the magical power to create snow and ice, which is super-fun for the sisters until there’s an accident and little Anna gets hurt. The king and queen order Elsa not to use her magic anymore. So for Elsa, power quickly becomes tied to anxiety and worries about being different. (She sings, “Don’t let them in/ Don’t let them see/ Be the good girl you always have to be/ Conceal, don’t feel/ Put on a show/ Make one wrong move and everyone will know.”) After the king and queen die in a shipwreck (another innovation for Disney: having both parents die instead of just the mother!), Elsa tries to maintain chilly, controlled distance from her sister and the kingdom. But after terrifying the populace with another accidental display of power (a literal wall of ice she puts up between herself and everyone else) she banishes herself to the frozen mountains and (unbeknownst to her) freezes the entire kingdom in the bargain. Anna leaves her new beau to rescue her sister and save Arendelle, roping in a passing shaggy-haired ice harvester and a goofy snowman to help.
Here’s why I loved this movie, and why I think it resonates with so many moviegoers:
1. Josie has a T-shirt that reads “self-rescuing princess.” Not only is Anna a self-rescuing princess, she’s even better: an other-rescuing princess.
2. In the recent animated movies Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, both of which my family enjoyed, the female lead is brave and strong, but she needs a guy to become her best self. Tiana is too uptight and needs Naveen to have fun; Rapunzel is too tentative and needs Flynn to dream bigger than just going to see some lanterns. But in Frozen, Anna’s awesome from the start, and Elsa is saved by sisterly love, not a dude.
3. Elsa learning to embrace her power literally made me cry. It seemed a clear metaphor for not being afraid of your own strength, not shying away from the intensity of your own feelings, not being afraid of what makes you different, not trying so hard to fit in that you negate everything that makes you special. What a wonderful message for little girls and gay men—the two surefire audiences for Disney musicals.
4. Siblings rock. My friend Katie’s daughter Tess, age 6, totally got the message. Katie reports that Tess had two observations after seeing the movie for the second time: 1) “The whole problem started because Elsa tried to hide who she really was. Her parents made her hide it and she hided it too instead of being proud of what she could do. You shouldn’t be afraid to be everything that’s inside you.” (Sob!) And 2) “If I ever got in trouble like that, Jamie would help me like that, and I would help him like that, because we have true love just like those sisters did.”
5. The songs, by Robert Lopez (composer of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are great. And if you listen repeatedly (as um, I did) the songs only get more smart and nuanced. Anna’s big song about yearning for romance (“For the First Time in Forever”) is really about yearning for companionship because her sister has shut her out. The big troll number, “Fixer Upper” is as much about familial love as it is about romance. Anna’s duet with Prince Hans is almost a parody of Disney love songs and the over-the-top depiction of giddy love at first sight. (With plenty of plot clues.) And Idina Menzel’s belting of “Let It Go,” the anthem of dumping fears about what other people think, is shiver-inducing.
6. I hate Disney sidekicks. They’re all Jar-Jar Binks to me. And the previews made me prepared to hate the stupid little snowman. Wrong. As voiced by Josh Gad, he was bizarre (in a good way) and hysterical.
What’s with the determination not to see this film in all its subversive, feminist glory? Variety’s critic, in his meh-to-positive review, characterized the film as “an always enjoyable tale of mysterious magic, imperiled princesses, and square-jawed men of action.” Exqueeze me? Imperiled princesses? The one adjective you come up with for two women who are the main characters and do-ers in this story is “imperiled”? And I’m sorry, who are the square-jawed men of action here? I see one love-song-singing, unthreatening curvy-jawed prince, and one cute and affable beta-male reindeer-sleigh-driver who becomes a man of action after he’s pressed into service by one of the princesses to save the other princess, who has cast the entire kingdom into snowy hell and uses magic to build herself an icy stronghold in the mountains and is deemed villainous by everyone except her sister. Imperiled? Really?
On an agricultural farm in the Negev, visitors learn how to plant their own vegetable gardens for Tu B’Shevat