Frozen: Why I Just Can't Let it Go
Published on: 01 September 2014 Author: Sophia Bennett
OK, so before I start, two things. First, it made over a billion dollars at the box office and has become the top grossing animated film of all time, and that many cinema-goers can't be wrong.
Second, I loved it too. I wouldn't write about if I wasn't delighted and moved in turn. Frozen is a great movie, with so much to love.
Stories matter. They tell us who we are, and who we can be. Frozen matters a lot, because it is carrying on the tradition of Brave and Tangled, to tell us that princesses don't have to be rescued by princes any more. They can rescue themselves and each other, thank you very much. Having just written a story in which a girl sets out to rescue her dad from a castle, it's a theme close to my heart.
There's a lot to celebrate about Disney's biggest success. Frozen is a story about sisters and in the end, sisterly love is what really matters. The person in charge is a woman - Elsa - who is loved and accepted by her people as their queen. The person who goes on a quest to save her is not a prince, but a princess - Anna. A princess who is perfectly capable of having a bad hair day, and showing more than a little attitude.
Thanks to Anna and Elsa, Frozen cheerfully passes the Bedchel test, which requires a film to have two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man at least once. (Try applying the test the next time you go to the movies. The number of films that fail is still alarmingly high.) But it still left me wishing Disney had been braver, gone further, done more.
The Snow Queen - the story the film is based on - is a fabulous, chilling fairy tale, in every sense. Almost all its characters are women, apart from the boy (it's a boy in the original) with the chip of ice in his heart, who needs to be rescued. In Disney's story almost all the characters, apart from the central duo, are men. Anna doesn't really need a boy-girl love story - she has her sister - but she gets one anyway. And she has to climb that ice mountain in heels.
Ah, those heels.
The Oscar winning song, 'Let it Go', has inspired little girls from around the world to express their sense of self-empowerment on YouTube. As Elsa belts out the final lines, she is transformed into the Disney Queen who will spawn a billion sparkly dresses, and show girls around the world exactly who they should aspire to be.
And here we come to my biggest problem, because as she hits those high notes, real Queen Elsa is revealed to be ... thinner. Very thin. Really, super-thin. And yet curvy. White, of course. And dressed like a beauty-queen (in the SNOW), with a thigh-split up to here. And high heels, naturally. Because that is how powerful women look and dress. Just check out Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton, Malala and the Queen. Oh, wait ...
Now, I am an absolute sucker for Oscar dresses, which tend to resemble Queen Elsa's, once she's finished letting go. I watch the red carpet intently every year, and am such a fan that Threads, my first book, features an Oscar dress in its climax. But do you know what? Those dresses look great on actresses standing still in front of a camera, but as soon as you try to sit, or breathe, or talk, or do anything, they start to look a bit silly. Female journalists have taken to wearing them in studios to comment on the red carpet madness and, when they sit at their desks, doing, you know, a job, it's clear that the dress is holding them back and slowing them down.
I think that a truly powerful queen would want to create an outfit for herself that was ... comfy. Appropriate to the environment. Easy to move about in. Practical. Check out Angela Merkel's trousers, Malala's shalwar kameez, the sensible height of the Queen's signature heels.
From a merchandising perspective, the plan worked. Those sparkly Queen Elsa dresses are like gold dust. You just can't sell them fast enough. But culturally, Disney, you let us down.
It matters, because stories matter, and the way you tell your stories matters very much. It is perfectly OK to be a thin, blonde, curvy, attractive, white girl with a penchant for eveningwear - of course it is. But we knew that already. What about all the other girls, Disney? When do they get to be in charge?
That perfect girl is gone. Test the limits and break through. It's time to see what you can do.
You said it, Disney. And we're ready. Now make it happen.
Check out Sophia's book
Books to read if your child loved Frozen
If you child loved Disney's Frozen, here are some books they might enjoy! (Ranging from ages 5-12.)