It should be no surprise by now that our favorite owners of the happiest place on earth are releasing a film this holiday season titled after the perpetual state of my heart. I, of course, am speaking of Frozen. From the very day the concept sketches of the more finalized product were released, however, it was clear that we had a very large problem on our hands. And in the words of a much better film, the problem is “this”—now imagine me gesturing to the entirety of the movie.
When I was younger, The Snow Queen was one of my favorite fairy tales. In fact, I still have the book on a shelf right next to Dove Isabeau and Tam Lin. In the shortest synopsis I can possibly give, the story is about a young boy named Kai whose heart gets infected by goblin mirror shards that make the world seem ugly and then is captured by the powerful Snow Queen. More importantly, it’s about a young girl named Gerda overcoming several trials and saving Kai from his fate. A story like this is prime for the re-imagining, and I have nothing against re-tellings, but Disney has really dropped the ball on this. In more ways than one. One of the most heinous ways they’ve done so is by erasing the strong female presence in Hans Christian Anderson’s original and replacing it with unnecessary characters.
If you’ve been keeping up with this at all, you’re probably aware that the film still stars a girl, Anna, except this time she has a sister, Elsa, who also happens to have magic (thus making her this movie’s Snow Queen). Rather than her going it alone to save her friend as in the original story, it seems as though Anna’s paired up with two ‘animal companions’ and two (male) love interests to bring her sister home. Why? It’s no mystery that love stories sell, but adding two males when Kai was already an arguably decent love interest is staggeringly confusing. It doesn’t even look as if there’s anyone for Anna to save. From what I’ve seen, Elsa hasn’t kidnapped anyone. And I’m getting the sinking feeling that it’s going to be the male supporting characters that will be saving Anna from her sister’s magic, even if it’s not in a physical sense.
To be completely honest with you, though, I’m not angry over the love interest thing so much as I’m pissed at what the two love interests represent. Using the Disney formula, Anna (this story’s Gerda) is going to travel with the animal companions and love interests, being helped by them along the way. There have been some debate on whether because the movie is about fixing a sisterly relationship, it’s actually a stronger feminist movie than the original fairy tale. However, most (if not all) the characters who help Gerda in The Snow Queen are female. Gerda’s grandmother, an old sorceress who wants Gerda to stay with her, a robber girl: these female characters who help Gerda realize her inner strength are, so far, nowhere to be seen. Instead, I have the feeling that tall, blonde, and handsome is going to replace all of them, offering up some stupid clichéd bullshit like “the power was in you all along” rather than Anna realizing her own strength and owning it. It’s important that we have a story about sisters, but there was no reason to take out the already present supporting female characters to have it. In this way, I find it’s much weaker from a feminist standpoint.
But as I said earlier, Frozen is a re-imagining. All this could be… understandable—Disney seems convinced that boys won’t be interested in a female-centric story with no male input—if not for one thing.
Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.
According to this article, the reason why there is a distinct lack of female characters in Frozen is because, and I paraphrase, “animating female characters is haaaaaaaaaard.”
I’m not going to sit here in my ‘never-have-animated-in-my-life’ chair and say that it’s not difficult. I’m pretty sure it is difficult, because animating is difficult. Instead of coming out and saying that they’re lazy, they’re blaming their unwillingness to attempt a deeper female-centric story on the necessity of beauty and how those women-folk just have so many gosh darned emotions! First of all, it really irks me that their main arguing point is focused completely on aesthetics. Yeah, okay, the audience is definitely going to be more inclined to sympathize and buy merchandise of an attractive character. However, sacrificing possible emotional reactions based on the fact that they’re not pretty enough? That’s just stunting the character themselves and the story as a whole. Emotions aren’t always pretty. Men and women alike aren’t going to always shed that one beautiful tear of true sorrow that delicately traces its way down a cheek. We’re going to blubber and get snot everywhere sometimes because, goddamn it, we’re sad and who the fuck cares who’s watching. There’s a time and a place for ‘pretty’ emotions, but it’s the less pretty, less controlled emotions that really drag out a long-lasting reaction from the audience, because we can relate to that. Also, saying that animated women need to fit to some homogenized standard of beauty really isn’t helping your case either, Disney.
What I think is the most pathetic, though, is Disney’s apparent unwillingness to even try to put diversity in this film. It may be hard, but you’re Disney, damn it! You have a pool of some of the most talented animators out there! Flex your creative muscles! There is no reason something shouldn’t be attempted because it’s “really tough”, especially not something so important as accurate female representation.
This may just be one of the problems plaguing Frozen, but it’s one of the most telling. If the animators and company are both admitting to this laziness, how can we as the audience expect this film to be any good as a whole? Can we trust that they’ve really done their research in this area, or was that just too much effort? I’m not expecting much from this movie, and I truly hope they get their act together for their next animated film. As for now, Frozen is a lost cause—a piece of a fractured goblin mirror that has lodged itself in my heart.