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New aged princess story features empowerment

Posted: December 11, 2013 - 5:35pm  |  Updated: December 12, 2013 - 10:07am
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This image released by Disney shows Elsa the Snow Queen, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from the animated feature "Frozen." (AP Photo/Disney)  AP
AP
This image released by Disney shows Elsa the Snow Queen, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from the animated feature "Frozen." (AP Photo/Disney)

Frozen

Rated PG

1 hour 48 minutes

Walt Disney Animation Studios

 

 

In the old days, it was all pretty cut and dried. A Disney princess was a delicate creature. She had, on average, between one and no parents, and there was typically an evil step-parent in the mix. Character-wise, she was pretty helpless, lacking either friends, or legs, or the ability to stay awake. Mostly what she lacked was a prince to take her away from the terrible life that inevitably beset her. Seen through the eyes of Walt Disney, being a prince was cake, but being born a princess was simply bad luck. It’s been this way since the thirties, when Snow White was gullible enough to take an apple from, let’s be honest, what was a fairly obvious witch. For generations we’ve grown up with these archetypes, but somewhere along the way, someone decided enough was enough. I’d like to say my generation can take the credit, but it was probably more gradual than that. Basically, young up-and-comers in the entertainment industry started having daughters and asking themselves, “do I really want my little girl to think that all she has to do is wait around for a prince to show up and that this poncy, privileged, square-jawed lunk is going to make everything all right?” No way! My daughter can make her own future - can save herself, and maybe even do a little rescuing of her own when Mr. Square Jaw discovers that life isn’t so easy after all. And so, finally, Disney movies, still the gold standard of animation, despite other studios chipping away at that reputation for years, have started giving us heroines we can be proud of. This week’s “Frozen” is about two fairy-tale sisters, one a bouncy optimist and the other a founding member of the X-Men, and the struggle they face when hopeful positivity goes head to head with a magical, out-of-control, eternal winter. And a talking snowman. It’s great.

I really liked “Frozen,” and I honestly didn’t think I was going to care for it at all. The early trailers showed nothing more than a cute snowman battling a cute caribou for a carrot, and while it was cute, it looked more than a little annoying. That trailer showed nothing of the actual story, however, those more in-depth previews saved for later in the marketing schedule, thereby not inundating us and allowing the audience to experience a few actual surprises as the movie unfolds. Anna is the younger, happier sister, in love with life and so eager to live it. Elsa is the dour sister, closed off and bitter. She has every right to her anti-social tendencies. Elsa has the power, and a barely controlled power it is, to freeze things. She can make it snow in the summer, create a skating rink in the great hall, and produce snowmen out of nothing. This is never explained, other than to mention, pointedly, that she was born this way. Rather than being proud and supportive, Elsa’s parents are afraid she will be ostracized for her gifts, and they order the castle shut up indefinitely, all contact between the daughters and the outside world, severed. It would have been better had they embraced Elsa’s unique nature, maybe even putting a “Freeze Pride” bumper sticker on the carriage, because after they are inevitably lost in a terrible storm at sea, Elsa is terrified to open up to anyone. Eventually, however, you have to open the gates, and on the older sister’s 21st birthday and coronation as Queen, Elsa attempts to rejoin society and reestablish normality. This doesn’t go so well, and the stresses of a large party lead instead to a complete loss of control wherein the entire kingdom is thrown into the grips of a crushing winter. Sure, there are few Prince Charmings to be had in this highly entertaining tale, but the real story is one of empowerment and acceptance, and sisterhood and it hits a perfect note. Oh yeah, and did I mention the talking snowman?

Olaf, the comic-relief snowman, is a terrific addition to the plot, noteworthy mostly for the writers’ restraint in regards to his character. He’s funny, sweet, and keeps the action rolling, but could so easily have become overbearing and obnoxious. A lot of this has to do with the fact that they hired hip though subdued nerd comedian Josh Gad as the voice of Olaf instead of, say, Robin Williams. The song-and-dance number where an oblivious Olaf recounts all the things he’d like to do in summer is a highlight of the film. In fact, the music was better than it’s been in years. Still a little poppy, but strong nonetheless. Combined with a tight script, clever and willing to subtly skewer Disney’s previous princess archetypes, and strong vocal performances from Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, as well as a host of others, “Frozen” hits all the marks.

The best thing about the movie, of course, was watching the reactions of the kids around me in the theatre. I may have mentioned that I was seeing this in conjunction with my son’s sixth birthday, and the row of kindergartners in front of me, as well as all those in the packed auditorium, were delighted with the movie. All the parents I talked to were equally pleased with the film, though maybe for slightly different reasons. We do what we can to raise our kids with values we deem important, but there’s no denying the incredible sway popular culture has. It’s nice for it to sometimes sway our way. Grade: A

“Frozen” is rated PG for cartoony action and snowy mayhem.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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