Frozen: Breaking the Ice?

January 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm, by

The Little Mermaid: letting women stay little so men can lead the way.

I have just returned to the United States after something of a sabbatical semester in Israel, where I spent long days studying Jewish texts that–like many of the great Disney films that shaped my childhood (The Little Mermaid,¬†The Lion King,¬†Aladdin, etc.)–made a habit of excluding women, or otherwise painting women as passive, suspect, stupid or just plain evil.

Perhaps because of the frequency of this (and perhaps because of other recent events in my life that have made me appreciate the parts of my religious living that are inclusive of and empowering to women), I have become even more sensitive to the way that women are portrayed in the cultures that surround me. (My own brand of Judaism–Conservative Judaism–is pretty welcoming to people of all genders in this regard.) If I were ever to have progeny, I would hope that they would grow up believing that people of all genders can be equals in the world, and I hope that there could be some movies to support them in this belief.

In recent days, I have seen posts about the feminist breakthroughs that Disney accomplished by producing Frozen, and I have also seen some feminist critiques of their latest animated feature.

So I decided tonight I’d see it for myself. (Just for the record, I was blown away.)

Despite my appreciation for the film–for many reasons–I was left feeling responsible to consider the social value of this as a children’s film, for all of the cultural capital it carries.

A hero who cares about more than the perfect suitor?

One of the great blessings of Disney films is that they magically instill in people shared songs, morals and stories. Nearly every film suffers from certain biases that are a product of the culture from which they come. (For example, in The Lion King, Scar is rendered suspect by his feminine walk–a product of homophobia. In The Little Mermaid, Ursula is rendered controlling by her obesity–a product of weightism. In Aladdin, unlike Aladdin with his own clean-cut Californian look, Jafar is rendered evil by his Arabian appearance–a product of Islamophobia.)

Frozen, like all literature and films that play off of archetypes and cultural norms, has certain biases embedded in it. (One of the bad guys is an old, bald, money-seeking man–a product of hating old, bald Republicans. A dimpled lead woman character is not wont to strategize and think as thoroughly as other characters–a product of misogyny; however, all of the characters in fact suffer from that, though it is not pointed out as clearly with regard to other characters.)

All that being said, Frozen is–for the most part–a feminist champion amongst Disney films, showing strong female leads that care about more than just male suitors, or resigning to exclusively female roles. It’s a film that values family, that values fun, and that truly values people regardless of gender (and also creatures regardless of species).

Olaf brings a whole new level to Disney humor.

If every American child growing up in the year 2014 were permitted to see only one Disney film in order to share songs, stories, jokes and values, then there is no question that they must see Frozen.

(Also, it helps that the character Olaf is undoubtedly the funniest Disney character since Genie.)

Frozen is preceded by a particularly violent short (Get A Horse!) in which one familiar villain from an old Disney series is attacked beyond necessity. I think it’s Disney’s way of saying, “Every film we have made until now has been us beating a dead horse. From now on, we’re gonna be different.”

I hope that, for the sake of the next generation of young people, I am seeing things right: Disney has broken the ice for women (at least as far as the women’s universe in Disney films is concerned). We have entered an era of children’s films that strive harder to match up with the ideals of the 21st Century.

Disney, welcome to your new golden age. Please only shine brighter, because there may be a brilliant future ahead for all of us.

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