Photo by Joeri Römer on Unsplash

Frozen 2 and Me

“Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing”
(“The Next Right Thing”)

I recall very well hearing “Let It Go” everywhere I went. After the release of Frozen (2013), it was ubiquitous. And I wasn’t particularly keen on it as a song. But I also had no context for the meaning and point of the song.

Lo and behold, after my granddaughter came to live with us (you can read about this here), I learned a LOT about it.

We were very careful about commercial exposure for our grandkids. We do not have cablevision. We subscribed to several streaming services so they don’t see ads. We researched which shows were suitable, which were least offensive, which were most progressive. Some sites suggested that Frozen would be appropriate for our granddaughter.

We suggested it to all three, but the two boys initially resisted — “That’s a girl’s movie.” Ugh, it starts so early. But they watched it; they loved it; they sang the songs for months. And, like so many other 4-year-old girls, she loved it, too. And that opened us up to the whole commercialization and marketing. She wanted Elsa this and Anna that. We’ve decided to live with that.

Her fervor for all things Frozen had waned — a bit. And then Frozen 2 (2019) was released. She and I were there, in the theater, watching with gazillions of others.

I had anticipated not liking either movie. I was so accustomed to the old Disney, the Disney of really conservative gender and family politics and really questionable racial and sexual politics.

I actually like both. Quite a lot. I think that they both have such positive attitudes and roles regarding gender, for all little kids to see.

In Frozen, the movie teases repeatedly that the love that will save Anna is the love of a man. First Hans will rescue her from her loneliness. Then Kristoff will rescue her from her frozen heart. But, in fact, the love that saves her is her love of her sister. Feminists such as Adrienne Rich have long noted the ways in which girls’ relationships with one another all too often get overshadowed and devalued for their relationship with their husband and children. Developmental psychologists have noted that finding a man will rescue women from their inner loneliness. Frozen teases that traditional story line, but turns it on its head. And the message was just so great for children to see.

Frozen 2 had some very big shoes to fill. Some very large expectations to meet. And, by and large, it does so.

For one, it addresses the overwhelming whiteness of the first movie. It does not just add a character of color and pat itself on the back. True, the population of Arendelle still seems largely white. But as they escape the town, we see a few faces of color. Not many, to be sure, but a few. In addition, the Lieutenant Mattias (later made General by Queen Anna) who is trapped in the forest is a man of color. While he’s not central, he is integral to the final resolution. And he’s not a villain. In addition, the film addresses colonial and indigenous histories and practices. It acknowledges the deception and betrayal of the largely white Arendelle. The patriarch says it is because they “practice magic” and therefore cannot be trusted. Substitute “voodoo” or “witchcraft” or any of the dozens of other terms for indigenous knowledge systems, and we have the history of colonization.

Frozen 2 does not completely resolve the colonial issues, though. Anna and Elsa’s mother was an indigenous woman, but she rescued their father and moved to Arendelle, apparently suppressing her entire former self. Furthermore, a significantly part of the story is about the bridge between the two cultures. And yet, for example, when they meet the four nature spirits, they call the spirit of the air “Gale” and continue to use the name they have imposed on the spirit. Another common colonial tactic.

For another, it handles the Kristoff storyline well. What to do with Kristoff (and Sven) after the first movie? What role could he play? Initially, the film offers a role reversal. Anna is off saving the world while Kristoff is at home and fretting about the state of the relationship. But it is not a simple reversal, which never really accomplishes much. When Anna returns, she apologizes for running off and leaving him — but her relationship with Anna comes first. He tells her not to worry: “My love is not fragile.” It is important for the kids to see him as a capable man, and as a man with feelings. As a man who can express those feelings. And as a man who can give his partner some space to do what she needs to do. Kristoff gets his proposal, but not until Anna and Elsa have done their thing. He really is the antithesis of the toxic masculinity I have written about here so often.

The relationship of Anna and Elsa remains the single most important relationship. They are in tune with one another when Elsa is upset about hearing voices. They agree to follow the voice together. And, in the end (despite the dirty trick of sending Anna and Olaf off in an ice canoe), they solve the mystery of the past and right the wrong. Each plays a part in that. Each connects with one or more of the spirits. Each actively decides to “do the next right thing.” Something we remind our grandkids every day: do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Consider the two songs: “Lost in the Woods” and “The Next Right Thing.” In “Woods,” Kristoff sings that Anna is his “true north,” the person that centers his life and gives him direction. But when she’s trapped in the cave, Anna sings that Elsa was “the only star that guided” her. Their relationship remains the central relationship.

Finally, the question of Elsa’s sexuality. The online community really wanted Elsa to have a lesbian love interest in the sequel. I heard Josh Gad (who voices Olaf) in an interview saying that the writers really wanted to focus on Elsa finding herself first. The seeds are planted in Frozen; she notes that she does not belong in Arendelle. She doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs. Frozen 2 really takes up that point. And she discovers her past, her parents’ past, and her identity as the fifth spirit. She has found where she belongs and her role in the world.

On the one hand, that feels like it could be a cop-out: the writers just didn’t want to wade into the Sapphic waters, they didn’t want to alienate part of their fan base. On the other hand, it sounds like really sound advice for any kid watching: figure yourself out before you enter into a relationship with someone else!

Even though Elsa announces “We’re done,” maybe a sequel is there, after all, and we’ll be right there for it….

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction and editor of a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls.

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