Originally Published: December 2nd, 2013; Updated: June 24th, 2014
Is Disney’s Frozen An Allegory for Coming Out?
**WARNING: Mild Spoilers Ahead**
Walt Disney Animation Studios, the brilliant tour de force behind animations greatest cinematic achievements like the use of a multiplane camera to help create the illusion of depth in animation, among others — ahem, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the first feature-length animated film), Sleeping Beauty (which stood out among it’s predecessors for combining animation with medieval art and music from composer Tchaikovsky), and the studios renaissance era, which produced instant classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the latter being the first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and both films being among the first to combine hand drawn animation with CGI technology — has released a new animated classic.
Yes, I’m calling it a classic.
Too soon? Maybe.
But I don’t think so.
Disney’s Frozen, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, opened in theaters in the US on Wednesday, November 27th, and in true Disney Fan Fashion, I went to the first showing I could attend post-work. Let me just say: I was completely blown away by everything: the animation, the Broadway-caliber songs and score that reminded me of Wicked, the delightful cast of characters, and the amount of heart. We’ll get to all that in a second, though.
The one thing I couldn’t shake as I watched the story unfold was how strikingly similar it felt to growing up gay and learning to find inner peace and acceptance while balancing the fears you have of what others might think about you. Disney doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to incorporating the voice of minority. After all, it took the company until 2009 to produce a full length animated feature film featuring a black princess, and even then they were criticized for not giving Tiana, the main character in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, enough screen time as a human — she spends most of the film as a frog in the bayou in New Orleans trying to become human again. Despite Disney’s lack of direct commentary on specific social issues — they are, after all a company whose mascot is a mouse who, first and foremost, entertains and encourages the vast imaginations of children everywhere, of all ages, so a lack of direct acknowledgement is to be expected — most of their animated films have deeper meanings. Animation at its best blends enough intrigue and humor for the kids with complex story elements, succinct writing, and wit for adult audiences. And Frozen does all of that while crafting a story about a remarkable young woman that resembles the struggle anyone who is gay would understand.
Elsa (voiced by Broadway legend Idina Menzel), the eldest daughter of the king and queen of the fictional Arendelle, is the heart of Frozen; she is the center of main storyline and, despite not having the most screen time, is the real protagonist of the film. Elsa possess the ability to create snow and ice, a magical power she was born with. Her family, particular her father, force her to suppress it because “nobody would understand.” He closes the doors to the kingdom, and Elsa is sequestered away from her sister, Anna, the films other protagonist, because her father didn’t want Anna to be exposed to Elsa’s ability.
Elsa spends her life holed up in her room while her sister, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), who represents pure love and innocence, sits on the other side of the door, begging Elsa to come out and play with her; Anna knows not of her sisters abilities, and thus doesn’t understand why her sister is being shut away from the rest of the world.
As a result, Elsa grows up afraid of people, afraid to let people in. Finally, when it comes time for Elsa’s coronation as Queen of Arendelle, her abilities are inadvertently revealed and she everyone shuns her, running her out of her own kingdom.
Sound familiar yet?
In one of Disney’s best songs since the early 90s, “Let It Go” sees Elsa (again, voiced by the incomparable Idina Menzel, because I can’t say enough how exquisite she is in this role) confronting the “lessons” taught to her by her father: “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be / Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” But now they do know about her. It’s out. She’s out. The secret she had to keep inside is gone, and through this song she begins to feel utterly liberated.
“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small / And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all / It’s time to see what I can do / To test the limits and break through / No right, no wrong, no rules for me / I’m free!”
Elsa begins to test her powers, and she realizes that she loves the girl that she is; she comes into her own and now that she’s free of her secrets, she can break through the walls she’d built up all of her life and, well, quite literally become fabulous.
In the last chorus of the song, she sings: “Let it go, let it go / And I’ll rise like the break of dawn / Let it go, let it go / That perfect girl is gone / Here I stand in the light of day / Let the storm rage on / The cold never bothered me anyway.”
If that’s not a coming out song, I don’t know what is. Regardless, it’s absolutely empowering. The message here is beautiful, and the animated sequence that accompanies it is breathtaking. As the story unfolds, it’s impossible not to feel what Elsa felt: the pain from being shut away from the world, of being shunned by her kingdom, and of finally being able to let it all go and just breathe.
Disney might not be coming out and saying, “This is Elsa’s version of coming out,” but they don’t need to; it’s evident to every boy or girl carrying a secret around with them that threatens to crush them every day, at any moment; it’s clear to the grown audience members what Elsa is dealing with.
And that may just be enough. At least for now.
Over the course of the rest of the film, love is explored is a lot of different ways, but the most important thread in this film is the love between Elsa and Anna, and that is where the heart of this film lies; it’s not about romance and marriage, it’s about standing up for your family, and that is extremely important. (Also, did anyone catch the two gay dads during the Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post scene?)
Overall, without giving too much more away, Frozen is exactly the type of film I’ve wanted from Disney since the late 90s: a smart musical with complex characters about something more than just “falling in love.” Frozen to me, is exactly what Disney is all about. If I had to compare it to previous Disney films, I’d say it’s a delightful balance between Beauty and the Beast and 2010’s Tangled, and between the latter film, last year’s tour de force Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen, I’d say that Disney is ushering in a brand new renaissance.
Welcome back, Disney!
Disney Animation has posted the “Let It Go” sequence on YouTube, which of course I’ve watched a zillion times in the last month or so. To relive the magic, watch the video embedded below!
Have you seen Frozen? What did you think? Sound Off Below!