I spent my childhood in a house without a VCR, because, as I saw it, mine were The Most Embarrassing Parents of All Time. My Dad assumed he was doing us a favour by encouraging us to read. NO DISNEY SHALL EVER CROSS THIS THRESHOLD, he thought, congratulating himself on the protection of his children from the evils of lamp-eyed animated women with a standard BMI of five, on the all-consuming hunt for a husband.
He wasn't counting on his mother-in-law buying any Disney film she could lay her hands on ("except Pocahontas, which is not historically accurate") for us to watch every weekend at her house. He would glance at our rapturous faces with a pained expression as Ariel left her home and fishy tail behind for a guy with two brain cells and great hair.
This is the identikit formula for every Disney movie; girl with anomaly - like a tail, or basic intelligence - breaks free from the life she knows in search of adventure, only to become neatly redomesticated by a man by time the credits roll. As a child, I never questioned it. Of course, now I see exactly what my Dad saw all those years ago; malleable female leads whose lives revolve around arrogant, boring princes. But even that realisation didn't stop me loving the songs. Which is why when I heard the rumours that Disney had "made a feminist movie", I was excited. Have they? I thought, Really? Last week, I finally watched it, with trepidation that quickly turned to stunned disappointment and eventually sadness. The film in question, Frozen - the fifth highest grossing film ever made - is not feminist. It reinforces every stereotype Disney has propagated since they trotted out poor old Snow White in 1934.
The premise is the same. Elsa is the heir to the throne and, unexplained, has a 'terrible gift' - she has cryokinetic powers and can turn pretty much anything to ice. Anna is her sister, who once got on the wrong side of her and now has a weak heart that's prone to frostbite. Or something. The only thing that can save the two girls is, of course, True Love. And that's where the 'feminist' aspect of the film comes in; amidst the inevitable search for a man, the sisters love each other, and that's what saves the day.
The essentials of the film are kind of nice, I suppose; a curse-breaking act of true love occurs between sisters, instead of the stereotypical heteronormative couple who will get married before the sun sets. That, at least, is positive. It tells little girls to value their relationships with other girls as much as their relationships with men. I say 'as much as', because Disneyfied heteronormative love still blossoms in Frozen; the course of it just doesn't run as smooth as it might have done in the 90s.
Frozen! The first Disney movie ever to say that the first guy might not be the right one! says one meme I've seen on this matter. What it casually neglects is the idea that the second guy, in quick succession, will be Mr Right. And thank goodness Anna survived her evil soulled first fiancé, because Kristoff, number two, is waaaaay better looking.
I'm not saying that love is the be all and end all in life, but here's the thing: Frozen not only sees a beautiful girl with a 16 inch waist end up with the right guy (eventually), but it also reinforces a modern myth - that powerful women won't find love. No hint of a relationship for big sister Elsa, who harbours the ability to freeze oceans and create crop-devastating frost at will. Is she just a strong, independent woman, with no interest in love? Yeah maybe there's that; and the fact that no two dimensional Disney prince would touch her with a 10 foot bargepole. She remains alone at the end of the film, whilst her little sister Anna, who is sweet and naive, with appalling judgement (read: really needs looking after) bags a man no problem.
So what did I want exactly? For Disney to change its spots all of a sudden? OK, I wasn't expecting a tiny cartoon Andrea Dworkin to weave her way through the Enchanted Forest singing a catchy melodic ballad about the devastating effect of porn on society. But before people start saying this is a 'feminist' movie, it might be worth examining it closer.
In the scene where Elsa accepts and embraces her icy talents, for example, she is magically transformed from meek, covered-up princess into a raunchy wench with a dress slit to the thigh. You know, I probably could have guessed that she'd emancipated herself by the fact that she abdicated, found her way up a treacherous mountain alone and built a giant ice palace in the space of ten minutes; but no Disney, you're right - a bit of leg does make the whole thing more empowering. Go ahead, reiterate the idea that bare flesh = POWER... which is, after all, the reason why Obama and Putin never wear shirts.
Another patriarchal archaism is this obsession with princesses. I only really acknowledged that I have a problem with princesses when the UK got a fabulous one of its own. Kate Middleton is beautiful, intelligent and immaculately dressed: perfect princess material. In marrying a prince though, she signed her life away and reduced herself to little more than a vessel. The royal family trope isn't exactly a breeding ground for true love. It's a breeding ground for heirs. Contemporary women - and more importantly, our daughters - need a fantasy backdrop with a little more substance than two working ovaries and a man with the right title.
Am I nitpicking? I don't know. The idea that stereotypically 'sexy' girls are more powerful leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as does the implication that once they achieve power, they relinquish the ability to be in a happy sexual relationship. I suppose it's good to see Disney making baby steps, taking a tiny bit - but not all - of the pressure off the myth that Someday all of our Princes Will Come; but I reckon they still have a long way to go before they get my Dad's seal of approval.