Disney’s Frozen teems with gay themes long before it hits its stride. It tells the story of Elsa, a princess from the land of Arendelle endowed with inexplicable, ice-emitting powers that shame her parents. In childhood, she injures her sister Anna during snowy playtime, and the half-stone trolls beseeched with healing Anna’s wound ask if Elsa was “born” or “cursed” with her gifts. (Fans of the similarly queer-friendly X-Men saga will note some striking parallels: Elsa develops a can’t-touch-this mutation a la Rogue, while Anna’s trauma leaves her with the Marvel character’s white-streaked hair.) Mom and Dad do acknowledge that Elsa was born this way, but after having Anna’s memory wiped, they nevertheless urge Elsa to remain in the family’s castle, its locked gates signifying the girl’s closed-off, guilt-ridden heart. “Conceal, don’t feel,” the princess is taught to tunefully recite in the film, which is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, and hinges its chief conflict of eternal winter on the dangers of emotional suppression.
This animated musical recalls a recent op-ed piece by writer and mother Joy Martin-Malone, who professed why drag queens are better role models for her daughters than Disney princesses. A perfect essay for the post-Brave era, which at last seems ready to decry Disney’s longtime trend of male-dependent beauties, Martin-Malone’s rant lamented her toddlers’ embraces of Ariel and Cinderella, and assured she’d never endorse their waiting for someone else to make their dreams come true. Better to take after the work ethic of RuPaul and her pupils, the mom argued. While it does nothing to help the Mouse House’s other problem of protagonist whitewashing, Frozen could be the rare Disney-princess flick that Martin-Malone, and those like her, deem worthy of their girls.
Voiced in adulthood by Idina Menzel, Elsa, now queen, sees her secret spilled in humiliating fashion, leading to a kingdom-fleeing that’s marked by shame and, finally, liberation. Building herself a mountaintop ice palace that gives Frozen’s animators a workout, Elsa belts and struts her way through a gotta-be-me power ballad, and though the film ultimately insists that Elsa not be a fierce queen, but a magnanimous one, the moment is unmistakably drag-esque—a self-styled fabulization.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Frozen doesn’t become remarkable until Elsa’s rousing coming out, but that doesn’t help the overall weakness of the movie’s first act. The prologue involving Anna’s injury fires off foundational plot points like a gatling gun, and it’s alarmingly nuance-free, even by old-school Disney standards. What immediately follows is as transparently inept as it is naggingly expositional, with Elsa conveniently tucked away to make room for Anna’s characterization, and scenes like one that snakes through a town of gabbing civilians, just so each can serve up a different piece of necessary narrative. Most egregious are Anna’s early exploits; voiced as an adult by Kristen Bell, she’s handed forgettable songs about the collateral suffering she doesn’t understand (she, too, has been locked in the castle, alongside the sister who shuts her out), and implausibly falls for handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) at Elsa’s gate-opening coronation.
Once the ostracized Elsa’s frosty id plagues Arendelle with sub-zero temperatures, and Anna literally heads for the hills to hunt her down, the hasty Hans courtship is cheekily ridiculed by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a burly ice salesman who proves helpful in the search. But while Kristoff’s knowing jokes may let Frozen retract Anna’s regressive, insta-love delusions, it can’t repair the subpar music, bumbling dialogue, and half-hearted scene-setting that comprise the opening chunk.
In fact, though Jennifer Lee is credited with penning the entire script, as well as co-directing with Chris Buck, the disconnect between what precedes and follows Elsa’s escape is extreme enough to suggest each part was written by someone vastly different. The goings-on of Anna and Kristoff’s quest are fresh and funny, particularly when they come across Olaf (Josh Gad), a Mr. Potato Head-like snowman with an endearing, blissfully ignorant hankering for summer. And while they’re initially explored with thin familiarity, the film’s empowering themes of feminine strengths and bonds eventually flourish in novel fashion. There are men among Elsa and Anna, but none are essential to either woman’s self-realization, nor do men hold the key to Arendelle’s revival. Beyond allowing Disney to release a film that’s apt for the holiday season (and one that, to boot, is notably secular), it’s never clear why Elsa could summon the tundra in the first place, just as it’s anyone’s guess why Arendelle’s theme music sounds African in nature. But what matters most is something that would surely please Disney-princess-fatigued moms: These sisters, both queens in their own rights, are doin’ it for themselves.