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“Frozen”: A Study in Over-Interpretation

"Frozen": A Study in Over-Interpretation

With “Frozen” anointed the best animated picture of 2013 by the liberal din of sin known as Hollywood, the culture-war skirmishes over the film have gotten more intense, most recently with the accusation by Christian broadcaster Kevin Swanson that the movie is part of a Satanic push to indoctrinate children with the idea that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle:

Friends, this is evil, just evil. I wonder if people are thinking: “You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.”… This is fracturing our society and I can see how it might, I can see how some parents might be very strong, they don’t want their children indoctrinated in any way into the lifestyle of sodomy.

Swanson, who, he’ll have you know, it “not a tinfoil-hat conspiracist,” hasn’t seen the movie, but he’s drawing on the work of others who’ve interpreted the film in similar fashion. On one side, you’ve got Gina Lattrell at Policymic, who calls “Frozen” “the most progressive Disney movie ever,” because its occasionally fumbling princess Anna departs from the preternatural grace of her Mouse House predecessors and the glimpse of what she takes to be a coded gay family inside a mountain sauna. (We’ll come back to that.) On the other, you’ve Kathryn Skaggs, a self-described “well-behaved Mormon woman” who claims the film is an elaborate polemic in favor of same-sex marriage.

The fact is, that not one of us would allow a person, contrary to our values, to come into our homes and teach our family many of the principles advocated in the movie “Frozen” — such as rebellion/disobedience — as good. Yet, when the same element cunningly creates a medium within to share the same doctrine, which intensely overwhelms the senses, we are blinded — and rather than put on glasses, we allow ourselves to be mesmerized by the overall experience — focusing only on the good that we see, or perceive, highlighted for our viewing pleasure.
Given social media’s facility in gathering like-minded individuals to take down an easy target, Skaggs was roundly mocked, to the extent that Salt Lake City Weekly‘s Scott Renshaw was moved to come to her defense, pointing out that no one had ridiculed people who praised the film for having a pro-gay subtext rather than attacking it:
Skaggs was far from the only person who noted that “Frozen” might be more than slightly sympathetic to the Lavender Nation…. And for what it’s worth, I happen to agree with all of them: It’s absolutely possible to see the estranged relationships and Elsa’s rebellion against hiding her true nature as a coming-out story. It’s certainly far less of an interpretive stretch than the “Andy’s mom in ‘Toy Story’ is Jessie’s grown-up owner” theory that a Pixar enthusiast put forth recently, yet nobody burst blood vessels shame-linking to that interpretation.
To make things even more complicated, some Christian writers have interpreted “Frozen” as a religious allegory, prompting National Catholic Register critic Steven A. Greydanus to write a post entitled “How Christian Is Disney’s ‘Frozen’? (Not very.)” Although Skaggs backed down under criticism from seeing an explicit wink to same-sex coupledom in the film, Greydanus does see it: His followup post, “How Gay Is Disney’s ‘Frozen’?” could be subtitled “(Maybe a little?”).

So where, other than confused, does this leave us? With a movie that, as I’ve argued before, is too confused about what it is to put forth any coherent agenda. And also a story that is so vague in its definition of “difference” that it can be interpreted to be almost anything. Much of Skaggs’ interpretation follows naturally from the equation of Elsa’s frosty powers with same-sex marriage, but she provides no evidence, or even an argument, for making that equation. In her world — and, as Renshaw points out, these days, we often stick to our own ideologically homogeneous universes — it doesn’t need arguing. You just know, in the same way that Kevin Swanson takes for granted that pushing a rebellious message is anti-Christian by default. (Perhaps I’m overlooking the part of the Gospels where Jesus politely did everything the Romans asked of him.)
Fairy tales are open-ended by nature. Although “Frozen” bears little resemblance to “The Snow Queen,” the Hans Christian Andersen story which very loosely inspired it, it’s written in archetypes (or, less charitably, cliches). Overprotective parents: check. Rebellious daughter who both yearns and fears showing her true self to the world: check. The movie tweaks and cross-breeds some of its stock elements, but it doesn’t create new ones, which means that not all the pieces fit smoothly together. In some ways, this is a strength, especially from a commercial point of view: You don’t get to a billion dollars worldwide by tying your film to a narrowly tailored message. 
But it also leaves “Frozen” open to interpretation(s). It isn’t like Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies, whose coded coming-out scenes clearly tie its heroes’ genetic difference and outcast status to homosexuality. Elsa’s difference is just that: difference. Although her inability to control her emotions, and therefore her powers, is tied to the trauma of her parents’ death — and, subsequently, the weight of caring for both her younger sister and her kingdom — her powers predate the accident. (We’re explicitly told she was born with them, not cursed.) As Greydanus points out, there’s no ideological interpretation of Elsa’s powers themselves that really holds: What is it that, when we lose control of our emotions, turns others hearts to ice?
In essence, “Frozen” is an interpretative vacuum, less a Rorschach test than a half-finished sketch that invites viewers to complete it any way they choose. You want it to be about a gay teenager proudly owning her sexuality? Great. Two sisters casting off the yoke of patriarchy and taking strength from their love for each other? Why not. None of these interpretations fits exactly, but more importantly, they don’t not fit. It can be almost anything you want — including, in my household, a way of teaching my four-year-old daughter about the importance of expressing her feelings, and more importantly a lesson in the joys of screen musicals and contrapuntal duets. The problem lies in foisting one ironclad interpretation upon the film and then praising or damning it for its point of view, without acknowledging that the argument says much more about the person making it than “Frozen” itself.

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Comments

raqguillem

Frozen is a movie I very much like and after doing some research online I am surprised to see that my interpretation of the movie is very different from those I have read about. I really like Frozen and I believe the movie to be very successful because I interpret it as a metaphor for the path to happiness (enlightment). My interpretation would be as follows: Elsa and Anna represent a different side of the same person. They have complementary characters and represent the conscious side (Anna) and the subconscious side of the person (Elsa). The movie starts with the young childhood where Anna and Elsa are one, are complete. But then the "accident" occurs (what the Bible would call the original sin): the happy childhood and the magic of being one is forgotten and only are left the sweat memories of childhood that are represented by Olah (the Snowman). This is explained very clearly by the Troll when he says he will make Anna forget about Elsa's power and explains to Elsa that the path to control her powers (enlightment) is full of hardship and that the biggest enemy is fear. From that accident life moves on as most of us know it, in a dual world. Elsa and its powers represent the subconscious, the shadow. Anna represents the consciousness aware that something is missing. With time the shadow (Elsa's magic) grows bigger and bigger and becomes so difficult to control that one day (coronation day) the symptoms become visible. Anna learns about her need to address her subconscious fears and travels to the North Pole to "save herself: Elsa". At that point we can see Elsa's approach where she isolates herself and Let's Go of her past with that wonderful song. Anna, decides to go through the travel to look inside, (which is represented by a hard trip to the north and discussing with Elsa in the Ice Castel and talking to the Throlls). After that hard trip and the second accident (with Elsa striking Anna in the heart), Anna realizes she has to learn to love. The path is full of hardship (snow monsters, heavy storm, pressure from everyone, but also there are good companions: the memories of the Childhood (Olah) and Cristof. In her path to happiness Anna looks for true love outside her (Hans and Crhistof) but finally realizes (just before dying from a Frozen heart) that she needs to love herself before being able to love anyone else. And it is this ability to love herself that saves her and completely changed her perception of the outside world. The movie finishes the same way it has started, at home with both sisters holding hands and playing together in the ice.

Ray

I write. Poetry. Short stories. I am amazed that people can read these and find things I know I didn't put there. Maybe the people who see all of the pro-gay or anti-gay or Christian anti-Christian themes are telling us more about themselves than they are about the film.

Ge

Or maybe it's just a really sweet movie about a Queen with super powers and her quirky sister, and Christians and critics feel the overwhelming need "as usual" to suck every ounce of joy out of it in an attempt to ruin it for the rest of us, not that a theme about anything LGBT would ruin it, but it's simply not there and attaching hate to it is a real joy kill. What a world.

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