Frozen’s Heroine Chic

(WARNING: If you haven’t seen “Frozen” and care about whether or not it is spoiled, don’t read this)

I may be 30 years old and childless, but I’ll admit it–I’ve seen and enjoyed “Frozen”.  Considering the movie’s grossed half a billion dollars, I can’t be the only one in this situation.

Granted though, the group that really made this Disney retelling of “The Snow Queen” the massive success that it is is little girls.  Much like my peers and I took to Ariel and Belle back in the early 90s, the tiny tots of today turned Elsa and Anna in the two new princesses to be on the Disney block.

That’s right, there are two “Frozen” princesses.  The older one, Elsa, is the titular snow queen.  She has magical powers that allow her to turn things to ice and manipulate the winter weather, but she doesn’t have complete control over them, so sometimes she accidentally freezes people or things, including her little sister.  She also gets to sing “Let It Go”, the breakout song from the movie that recently won an Oscar. Here, have a gander:


The younger princess is more of the traditional Disney mold.  Anna is young and sheltered, but is forced out into a whole new world in an effort to save her sister.  She has not one but two suitors and dreams of a world much bigger than her little bubble of a life inside her castle. Note the spunky pigtails, but the decidedly less glamorous dress:


When I was talking with my friend Jeff about his four-year-old daughter’s obsession with the movie, he mentioned how much she loved Elsa.  It didn’t surprise me, as his daughter always seemed to like super heroes and he goes out of his way to make sure little D doesn’t get too preoccupied with traditional Disney princess types.

He informed me that pretty much every little girl prefers Elsa to Anna though.  He told me a story of going to Target in search of Elsa toys only to find all those shelves empty, yet all the Anna toys were fully stocked.

Apparently all the little girls like Elsa.  Jeff acted like it was obvious she would be the favorite. “She has powers, she has the best song, of course they like Elsa.”

Clearly little girls’ priorities have changed since I was of Happy Meal-ordering age.  I suppose I should trumpet the advent of feminism and progressive film heroines who are not all about marrying some dude they just met and only aspiring to be a wife and a mother.

But here’s the thing…

Elsa’s life blows.

I mean, this girl can’t even touch anyone without the risk of killing them.  She is the literal and metaphorical frigid shrew who has to live a life as a spinster not because she wants to, but because she might seriously hurt someone she loves if she tries anything but this lonely life.  Look at her hands in this photo.  She has them tightly clasped, she spends the movie wearing gloves (though I do admit all those pretty gloves do give a point to Team Elsa).  For the entire movie, Elsa either spends her hours locked in her room not talking to people or flitting about her ice palace she built to live out her days all by herself.

At the end of the film, she and Anna reconcile and Elsa returns to life in the palace, but we never get any indication that she will find companionship or ever be able to touch another human being.  Granted, we also don’t know if she really wants companionship, but given how upset she seems when she rants away into “Let It Go”, you get the impression it bothers her at least a little.  They say that love is the key to harnessing Elsa’s powers, but we never see her have anything except sisterly love to use as an example.

Meanwhile, you have Anna, who gets to be spunky, funny, go on adventures and meet not one, but two boys who think she is awesome within 48 hours of entering the dating world.  If that’s not enough, she is voiced by Kristen Bell, who I think I have mentioned before is my biggest of girl crushes.  Anna gets to save the day, Anna gets to befriend the funny magical Josh Gad-voiced snowman, and Anna even gets to be the martyr, almost dying for her sister’s mistakes not once, but twice.

In other words, Anna gets everything, while Elsa is the Jan Brady.

The movie has a lot of fun using Anna to offer some funny commentary on the whims of past Disney princesses to great effect.  When she gets engaged to a dude she just met, numerous people react with righteous indignation. Yes, it is silly that Anna wants to marry some guy she just met, but her desire for companionship, even just a new friend or two, which she expresses in her song “For the First Time in Forever” isn’t that outlandish or anti-feminist of a desire, is it? Who doesn’t want friends and people to talk to each day?

I should also take the time to point out that Anna gets her shit done all on her own. Yes, she enlists the help of Kristoff to guide her up the mountain, but she hires him, pays him for his services, and doesn’t let him slack off on the job.

I guess what I am getting at is that I know that I should be happy that little girls of today are aspiring to be more than just Sleeping Beauty, literally doing nothing until the man of your dreams comes along and only through his actions allows you to be an actualized person, but doesn’t Elsa seem a bit too far in the other direction? Is the answer really to put forth a princess who literally can’t have anyone in her life because she is just so darn powerful?

Because, to me, Anna seems like the better option.  She may not have powers, but she is capable, she filled her life with friends and people she cares about and, while she almost rushed into an ill-advised marriage, she learned some hard lessons about love and growing up that she will hopefully put to use in the future?  She is flawed, but fun. She ends up with a guy, but she cares more about saving the day and her sister than ending up in a romantic relationship.

Maybe priorities really have changed a lot in the two decades since I was a little girl.  In many ways, it feels like progress, but when I hear that little girls would rather be Elsa than Anna, I have to wonder if this is as good a thing as people are making it out to be.  I’d like to hope if I had a daughter, she’d be one of the lone Anna fans.  We could comb the Target aisles buying clearance Anna merchandise hoping there is a space for her to be happy that exists somewhere between the classic Disney princess and the frigid snow queen.


Burgers, High Theory, and The Talented Mr Ripley

It probably isn’t a good sign that it is Day 2 of this blogging challenge and I am not really sure what I have to say.  Part of the problem is I spent the day on the road driving to LA to spend some time at the Bike for the Circuit event this weekend.  Another part of the problem is the friends I am staying with convinced me to go to Stout Burger and I am now in a “Morning After”-induced food coma that was well worth every bite.

I mean, look at this meal:


While at dinner, my friend Jamie and I got to talking about the point in college when we went from being acquaintances to being full blown friends.  It happened early in junior year. We were in the same discussion group for our Postmodern Cinema class.  Our TA, the smarmily named Daniel Smith-Rowsey, was awesomely deadpan and hilarious, so, unlike many of our TAs, plenty of people in our section went out of their way to try and impress them.

It should surprise no one that I used to be a massive kiss ass and suck up to professors and teachers, but in college I started to slack off knowing I wouldn’t be held accountable for much  of my college life, save for whether or not I finished my degree.  I turned in papers, I tried to end up on the honor roll, but I didn’t need to prove myself to be the smartest person in the class.

Some other people in our section though, they were out to prove how smart they were.  It is a type or pretention common in film school, but not exclusive to it.  In fact, every department of college I would find these folks who had no clue they weren’t particularly bright to begin with, perhaps because they were too busy trying to prove how smart they were to everyone they could, including Daniel Smith-Rowsey.

The story I am about to tell isn’t just about condemning a film school kid trying too hard.  It is a pretty telling sign that I should have known long before I went to grad school that I was not cut out for the academic and theoretical  discussions that make up academia.

I pause briefly to warn you all that I am about to spoil the plot of a 15 year old movie (which is a stupid thing to have to warn people about if you ask me).  In class, we had watched The Talented Mr Ripley.  If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it concludes with Ripley (Matt Damon) running off with his newfound gay lover Peter Smith-Kingsley and taking a cruise.  Shortly after the boat departs, Ripley runs into a friend (Cate Blanchett) who believes he is not Tom Ripley, but another person altogether, Dickie Greenleaf.  Once again, Ripley is caught pretending to be someone he is not and he is forced to make a choice about how to keep his secret a secret. 

He can choose to kill Peter or he can try to off Blanchett, who is on the ship with about a dozen friends.  He chooses to kill Peter, continue to live his lie of a life as Dickie, and pretend to Blanchett and co that he is the rich golden boy he never really was.

A girl in our section spends a good five minutes discussing the extensive homosexual metaphor at play here.  This is not just a movie about Ripley trying to be someone he is not. To her, it is a large metaphor about homosexuality and Ripley’s inability to come to terms with his gayness.  “Then it culminates with him choosing to murder his new gay lover to fully quash the bad side of himself, the side that isn’t heteronormative.”

It is at this point that I let out an exasperated sigh and raise my hand. Daniel Smith Rowsey calls on me.

“Listen…while I guess there may be some larger theme at play here, but can we talk about the fact that, from a plot perspective, he can’t do anything but murder the gay lover?”

She doesn’t understand my point, so I continue.

“Ripley can either kill Peter quietly with little issue or he has to kill Cate Blanchett and deal with her horde of friends.  This isn’t a gay metaphor, this is a numbers game.  He’s not repressing his homosexuality on purpose, he is just being pragmatic.”

I knew I was supposed to engage in the debate, propose some other reading of the text or theory about what it means that Tom Ripley lives a lie, but I just couldn’t find the energy to do it.  It happened a lot in grad school too.  The class thought I was a racist because I didn’t have a problem with the barbaric natives in King Kong being Pacific Islanders because, why wouldn’t they be? They are supposed to be in the Pacific Isles.  Or when Indiana Jones shot that ethnic Moroccan man in Raiders because, he is in Morocco. What exactly did you expect him to do, shoot a Swedish guy?

In other words, I am a lazy academic.  I value logic and pragmatism over interpretation.  Before I can think about what something means, I need to know that it makes sense.  It is why this blog is called Cultural Nitpickery.   Sure, I can have the more esoteric debates about what the larger message of a movie is, but not before we can all agree that you don’t have your protagonist kill someone to prove  a higher point in the name of queer theory without it servicing the story first and foremost.

That is why Jamie and I get along so well. She feels the same way and references this comment and my refusal to not just say what is on my mind as the moment that she realized we were going to be great friends.  I’m glad she drew that conclusion, as she is now one of my best friends.  I am also glad that we can agree on tasty burgers and illogical plot points because I am going to sleep well in burger bliss tonight.

A Lenten Promise? A Lenten Project? We’ll See

This may sound a little odd, but I have always really loved Lent.  Not just Easter, Lent.  That 40-day stretch is a nice time for me to wonder how to be a better person, how to offer more to my family and friends and, in many cases, it is a time for self-betterment.

I always feel a little ambiguous about Lenten promises or giving things up for Lent designed to make me a better person.  The selfishness of these choices seems counter-intuitive to what Lent is about.  I found time to go to church today though and the priest giving the homily put a spin on Lent I really liked.  Speaking of Ash Wednesday, he talked about the symbol of ashes as rebirth.  He encouraged us to think about what in our life might need a rebirth.

As I got to thinking, my mind drifted to this poor, neglected blog.  It gets the short end of the stick so often because I decide I am tired or that I have nothing to write about.  But I also know that, someday in a perfect world, I want to write the cultural think pieces of a Grantland, Vulture, or Previously.TV and I won’t do that without trying.

So now is the time to try.  For the next 40 days I am going to find something to write about every day.  I can tell you right now, several of those days will be spent revisiting Top Chef Season 1, a show I recently re-watched and found I had a lot to say about.  Some days will be spent talking about LA, where I will be spending two weekends over the next month.  And some days I may need some help, so if there is ever anything you wanted my opinion on, now is the time to ask.

I am not normally one to write about something when I don’t have something to say, but now is the time to see if I can do it.  It is a challenge that is probably too selfish to call a Lenten promise, but I hope it will help me rekindle something I’ve been trying to get a grasp on for several years now.

Pray for me?

Quick Oscar Predictions

It has been an overwhelming couple of weeks and this little blog is getting neglected, but I would be remiss to not put my Oscar guesses somewhere, so here they are independent of context:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o
Original Screenplay: Her
Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature: Frozen
Cinematography: Gravity
Documentary: The Act of Killing
Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6
Cosutme Design: American Hustle
Film Editing: Captain Phillips
Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
Make-Up: Dallas Buyers Club
Production Design: Great Gatsby
Original Score: Saving Mr Banks
Original Song: Let It Go
Animated Short: Get a Horse!
Live Action Short: Helium
Sound Editing: Gravity
Sound Mixing: Gravity
Visual Effects: Gravity