There’s a lot of movie to talk about in this post. Frozen 2 is completely different from its predecessor, which avoided controversy by sticking to more traditional Disney fare: true love, family bonds, embracing your differences, etc, etc. Frozen 2 takes risks by leaping into the thick of some of the most heated discussions of this century – there’s commentary on generational divides, nationalism, and environmentalism, among other things. And since this is a spoiler review, we can talk about all of it.
While the subject of nationalism would seem the most foreign and shocking in a family-friendly Disney movie about two princesses and a lovable snowman, it was actually the topic that I most strongly suspected Frozen 2 would touch on, in some way or another. Back in September, I speculated that Elsa and Anna’s peaceful city-state of Arendelle had some dark secrets they wanted to keep hidden: namely, their persecution of the Northuldra peoples. This persecution has its roots in the very real, very tragic story of the nomadic Sámi peoples of northern Scandinavia whose culture and history was almost wiped off the face of the planet by the governments under whose “protection” they dwelt. Mostly, the governments of Norway and Sweden – the two countries whose cultures have informed the creation of the peaceful sea-port of Arendelle, with its majestic fjord and majority-white population. The Northuldra tribe in Frozen 2, on the other hand, are very clearly stand-ins for the Sámi – to the point where the film even hired Sámi consultants. I guessed at once that Elsa and Anna might be in for a nasty surprise if and when they discovered that their country had actively worked to massacre an entire race of people.
But while I had worked out the basic framework of the story, I was unable to guess how important the Norway vs Sámi/Arendelle vs Northuldra conflict would be to the entire plot of Frozen 2. And that’s where the parallels to 1995’s Pocahontas, a film I referenced in my non-spoiler review as an unlikely contrast to this one, come in.
Both films deal with the interactions between a majority-white nation and a peaceful indigenous people. But while the early flashbacks in Frozen 2 indicate that relations between the two peoples were just that, peaceful, it turns out later in the movie that those flashbacks lied to us – or was it just that Elsa and Anna’s father, King Agnarr, was an unreliable narrator, leaving out the bits where his people turned on their friends and tried to kill them all? Yes, Elsa (Idina Menzel) discovers in the third act that her revered grandfather, King Runeard of Arendelle (Jeremy Sisto), attempted to wipe out the Northuldra by building a huge dam across the fjord which threatened their way of life – why, you ask? Well, the film does somewhat gloss over the notion of racial prejudice, but does touch on a form of bigotry – if not one we’re accustomed to seeing in the real world: Runeard’s fear and hatred of people who use magic (such as the Northuldra). Runeard’s plan to subtly undermine the Northuldra with his dam goes awry when the leader of the Northuldra sees through his deception and tries to stop him, leading to open conflict between the two peoples, one in which Runeard and the Northuldra leader were both killed by falling over a cliff.
Elsa never actually meets him personally, but she does have a brief encounter with…well, it’s not exactly his ghost, but I don’t know what to call it: ice-sculpture moving photograph? Confronting him over his fears and prejudices, Elsa wonders out loud what her grandfather would think of her, a brave young woman who controls all of the four elements of magic, in one of the most powerful moments in the movie. Unfortunately, Runeard is kind of dead, so it’s hard for Elsa to have any sort of meaningful interactions with him – but she doesn’t have to, because as I said in my non-spoiler review, Frozen 2 isn’t about clinging to the past, it’s about moving forward into the future. Runeard, the film’s only real villain, represents an older, more backwards-thinking generation who prevent change and progress: Elsa and Anna, representing millennials, are the change and progress, and they have better things to do with their time than get into arguments with the ghosts of bitter old racists. And so both Anna and Elsa turn away from the crimes and dark secrets buried in their family’s past and walk into the future hand-in-hand, helping to right Arendelle’s wrongs by destroying Runeard’s dam (even if it does nearly leave Arendelle drowned under a whole new fjord in what I can only describe as the Fords of Bruinen scene from The Lord Of The Rings multiplied tenfold), breaking the magical enchantments that separate Northuldran territory from Arendelle, and commissioning memorials to the Northuldra people. By acknowledging the crimes that white colonizers did to the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia, Frozen 2 is already a step ahead of Pocahontas, which blithely pretended that after Governor Ratcliffe was locked up in chains, everything was fine and dandy in the New World. By setting the story long after the violence occurred, Frozen 2 allows its young protagonists to learn the mistakes that their ancestors made, and do their part to try and fix them, since it’s too late to avert them – that’s a story that many young people can relate to, as they too inherit a world damaged by the actions of previous generations, what with wars, climate change, etc, etc.
The film also, somewhat more controversially, gives Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa a personal stake in the fight by revealing that they are…bear with me here…mixed-race. Their mother, Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), was actually a Northuldran woman who danced with flying leaves in the wind before rescuing a handsome young blond man from certain death, falling in love with him and returning with him to his kingdom…hold on a moment, this movie really is mirroring Pocahontas. Anna and Elsa are still very much white, however, and that fact actually shouldn’t be a problem, since many of the Sámi peoples of Scandinavia are, in fact, white. However, Frozen 2 takes the liberty of interpreting the Northuldra as darker-skinned, with dark hair – probably in an attempt to make the diversity look more clearly diverse. In the end it somewhat backfires by making Anna and Elsa into the sole white women among a group of people of color, coming in to save the day and free them from their captivity in the forest…in other words, they get a bit of the white savior treatment, and it’s not a good look for either character, or for Disney.
In the end, though, Elsa actually goes to live with the Northuldra, feeling her true calling among her mother’s people. Having discovered at the end of the movie that she is the “fifth spirit” who can control the four elements of fire, water, earth and wind, Elsa has become a shimmering goddess of the tundra, resplendent in an Aurora Borealis-inspired gown, riding a water-horse and carrying a fiery salamander as her animal sidekick. And, um, yeah, the movie never really does anything to explain why she got stuck with ice powers specifically. Instead, it spends a lot of time focusing on Elsa’s environmentalist journey: abandoning the trappings of modern (okay, well, late 19th Century modern) civilization, Elsa goes back to nature and finds peace there, among the splendor of the Norwegian wilderness. Whether or not she learns to paint with all the colors of the wind, we won’t know until Frozen 3.
Speaking of Frozen 3, it’s time to talk sequels. The film actually leaves off rather conclusively – Elsa is living her best life in the far north as a magic guru goddess, Anna is the progressive new queen of Arendelle, we’ve learned pretty much everything there is to know about Elsa’s magic (I think), and there’s peace at last in fantasy Norway. But is that peace destined to last? Looking at the progression in Elsa and Anna’s stories over the last two films, a pattern emerges: in the first film, we saw them brought together by the power of true love, risking their lives to save each other; in the second film, their journey takes the two sisters in different directions, leading them to finally separate and lead separate lives. What’s left for a third film to explore? Frozen: Civil War, in which Team Anna and Team Elsa face off against each other in the most brutal snowball-fight ever animated? Well, I don’t expect it to get that extreme (though I wouldn’t complain if it did), but something along those lines wouldn’t be a bad idea. We’ve seen them together, we’ve seen them separate – now would be a good time to show them on opposite sides of a conflict, eventually realizing they have to work together once more to solve a problem. As for what that problem could be: well, I’d recommend an actual villain. Runeard’s legacy of evil worked for Frozen 2 because of the message it was trying to send, but a third film would be a great place for an actual enemy to arise and threaten fantasy Norway. There might even be some opportunities to play with the concept of Dark Elsa – after all, she was originally written to be the first film’s villain.
Some things I wouldn’t expect to see from the third film would be any more revelations about the sisters’ past – Elsa and Anna literally found out everything we could possibly care to know about the history of Arendelle. We even discovered exactly what happened to their parents, the good King Agnarr and Queen Iduna, when the sisters found their wrecked ship washed up onshore. Thanks to Elsa’s magic, the sisters were able to see exactly how their parents perished – turns out, they were on their way to the far north to try and find answers about what Elsa was when they ran into a storm and drowned, holding each other one last time as the waves swallowed them up. So any mystery about them and their fate has been conclusively laid to rest, in the saddest possible way (in case you’re wondering, this scene is one of the three I referenced in my non-spoiler review as being absolutely soul-crushing: the others being Olaf’s temporary death and Elsa’s aforementioned confrontation with her grandfather).
On the bright side, most of the characters get happy-ever-after endings in Frozen 2: Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) finally proposes to Anna and she accepts; Olaf (Josh Gad) is dead, but then he isn’t (something I also predicted back in September); Elsa maybe-sort-of-kinda-subtly has a thing going on with fellow Northuldran woman Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews), though Disney being Disney, it’ll probably only ever be in subtext, despite how fervently the internet clamors for Elsa to get a girlfriend; Sven gets a whole bunch of new reindeer friends, and presumably isn’t excluded from all their reindeer games. Frozen 2 is darker than this franchise has ever been, and it could be the darkest it’ll ever get – but then again, maybe in six more years we’ll be treated to a third and final installment of the story of the two sisters. At which point in the timeline Kristoff and Anna will probably be parents, Olaf will be older, and Sven will be…well, Sven should be dead at this point considering the average lifespan of a reindeer, but somehow I don’t expect Disney to go in that direction unless they’re feeling particularly dark.
How would you feel about the possibility of Frozen 3, and what would you like to see Anna and Elsa do next? What was your favorite Frozen 2 moment? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The franchise that began with one great song, a few boatloads of in-your-face Disney Magic (read: Olaf-themed merchandise), and a couple of warm hugs along the way has grown up significantly over the past six years, and will presumably continue to grow as it evolves – Frozen 3 isn’t exactly inevitable, but it’s far from implausible. To reflect the fact that its audience has matured both physically and mentally, Frozen 2 branches off in an unexpected direction: at a time when it feels like every franchise is trying to cash in on nostalgia, Frozen 2 has a different message for kids and adults alike, one that is more interesting and more powerful: the past informs our future, but it doesn’t define it.
You might be tempted to laugh, and in the confines of a non-spoiler review I won’t be able to give sufficient evidence to back up my claims, I know. After all, Disney has teased a similar message before, and then walked it back – wasn’t it Star Wars‘ very own Kylo Ren who told us to let go of the past, “kill it if you have to”, not long before Disney introduced the world to the thrilling story of a Boba Fett-lookalike and his Baby Yoda sidekick, and started promoting The Rise Of Skywalker, which reveals that characters like Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine are all on their way back to the big screen? Yes. But in Frozen 2, change and progress are real, obvious, and important to the story, whereas in franchises like Star Wars it sometimes seems like more of a charade.
Almost as soon as the movie opens, this theme is being foreshadowed – while everybody in the cheerful Norwegian city of Arendelle is getting together to sing “Some Things Never Change” (told you it’s obvious), only Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) is feeling out of place and isolated among her own people: her realization, that things do change – and, in fact, need to change – is at once startlingly relieving. I would say Frozen 2 is all about change, transformation, the metamorphosis of the soul: basically if the hit song “Let It Go” from the first Frozen was an entire movie – speaking of which, Elsa has a few more power-ballads to belt out this time around, and all of them are extraordinary. At the same time, there are frequent, if mostly humorous, ruminations on the concept of mortality and permanence. Even Olaf (Josh Gad), the happiest snowman in Scandinavia, is feeling the passage of time and gets his very own song about the subject, “When I Am Older”, that sums up his feelings on the matter in a funny, philosophical way.
But change isn’t something to be afraid of – it can also make the world a better place. It’s the change we see happening both onscreen and behind the scenes all the time: for instance, the stark contrast between movies like 1995’s Pocahontas and Frozen 2 (which deals with a very similar concept at its core, surprising as that may seem), is only made possible by decades of change: slow, sometimes, but steady.
Some things really don’t change, though: for one, the fact that Elsa and Anna (Kristen Bell) are still two of Disney’s most emotionally complex characters, despite being denied the official Disney Princess title (though, depending on how long some of Frozen 2‘s most significant developments have been in place, I can almost identify a very good reason for why neither woman was given that honor. Let’s just say, both Elsa and Anna have much bigger things in store for them. Elsa continues to be a relatable role model for people of all walks of life, but especially members of the LGBTQ+ community (who have identified with her and embraced her since 2013): while she’s never given her own “exclusively gay” moment, she is still Disney’s most undeniably queer-coded heroine. Her journey in Frozen 2 takes her from being an outcast (and the sole introvert in a city where apparently everybody gets together for group singalongs on the weekend), to being, well, something else entirely. Her younger sister Anna is still as lovably optimistic and chipper as she was in the first movie, but also more understanding of Elsa’s struggle, more capable of handling her own problems, and more aware of the world around her – up to a point. There’s a running gag in the movie about Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) trying to have a romantic moment with Anna, which keeps going south when she misconstrues his intentions and thinks he’s trying to break up with her: but it only keeps happening because Anna herself jumps to the weirdest conclusions, to the point where I had to wonder if she was making excuses to get away from Kristoff intentionally.
But even though a couple of jokes here and there don’t land quite as well as they might have, the movie is, overall, very funny. Much of the humor is based off making fun of the previous movie, just as Frozen itself made fun of other Disney Princess movie tropes: here, we have gems such as Elsa cringing at the sound of her breakout hit “Let It Go”, and Olaf hilariously recapping the first film’s events – not to mention several humorous references to Frozen‘s despicable villain, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles – in this movie, despite never actually appearing in person, he gets mocked, made fun of, and turned into a snowball. But at the same time, Frozen 2 reaches Pixar levels of sad – as in, there are three heart-crushing scenes, all of which we will discuss in the spoiler review.
What about the music? What is most shocking about the film’s soundtrack is that, while the songs vary greatly in style, they are all consistently great. Elsa gets a very gay, very sparkly anthem of empowerment – it’s amazing. Kristoff has his very own melodramatic, angsty 80’s rock ballad with reindeer backup singers – it’s weirdly wonderful. There’s no “Fixer-Upper” on this soundtrack: almost every song feels like it has the potential to be a new “Let It Go”. Strangely, though, it is “Into The Unknown”, the film’s most hyped-up musical number, that made possibly the least impression on me in the theater.
In conclusion, Frozen 2 is very much worth seeing – it’s a movie full of heart and real emotional weight that arrives at a time when Disney and all film studios are under attack for supposedly worshiping the past, never making original content, blindly rebooting, remaking and redoing dead franchises without concern for art form. Frozen 2 is an ode to progress and substantive change, and a clear message to embrace the future with open arms. If you can take a moment in between musical numbers to go into the unknown on a spiritual journey of your own, I encourage you to do so.
But…if you’re just there for the music, that’s great too, and I don’t blame you. Let It Go, dear reader, and may you have a wonderful time at the movies. Just don’t expect to be entirely unchanged by your film-going experience.
With Frozen 2 – Disney’s first theatrically released Disney Princess sequel (which is a lie, but we’ll get to that in a moment) – on the horizon, it seems fitting to me that somebody should take the time to go through each and every one of those Princess movies, to see which ones have withstood the test of time, and which belong somewhere in the depths of the impenetrable Disney vault. There are a few qualifiers that I think make a good Disney Princess movie – a spectacular soundtrack of great Songs; a dastardly Villain hell-bent on stirring up chaos; and, of course, a powerful Princess who takes matters into her own hands and establishes a place for herself in the world. Since quite a lot of the Disney Princesses have corresponding Princes, I’m also adding them to the categories, but the studio’s two most recent Princesses have all been single ladies, so we’ll take a moment to admire that when we get up to them. We’re going through each of the twelve movies in chronological order, so it’ll take us a while to get from Snow White’s magical Germanic forests to the sunny shores of Moana’s Polynesian island community.
(Also, I’m only ranking the Princesses officially honored as such by Disney: which means that neither Meg from Hercules nor Esmeralda from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame will be be showing up on this list. Oh yeah, and there are two other women who are notably absent, despite the fact that this post is inspired by the imminent release of their sequel movie – that’s right, Anna and Elsa aren’t official Disney Princesses, apparently: I didn’t know that when I started writing this post, but by the time I found out it was too late to scrap the idea, so that’s how I ended up in this situation).
(Oh, and by the way: SPOILERS AHEAD, for any and all Disney movies referenced below).
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937):
The Princess: I have no qualms about saying this – if any Princess deserves to be bumped from the list, it’s Snow White. A quaint, outdated character without any agency in her own story, the fairest maiden in the land is constantly running from danger or welcoming it into her house – even though, with an army of magical birds and beasts, and a fiercely devoted bodyguard of seven heavily-armed men, Snow White could technically have stormed the Wicked Queen’s castle without any problems. I mean, let’s face it – the Wicked Queen’s own forces consisted of, what, a single crow and a huntsman who couldn’t even follow orders? When you think about it, Snow White had a lot working in her favor, but squandered her chance. Instead, she spends most of the movie fretting about the dwarfs’ hygiene or washing clothes. Ranking: 2/10
The Prince: with some of the early Disney Princes, the best you can say about them is that “they’re there”. With Snow White’s Prince Charming, even that would be a lie – the dude only shows up in the first and last ten minutes of the movie, and all he does is sing. Where exactly was he when his dearly beloved Snow White was hiding in the forest with seven little old men? Where was he when the Wicked Queen needed killing? This guy is the absolute worst, and Snow White could have done much better. Ranking: 1/10
The Villain:Snow White isn’t a total disaster. The Wicked Queen (fun fact: her real name is Grimhilde) is a very compelling villain with an appetite for evil and a great sense of style. Intent on being the most beautiful woman in all the land, the Queen is horrified to learn that poor little Snow White, her stepdaughter, is in fact more lovely than she. But instead of just stabbing her in her sleep or tossing her down that wishing well in the courtyard, the Queen instead relies on a third party to do her dirty work – she’s the first Disney villain to learn the hard way that evil henchmen are almost inevitably never as evil as advertised. Then again, the Queen herself does eventually get killed by an unlucky bolt of lightning, so maybe she just wasn’t that competent to begin with. Either way, her death scene provides for one of the film’s most haunting visuals, when a pair of vultures which had shadowed her footsteps hoping to feast on Snow White’s dead body instead end up eating the Queen herself. Lovely. Ranking: 4/10
The Songs: If I could give the songs in this movie a 0 rating, I would. There are only a handful of tunes in Snow White that actually have lyrics, and they are all interminably alike in their chipper, tra-la-la-lally sweetness. They are also incredibly hard to listen to, as Snow White tends to sing or whistle (or, god forbid, hum) in a high-pitched register only audible to dogs. The dwarfs sing “Hi Ho” at every available opportunity. The Prince sings one song twice – no, literally, he sings “One Song”, but he does so twice, to bookend the movie. Both times it’s an ear-splitting nightmare. Rating: 1/10
Happy Ever After? in the end, Snow White is poisoned by the Wicked Queen and sent into an everlasting slumber that lasts all of five minutes before she is woken by the Prince’s “singing” – to be polite, she had to pretend it was true love’s kiss that woke her, but I think we all know better. The Prince barely even gives her a chance to say goodbye to her friends in the forest before riding off with her into the sunset. It’s an abrupt and undeserved ending. Snow White is a landmark in animation history, and, frankly, in cinematic history. That’s something I respect and admire – but from a safe distance. Up close, from its casual misogyny to its tediously long house-cleaning sequences, this movie is a Sleeping Death all in itself.
The Princess: she may not seem like much on the surface, but Cinderella is a huge improvement from Snow White. She makes decisions on her own, she takes action when she needs to, and she doesn’t simply fall in love with the Prince because he’s a Prince. In fact, something that is often overlooked about this movie is that Cinderella never even considered the Prince – she just wanted to get out of the stuffy old chateau and attend the royal ball, and she was justifiably angry at Lady Tremaine for keeping her housebound. Considering that the villain Maleficent’s entire motivation in Sleeping Beauty was getting revenge on the royalty for not inviting her to a party, I don’t think that Cinderella was wrong for feeling slighted. Granted, it would have been nice to see her embrace her inner dark side, don a pair of horns, and wreak havoc on the land, but hey, to each their own? Rating: 4/10
The Prince: nameless and mostly voiceless, Cinderella’s prince doesn’t even get to sing one song, or any song at all, before he’s out of the picture entirely. For whatever reason, he’s not even the guy who has to go around the kingdom trying shoes on feet to see which woman is his one true love. But at the same time, he still breaks Disney tradition: until Cinderella dances into his life, the Prince is bored out of his mind by the very idea of romance, and has no intention of getting married. Rating: 2/10
The Villain: Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s abusive, cold, calculating stepmother, is a Disney icon – though most people simply know her as the Wicked Stepmother. And wicked she is, for every action she takes in the film is either intentionally devised to suppress Cinderella’s own freedom, or does so accidentally anyway. Residing in a spacious bed beneath the inky shadows of a vast purple canopy with only her demon cat Lucifer to keep her company, Lady Tremaine is definitely #VillainGoals. And she’s cunning, almost immediately realizing that Cinderella was the Prince’s mystery date at the ball, and taking action at once to ensure that Cinderella never escapes. Rating: 4/10
The Songs: meh. Okay, so there’s “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” and what else exactly? The music in Cinderella is utterly forgettable. Regardless, it’s still a step up from Snow White. Rating: 3/10
Happy Ever After? while it’s still a low-stakes love story, Cinderella does represent a progression, no matter how small. The female protagonist actually has some agency in her story; she has personality and characteristics; and she defies the villain instead of running and hiding. It’s the first Disney Princess movie to pass the Bechdel test (and it also fails the reverse Bechdel test – i.e. no two male named characters talk about anything other than a woman), and all of its female characters, even down to the Wicked Stepsisters, have their own arcs. Cinderella is often painted as another of Disney’s antiquated damsels in distress, but she is, in fact, their first heroine, though on a very small scale (it’s worth mentioning that she does, in fact, become a damsel in distress at the very end of the movie, but is saved, not by a man, but by her animal friends). For more on the feminism of Cinderella, see here. And let’s not forget that everything Snow White and Sleeping Beauty did, Cinderella did in glass high heels. Beat that, Aurora.
Sleeping Beauty (1959):
The Princess: after the high point that was Cinderella, one would expect Disney to keep making progress, to keep forging ahead, to deliver up great Princess content for years to come. But instead, Aurora was the only Princess to come out of the studio between Cinderella‘s release in 1950 and The Little Mermaid in 1989. And Aurora isn’t what one would call a feminist icon of any kind: yes, she marries for love, and the film makes a point of establishing that she has no idea she’s falling for the man who just so happens to have been betrothed to her at birth (funny how that worked out, right?), but she also has no agency. If she were the only female character in the film, it would be a huge problem: as it is, she’s still technically the protagonist so it is still a huge problem, but thankfully there are three other female leads who basically take over the entire movie while Aurora is asleep. But the Princess herself: well, she’s not exactly role model material. Rating: 3/10
The Prince: even while Aurora is falling in love with Phillip (who just so happens to be a prince, even though he never mentions it to her), Phillip himself is falling in love with Aurora (who he thinks is a peasant girl, but of course is secretly a princess). And so Disney attempts to have their cake and eat it too: see, they married for love! But they’re both still royalty, because of course they are. It’s mixed messaging, to say the least. Phillip himself is a boring, one-dimensional character like all the early Disney princes, and he doesn’t really do anything besides wake Aurora with “true love’s kiss”, a.k.a. kissing her without consent. Rating: 3/10
The Villain: Maleficent, Mistress of Evil (not to be confused with Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil), is a hellish character with a lot of attitude, who does actually get stuff done, as opposed to her predecessors. Upon learning that she wasn’t invited to the christening of baby Aurora, Maleficent abandons whatever she was doing up until then and devotes her entire life to finding the baby and killing it. And she comes close, sending Aurora into an eternal slumber that lasts about twenty minutes, until her plans are undone by the magic of the Good Fairies. She’s a demonic force of chaos and unbalance that, honestly, is a lot of fun to watch. Rating: 5/10
The Songs:“Once Upon A Dream” is simply not an interesting song in any regard. Rating: 1/10
Happy Ever After? like all of Disney’s classic Princess films, Sleeping Beauty is tainted with sexism of all kinds: the non-consensual kiss; the arranged marriage (which is set up when Aurora is barely a day old, and Phillip is already, like, ten) at the movie’s core; and of course the three “essential” gifts that the Good Fairies give to Aurora – beauty, song, and…um, the ability to be awoken from a sleeping spell on her sixteenth birthday by her one true love, on the off-chance that something like that should ever happen. You know, just in case. On the other hand, even though Aurora is pretty much a non-entity, her guardians, the three Good Fairies, are all fully fleshed-out female characters with a lot of attitude and determination. Not only do these fairies not conform to traditional gender norms (their attempts to bake a birthday cake and sew a party dress for Aurora go…very badly), they also enter Maleficent’s castle on their own and save Prince Phillip, before basically becoming Athena-esque muses of battle, giving Phillip the magical weapons he needs to defeat Maleficent. Now, there are problems with this scenario: the three Good Fairies are so awesome, they could probably have fought Maleficent on their own without any help from a pesky mortal prince, and somehow they just decide that Phillip is Aurora’s “one true love” without ever consulting her beforehand – I know, I know, it would have been a little difficult, considering she was asleep, but come on: if Phillip’s kiss had failed to do the trick, would the Good Fairies have just rounded up all the men in the world and had them try to kiss Aurora back to life? In the live-action retelling, Maleficent, it is a mother’s kiss that awakens the sleeping princess – the three Good Fairies, who had basically been Aurora’s mothers for sixteen years, should surely have considered that “true love” doesn’t have to be romantic love, right? Apparently not.
The Little Mermaid (1989):
The Princess: Ariel deserves a lot of credit for being Disney’s first really proactive princess protagonist: as opposed to Cinderella and Aurora, who both get landed with magical godmothers they didn’t even ask for, Ariel actually goes looking for one, and finds one – who promptly manipulates her, uses her as a power-play in her war against the Sea-King, steals her voice, and then tries to run off with her boyfriend of two days. Yes, Ariel is the heroine of her own story, and she does make some very important decisions that shape the whole plot – but her willingness to make such decisions is almost always presented as a fault: instead of relying on the “wise” counsel of the men and male fish/crabs/seagulls, etc in her life, she commits the biggest crime that an outdated Disney princess can – she seeks out the help of another woman. *gasp* Ariel is quickly punished for that decision, and finds herself helpless and alone on land, her fate resting in the hands of a man who, honestly, is pretty darn callous and mean to her. And in the end, Ariel doesn’t even get to do anything to help defeat Ursula the Sea-Witch, instead having to be saved over and over again by men. Ariel is better than the Princesses who came before her, and she does significantly more in one film than all of them combined, but her greatest strengths (her bravery and headstrong attitude) are made out to be character flaws. Rating: 5/10
The Prince: Prince Eric is one of my least-favorite Disney Princes. He’s not the one-dimensional stick figure that was Prince Charming of earlier years – in contrast, he’s far too real. When we first meet him, seeing him through Ariel’s wide eyes, he’s a heartthrob who risks his own life to save his dog from drowning after a shipwreck. Ariel rescues him, pulling him to shore and singing to him – it’s lovely. But then, after Ariel spends a decent part of the movie obsessing over him, she finally reunites with him as he’s strolling along the beach looking for her – and he doesn’t recognize her. Without her beautiful singing voice, Ariel means nothing to him. He laughs at her, thinking that she must just be some random girl who got washed up by the sea (because sure, that happens all the time), and he takes her into his castle – where he definitely seems to be falling for her, until he meets another beautiful young woman who can sing (who also happens to be Ursula in disguise). And yes, everything works out in the end and Eric ends up with Ariel, but not until she gets her own voice back. God, I hate that guy. Rating: 2/10
The Villain: Ursula truly redefined what a Disney villain could be. She’s evil and nasty all right – but she’s also a total boss modeled off of an eccentric drag queen, who is all about body positivity and practicality. Up until Ariel enters her life, Ursula isn’t harming anybody: she’s just living it up in a fancy purple grotto with her pet eels and a garden of damned souls. Isn’t that what we all aspire to be? Rating: 8/10
The Songs: since Sleeping Beauty, we’ve not gotten a Disney Princess movie without at least one good song – The Little Mermaid, in fact, has two exceptional ones: “Part Of Your World”, which was nearly cut from the movie for fear that kids would find it boring, and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, which remains Disney’s best villain song. And as for “Under The Sea”, which somehow won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, I’d say it’s mostly entertaining because of the accompanying visuals. Rating: 8/10
Happy Ever After? Disney had made significant changes to source material before they tackled this particular story: all three prior Princess films had their origins in extremely brutal fairytales involving torture, bloodshed and generally disturbing, messed-up stuff. But when it came to adapting The Little Mermaid, a story initially intended as a tragic metaphor for the author’s forbidden gay romance, in which the Mermaid, upon learning that her prince has abandoned her for another woman, commits suicide by drowning…well, needless to say, there was a lot of Disney magic at work here. And yet not enough: in the end, it’s still the story of a teenage girl running away from home to be with a man she’s never even really met, who eventually requires male aid to get her out of a dangerous situation with a queer-coded villain. Disney still had a long way to go before their first truly progressive heroine.
Beauty And The Beast (1991):
The Princess: Belle is a very complex character, because, while she’s undeniably more feminist than any Princess before her, she’s also trapped in a situation that is, without a doubt, not. There’s a lot of misconceptions about her character: some people want to believe she’s a victim of Stockholm Syndrome (i.e., a prisoner who begins to take on the characteristics of, and eventually falls in love with, their captor), and they’re not necessarily wrong for thinking that – but they should also take into account that Belle retains her individuality throughout the movie and is acutely aware of the fact that she’s a prisoner. At the same time, she does fall in love with a monster who repeatedly invades her privacy (he literally has a magic mirror that can see her anywhere she goes – ewww), violently threatens and intimidates her, and also locks her father in a cold dungeon. Even when he saves her life, it’s not immediately clear whether it’s because he cares for her, or because he’s just obsessively protective. On her own, Belle is a strong-willed, intelligent young woman with a passion for reading, educating herself, and understanding the world beyond her small-scale provincial life. It’s only when she interacts with the Beast that problems start to arise. Rating: 6/10
The Prince: the Beast is far from Disney’s most appealing character: he’s a selfish, self-absorbed brute who gets wildly aggressive at the slightest provocation and flies into a rage when Belle does…anything. A monstrous being covered in fur who happens to walk on all fours at certain points in the movie, the Beast is basically more akin to a large angry dog than an actual person. Belle falls in love with this large angry dog (raising questions I dare not try to answer), and eventually he warms up to her – most people claim that the moment he “changed” was when he rescued Belle from the wolves as she tried to flee from his castle: but considering that the previous scene had him yelling at her to get lost, I would honestly say that he only began to change as a person later on, when he woke to find Belle by his side, healing his wounds. Which means that his initial “rescue” attempt was actually just him going through another violent mood-swing and deciding he didn’t want her to leave after all. And that sort of thing makes him a villain in my book. Rating: 4/10
The Villain: the real villain of the piece, in a movie where everybody is a little more morally gray than your typical Disney Princess film, is Gaston: the hyper-masculine thug intent on marrying Belle and converting her to his outdated, backwards-thinking ideology about woman’s place in the world. Gaston usually ranks pretty low on most peoples’ lists of great Disney villains because of how evil he is – that steadfast, hateful evil is precisely what makes him so effective. In a movie that lauds itself as the first feminist Disney movie, the villain pretty much has to be toxic masculinity (fun fact, Gaston was Disney’s first male villain in a Princess film). Rating: 4/10
The Songs: nearly one of Disney’s best musical repertoires, the Beauty & The Beast soundtrack is only marred by the inclusion of Gaston’s egoistic ballad to himself (a song that demands to be fast-forwarded through). “A Tale As Old As Time”, which rightfully won an Academy Award, is a stirring, beautiful piece of music which excellently compliments the incredible visuals of the Beast’s CGI ballroom – Celine Dion’s incredible vocals were far better suited to a song of that epic quality than to the wistful lullaby she recorded for the 2017 remake of the animated classic: “How Does A Moment Last Forever”. Rating: 8/10
Happy Ever After? a complicated film, to say the least. Belle’s character is adventurous, smart, introspective and empathetic – a great role model, right? But what about what her character’s romance with the Beast says about real-life relationships? Is it acceptable to stay with a violent, uncaring man who locks you in your room and forbids contact with the outside world? Um, no. We all want to praise Belle for choosing to become the Beast’s prisoner in her father’s stead, but we can’t do that without also condemning the Beast for his downright evil actions – and to do that, we have to rethink their romance, which leads to a lot more confusion. This is one of Disney’s messiest movies, and I don’t know whether the tale as old as time should go down in history as a feminist parable – or an uncomfortable metaphor for abusive relationships.
The Princess: Jasmine is the only official Disney Princess to not be the star of her movie – but if anybody deserved to be, it’s her. Outspoken yet inconsequential, Jasmine is constantly on the verge of having something to say: she always wants to do something big and bold, she also goes right up to the edge, she’s about to take the plunge – and then the male characters come in and interrupt her moment. It’s one of the reasons why it was so liberating to finally see Jasmine let loose in this year’s Aladdin remake, which saw the princess come into her own, at least a little, with a defiant song of her own. But even in the original film, while she had little to do, she still made the most out of every minute: though I’m a little confused as to how her sheltered palace life trained her to be a superior pole-vaulter (a talent she only got to display once, sadly). Rating: 7/10
The Prince: roguish, charming and charismatic, Aladdin is the precursor to Disney’s perfect Prince, Flynn Rider (who’s still almost two decades away, so keep waiting). Yes, so he lies to Jasmine about who he is and all that – but everybody in Aladdin lies about something at some point: that’s the nature of the story. It’s all about intrigue, deception, and how things aren’t always what they seem: but Aladdin, who seems to be nothing more than a no-good street rat, turns out to have a heart of gold…and for that I couldn’t be more thankful. In my opinion, he’s Disney’s first truly lovable Prince. Rating: 8/10
The Villain: a lot of people really love Jafar. I can’t say I’m one of them. The tall, gaunt vizier certainly looks impressive in his red and black finery, wielding his hypnotic cobra-scepter, but he royally messes up every strategy he devises, and most of his plans simply don’t make any sense: for instance, he had the Sultan of Agrabah under his control for the entire movie – and yet he wasted one of his three wishes making himself Sultan of Agrabah. Why bother? And at the end of the film, the power-hungry Jafar uses his final wish to become a Genie – at which point he gets trapped in his very own lamp and flung into the desert. Rating: 5/10
The Songs: most of the songs in the original Aladdin are good because of Robin Williams’ incredible voice-acting and improvisational method. That being said, nobody does “Arabian Nights” better than Will Smith in the 2019 remake. Similarly, “A Whole New World” was elevated by Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott in the remake to whole new heights – the original is okay, but a bit shrill for my taste. And Scott’s “Speechless” has become so iconic already that it’s almost too weird for words revisiting the original animated feature and remembering that the song wasn’t in it. Rating: 7/10
Happy Ever After? it may not be the best of Disney’s animated offerings, but Aladdin has a lot going for it – an intelligent princess who speaks her mind (or at least tries to); a prince who set the groundwork for an even better one to come; and a bunch of great songs. It’s got problems, of course: “slave Jasmine” reads as a desperate attempt to exoticize the Middle Eastern princess, and there are a handful of questionable lyrics that had to be revised when the film was remade this year. But for the most part, it’s a fun, charmingly comedic movie with a lot of heart, and irresistibly wonderful performances.
The Princess: everything that Pocahontas does, she does for her people and the betterment of her society: a brave young woman looking for purpose and direction in an increasingly violent world, Pocahontas’s journey is extremely significant in her own era – both as an inspiration (she is, in my opinion, Disney’s first truly feminist heroine), and as a cautionary tale about the dangers of rewriting history. Unfortunately, the real-life Pocahontas wasn’t quite the spirited leader that the films paints her to be – in reality, she was a child kidnapped from her tribe and abused, forced into marriage, converted to Christianity and paraded around England as a “noble savage”. So while it’s perfectly fine to feel empowered by the Disney Pocahontas’ story, it also doesn’t hurt to learn about the real Pocahontas’ tragic life, and the violent history of European settlers in North America that Disney chose to bypass of even ignore in the film. Rating: 8/10
The Prince: John Smith is hard to like, largely because anyone aware of the historical narrative behind the film will know that the real-life Smith was anything but the blond-haired, blue-eyed “man’s man” that the film chooses to make him – Smith was, in actuality, far older than Pocahontas, and was just as nasty as the Disney film’s villain, Governor Ratcliffe. The opening of the film tries to show some of that, by having Smith laughing about how he’s going to kill a bunch of “savages” in the New World, but then attempts to redeem him by having him fall in love with the heroine and go on a psychedelic journey through an animated wilderness during the “Colors Of The Wind” sequence – yeah, last time I checked, all the beautiful animation in the world still isn’t enough time to turn racist colonizers into decent people. Rating: 3/10
The Villain: historical accounts vary, but one thing is clear: the real Governor John Ratcliffe was nothing like the greedy, vainglorious buffoon that Pocahontas and her allies face down in Disney’s reinterpretation of the story. The real Ratcliffe traded peacefully with the Native Americans he encountered, until his abrupt death at their hands: in an ambush supposedly laid by the Powhatan tribe, Ratcliffe was captured and burned at the stake. In the Disney movie, Ratcliffe is instead exposed for the fraudulent idiot that he is and sent home to England in chains. A perfect ending for a perfectly despicable villain. Rating: 6/10
The Songs: I have no idea whether this is an unpopular opinion, but Pocahontas has the best songs of any Disney movie. “Steady As The Beating Drum”? Beautiful. “Just Around The Riverbend”? Emotional. “Listen With Your Heart”? Magical. “Colors Of The Wind”? Inspiring. “Savages”? Terrifying. “If I Never Knew You”? Quite possibly the most romantic song from any Disney movie ever – and it only showed up in the end-credits! Rating: 9/10
Happy Ever After? the story of Pocahontas was horribly butchered to work in the family-friendly Disney narrative, and it’s no wonder that a lot of people try to forget about it, or pretend it never existed (have you noticed that it’s, like, the only Disney classic not getting a remake? Yeah, there’s a reason for that). It’s a shame, because Disney could have chosen any number of actual Native American folktales and legends to adapt that would not have involved the brutality and atrocities committed by white men in the Americas. A character like Disney’s Pocahontas, in a more historically accurate and responsible movie, could have been a revelation. But instead this is one movie that most people will always condemn for its undisputed dishonesty.
The Princess: it’s no secret that Mulan is my favorite Disney Animation film of all time, and in no small part because of Mulan herself: brilliantly voiced by Ming-Na Wen and brought to life with incredible humanity, the character is an icon. A selfless, introverted woman who decides to takes her father’s place during war-time by disguising herself as a man and joining the army, Mulan ends up becoming China’s greatest warrior, defeating the invading Hun army not once, but twice, and winning the respect of her family and country. She’s the only Disney Princess who’s not technically a Princess – but she was given the title because her bravery and acts of courage were just that awe-inspiring. She’s consistently ranked near the top (or at the top) of Most Feminist Disney Princess lists. And did I mention she saved all of China? Rating: 10/10
The Prince: not only was Mulan not a Princess, but her love interest, Captain Shang, was most assuredly not a Prince. A practical, cynical, solemn guy who has the honor of being Disney’s first Prince to go fully shirtless, Shang established a close relationship with Mulan before he even knew she was a woman in disguise: so close, in fact, that some believe Shang was subtly coded as bisexual. And when Shang does find out, well…okay, well, first he sulks, and gets really angry about it, and he storms off like the drama queen he is – but then, when Mulan comes back to tell him that the Huns have invaded the capital, he finally loosens up, sees the error of his ways, and helps her defeat Shan Yu. Rating: 7/10
The Villain: speaking of Shan Yu, he is absolutely the weakest part of this incredible movie. I don’t know if Mulan (which is, all things considered, Disney’s most mature Princess film) could have sustained a more over-the-top, comical villain like an Ursula or a Hades, but it could probably have used something a bit more exciting than this creepy killing-machine. Shan Yu gets down to business in the very first scene of the movie, and doesn’t relent until he gets blown to pieces by fireworks in the finale: he doesn’t take any joy in his evil (though he smirks so much you might get the wrong impression), and he’s not got a charismatic bone in his gigantic body, but he’s definitely terrifying. And in the tradition of Disney villains having bird sidekicks, Shan Yu has a particularly menacing hawk that follows him around – before getting deep-fried in one of the most lovely bits of comeuppance I’ve ever seen. Rating: 5/10
The Songs: yet another virtually perfect soundtrack from Disney. If I had to point out one problem, it’s that the reprise of “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” at the end of the film is far too brief, and that the version of “Reflection” used in the movie itself doesn’t quite match the splendor of the end-credits version performed by Christina Aguilera. Rating: 8/10
Happy Ever After? this is my favorite Disney movie for so many reasons. Action, adventure, comedy, drama, feminism, romance, you name it – Mulan‘s got it. And it marks a huge progression in the way that Disney portrayed (and continues to portray) female characters: Mulan was the first Disney Princess to bear arms, and unsurprisingly she also has the highest kill count of any Disney Princess (her record is 1,995, in case you’re wondering). The Emperor even offered her a place in his council (which she politely refused). And while she and Shang clearly had feelings for each other, their relationship still had a long way to go by the end of the movie, marking a nice change from other Disney films in which heroines meet, fall in love with, and marry their love interests in less than a week (ahem, Ariel). Considering that the film was originally conceived as the story of a starving Chinese orphan girl who is saved from her miserable life by a British gentleman and goes off to live with him in the West, I’d say that’s progress.
The Princess And The Frog (2009):
The Princess: Tiana gets overlooked and underrated a lot. Disney’s first African-American Princess, and the first Princess to hold a job, this idealistic, hard-working modern (a.k.a. 1920’s modern) woman was a refreshingly unique addition to the royal Disney line-up. Unfortunately, due to plot circumstances, she spent almost the entirety of her movie in the body of a frog, meaning that there was very little time to actually learn to appreciate her as a person. Like Pocahontas before her, Tiana is an awesome Princess trapped in a so-so movie: in a better one, where she could have been happily human, I think she might have connected with audiences far more than she did. Rating: 8/10
The Prince: Prince Naveen, the distinguished (but nearly bankrupt) royal visitor to New Orleans who gets turned into a frog and accidentally drags Tiana into his chaotic troubles, could have made for a fairly interesting love interest – but the movie never really does anything with him. We never even get to learn what culture he’s supposed to come from, or what his motivations are – beyond making (or rather, being given) large amounts of money. He’s the pampered, materialistic royal brat that Princess Jasmine was originally written to be – but there’s a reason the makers of Aladdin changed Jasmine’s characterization, and somebody should have thought to do the same with Naveen. Rating: 4/10
The Villain: the New Orleans sorcerer charlatan Doctor Facilier has all the elements of a great, even iconic rogue – his bright, flashy sense of style; his deep, charismatic voice (provided by Keith David); and his unique brand of magic, informed by voodoo and occultism. In his secret lair/otherworldly portal/music hall, the top-hatted Doctor plots devious ways to scam the gullible out of their money, while his autonomous shadow capers about the shadows with gleeful sinuosity. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t use him to the full extent, and as a result he too is frequently forgotten. Rating: 5/10
The Songs: with a soundtrack inspired by the awesome sounds of Jazz Age New Orleans, you would think The Princess And The Frog would have some of the most memorable songs in Disney history. But as with everything in this movie, it’s a great concept that doesn’t really amount to anything in the actual film. There’s a couple of tunes you can hum along with – “Almost There”, “Friends On The Other Side” – but that’s my limit. Rating: 4/10
Happy Ever After? according to Disney executives, putting the word “Princess” in the title of this movie was their fatal mistake, as it supposedly alienated audiences who felt it was more childish than other Disney offerings. But in my opinion, the studio should have worried less about the title and more about making a good movie. The Princess And The Frog has a whole bunch of cool, even unique ideas, but they’re buried under a boringly conventional comedy: you want two interesting protagonists who are both people of color? Okay, but, surprise, they’re frogs. You want a thought-provoking exploration of class and racial divides in a historical setting? Okay, but only about a half-hour of the movie is actually set in New Orleans – the rest of the time you’ll spend in the fantastical bayous of Louisiana with a musical alligator and a romantic firefly. This movie could have been excellent, but there’s simply too many stories and subplots going on all at once.
The Princess: Rapunzel is everything that Ariel should have been twenty years earlier: she’s just as naive and occasionally nonsensical as her aquatic predecessor, but always retains her wits and sense of responsibility – unlike Ariel, Rapunzel looks before she leaps (quite literally) from her cloistered tower. Her journey is also one of Disney’s strongest arcs in recent history: a princess whose incredibly long hair inherited the healing properties of a magical flower, Rapunzel was abducted at birth by Mother Gothel (more on her in a minute), who raised her as a daughter for sixteen years, using her to extend her own life and keep her healthy and youthful. But once Rapunzel realizes what’s going on, she wastes no time in standing up to her abusive parent and fighting for her rights. Rating: 9/10
The Prince: Flynn Rider is Disney’s best Prince: classically charming, roguish, casual, funny, practical, handsome…it’s almost like he was designed by a focus group of real women who were asked to design the most attractive man in Disney history. Oh wait, he was. The culmination of decades worth of experimentation and slow progress, Rider is the perfect counterpart to Rapunzel’s innocence – a cunning outlaw who initially underestimates the princess, but eventually finds himself falling in love with her. Rating: 9/10
The Villain: Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s abusive mother figure, has her pros and cons – on the one hand, she’s very much a revamp of the Wicked Queen and Wicked Stepmother of earlier Disney films, and her motivations (everlasting beauty and longevity) are uninspired; but on the other, her character is far more interesting – and real – than almost any Disney villain before her. Gothel is purely evil, manipulating Rapunzel and constantly undermining or mocking her: in her chilling song, “Mother Knows Best”, the hateful villain derides her daughter for even daring to think she could survive in the outside world. But trapped in Gothel’s tower, Rapunzel is subjected to constant humiliation on multiple levels – for instance, Gothel’s affections are rarely lavished on Rapunzel herself, but rather on her magic hair, the only part of her that Gothel actually cares about; Gothel even refers to her as “Flower”, reducing her to nothing more than an inanimate object to be used for her powers. What’s even more terrifying is the realization that, if Flynn Rider had never shown up and upset the natural balance of things, Rapunzel would have been forced to spend her entire life serving the needs of this horrible, semi-demonic creature. Yikes. Rating: 8/10
The Songs: None of the songs in Tangled are real showstoppers – there’s the aforementioned “Mother Knows Best”, which I think is the best song in the movie, and there’s “I See The Light”, which is formulaic at best, and beyond that…well, there is “When Will My Life Begin”, which does have a catchy tune. I mentioned a while ago in this post that all the Disney Princess films since Sleeping Beauty have had at least one great song? Tangled is the only slight exception to that rule. Rating: 4/10
Happy Ever After? this film has had one of the longest journeys to the big screen in all of movie history – initially, Walt Disney himself planned to adapt the classic fairytale, but couldn’t figure out a way to make the story suitably epic (apparently, Snow White was epic enough for him), and he shelved the project. Decades later, in the early 2000’s, the studio began working on a Rapunzel movie that would have been witty, funny and a little cheesy. Then it became a modern fairytale set in San Francisco. Finally, after much deliberation and years of hard work, it became the studio’s fiftieth animated picture, and opened the door to the new world of Disney CGI films. Along the way, they created one of their most charming, heartwarming stories yet: an empowering, distinctly modern fairytale that would probably have Walt Disney spinning in his grave. It’s a great indicator of how far Disney (and society) has come, and of how far they still have to go.
The Princess: Merida absolutely should have been awesome. She’s a feminist warrior princess with irreverent Gaelic sensibilities, who wields a gigantic longbow, communicates with the magical spirits of her highland forest like Scottish Pocahontas, and refuses to get married despite her mother’s insistence that she act like a proper Medieval lady and marry another nobleman to unite the clans. Merida realizes that she doesn’t need to get married to do that: instead, she brings unity to her land through sheer presence and force of will. And all those things help to make her one of Disney’s coolest Princesses – on paper. In the actual film, while Merida displays incredible bravery, she never gets to fully unleash that inner Boudicea that I think we all wanted to see – as a warrior, she doesn’t even come close to rivaling Mulan’s kill-count. And as someone of Celtic descent myself, I expect to see my Celtic princess go full berserker. One measly fight with a demon bear? That’s the best that Disney/Pixar could muster? Rating: 7/10
The Prince: Merida is the first Disney Princess to remain single – but she doesn’t just turn down her hordes of suitors. Instead, when she learns that her mother has set up a competition where the firstborn sons of other clan leaders have to succeed at an archery contest in order to win her hand in marriage, Merida, as the firstborn daughter of the King, marches out onto the field and demands to compete for her own hand – and don’t let it be thought that her bark is worse than her bite, because Merida totally owns the competition, splitting another contestant’s arrow-shaft right down the middle in an incredible feat, and scoring a perfect bulls-eye. I’d like to see either of the Charmings try something like that.
The Villain: the primary antagonist of Brave is a giant demon bear named Mor’du, who is revealed to have been the King who originally split up the four clans in an age long past. But by the time our story begins, Mor’du is just kind of wandering around the woods, randomly attacking people or lurking in a super-creepy ruined castle. While there are some truly disturbing flashbacks sequences in which we glimpse Mor’du’s transformation into a giant demon bear, he’s not a particularly interesting villain in an already conventional movie. Rating: 2/10
The Songs: because this is a Disney film, there are songs in Brave. Because this is a Pixar film, those songs aren’t actually sung by the characters in the film – which makes them subsequently feel more removed from the story, less integral to character development and more like pretty embellishments. So no, the music of Brave isn’t anything too fantastic, but I’ve got to give it a few extra points because…well, it’s Celtic. I’m sorry, but anything even vaguely Tolkienesque makes me happy. I’m tempted to give the film far more credit than it deserves simply because one of the art manager’s first name is Lorien. Rating: 5/10
Happy Ever After?Brave might be an unambitious and downright archetypal fairytale at times, but it’s got a lot of heart, and a great emotional core in the story of a young woman’s complicated relationship with her mother; a story that most people will be able to relate to in some way, even if not all of us have accidentally transformed our mothers and siblings into bears. I certainly haven’t. Merida is cool, if underused. Celtic anything is fun, at least in my mind. The humor is typical of Pixar’s more mature, edgy brand. It’s a good movie: it just doesn’t bring anything really groundbreaking to the table.
The Princess: she arrived in theaters mere weeks after the shocking 2016 election, ushering in what many believed to be a new, proudly feminist era of Disney movies. This young Polynesian explorer, with her realistic body standard and irrepressible courage, was bound to be embraced with open arms. Decades worth of Disney history are written into Moana’s character, like her very own set of magical tattoos: the fearlessness of Mulan; the stubbornness of Merida; Jasmine’s defiance; Ariel’s curiosity. She’s not Disney’s most unique Princess, but she has the benefit of being the latest in a long line of heroines who have slowly been breaking the glass ceiling since 1950 (sorry, Snow White, you did nothing). Rating: 8/10
The Prince: as in Brave, there isn’t one. Moana spends the entirety of the movie happily single, and shows no interest in romance – nor do her parents or community try to force her into marriage; a refreshing change. Maui, the mischievous demigod who helps Moana on her journey, is sometimes unofficially referred to as the film’s Prince. I prefer to think of Moana as only the second Disney Prince-less movie. And yes, that’s a stupid pun, and no, I don’t care, because Moana features some of the worst humor in Disney history: I think I’m justified.
The Villain: not including a major element of the Disney Princess formula in your Disney Princess movie is a risky move, but it can be done. But that’s not to say it should be done in excess. The big reveal at the end of Moana is that there is no real villain – the volcanic goddess Te Kā turns out to be the life-giving goddess Te Fiti after all: Moana returns the magical Heart of Te Fiti to the deity, and all of Polynesia is saved. It’s a shocking easy ending, and one that instantly makes you think there must be something else coming: but no. Throughout the film, there are minor antagonists (sea monsters, demon pirates shaped like coconuts, a giant crab), but nobody that actually equates to a full-out villain. And without that crucial element, the entire movie ends up falling a little flat. Yes, it’s original – but it’s also somewhat uninteresting when we’ve spent an entire movie watching Moana summon the incredible powers of the Pacific Ocean…only to never have her use them except to part the waves.
The Songs: at the very least, the film has a pretty catchy soundtrack. “How Far I’ll Go”, despite often being unfavorably compared to Frozen’s “Let It Go”, is one of my favorite Disney tunes it’s powerful, inspiring, beautifully performed by Auli’i Cravalho, and it’s accompanied by a great sequence of Moana diving into the ocean and retrieving the Heart of Te Fiti, before rising out of the waters to find the ghosts of her ancestors assembled in a veritable armada, flanking her as she steers her ship into the future. Gets me every time. The downside is that this soundtrack also includes “Shiny”, which ranks somewhere between 0 and -1 on my ranking of Disney songs. Rating: 5/10
Happy Ever After? I’m not a big fan of Moana, personally. It’s got its moments, but the majority of the film is basically just Moana and Maui sailing. While there’s complexity in Moana’s own emotional arc, the plot is just a straight line between Motu Nui and the island of Te Fiti – there are pitfalls and a couple of detours, but nothing that lasts more than a couple of minutes. Watching the film is rather like being on a very slow-moving boat: after a while, the beautiful scenery is really just more water, and the destination is just a hazy question-mark on the horizon.
So there you have it. Every official Disney Princess movie ever – from chirpy Snow White wandering around the forest looking for houses to clean, to fearless Moana daring the open ocean to bring peace back to her village. Do you see the difference? Since 1937, the idea of what defines a Princess has been evolving – slowly, at times, but always just enough that with each new Disney movie there comes just a little bit more progress. We no longer idolize Princesses whose only defining trait was “good housewife” – now, we have warriors, leaders, explorers and businesswomen. With each new movie (except Frozen for whatever reason), the Princesses get stronger, more diverse, and more representative of the personalities, characteristics and motivations of real women and girls across the world.
Who is your favorite Disney Princess, and why? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
This is an international trailer, which I wouldn’t normally react to, except that this particular one has some intriguing tidbits of Frozen 2 material that we haven’t seen before. So, real quickly, let’s just go over everything that happens in this new trailer.
First, we see the prelude to the scene where Elsa rushes outside of the walls of Arendelle, following ghostly lights into the night: she stands up in the middle of a game of charades, and walks out of the room as if in a trance, through the hallways of her palace – she stares out the windows, almost like she’s following something in the sky (I’ve suggested before it could be the Northern Lights). We get a glimpse of some tension building between our holy trinity of Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff – Kristoff seems to be the odd one out in this movie: we haven’t seen him do very much in the trailers so far, but it looks like him and Elsa aren’t on the best of terms. He makes fun of her during the charades game, and, as we’ve seen previously, he grabs Anna and rides off with her before she can run to her sister’s aid. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Kristoff anyway, but I don’t know if hardcore fans would be happy if he’s portrayed as a bumbling, oafish nuisance to the two sisters. And bumble he does, as he is seen apparently trying to propose to Anna after the charades game, but can’t get her attention while she’s busy worrying about Elsa.
There’s more Olaf hi-jinks in this new trailer, none of which are outstandingly funny. The character, and his particular brand of humor, always runs the risk of being a little too much at times, so hopefully some restraint is shown. Then again, the film needs a comic relief character, and Elsa’s definitely not it.
Speaking of Elsa, we see a few new shots of her striding confidently through an ice-cavern with her hair down, looking elegant and regal. And then she seems to get transformed into a beam of light, which skyrockets through the ceiling, or into the sky, or something – honestly, it’s strongly reminiscent of the Bifrost Bridge from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the portal of multi-colored light which teleports its user to other worlds or dimensions. Is Elsa similarly teleporting, or simply…actually, I have no idea what else she would be doing. Before she disappears, she also breaks some sort of window or sheet of ice that is filled with the colors of the Northern Lights, which causes a rainfall of the same floating runes that we’ve seen before. I have no idea what that could be: is she breaking a spell? Breaking free of a dungeon? Breaking stuff just for the fun of it?
There’s a good deal of interesting new stuff there, so I recommend you check out the trailer. Also, you can hear the recently released first look at Elsa’s new showstopper song “Into The Unknown” below. It’s brief, but tantalizing: the song doesn’t exactly sound like it’s going to be on the level of “Let It Go”, but it does have a haunting melody, and Idina Menzel’s vocals are still extremely impressive.
So what do you think of the trailer and song? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
The fact that I’m even writing a post about Frozen fan theories says a lot about just how different this sequel is expected to be from the 2013 musical we all know and love. If I had tried to write something similar back then, it probably would have boiled down to: “um, I’m getting the feeling there might be a catchy song and a snowman”. These days, though, we’ve got pages worth of ancient Nordic runes, Scandinavian magic and epic assumptions to scroll through.
Firstly, because this has nothing to do with the rest of the post but is still important to me, I completely overlooked the fact, in my initial Frozen 2 trailer reaction, that Disney released said trailer for their Autumn-themed Frozen sequel on the first day of Autumn: that’s a not-so-subtle nuance that really shouldn’t have escaped my attention, but did. Just thought I should point that out, since it’s a clever little thing that I would have praised, had I been paying attention to the calendar.
Anyway, moving on! We have, surprisingly, quite a lot to talk about in this post: the first Frozen movie might have been a relatively one-dimensional story about an unbreakable bond between sisters and the power of true love, but its sequel is heading in a completely different direction: into the unknown. From here on out, you can trade in your expectations of singing snowmen and dancing trolls for a more bleak, introspective vision of war, dark magic, and the attack of the Autumn leaves (which sounds like a parody of a bad 1950’s horror movie, but whatever).
It looks, from Disney’s hints and fans’ speculation, that the big question we all had after the first movie will finally be answered in some capacity: why, exactly, does Queen Elsa have the power to manipulate ice and wintry climates? How did her parents know about her magic, and how did they know exactly what to do when Elsa nearly killed her own sister with an icicle? How did they know about the trolls? And because they technically died off-screen, are we sure they’re not really still alive?
All of these questions look like they might get answered, because all of them seem to be intertwined with each other. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this latest trailer alone, and, combined with the previous trailer and the initial teaser, we actually have a pretty solid idea of what might be going on in Frozen 2. Let’s go through it all.
Firstly, what is Elsa? Well, so far, the trailers have been hinting that Elsa is wondering that too, and that she’s been receiving strange visions and hearing mysterious voices in her head: she stares off wistfully toward the north, out past the borders of her country, and she receives a visit from a spectral snowflake that leads her astray, dancing wildly, into the wilderness beyond the walls of Arendelle. This bobbing light has much in common with the will-o’-the-wisp of European folklore; a ghostly lamp that guides unwary travelers off the beaten path and into danger. Since Frozen takes place somewhere in a roughly Norwegian-inspired fantasy setting, we can safely assume that the basis for this particular wisp might be the Hessdalen lights, which have been sighted in Norway for about the last years – but there’s also a strong chance that Disney’s creative team is inspired by the legends of phantom horses such as the kelpie and nøkk, whom we’ll talk about a little later.
Wherever the mystery light comes from, it causes Elsa to lose control of herself and accidentally cause a blast of ice-magic that drops hovering, diamond-shaped crystals over Arendelle; diamond-shaped crystals which may or may not be marked with ancient Norse runes signifying the four seasons, and the elements of earth, air, water and fire (for more on that, see here). It’s hard to tell, but this might happen at the same time as the sudden gust of wind that sends Autumn leaves cascading through the city streets, and the strange purple flame that blows up all the streetlamps: the flames look very much like the ones that later encircle Elsa in the enchanted forest, and its erratic nature seems to bear much in common with the will-o’-the-wisp at first, at least until you take a closer look at Norwegian folklore and uncover the little-known (but fascinating) myth of the revontulet, or “fire fox”. A tiny Arctic fox scampering across the sky so fast that the sparks from his tail cause the Northern Lights to appear, the fox is also a manifestation of winter, with some versions of the story suggesting the “sparks” are in fact snowflakes. It might not be a coincidence that the Northern Lights themselves have actually shown up a few times in the trailers for Frozen 2, with Elsa and Anna’s mother seen staring out the window at them in a flashback sequence. For more about the significance of the Northern Lights in folklore, see here.
Elsa and Anna’s mother is, herself, an interesting character. It’s been teased that the sisters’ now deceased parents might have known more than they let on, and I’m beginning to suspect that the mother, especially, had a very intriguing backstory. In this new trailer, we see her watching with a curious expression while her husband, King Agnarr, recounts the story of the enchanted forest to their daughters: she pauses at the door, maybe smiling, maybe saddened, before leaving the room – almost as if she knows a part of the story that even Agnarr doesn’t. But Agnarr certainly seems to know a lot: from the flashback sequence that plays over his narration, it looks like he lived in the enchanted forest as a young man – or was stationed there as a soldier, since everyone there seems to be wearing military uniform. In the flashback, a swirl of Autumn leaves dancing in the wind catches his eye, and leads him to a glade in the forest where a girl appears to be using magic to fly. And if I’m not mistaken, that girl, who everybody thought might be Anna’s daughter when she showed up in the first teaser, is actually Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna – and that means Agnarr is the boy we glimpsed flying through the air with her, too. Which means that, assuming that was Idunna’s magic and not the inherent magic of the forest, Elsa inherited her power from her mother; just in a slightly different form.
But it’s not that simple. Agnarr’s narration is quite obviously edited to hide a secret (probably the “that’s where I met your mother” moment), but he also doesn’t say what caused him and the rest of his people to leave the enchanted forest. But again, I have some guesses, and I’m kind of excited, because it looks like Disney might – might – be going in a very unexpected direction with this story. One of the most interesting new snippets of material in this trailer is a flashback where people dressed in the military uniform of Arendelle are seen fighting others clad in the heavy furs of the indigenous Sámi peoples of Scandinavia. Could it be that Disney is attempting a fantasy allegory for the real-life persecution of the Sámi by the Norwegian and Swedish governments – a wide-spread persecution that spanned several centuries, during which the native peoples were exiled from their ancestral homelands, converted to Christianity, burned at the stake for witchcraft, and robbed of their culture: to this day, the damage done to the Sámi has not been made up for, and countries such as Sweden and Finland continue to stamp on their freedoms, and use their lands for mining, wiping out the reindeer that the Sámi depend upon to live: speaking of reindeer, an entire herd of them is seen in the Frozen 2 trailers, adopting Sven into their ranks and riding into battle. Is it possible that the battle we see in the trailer is partly inspired by this historical tragedy, and that that is the reason why Agnarr says the people of the enchanted forest hid themselves from the rest of the world, behind a wall of magical mist, never to be seen again? Is that why Iduna, possibly a Sámi herself, seems so sad when she hears the story? If Disney is doing this, and can pull it off with some degree of sensitivity and logic, it could make this movie a very important one indeed: if done wrong, well…it could become another Pocahontas.
The Sámi also have a rich magical history, one that could easily make the move to the big screen: in their culture, men and women known as noaidis acted as shamans and guardians of the community, using magic and meditation to speak with spirits and ward off evil. In the trailer, we catch a glimpse of a woman with long gray hair who appears to act as a noaidi for the enchanted forest, questioning Anna and Elsa about their own magic. We also see a man, Lieutenant Matthias, who is dressed in the Arendelle uniform but is quite clearly living in the forest, and is quite friendly with the rest of his people. Did he choose to stay there because he saw the error of his ways? Or does he have a different purpose? It’s hard to say just yet. For more information on the history of the Sámi, see here.
Whatever Elsa might find out in the forest, she is probably not the only one who wants to find it: somebody, or something, is coming after her, and is using magic to do so. We see a large giant made of stone, possibly one of the Stallo of Sámi folklore, chasing Anna and Kristoff through the woods, and hunting for Elsa at night, while she cowers behind a tree. The “fire fox” could also be an enemy, assuming it’s not one of Elsa’s accidents. In the teaser, we saw its pink flames encircling Elsa and Olaf in a heart shape; in the first trailer, it was seen leaping from tree to tree, spreading rapidly, and we also got a quick look at its aftermath – a burned out clearing in the woods, and Elsa hunched over in the ashes and snow, crying, while Anna came slowly to her side; before being abruptly carried out of the scene by Kristoff, who appeared to be trying to save her from Elsa. Now, something that I think is pretty important to note is that in between the fire starting and the fire ending, Olaf disappears. I’m not saying that he gets melted, but…well, actually, that is what I’m saying. Obviously, he’d probably be brought back to life soon enough (Elsa being a walking ice-machine and all), but a tragic death scene would certainly raise the stakes and remind us that this isn’t the Frozen we thought we knew.
As for what happens in the third act, when all is said and done, I can’t even hazard a guess, but I feel pretty certain that the scenes of Elsa’s underwater battle with the horse, Anna’s captivity in the cave, and all of that amazing ice-magic imagery from the new trailer might come from the latter part of the movie, as Elsa unlocks her full potential and gains new purpose, understanding whatever it is she has to do in order to save Arendelle from…whoever or whatever her enemy is.
But why, you ask, is she fighting an underwater battle with a horse? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have an answer. That horse is in fact a Nøkk, a creature very similar to the kelpie of Scottish legend: a male water-spirit taking the form of a horse, the nøkk is a master of music and magic, a malevolent phantom that carries its victims into the ocean to drown – something it clearly tries to do to Elsa in the trailer, holding her underwater with its hoofs, before Elsa responds with a blast of ice magic. But it looks like Elsa is eventually able to tame this nøkk; possibly, as in the legends, by using his true name. Does this mean that Elsa will also be allowed to learn the enchanting song of the nøkk, which bestows its singer with the power to basically mind control your enemies?
So…what are your ideas? Am I overthinking everything, or is there a possibility that Disney is, in fact, drawing on the depths of Scandinavian folklore for this new movie? Share your own thoughts and theories in the comments below!