2013 / TV

SF elements: fairy tale


Elsa and her younger sister Anna are princesses who love to play together. Elsa has a special power: she can control and shape ice. She uses this power to make ice slides for Anna. But one day there is an accident, and she injures Anna. Fortunately the trolls can cure Anna, but Elsa and her parents are devastated. She is kept in solitude, so that her powers can never hurt anyone again. But when her parents die, she becomes queen. Anna falls in love with handsome Prince Hans visiting for the coronation, and asks Elsa’s permission to marry. Elsa refuses, and there is an argument, which leads to her accidentally freezing her whole country. She runs away in despair, but Anna follows, determined to rescue her sister.

[an act of true love]

This re-imagining of the Ice Queen changes the fairy tale considerably, and for the better. It subverts two key fairy tale tropes. First, don’t trust love at first sight: get to know your prospective partner first. What you find out about them may make you realise you made a mistake. Second, an act of true love need not be performed by the hero to save the heroine. Since fairy tales, today served up as Disney animations, form an important part of how we parse the world, these are important and useful messages.

Given these good and overt messages, though, it’s worthwhile digging a bit deeper, to see if there are other, less obvious, messages being reinforced.

Firstly, Prince Hans claims to be the youngest of 13 brothers. Does his father have a harem, a poor wife who has borne at least 13 children, or a maybe a series of wives? In any case, I felt his kingdom to be in dire need of knowledge about birth control. An heir and a spare should be fine. This would have two advantages: the queen would have some time to do more than pop out princes, and 13th sons with no role at home wouldn’t get into mischief.

[ignorance ending badly]

Secondly, it’s clear that Elsa’s parents have never read any fairy tales. Hiding Elsa away, and forcing her to deny her powers – that always ends badly. And Anna’s memories of her own injury are removed by the trolls, to protect her, and this is taken to be a good thing. But instead, it causes her great pain, and eventually puts her in grave danger. Unable to remember the accident, she can’t understand why her adored big sister will no longer play with her. And unaware of Elsa’s powers, she is taken by surprise by events at the coronation, and is put in danger during the attempted rescue. Ignorance is not bliss, yet keeping someone in the dark to protect them is a recurring trope in many stories. It doesn’t protect them, it infantilises them.

Despite these caveats, the film was an enjoyable way to spend the post Christmas lunch turkey food coma.

Oh, and there is also a comic moose, a patronising lunk, and an hilarious snowman. And some songs.

Rating: 4

[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 25 December 2016