‘Frozen II’: Woke, or Nope?


It’s probably a rather unexpected review title for the sequel to the notorious children’s film – wow, was Frozen actually released in 2013? Have we really been listening to people yowling “Let it gooooo!” for more than six years now? But, despite its mixed reviews, I think it’s a good idea to focus on the positives for this one. Fortunately, there are a lot of them.

Viewers have complained about its ​convoluted story line, its forgettable soundtrack, Elsa’s disappointing refusal to be Disney’s first queer heroine, and the ​problematic attempts at reparations and cultural representation. While it’s refreshing how much intellectual discussion this film has fostered among its viewers ,​ Frozen II has a lot going for it, and it seems rather unfair to poke such deflating holes in an ambitious attempt to tackle themes such as the cultural representation of Scandinavia’s indigenous people; female empowerment; and the overarching importance of family and community.

It’s extremely uplifting to know that the film’s Northuldrans were modelled on the Scandinavian Sámis, with Disney ​signing a contract with the ​Sámi parliament to ensure their culturally sensitive portrayal in the film. While some writers have accused the creators of steering dangerously close to “noble savage” territory, I think it’s much more edifying and pertinent to listen to what ​people have to say about their own representation. Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director of the International Sámi Institute, has said: “Disney’s team really wanted to make it right. They didn’t want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody.” 

Whatever the consensus, in ​Frozen II, it’s Olaf who peppers the dialogue

The reception of Josh Gad’s Olaf is decidedly mixed: to some, he is an obvious favourite, en par with Shrek’s Donkey and Mulan’s Mushu. Other opinions are not so favourable – Slate’s Inkoo Kang has written that ‘If there’s anyone who should be truly angry about Frozen II, it’s parents across America—for each additional agonising minute they have to spend with Olaf’. Whatever the consensus, in ​Frozen II, it’s Olaf who peppers the dialogue, amid his eye-roll-inducing loquacity, with some insightful existential comments. When he and Anna find themselves lost in a cavern, he says ‘Come on, it’ll be fun! Unless we get stuck here, you starve, and I give up.’ There’s an optimistic sort of cynicism at play which is both funny and thought-provoking, a bleakness that will hopefully wash over kids until they re watch it as adults.

Maybe 2020 has put me in a good mood. Maybe I was too pleasantly surprised about thoroughly enjoying a film I hadn’t really cared about watching in the first place to come up with an astute critique of it. I may have been blinded by the visuals (and they were stunning, even its harshest critics can admit that), by Elsa’s effortlessly chic winter-wear (quite literally effortless; beautiful clothes just seem to materialise on her for absolutely no reason) and fascinating variations in hairstyle.

I’m not saying the film does it all perfectly. It only touches on some of these issues, skimming the surface on interesting things that warrant further, more detailed discussion. Considering the princesses I grew up watching and idolising, with Mulan, Jasmine, and Belle standing out as the only ones with backbones and opinions, if this is where the future of Disney princess films is heading, I have no complaints.

Image: Elaine Smith via Flickr

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