I saw Frozen this weekend. This was the cinematic experience I had been waiting for all year. August: Osage County? Pfft, more like August: No-sage… Hunty. American Hustle? I’d rather hustle past your theater to see Frozen. (But actually, I want to see these two before the Oscars.)
This should surprise no one when I say I found the whole thing utterly enchanting. It was whimsical, musical, and delightfully awkward. It was as if some one captured my essence, removed all of the potty humor and turned it into an animated feature film.
I wasn’t surprised that I liked it so much. After all, I’ve been singing “Let It Go” for months now. Idina took me all the way to synagogue and threw me a Bar Mitzvah what that one. And basically every one with a heart and access to Facebook has been singing its praises.
But I never ever expected to be so taken with this story’s depiction of “True Love.” It broke the Disney mold I had so come to expect. I arrived ready for a love story and found the central narrative had nothing to do with romantic love. Even in the moments where that typical trope would rear its ugly head, BAM. Some one would show up and Shut. It. Down!
I grew up watching Disney classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, stories of women on a journey to achieve that one great True Love. They sacrifice everything; their homes, families, freedom, fins, voices for it. And we rejoice when at last they share that perfect kiss on their wedding day!
I can’t help but wonder how much of my real adult expectations of love have been based on that narrative. If I’m being honest, probably a whole lot.
Like Belle and Ariel, I’ve spent my life dreaming about that sweeping romantic experience wherein I spot Future Husband across the room and in an instant, I know unquestionably that he’s “The One.” I’ve ended multiple relationships because I didn’t feel that “spark.”
Allow me to describe my vision of a perfect relationship: I meet a man and we instantly know we are “meant for each other.” We forge that kind of relationship where there is nothing on earth more important to us than each other. If need be, we’d sacrifice our dreams and other relationships for the sake of our True Love. And in some mystical way, we always have the perfect thing to say no matter what the situation.
A few years ago, I fell head over heels in love with a man from Michigan the moment I met him. And this Love had all the makings of that epic romance. The circumstances of our meeting were beautifully serendipitous and he vaguely looked like a Disney Prince. But like the poor grad student version. I remember clearly, during our first kiss, before I knew he lived so far away, thinking, “Oh, this is it.” I committed myself to him and our prospective future vigorously.
If he asked, I would have up and moved to be with him in a second. (Instead, when I suggested I do this, he refused because I couldn’t possibly reach my full potential if I uprooted myself for him. Ugh, whatever, he respected my goals and knew Michigan would be a dead end for me. He’s perfect. Moving on.) Eventually the distance was too much and our wallets were far too tight. Artist and Grad student, what are you gonna do?
This happened almost five years ago and I still I’m regularly visited by the nagging thought that he’s not only “The One” but now “The One that got away.”
In the past few months, partially due to this blog, I have scrutinized my concept of love and what it is I’m looking for. Well, I’ve come up with the resounding conclusion that literally no one is good enough for me. I told my mom this a few weeks while we were both complaining about men and she laughed and said, “Maybe we just demand too much. We expect everyone to be perfect.”
Duh. Because I believe that my love story, my final ever-lasting love story, will be made of perfection and rainbows and I’ll sing songs with animals when it happens.
Why do I expect that? Have Disney movies and all the romantic comedies I’ve watched in my life informed my expectations of the kind of love I want?
I mean, YEAH. I didn’t grow up witnessing that perfect true love at home. My family is far from “traditional.” So I didn’t learn to value it by experiencing it. (No, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything or I’m trying to compensate for it in my adulthood. And if you or any one you know wants to talk to me about how children only thrive in a “nuclear family,” I’ll shout you the hell down. But I’m not here for that today.)
Ok, so admittedly, growing up as a young boy, I was having alternative gendered experiences with Disney Animated Classics and Rom Coms by associating myself with the heroines. As a gay man, I do allow my self the license to have a more fluid understanding of my gender. That’s just me, not necessarily all gay men. But still, the way I value love and, more importantly, the way I have come to expect Future Husband to value me have stemmed directly from these stories.
And in comes Frozen. This film not only reinvents the rules of “True Love” for this genre (Animated Princess Musical Rom Coms) it blatantly criticizes them.
Early on, we meet Anna, the younger sister of the ice queen (really, guys?) who craves a life beyond her castle walls. (Ariel, much?) Anna, eager to see the world, meets the charming albeit bumbling Hans, a young prince about five minutes after leaving the castle for the first time. They declare their love for each other during a deliciously campy musical number ending in a sudden engagement. And I believed it.
I sat and listened to their silly song and swooned thinking, “Aw, I wish my love life were like this.” As she as she announces her pending nuptials, everyone is all like, “Anna, gurl, you just met this guy. What’s his last name? What side of the bed does he sleep on? How much student loan debt does he have? You’re really jumping the gun here.” Her sister, Kristoff, and even the damn Snowman who has been alive for like 30 minutes calls her on it.
Like Anna, my first response was to cross my arms and fight back with a “You don’t even know him!” And then, I calmed down, stopped shouting at the screen and realized that they’re probably right. Maybe they should go on a few dates first or something. I guess people shouldn’t jump into an engagement after only four hours.
Ok Hans and Anna aren’t the love story here. I’m sure something will come up.
Enter Kristoff, the smelly reindeer guy who sells ice. So every word I just used to describe him immediately would have sent me running. And had Anna not actually needed his help she probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day.
But because they had mutual objectives, they had to work together. As they continued to overcome obstacles by supporting one another while also having friendly conversation, they started to notice an interest budding. Ahh, here’s my romantic fairy tale couple. It had all the tell tale signs; flirting, secret smiles, he caught her when she fell off the mountain. Call me India.Arie because I am ready for love.
After all the build up and drama and other hilarious happenstances, Anna’s heart is frozen. The cure: an “act of True Love.” If every love story ever has taught me anything, a kiss solves all of the problems. That’s the only way. I was a little put off when Anna, Kristoff and Olaf conclude Hans has to deliver the kiss. Didn’t we already establish that her relationship with Hans was stupid and Kristoff was her soul mate? Whatever, she’s committed I guess. So she finds Hans and, OH NO, he’s a secret villain! I knew it! She and Kristoff were the It-couple!
But once again, the movie totally obliterated my expectations. Anna, on the brink of death (or ice death?), was faced with a choice: run to Kristoff for 20ccs of “True Love” by kiss injection or save her cold mopey sister. The big dummy chose to save her sister, forever turning herself into ice. When Anna froze because she chose Uteruses over Duderuses, I was really disappointed in her. Doesn’t she get that True Love will break all spells and make life everything you dreamed of? ISN’T THAT WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DOING WITH MY LIFE?
However, it turned out that the love Anna had for her sister ended up releasing her from a frozen death. And I was floored. Because really it should have been obvious that Anna’s love for her sister was the only thing that could be deemed “true.” It’s literally the only significant relationship she’s ever had her whole life. She may be crushing on Kristoff or even Hans but it’s unreasonable to expect that given the choice between these men she’s known for maybe a day or so and her life long (albeit cold and distant) sister, she would choose the Crush.
And yet I never saw it coming.
Like most people, I’ve learned to expect certain outcomes from these narratives. True love wins. A kiss breaks the spell. The hot couple winds up together at the expense of the heroines whole life. And I love it. I dream about it happening in my own life.
I grew up watching these movies and I base every romantic encounter on how much “magic” I feel. And I won’t settle for less than Harry Potter. Step aside Siegfried and Roy. Get back in your box, Harry Houdini. If it doesn’t feel “real” then I don’t want it.
The longer I live and the longer I’m single, I start wondering how realistic my ideals are. Probably not very. That’s why I find Frozen to be such a positive depiction of love. Now that this story is part of the Disney cannon, it’s going to be as ubiquitous as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. Frozen will be irrevocably tied to the childhood of so many young people (ugh, I feel old.) Maybe they’ll see that love doesn’t come from magic and maybe you don’t have to give up your family or your power to find it. Maybe two people who share similar goals will discover a mutual attraction while working together as equals and explore the possibility of a romantic and sexual relationship over time and through open communication.
Now for the record, I don’t think Frozen is a shining beacon of socially progressive children’s entertainment. Actually, it’s quite problematic. I mean, the central conflict of the whole thing is that a woman has too much power and is ruining everyone’s lives because of it. The people of Arendelle only love Elsa once she learns to suppress her power. (It’s cool as long as she used it for like fun stuff like ice skating or snowman preservation.) Oh and every character is beautiful, white, able bodied, and straight. So yeah, Disney has work to do.
But I imagine 5-year-old Tim growing up today watching a movie like Frozen. First of all, I’d be belting “Let it Go” in the Disney Store at the mall instead of “Part of your World.” The idea of a child me singing a song about accepting myself instead of giving up my identity for love already brings a tear to my eye.
I wonder if he would grow up into a person who has a healthy sense of romance but understands it shouldn’t come at the expense of his family, friends, or self worth. It’s taken me a lot of years in my adulthood to figure that out.
That alternative-reality version of myself might still be single, sure. But I bet he would be less hung up on it. I bet he would scoff at the idea of having an online dating profile and writing this blog about desperately seeking love.
It may be too late to save myself. Even now, I hear a not too quiet voice in my head screaming, “BUT LOVE IS REAL! Stop being a cynic!”
My heart, like Anna’s, is warmed imagining a future generation of little weirdos who understand that love isn’t a zero-sum game.