Blogs | Jan. 31, 2014
Does Disney’s monster hit include the first same-sex couple in the studio’s history?
See also: How Christian is Disney’s Frozen? (Not very.) Part 1
So basically everyone loves Frozen except me. I’m fine with that. I’m not a fan, but I don’t dislike it; parts of it I like very much, though other elements I found disappointing and off-putting. I’ve watched it twice now, and both times I enjoyed enough things about it to be frustrated by the elements that ultimately keep me from embracing it.
I’m not surprised that it’s such a huge hit. I am a little surprised at the sustained effort of Christian fans to spin Frozen as some sort of Christian allegory (more on this in an upcoming post).
For now, though, I want to address something I noted in passing in my review: the question of gay-culture themes in Frozen.
In my review I mentioned this issue (also noted in positive reviews by other critics) largely to dismiss it as a point of concern—not that I wasn’t aware of the themes in question, so much as that I didn’t think they warranted getting upset over. However, a point I overlooked earlier has just been brought to my attention that I think does warrant mention.
First, let’s get the broad themes out on the table.
With her ice powers, Elsa is notably different from other people. “Born this way or cursed?” asks the troll king, and her parents confirm that she was born that way.
Nevertheless, her difference is an occasion of fear and secrecy. Misguidedly, her parents teach her to “conceal it, don’t feel it.” This repression of her true nature leads to isolation, anxiety and finally a meltdown at Elsa’s coronation, at which she inadvertently outs herself, revealing her ice powers for all to see.
Regarded with fear and revulsion by others, Elsa defies the society that has rejected her as well as the unjust strictures placed on her by her parents, celebrating her acceptance of her true identity in the power ballad “Let it Go.” No more “Be the good girl you always have to be” for her; now her mantra is: “Let the storm rage on / The cold never bothered me anyway.”
It’s worth noting that Elsa at no time shares her sister Anna’s romantic longings, nor does she show any interest in a male suitor or in being courted. (At one point a male character remarks that, as heir, Elsa would be preferable to Anna, but “no one was getting anywhere with her.”)
Oh, and viewers who stayed through the end credits were treated to a parting gag in which Elsa’s giant, male-voiced snow monster, wandering through her abandoned ice palace, picks up her abandoned tiara and places it daintily on its own head, smiling as it discovers its true inner princess.
On another side note, there’s a double entendre about another type of relationship that is said to be “outside of nature’s laws”: The trolls, singing about Kristoff in the the “Fixer-Upper” song, suggest that he has an unnatural relationship with his reindeer Sven:
So he’s a bit of a fixer-upper
So he’s got a few flaws.
Like his peculiar brain, dear
His thing with the reindeer
That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!
Yes: a bestiality joke in a Disney cartoon.
All of this seems to me a) clearly if subtly expressive of a pro-gay culture at Disney, and b) not that big a deal, inasmuch as the themes are subtle and ambiguous enough not pose either a significant annoyance to even savvy parents or a corrupting influence on children. (I would not say that of the pro-gay themes in the likes of Madagascar 2 or the Happy Feet movies; those are in a different category, and I do object to them. With Frozen, I’m more concerned about issues like Squelched Girl Syndrome and the subverting, in very different ways, of the two leading men.)
However, there’s another pro-gay element in Frozen worth noting that I originally missed: a fleeting but definite suggestion that a minor character has a family consisting of a same-sex partner and a bunch of children.
This was brought to my attention by an interesting article at PolicyMic.com called “7 Moments that Make Frozen the Most Progressive Disney Movie Ever.” The article offers a blend of insightful observations, obvious ones, and, for me, one eye-opener:
5. Oaken’s gay family
Hey, did you notice the gay character? I didn’t either, until I went to see the film a second time. It turns out that giant man in “Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna” is probably gay. When he throws in the sauna package for Kristoff, he turns to say “Hello, family!” and BAM! there they are.
The adult in the sauna is clearly implied to be his husband. Best yet, Oaken and his partner have a family — and it’s not even a thing. In the few minutes that he’s on screen, Disney manages to make a compelling character of Oaken…
Take a close look at the image.
Is there plausible deniability? Sure.
The adult male in the sauna, with his slim jaw and lack of facial hair, looks markedly younger than the mountain-sized, hirsute Oaken, and could be his oldest son. Next to him is a young woman who, given the conventions of animation, could be could be Oaken’s daughter or his wife — or, heck, the wife of the other guy, who could also be Oaken’s younger brother). It’s even possible that the family isn’t Oaken’s family at all; “Hoo hoo! Hi family!” could mean “Hi, random visiting family of customers.”
On the other hand…
What’s the moment doing in the film at all? Why make a point of having Oaken call “Hoo hoo! Hi family!” and fleetingly show the family in the sauna? At the very least, the moment and the line seems intended to suggest that they are, or at least could be, Oaken’s own family.
Why is the young man centrally positioned, with all the other figures around him? The framing of the shot, and his huge size, seems to suggest that he’s a father figure, not just an older brother.
How often do we see such a large family in a Disney movie? Why so many, if not visual misdirection to slip the moment past most viewers?
It seems plausible the filmmakers have thrown this moment in to allow sharp-eyed homophile viewers to draw their own conclusions about just what sort of “family” this is.
And we’re going to be seeing more and more of this sort of thing in the future. Here’s why.
From the perspective of Hollywood filmmakers, while it’s not yet possible for a mainstream family film to have overtly gay characters or themes, the heteronormativity of traditional children’s entertainment has been problematized.
In Obama’s post-evolutionary America, the assumption that every protagonist in every cartoon is by default heterosexual—that every heroine gets her prince, every hero gets the girl—is no more acceptable than it would be for every protagonist to be white, or male. How are children with two mommies or two daddies meant to feel when every family in every cartoon looks like their friends’ families and not like theirs?
Yet obviously the Disney version of The Prince and the Prince is a long way off yet. The revolution is still in the early stages. Gay families and their allies must take their consolations where they can find them, and content themselves for the most part with winks and nods, hints and subtexts.
Admittedly, this may sometimes mean running the risk of overly creative interpretations and appropriations of characters and themes (a bit like Christians in the post-Christian era over-eagerly latching onto “Christ figures” anywhere they can find them) on the basis of slender evidence or even pretexts. Tinky-Winky! The Cowardly Lion! Bert and Ernie!
But it also means Hollywood filmmakers really want to throw in those winks and nods when they can. They feel good about themselves when they do, and it’s something they can talk about at parties.
It’s the civil rights issue of our time! And if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. If you’re making a family film and you aren’t doing something to undermine the heteronormative establishment, then by default you’re reinforcing it.
That’s why Oaken has the family he does, and makes a point of calling out to them.
And yet, in this case the filmmakers have walked that line really well: so well that the pro-gay themes have gone right over the heads of countless adult Christian viewers, many of whom have embraced Frozen as resonating powerfully with Christian themes.
I disagree. Read more…