For a short while ten years maybe fifteen years ago, I watched most of the animated films that were released into cinemas. The visual possibilities of the form interested me, a bit of a revival of the musical seemed underway, and I was vaguely curious about what the stories we were telling children were about. By the time Frozen was released that time was long gone and the film registered for me as little more than the source for the flood of merchandise that young kids wore and carried happily on the street and that, yes, a few of my students carried (but only carried) much more discretely in our school.
Then this fall in Disney World with my nieces and nephews—a long story for later—I found myself sitting in a packed theater watching two actors, one playing a hysterical crypto-gay man, the other playing a hysterical crypto-lesbian woman. They gushed and sang their way through the story of Frozen, insisting they had seen it all first hand. By the time they were done (and the snow was falling from the ceiling of the theatre onto the kids, parents, and uncles seated below), I was overcome with a sense that Frozen might be one of the most genuinely beautiful movies for queer kids about queer childhood that I’d ever seen. Home later that week, I watched it through and was confirmed in my opinion.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers set queer childhood as their narrative problem. It seems clear that they set out instead to make a mildly feminist film that avoided a whole host of obnoxious narrative tropes familiar from modern retellings of fairy tales and which relate to the damsel in distress and her charming prince. But in decentering and ironizing the heterosexual love story while simultaneously adhering to the generic norms of the movie musical, the film invites queer viewing. What’s more, far from offering stops or limits to such a viewing, the film stages numerous queer moments that facilitate and even encourage viewing the story as a queer coming of age tale.
What is the movie that results? A kid discovers they are different, at the urging of their parents hides that difference, and when they find themselves exposed, runs away. In a new place, they feel the freedom of living without a secret but are harassed still for their difference and, in working to survive, hurt people they love. In the end, the now young adult finds ways to establish honest relationships and a meaningful life that feels authentic to them and the people around them.
It is a fantasy, but a useful one that is concisely and powerfully presented (as a fairy tale should be). Best of all, it is wonderful.