Ariel: Strong Young Woman

The walls of my home are littered with pop culture art. I’ve got a lovely piece from Disney artist Brittney Lee, a Close Encounters print by Matt Ferguson, and a couple of Anna and Elsa prints from Mandie Manzano to name but a few. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke… I get over-invested in popular culture! It’s what I do. So when Disney’s art partners Cyclops Printworks announce a series of prints based on the work of Ron Clements and John Musker to celebrate the release of Moana, I get excited. Very excited.

Yeah, like that.
Yeah, like that. Thanks Anna

The pieces are gorgeous, as I’ve come to expect from Cyclops Printworks, but if I had to pick one, I’d go for JC Richard’s wonderful The Little Mermaid print. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, Little Mermaid is my favourite Clements/Musker film (indeed, one of my favourite Disney films of all time). Secondly, I think it captures in one epic image something that nearly three decades of writing about the film has failed to capture: that Ariel is a goddamn badass!

Here’s the poster…


LOOK AT IT!! It’s beautiful. The colours, the grandeur, the detail. Everything about it is… beautiful. But more than that, it captures what the film’s about: not just Ariel’s love for Eric, but her desperation to break free of the traditions of her people and forge her own life. Richard captures that wonderfully by putting her against Atlantica’s castle: the imposing representation of all those traditions.

More than that, it’s a beautiful reference to all the man-stands-against-epic-thing posters that have littered Hollywood for years.

I'm detecting a theme...
I’m detecting a theme…

What do all these posters have in common (apart from an enjoyment of mens’ backs)? They’re all about power: the power of an heroic man standing up against something epic, awe-inspiring, or scary. That’s what Ariel does in The Little Mermaid, and that’s why she’s no less an awesome hero, no less strong, than any of the men in these posters, or any of the other Princess or non-Princess characters we’ve seen in Disney films.

Ariel is probably my favourite Disney Princess, and I’ve decided I’m going to return to her in a special post leading up to the newest Princess, Moana. I may even do a little series focusing on my favourite Princesses and why I like them. Until then, consider this a little precursor. And a showcase of awesome art, and even more awesome mermaids.

How am I driving?

The Mouse House Movie Club is now six posts old, and I wanted to check in to see what people think of it. My aim when creating the feature was to make something inclusive and fun, a true club that everyone would feel a part of and enjoy. Problem is, it’s always difficult to tell when you’re in the middle of it, so that’s why I’m asking you guys what you think of it.

Does it feel like a fun club? Are the posts the right length, or are they too long (probably) or too short? Do they come off as too serious and is that off putting? Would you like more fun in them? And are you finding the series useful: are you inspired to check out films you haven’t seen before?

I’m always keen to hear feedback – both good and bad – so let me know.

Have a comedy chicken as thanks.


Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky: The Haunted House


It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies! 

Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #2: The Haunted House

Early cartoon shorts were heavily focused on the synchronisation of music and action. They had to be really. With complex dialogue impossible in the silent era and music so good at selling an emotion (a sad moment, a laugh, a scary jolt), it simply made sense to match sound to action. Sometimes this simply meant having a wacky bit of score to underline a joke or a clash of cymbals to highlight something frightening, sometimes it meant essentially turning the short into a mini musical and having the characters interact with the music. The Haunted House is an example of the latter; it’s just not a great example.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this short, but the musical section of it is completely misplaced. The plot finds Mickey caught in a storm and stumbling into a creepy house to find shelter. Obviously, as the title suggests, he encounters ghouls, ghosts, and other scary presences while in there, and it’s a really enjoyable little gothic tale… until one of the ghouls asks him to play piano so he and his chums can have a little dance. Then it becomes a variation on the superior The Skeleton Dance (even borrowing animation from The Skeleton Dance at some points) and it loses a little something in the shift.

The Haunted House was the first horror-themed Mickey short, and before the skeletons start having a hoedown, it’s really darned creepy. I love gothic visuals, and from the very first shots of Mickey in the rainy, windswept countryside, this is full of them. Whether it’s the eponymous house moving from side to side as the wind blows it around or something as small as the way the rain moves, there’s something iconic and cool about The Haunted House when it goes full gothic. So much of what we’ve come to expect from gothic films was shaped by early films like this, so it’s exciting and revealing to rewatch all these years on.

The really exciting action comes, of course, after Mickey enters the house – pushed in there by a malevolent tree (what is it with trees and malevolence?). Ub Iwerks and Walt have a huge amount of fun imagining creepy situations for Mickey to get himself into, and the short executes them all perfectly, my favourites being the self-locking padlock, Mickey’s sentient shadow, and the barrel of bones he falls into at the short’s end. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and gothic horror that works so well… until they all start dancing for a super long time.

Don’t let that put you off though. The Haunted House may not be an unqualified success, but it’s still a success and definitely worth watching by the light of a pumpkin with a toffee apple hanging out your mouth.

Until next time… sweet screams.

(So bad. Again.)

Destination Star Trek and the Joy of Fandom

High quality picture of Wil Wheaton - in the middle, white shirt
High quality picture of Wil Wheaton – in the middle, white shirt

On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of visiting Destination Star Trek, a convention dedicated to the famous Galaxy Quest rip-off of the same name. I’d debated with myself about going in the months leading up to it, partly because while I love The Original Series, I’ve not a huge amount of knowledge about the likes of Deep Space 9 and Voyager, partly because I find conventions so darned difficult. Regular readers will know I’m a bit shy so wilt in big crowds, but they’ll also know I’m trying to break out of that: so I went…

And had a really good time.

I attended with my brother-in-law, who was autograph hunting and got an awesome art print signed by various cast members along with a picture with Christopher Lloyd (who appears as a Klingon in The Search for Spock). I’m not quite as into autographs, so I just wandered around, taking in the replicas of the Original Series and Next Generation bridges where attendees could have their pictures taken, and the awesome (but sadly rather small) art gallery that was erected. It was lovely to just have a casual stroll and see what was going on.

He's so angry about being confused with a magician
He’s so angry about being confused with a magician

As this was a convention there was, of course, a lot of cosplay and while I’m not a cosplayer myself, I love seeing other peoples’ efforts. There were Klingons, Borgs, Seven of Nine, and even a woman in a dress made entirely of tribbles. I really wanted to ask some of them for a picture, but lacked the courage. I’m still a work in progress in that regard. I’ve got another convention (a general one rather than one specific to a particular franchise) and hope to push myself a bit more because the only real progress I made here was talking to some guy called William Shatner while he signed my brother-in-law’s print for me (I was stepping in while my brother-in-law was in another queue).

He… was…. everythingyou… wouldeverHOPE… HE WOULD BEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Spock and Kirk, just about to drop the freshest cut of 2016
Spock and Kirk, just about to drop the freshest rap album of 2016

My favourite moment came when I was watching people have their picture taken on the Next Generation bridge. There was a huge queue and you could see every single person get gradually more excited as they got closer to being called up. Kids and parents, boyfriends and girlfriends, brothers and sisters, elderly husbands and wives… they all queued up for hours just to get on that set. One young woman who was on there own looked like she was going to explode with joy as her moment came. She sat in the captain’s chair, smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever seen outside of a Disney film, and left again, smile still in place. A moment that lasted seconds, a memory that will last a lifetime. It was one of the loveliest things I’ve seen in a while, and a definite highlight of what everyone agrees is pretty much the worst year in known history.

Why was I so taken by her? Because that’s what fandom is all about. It’s been a pretty rotten few months for fandom. DC fans seem to think they’re in some bizarre war with critics, Ghostbusters fans proved that while they ain’t scared of no ghosts we should all be flippin’ petrified of them, and a subsection of Star Wars devotees still think that Jyn Erso should be banned from life cos she is a wimmin. Yet here, on this little replica of a piece of fiction, this young woman found absolute joy, just as we all should when we engage with the things we love. After all, why on earth would we continue to follow something that makes us as angry as Ghostbusters fans were this year?

This Pokemon adds little to the story beyond cuteness. And isnt that enough!?
This Pokemon adds little to the story beyond cuteness. And isn’t that enough!?

I keep hoping that Disney will bring their D23 Expo to Europe as it’s simply too difficult for me to get to California. I would smile as much as that young lady on the TNG bridge if they did because that (or a Spielberg convention) would be my happy place. Just wandering around the convention floor, never mind taking in all the sure-to-be-awesome events, would be enough because that’s one of the wonderful things about conventions: being around likeminded people who love what you love. It’s what makes me sad about finding it difficult to talk to people, and what makes me sad about how exclusive some fandoms are becoming: why on earth would you want to limit the amount of people who can take part? The more people (the more diverse people – and Trek is a very diverse fandom) the merrier.

So while I wait for Disney to realise there’s life outside of Anaheim, I’ll just continue to use this blog as my own little convention, and talk to the lovely friends I’ve made through it. Because that’s what conventions are about. That’s what being a fan of something is about.

Now, anyone wanna cosplay Frozen?


Mouse House Movie Club #6: Frozen

Kristoff's Fonzie impression wasn't fooling anybody.
Kristoff’s Fonzie impression wasn’t fooling anybody.

Welcome to The Mouse House Movie Club. Each week (or whenever I get the chance), I dig out a Disney film (either animated or live action) from my shelf, pick a Disney short, and watch both together in one superb evening of Disneyfied goodness. I then write about it in a blog much like (well, exactly like) the one you’re about to read. So, without further ado, here’s this week’s edition of The Mouse House Movie Club.

Short Film: Nothing. Ok, I know I said I was going to watch the Goofy short The Art of Skiing this week, but this is a slightly different edition of Mouse House Movie Club, and it seems a little unfair to write 100 words on The Art of Skiing and then a few thousand on Frozen. So I’ll watch Goofy next week.

Feature Presentation: Arendelle’s in deep, deep, deep, deep snow in Frozen.

Beware the Frozen Heart
Regular readers of Kids Riding Bicycles will know I’m rather fond of Frozen and have written two long blogs (here and here) focusing on it. I’d planned on not covering it for a while on Mouse House Movie Club because, well, when you’ve written two essays on it, what’s the point in writing a third. However, recently I’ve been gripped by a desire to rewatch the film, so figured: well, I may as well watch it as part of this here Disney strand. So here it is.

Problem is, I’ve written about the film as a representation of anxiety and I’ve written about it in the wider context of Disney’s current Golden Age. So what else could I possibly write about? For a long time, I didn’t really know, but then I remembered a piece I read on Medium that criticised the film in some depth. Written by Dani Colman, it’s called The Problem With False Feminism (Or Why Frozen Left Me Cold) and it (as the title suggests) explores the film from a feminist perspective, drawing some very negative conclusions. After re-reading the article, I decided to use it as a structure for this piece

Now, before getting underway, I’d like to caveat this entire piece by stating that the article is an incredible piece of writing. Writing is difficult; writing thousands of words about one film is even more difficult, really time-consuming, and massively frustrating. Her piece is clearly a labour of love for Colman (as this is for me), and she makes some decent points. Frozen passing the Bechdel Test really doesn’t count for much (indeed, the fact that some films don’t pass it doesn’t mean that those films aren’t feminist), and the fact there isn’t a wedding and that one of the protagonists doesn’t end up with even a sniff of romance doesn’t matter either. Cinema is an artform, not a checklist with boxes that need to be ticked in order to be or not be one thing or another.

However, I still fundamentally disagree with this piece. So let’s go through the article’s main points and I’ll put across my perspective.


Her brain’s a bit betwixt
Let’s start with Anna as she’s the sister who comes in for the most criticism, criticism I feel is deeply unfair. Asking the reader to name things that define Anna, Colman says the following about the character.

“She’s beautiful, in a gives-Barbie-body-dysmorphia kind of way. That’s par for the course with Disney heroines, except for Merida and Mulan. She’s clumsy, which would be endearing except that it seems to be the de facto flaw for heroines who aren’t fully-developed enough to have a real flaw — and yes, this would be the point where I compare Frozen to Twilight. Anna’s clumsiness doesn’t move the plot. It doesn’t affect the outcome of…anything, really. It isn’t something she has to overcome — like Mulan does — thereby displaying strength or determination. It’s just a trait she has so that we will find her more approachable: a cold, hard, marketing decision.

“What else does Anna have going for her? She isn’t intelligent, no matter how many words she can spit out per minute. If she were, she wouldn’t rush into an engagement with Hans, nor — for that matter — leave a man she barely knows in charge of her kingdom while she rides out in the snow without a coat. She’s certainly self-absorbed, using the first opportunity to make Elsa’s coronation all about her; and she’s vain, believing absolutely in her ability to talk some sense into Elsa despite having had no relationship with her sister for what looks like roughly ten years. She has no awareness of her surroundings (riding out in the snow without a coat), no awareness of her own limitations (the cringe-inducing mountain climbing episode), and no awareness of the consequences of her actions (provoking Elsa not once, but twice). She’s outspoken, yes, but she’s also rude; she’s condescending towards Kristoff and belligerent towards her sister; and she has no ambition beyond finding her one true love — more on that below.”

While much of what Colman says here is true (she is clumsy, she is a little rude),  Colman looks at these traits purely from one angle, without entertaining other, more positive, reasons. For example, Anna doesn’t have a coat because she’s more concerned about her sister’s safety than being warm. (1) She doesn’t have an awareness of her own limitations because she doesn’t see herself as having any and, even if she does, is too concerned about her sister to be held up by them. She’s rude, perhaps, but aren’t we all to some degree; she’s vain (damn, my hair looked good today), and yep, also belligerent towards her sister. But then again, if I’d been shunned by my own flesh and blood for ten years, at a critical juncture in my development and directly after my parents had just died at sea, I’d have issues with that person too, especially if she had the gall to tell me who I could and couldn’t marry AND tell me I know nothing of love. It’s the wrong attitude to take, but it’s natural,  understandable and – most importantly because this is one of the film’s core points – forgiveable. (2)

Colman accepts this to a degree, noting that Anna’s flaws are likely caused by her childhood loneliness, but then seeks to undercut this.

A little social awkwardness is probably to be expected for a girl who’s lived in almost total isolation for…three years. Yes, I’m extrapolating a little here: we certainly don’t see Anna interact with anyone aside from her sister and parents until Elsa’s coronation. But think about it logically. After the ice incident as children, Elsa may be isolated — both by her parents and by her own fear — but there’s no reason for the King and Queen to isolate Anna too. They almost certainly still have official functions to attend to: we know from Elsa’s coronation that the monarch is responsible for negotiating trade arrangements and treaties, so it would be extremely irresponsible for the King and Queen to hole themselves away like their daughter. Seeing what enforced isolation does to Elsa, does it seem likely that they would force the same upon their non-powered daughter?

It seems far more likely that Anna is only shut inside the castle long-term after her parents die, and text on the screen tells us explicitly that only three years pass between that and Elsa’s coronation. Three long, lonely, boring years, I’m sure, but three years that seem to send Anna far further off-balance than lifetimes of isolation do to other Disney princesses. Unlike, say, Rapunzel, Jasmine or Aurora, Anna has spent some fifteen years of her life in relative normality, presumably experiencing culture, friendships, and perhaps even her first crush in that time: all the things a normal aristocratic teenager could expect to experience. And even in the three years spent shut in the castle, what about the servants? Given Anna’s natural boisterousness, unless Arendelle is really classist, I find it hard to imagine she didn’t interact with and even make friends among the castle staff, whom we know exist because frankly it’s far more believable than Elsa and Anna doing their own laundry.

I think everything Colman’s saying here is reasonable; in fact, I pretty much agree with it. While there’s no definitive way to prove or disprove the details of the ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman’ years, Anna must have had some level of connection with the (reduced, after the incident) staff, likely attended official functions, and probably even saw Elsa, who had to eat, bathe, and do other normal day-to-day things. Anna doesn’t lack for company then, but company alone doesn’t banish loneliness; in fact, it can only exacerbate it.

It’s possible to be surrounded by people every single day of your life and still be isolated. If you don’t connect with the people you’re mingling with, if you don’t feel like you have anything in common with them, that’s isolation. And that’s exactly what Anna is suffering through. Here we see an excitable young girl bounding around the room, so desperate to play that she wakes up the moment dawn breaks, and the only people she has to play with are her parents and adult servants. She can’t connect with them, she can’t have anything in common with them. So she’s lonely. She misses her sister and she has no-one to ‘replace’ her with. She doesn’t have any sense of companionship and that’s a much deeper, much more tragic sense of loneliness than simply not having people around. (3)

Her loneliness is further highlighted by ‘For the First Time in Forever’. Colman accuses Anna of having no aims but finding a husband, but that’s simply not true. Analyse the song, and you’ll find that the first verse doesn’t make any reference to love at all. She’s more excited about seeing the palace’s mass of salad plates than she is of potentially finding a suitor. Anna tells us how excited she is about windows, doors, balls, dancing, hell even her confusion about whether she’s happy or merely a bit gassy before getting to the subject of love, and even then it’s almost as a side thought: “I can’t wait to meet everyone. *gasp* What if I meet the one!”

Did... did... she, like, count them?!
Did… did… she, like, count them?!

At this point, the song becomes something else. Anna starts singing about how she’s going to be “the picture of sophisticated grace”. She says that she’ll be dressed in a beautiful gown and linger coyly against the wall. She’s creating an idealised vision of her perfect night, but she can’t keep it up. She whacks herself in the face with the curtain drape, flings her fantasy man (a bronze bust) into a cake, and by the end is so overwhelmed with the chocolate she’s stuffing into her face that she can barely sing. Not for the last time, Frozen is hinting at its main theme: self-deception. Anna wants to be sophisticated, charming and beautiful, like all those paintings she compares herself to in the gallery, but really, she’s a massive clutz who finishes the song walking into a horse. It’s exactly why she re-enacts all those romantic paintings. She wants to be them, but knows she’s simply not that person, so she forces the fantasy. She forces herself to be the ideal she longs for.

‘Love is an Open Door’ makes that fantasy real, but again Anna forces it. A remarkable piece of songwriting, and an even better bit of storytelling, this is ostensibly a duet, but look carefully, and it’s pretty much Anna soloing. She starts the song, cuts into Hans’ sections (“…sandwiches!”), and when they’re singing together, she’s practically drowning him out. She’s a teenage girl whipping out her hairbrush and acting out scenes from Titanic in the bedroom mirror. Hans, meanwhile, is a two-bit TV medium, waiting for Anna to reveal just enough of herself to be able to offer something meaningful, something she’ll relate to, in order to sell the lie. Finally, Anna has the picture perfect romance she’s been longing for. It’s all a con, but that doesn’t really matter because, as Olaf says, “when life gets rough I like to hold on to my dream.” That’s all Anna’s doing here: clinging to a dream to cheer herself up.

I've been searching my whole life to find my own place, but I haven't found one yet so I'm gonna steal it from you
I’ve been searching my whole life to find my own place, but I haven’t found one yet so I’m gonna steal one from you

Does that really warrant the kind of treatment Colman gives her? Definitely not, and it’s certainly not the treatment another character from Frozen writer and co-director Jennifer Lee gets. Like Anna, Wreck-It Ralph is desperate for validation. He’s a bad guy who wants to be good, and is willing to put his whole game at risk, indeed the whole arcade at risk, to get what he wants. Vain, selfish, self-absorbed. So why does Anna get ripped apart, but Ralph not? Why is Anna held under a microscope, while Ralph’s flaws are seen as part of an heroic, redemptive narrative? I honestly have no idea. Whatever the reason, I’d no more want Ralph’s imperfections to be removed from the story than I would Anna’s. Because that’s what good storytelling and good character writing is all about: flaws, vulnerabilities, and imperfections. Anna has loads of them, and I love her for them.

Put on a show…
Such flawed characters litter Frozen. Even more than Anna, Elsa’s arc is about how flawed she is and the expectation on her to not be flawed. “Be the good girl you always have to be,” she sings in ‘For the First Time In Forever’, before delighting in proclaiming that the “perfect girl is gone” during ‘Let It Go’. She’s utterly obsessed with this idea of perfection, and it’s not for no reason that her development mirrors that of an anxiety or OCD sufferer. She hits Anna with her powers, so stays away. This works, so her anxiety and compulsions tell her to keep doing it because it’s achieving what she wants it to achieve: keeping Anna alive. As with all anxiety and OCD, it grows in scale to the point where gloves and total isolation are a must that could result in catastrophe if denied for even a few seconds. Nothing less than perfection is acceptable. (4)

On Elsa, Colman has the following to say:

Elsa is no better than her younger sister. She may even be worse. We’ll deal with her crippling self-repression later, because that isn’t actually her fault, but this is a woman who steadfastly refuses to accept any help offered to her. Her sister spends the better part of ten years trying to reach out to her (admittedly misguidedly), and Elsa shuts herself away so steadfastly a psychiatrist might call it pathological. She’s an absolute mess of characterological self-blame and avoidance, and she deals with her issues by speed-skating away from them.

Running from her problems once is one thing. Elsa is far from the first Disney character to believe — even correctly — that s/he has done something terrible, and to attempt to outrun the consequences. But Simba, faced with the reality of the harm he has inflicted on the Pride Lands, makes the conscious, independent choice to turn around and set things right, while Quasimodo literally brings the walls of Notre Dame down around him to right his wrongs. Faced with her misdeeds, Elsa sets a golem on her sister and has to be dragged back to Arendelle in chains when she’s knocked unconscious by her own chandelier. This is not a strong woman. This is a frightened, repressed, vulnerable woman who starts running at the beginning of the movie and doesn’t stop until her sister literally turns to ice in front of her.

Aside from the opening two sentences (and the bit about Simba, who has to be literally smacked around the head by a baboon and get a pep talk from Darth Vader to see sense), I can’t say I disagree with Colman here. Elsa is “frightened, repressed, vulnerable”. She runs, doesn’t stop running, and her signature moment, ‘Let It Go’, is a power ballad about her legging it at Usain Bolt speeds.

But as with Anna, that’s the point.

Let’s look at ‘Let It Go’ in more depth, because it’s a fascinating song that’s become a victim of its own success. The songs in Frozen act – as all great musical numbers should – as Shakespearean soliloquies: moments of great emotional turmoil that are so significant they can’t simply be spoken, they have to be given special significance, in this case by being sung. This means that when you take the song out of the context of the film, it becomes problematic. Soliloquies need the context of the rest of the play to convey the intended meaning, and great musical numbers do too. Because they’re not just good songs; they’re good acts of storytelling.

Once ‘Let It Go’ became a hit in its own right, the song became an anthem of self-discovery and self-actualisation. That’s fantastic, and I’m not in any way going to take that away from it. There’s an army of little girls who found incredible strength in listening to, singing, and acting out ‘Let It Go’, and it doesn’t matter one jot if I personally think it’s a misinterpretation of the song’s meaning. They were inspired by it, and that’s all that counts.

However, in the context of the film, when viewed instead of just listened to, and when deconstructed, ‘Let It Go’ is really about self-deception.

I hate when people do that!
I hate when people do that!

The song starts slowly, more like a lament than a power ballad. Because that’s what it is really. Elsa’s worst nightmare has come true – she’s been exposed – and she’s having to face up to the fact that she’s now stuck in “a kingdom of isolation”. “The wind is howling,” she sings, “like this swirling storm inside. Couldn’t keep it in. Heaven knows I tried.” This is a song of failure. Everything Elsa’s worked towards, everything she’s sacrificed her happiness for, has gone hideously and irrevocably wrong.

But as we progress and Elsa begins to accept her new situation, the song picks up and changes tone. There’s more pace, more rhythm. The whole thing becomes more epic, from a musical point of view at least. But the lyrics keep returning to the analogy of the first stanza, in which Elsa compares her emotional turmoil to natural, destructive phenomena. “Let the storm rage on,” she sings. Most interestingly, the bridge has her belt out the following: “My power flurries through the air into the ground/My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around/And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast.”

It’s all very stirring stuff, but it doesn’t sound particularly pleasant. Flurrying power, spiralling souls, frozen fractals. Elsa’s describing a fundamental splitting of her identity. (5) This is Frozen by way of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, as Elsa’s entire being is coming to pieces. Fair enough you might think. She’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon; putting one thing in the past to move onto a better future. And that’d be quite true, but Elsa isn’t becoming something better. “Here I’ll stand,” she says. “And here I’ll stay.” There’s no future for her. She can’t spread her wings and fly off, she’s doomed herself to a life of self-exile. Her tragedy is that not only can’t she see that, but she actively refuses to let herself see it: “The fears that once controlled me/Can’t get to me at all!” Elsa, if that were true, you’d be down there confronting the people who now think you’re a witch, now building blocks of ice to protect yourself from them.

Does this mean Elsa’s weak? As I did with Anna, I’m going to compare Elsa to male equivalents: Superman and Spider-Man in Superman II and Spider-Man 2. Here we have two characters acting pretty irresponsibly. Both desert their duties in order to live the lives they want, with Peter Parker at one point in Spider-Man 2, even ignoring a mugging after he stops being Spidey. I ask the same question I asked of Ralph: why are these male characters undergoing a significant and heroic life journey, while Elsa is being irresponsible? Why should she be tarnished, but the men not?


I’m gonna tell him…
Speaking of which… Critics were so wrapped up in the depictions of Anna and Elsa that few paid attention to the men: Kristoff, Olaf, and Hans. It’s important to shine a light on these characters as they continue the themes expressed through Anna and Elsa. Indeed, Kristoff acts as a mirror to both of them. He’s delusional and so separate from society that his only friend is a reindeer that he sings a duet with, filling in its sections himself to solidify his view of the world and his place in it (I’m great, the world’s terrible, and I don’t want to be a part of it so I’m going to act standoffish). It’s signature denial, just as ‘Let It Go’ is, just as ‘Love is an Open Door’ is. (Indeed, if Anna is metaphorically singing a duet with herself in ‘Love…’, Kristoff is literally doing so in ‘Reindeers Are Better Than People’).

Except the world isn’t terrible, it’s just imperfect. Just as he’s imperfect, and just as Anna and Elsa are imperfect. He tries to hide his imperfections (all of which are identified and laid bare by the trolls later on) by keeping the world away from him and acting like the bad guy, but he can’t pull it off. Because for all his rough-around-the-edges flaws, he’s “the honest goods” and that’s because those imperfections have helped mould him into someone empathetic and kind. On the flip side, Hans has crafted an identity that, for all anyone can tell, is perfect: a tall, handsome, kind, selfless prince. Of course, it turns out to be a facade, because in Frozen‘s world, perfection is a sham and the only true perfection is imperfection.

Interestingly, while he can’t see his own problems, Kristoff can see them in others, criticising Anna for wanting to marry Hans so quickly, and uttering one of the film’s most important and yet overlooked lines at the end of ‘In Summer’: “I’m gonna tell him!”. Anna admonishes him (“Don’t you dare!”) and he keeps quiet, but he’s absolutely right and even repeats his belief once she and Olaf have left: “Someone’s gotta tell him”. The song’s inherently funny, of course, but like everything in film, it’s laced with double meaning. Substitute Olaf’s continual fantasies about heat with some act that’s certain to end in death and you begin to see how sad the song is. If someone told you that they’re going to run out into a busy road, jump off a cliff, shoot themselves in the face, or lie down on train tracks, what would you say?


"Olaf, mate..."
“Olaf, mate…”

Of course you would, and that’s what Kristoff wants to do at the end of ‘In Summer’. “Olaf, mate, your song is very lovely, and the seagulls you’ve got doing that dance, and your little snowball mate in the hot tub… buddy, it’s all cool. But if you go out into the sun, you’ll melt and die, and that would be very sad.” Anna tells him not to because she, like Olaf, like Elsa, like Kristoff when dealing with his own life, is sold on the fantasy. She’s hooked on the drug of dreams that she indulges in “when life gets tough”, because really, who isn’t? Who doesn’t delude themselves with acts of self-preservation? Who doesn’t need to construct comforting lies to keep themselves going? It’s why we binge on terrible TV, why we love superhero films, why we tell ourselves that we can easily work off that last slice of cheesecake in the gym tomorrow. Sometimes, we just need to delude ourselves into feeling happy, even if, as the characters in Frozen find out, we can delude ourselves too much.

And this is where my complicated relationship with Colman’s essay comes to a head, because yes, I agree with her: all the characters in Frozen are flawed and vulnerable and stupid. They have loads of negative attributes (they have loads of good ones too that Colman overlooks, but let’s not get sidetracked). But the film explicitly tells us that those negative attributes exist in every single person in the planet and that we should accept those negative attributes because…


Everyone’s a bit of a fixer upper, that’s what it’s all about…
From the moment I saw Frozen, I fell in love with ‘Fixer Upper’. More than ‘Let It Go’, more than ‘For the First Time in Forever’, this is Frozen‘s key song. Because here, the film shouts and screams and literally makes a song and dance about weaknesses, vulnerabilities and mistakes. ‘Fixer Upper’ demands that we and the characters in the film forgive them, each other, and ourselves for all the mistakes made, and sets Anna and Elsa (especially Elsa) up for the redemption that Colman claims neither earn.

To make this point, it’s worth quoting the entire last section of the song.

We’re not sayin’ you can change him,
‘Cause people don’t really change. (Girl Trolls: Ahh Ahhh)
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad,
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way.

Female Trolls: Throw a little love their way.

Bulda and Female Trolls: And you’ll bring out their best.

All Trolls: True love brings out the best!
Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper,
That’s what it’s all about!

Cliff: Father!

Female Troll 3: Sister!

Male Troll 6: Brother!

All Trolls: We need each other
To raise us up and round us out.
Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper.
But when push comes to shove.

The only fixer-upper fixer
That can fix a fixer-upper is

True! true!
True, true, true!
Love (True love)
Love, love, love, love, love
Love! (True love!)

I’ve previously spoken about how the song’s refusal of change is revolutionary for Disney, so I won’t touch on that again. Instead, I’ll focus on “people make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed”. Almost every character in Frozen finds themselves in a position of extreme stress, anger, or fear at some point, and they almost all make bad choices. Anna and Elsa’s parents (who have received a wonderful defence from the whip-smart Sisters Switch) are faced with a Sophie’s Choice style situation when Elsa hurts Anna: keep the children together and risk one dying, or separate them, and risk them both being a little sad. A difficult decision, and Mr and Mrs Anna and Elsa pick the lesser of two evils. Many others would do the same.

When Elsa flees Arendelle, that’s another moment of extreme stress and fear. She’s spent most of her childhood and her entire adult life being cripplingly scared of this scenario. Now it’s not only come true but been exploded to an agonising degree: now she’s not only putting Anna at risk, but her entire kingdom and her entire family legacy. What can she do in this scenario? She can’t control her power, she admits that in ‘Let It Go’, so she does the only sensible thing she can do: flee. Colman calls this and her celebration of the fact she has “no rights, no wrongs, no rules” irresponsible (6), saying that Elsa is “a woman who steadfastly refuses to accept any help offered to her” and that she “deals with her issues by speed-skating away from them”. But such an approach simply doesn’t work.

Telling Elsa to ‘deal’ with her problems and condemning her for not doing so is as much use as telling someone with depression to cheer up, someone with OCD to stop obsessing, or someone with anxiety to stop worrying. It is – excuse the language – fucking stupid. Not to mention grossly offensive, outrageously insensitive, and staggeringly unhelpful.

Worse things happen at sea
Worse things happen at sea

Elsa does not deal with her problems well, but she’s not bad or wrong because of that: she’s a flawed person who deserves support and love. You could even argue that she and Anna are incredibly brave in the way they deal with their problems. What I see in Elsa is a woman of immense strength, a woman who makes herself miserable to protect her sister, and then makes herself even more miserable to protect her kingdom by locking herself away from it. She’s a timebomb, and she wants to make sure nobody’s around when she goes off.

What I see in Anna is another incredibly strong woman, someone who refuses to give up on her sister no matter how bad things get. During the reprise of ‘For the First Time in Forever’, it brings tears to my eyes when she – with the most wonderful sincerity – insists “sure you can, I know you can” after Elsa says that she can’t stop the freeze. Imagine going through what Anna goes through and still having the strength to believe during that horrible, terrifying moment where Elsa’s refusing help and everything seems to be going wrong.

And this isn’t just me talking: the film believes it too. ‘Fixer Upper’ reveals that true love is the ultimate force: the only thing that will fix a fixer upper and bring out their best. When we get to the finale, things really, truly could get worse than they are. Everything has gone wrong. Elsa has delivered the fatal blow to Anna, Hans has revealed himself to be a villain, and the storm is getting even worse. Many of us would give up, but because – and this is not only the wonderful thing about Anna and Elsa but all Disney Princesses – our heroes have love in their heart, they don’t.

Elsa could go insane and destroy the whole kingdom. She thinks Anna’s dead, so she’s got nothing to live for. Why not? Why not take revenge on a cruel world that inflicted this on her? Simple: because she’s got too much kindness within her to do that. I know that’s a somewhat strange thing to say: congrats Elsa, you’re a good person because you didn’t freeze everyone to death! But again, by the film’s own definition, that’s heroism. During ‘Frozen Heart’ at the start of the film, we’re told to “beware the frozen heart” and at the end, Anna tells Hans that he’s in possession of one. Despite literally being ice and snow, Elsa avoids becoming a frozen heart, and considering how easy Hans’ fall is, that really is an achievement. (7)

And Anna… Don’t tell me Anna isn’t a hero. Anna saw her parents die, was rejected by her sister, went off to save her sister, got rejected by her sister again, got struck fatally by her sister, got betrayed by the man she thought was the man of her dreams, and is on the verge of death when… she sees Elsa and with her dying act staggers over to her to stop her being killed by Hans. Imagine the strength of personality it takes to not be consumed by cynicism after all that. Could you still believe after all that? Anna does and so saves her sister, her new love interest, his reindeer chum, their curious snowman friend and, oh yeah, the entire kingdom.

This too
This too

‘Frozen Heart’ tells us that love and fear are the two forces that can “cut through the heart, cold and clear”, and Anna and Elsa succeed because no matter how bad things get, they ultimately hold the former over the latter.

So when Colman talks about these characters not being strong, I don’t buy it. When she talks about them not having motivation, I don’t buy it. When she talks about Elsa not earning her redemption, I don’t buy it. More than that, I don’t think the film objectively supports it. By Frozen‘s own definition, they are strong, they do have motivation, and she does earn it, because throughout the whole film, they cling to the one thing the film values above everything else: true love and an unfrozen, fearless heart. Their reward for that – their justly deserved reward – is to realise the film’s other major point: that we’re all flawed, that we’re all vulnerable, and that we’re all fixer uppers.

Because that, as we know, is what it’s all about.


(1) We seem to be fixated on women wearing appropriate attire in adventure films at the moment. Jurassic World‘s Claire was admonished for wearing heels, Anna here is criticised for not having a winter coat. I understand why (we need cool, kick-ass, prepared heroines), but Claire went into work that day expecting to entertain potential sponsors, not be chased by dinasaws. So she dressed for business, not adventure. Anna woke up that day expecting a lovely coronation at the height of summer. So she dressed for a party, not a snowy hike. Frodo, on the other hand, was told he was taking the Ring of Power to Mount Doom and asked to prepare himself. He decided barefeet were appropriate. Stupid Hobbit…

(2) a) A couple more points about Colman’s Anna criticism. A) Anna is way too trusting of people, even going so far as to fling herself off the side of the mountain and into Kristoff’s arms in what she describes as being like “a crazy trust exercise”. Anna’s entire life is a crazy trust exercise, and sometimes that works out (her relationship with Kristoff, her faith in Elsa) and sometimes it doesn’t (Hans). However, this is a girl who’s led a sheltered life and is desperate for love. She has no real reason to distrust people and she actively doesn’t want to distrust them as that’s another barrier to finding love that she simply doesn’t need.

(2) b) (Yep, it’s a footnote in a footnote!) Anna isn’t just clumsy, she fundamentally can’t function in society because she hasn’t been able to interact with it normally, or at least not on her terms. Her clumsiness is a physical manifestation of her mental immaturity.

(3) Colman also overlooks what the Princesses she unfavourably compares Anna to have that Anna doesn’t: a true friend. Rapunzel has Pascal, Cinderella has the mice, Ariel has Flounder and so on. I’d contend that when it comes to averting loneliness, one good friend is better than 100 acquaintances. Anna doesn’t have one good friend, she doesn’t even have acquaintances. She just has an army of servants, maids, and royal hanger-onners.

(4) Also noteworthy is the Frozen Fever short, which shows that Elsa hasn’t really shed herself of this quest for perfection. She may have accepted herself and her powers, but she’s still striving to achieve 100%, in this case giving Anna a perfect birthday that will help her atone for all the ones she missed despite suffering from a cold. People really don’t change…

(5) This is a literal truth. During ‘Let It Go’, when she’s trying to persuade herself she’s happy, Elsa gives life to Olaf, the happy side of her personality. Later, when she’s trying to get Anna to leave the ice palace, she creates Marshmallow, all the angry and frustrated parts of her personality. Olaf is the person Elsa wants to be, Marshmallow is the person she fears she has no choice but to be, and it’s interesting to follow Olaf through the film and view him through that lens. ‘In Summer’ isn’t just a jaunty ode to heat, it’s Elsa yearning for the warmth of humanity. And the scene between Anna and Olaf by the fire isn’t just Olaf being cute, it’s Elsa saying all the things about love she never could say before. Frozen returns time and time again to this idea of people being something they’re not, sometimes for bad, sometimes for good.

(6) Out of context, Elsa’s dismissal of responsibility could be problematic, but in context it’s her only way to survive. Elsa isn’t a normal case; she’s not neglecting that boring spreadsheet at work or taking a left without indicating. She has the ability to kill people and no way of controlling that; hell, she can’t even hold a sceptre without freezing it! The responsibility, especially at her young age, is immense. She didn’t ask for that responsibility and has done nothing to deserve to be doomed to it. Her joy at being rid of it is understandable. Wouldn’t you want rid of such a terrible burden?

(7) Just like Kristoff, Hans shadows Anna and Elsa, reflecting their isolation but highlighting their inherent strength by falling to his frustration, while Anna and Elsa stood up to it and beat it.

Next time on Mouse House Movie Club, live action and animation hybrid hijinks with Amy Adams, that guy from that medical show, and Susan Sarandon morphing into a dragon. It’s the soon-to-get-a-sequel, Enchanted. Oh, Goofy too. Ah-hyuck!

The Princess Plushes

One of the reasons for this blog is to help me get more comfortable with myself and be more confident. So I figured I’d post my little Disney plush shelf. 

So we’ve got Rapunzel, Elsa, Anna, Cinderella, Tink, and of course Chewbacca, the best Disney Princess, alongside Wicket, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Judy Hopps.

I love these pushes because they’re so well made. Classic in style and a nice size, they’re great for displaying. This is a little shelf in my bedroom and I think they look quite cool up there.

The Anna and Elsa ones are quite special to me as I bought them at a time I really needed to hear the lesson Frozen teaches. I’ll go through this in my Mouse House Movie Club post this week, but I was desperate for the strength those characters show, and I wanted to ‘pay it forward’, so I bought and donated an Anna doll to a gifts for underprivileged children drive. I loved the idea of a little girl opening Anna on Christmas Day and finding some strength from her. 

Anyway, I post this because I’ve had plenty of male friends tell me that women would be put off by this shelf and that it’s not very cool. Maybe it’s not and maybe it would put a woman off. But hopefully there are lots of other people who’d find it as cool as I do.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky: Pluto’s Judgement Day

It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies! 

Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #1: Pluto’s Judgement Day

As far as the classic Disney characters go, Pluto is second only to Donald Duck in my affections. He’s a truly wonderful silent actor, capable of expressing great emotion with the curl of his mouth, blink of an eye, or wag of a tail. The best Pluto cartoons are the ones that allow him to experience a range of emotions, plunging him through joy, sadness, terror, and all the way back again. That’s exactly what Pluto’s Judgement Day does.

We open with Pluto chasing a cat through the countryside. He follows the little fella through a muddy puddle, and then chases it inside Mickey’s house, making an awful mess and climbing all over his Mouse master, which ticks the big guy off a bit. Understandable really, he’s probably got Minnie coming round for a bit of special alone time. Wit-woo!

Anyways, Mickey tells Pluto off, and Pluto looks a bit sad and goes for a sit down by the fire. So far, so unscary. (Unless you’re scared of oversized talking rodents shouting at their dogs. Which…. I suppose…. I mean… Mickey’s pretty terrifying if you think of it really. Has anyone ever done a realistic take on Mickey? Like, a giant talking actual factual mouse. That’s… that’s really horrifying.)


Back to the short. So, Pluto’s asleep and starts dreaming the dream of a guilty pup. He’s lured to a massive feline lair (think Castle Greyskull but, y’know, with cats), clapped in irons (which are brilliantly animated to look like snakes) and put on trial. By a kitty judge in front of a kitty jury. Poor Pluto.

The concept itself isn’t inherently scary, but this was 1935, the early days of animation. Before Disney became the family friendly studio it is now, before Snow White birthed the feature length cartoon, before animation was considered a legitimate art form. These early shorts are sometimes darker than we’d expect from Disney because the studio had to establish itself, and that drive makes Pluto’s Judgement Day what it is.

Which is terrifying. Really, really terrifying.

The kitty lair (GREAT name for a Bond Girl, by the way) is suitably dark and dingy, the feline judge wears a red gown and has sticky uppy ears that look like little devil horns, and the jury all hiss and shout at Pluto, baying for his blood. The whole thing is shot with stark light producing long villainous shadows that are more reminiscent of something from a 30s noir or Universal horror than what Disney would become.

The cats also sing.

Yep, they sing the whole time, which weirdly makes it so much scarier. They’re celebrating Pluto’s demise, they’re enjoying subjecting him to a trial he can’t possibly win. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares, the kind of scenario where you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t escape. If I were a dog, this is undoubtedly the kind of bad dream I’d have.

Of course, Pluto realises it’s a dream, wakes up, and learns a valuable lesson about not chasing cats. But this is a short that stays with you. Like all the best scary films, it seems benign, but is really, truly unsettling. It’s therefore a perfect way to start off this special strand of the Mouse House Movie Club.

Until next time… ghoul-bye.

(That was terrible. Sorry)