Forgiving “Let it Go”

Let it go, let it go And I'll rise like the break of dawn Let it go, let it go That perfect girl is gone! Let It Go, Sung by Idina Menzel, Frozen.png

I didn’t like Frozen. Well, let’s back up. I didn’t like how saturated the market became after the release of the uber popular Disney film Frozen. And that centered around the movie’s super popular song Let it Go. I hated the song, I hated every child who sang the song, I hated every teen on Youtube singing covers of the song.

I hated that it was “the anthem” for the youths.

And if I sound like The Grinch, you are right.

But Frozen didn’t fire on all cylinders for me for more than just the inundation of the song. I wasn’t wowed by the story. Now, mind you, it’s a stunning film and I could have my arm twisted and see some of its appeal. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over the film. Frozen centers around Princesses Elsa and Anna. Elsa has ice powers and Anna has BenDelaCreme’s terminal delightfulness. Elsa does her best to hide her ice powers and Anna continues to be painfully optimistic. After one party, Elsa’s ice powers are outed, she runs away dramatically and  builds an ice palace (as you do) and Anna has to go on a mission to “save” her sister. There’s a boring subplot about Anna wanting to marry the first man she meets, Hans, and another boring subplot of Anna trying to rationalize her dumb choices to male lamp that carts her around. Hans ends up being an Alex Jones-style false flag villain and Elsa nearly kills Anna with ice magic. Elsa laments this and the moral of the story that the truest love possible is one between sisters despite the fact that Anna still shacks up with the male lamp.  

This movie just dances along the line of being obviously made for children while also being aggressively allegorical for the adults in the room in parts. Disney has recently been very meta with its movies and Frozen really kicked off that trend. Anna’s determination to marry the first man she meets is a staple plot point of the 90s Disney movies and every other character around her is insistent on telling her that her assertion is wrong and is bad and she should feel bad. The abundance of cute sidekicks is also very 90s Disney, so all the terrible ways Olaf is maimed and damaged during the film is an interesting inversion of that trope.

But we’re here to make amends to Let it Go, the breakout anthem of the entire damn film.

It was actually another Idina Menzel song that made me forgive the transgression that was Let it Go.

It’s Defying Gravity from Wicked. Many of you will know I am a huge musical theater person which makes the next statement a little strange: I don’t like the musical Wicked. Now, I do love the music of Wicked. Popular makes me smile, For Good makes me cry and Defying Gravity…let’s get into that.

Defying Gravity is right towards the end of the musical and it’s all about Elphaba breaking free of Glinda and her narrow view of how to do things right. The song is triumphant and beautiful and I do relate to on so many ways. Elphaba uses this song to finally free herself of the expectations set upon her by society, Glinda’s gaslighting and her dead-end relationship with The Wizard. It’s beautifully sung and beautifully performed and it does all the right things for me as a nerd, musical theater person and person who loves Idina Menzel.

My relationship to the song is a little more than just appreciating a damn fine musical number. As someone who felt held down by a hometown littered with ghosts, a family that was prone to gaslighting me into staying in one place and a myriad of societal expectations that only exhaust me, I wanted to defy gravity. I wanted to fly free. I wanted to reconcile all those feelings and be the best me I could be from precisely 278 miles away.

And it was as I belted the lyrics to this song at the bus stop before the sun rose just outside of my tiny apartment, I realized something: this is what the people who so passionately sang Let it Go must feel like. This feeling must be the exact same of finding form to the feelings you’ve had for so long and finding a song that so perfectly illustrates your desire to just break free. Disney has plenty of anthems like that from Part of That World to How Far I’ll Go; every generation of Disney fan has theirs. For me, it was Reflections because of course it was and for a whole generation of children, it’s Let it Go. And the parallels to Wicked and other coming of age narratives don’t stop there. Frozen allegorically can be seen as one of the best metaphors to coming out as LGBT+ put to film.

As Elsa becomes comfortable with her powers and who she is, she stops concealing and not feeling and lets it go. For many that had to remain in the closet, it’s liberating to live your truth and not have to hide who you are. Many find a family or build one of their own, they find safe places that do not make them compromise and they relish in being who they really are; just as Elsa did when she built her ice castle, built her minions and changed her clothes and let down her hair: she became the most free version of herself and that’s wonderfully powerful to those who have felt that way or are trying to feel that way.

Just because at first it didn’t do anything for me does not mean that I can or will continue to deny the importance of this narrative to a new generation. Just because something isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean I have to demean its importance to others.

And for being a stick in the mud about Frozen for literally years now, I do apologize. It’s not my job in this world to steal someone’s thunder. It’s my job to be understanding, as those have been with me. To be critical without being cruel. To be skeptical without being cynical. To be intelligent without condescension. That is what I am here to do.

A Tepid Apology to Beauty and the Beast (1991)

_Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke whe (4).png

I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast when I was little. I loved that movie. I was obsessed with the ballroom scene, the dancing cups and the at the time (and still mostly) fantastic animation. But I was a fickle child and that movie didn’t stay my favorite for long.

Like many of the things I put away in my childhood, I did put away many Disney movies. College brought with it cynicism and cynicism meant that I was, for a moment, too good for Disney movies. I was one of those folks on the internet with all the feminist hot-takes about Disney movies and if I could take those years back, I would. For the longest time, I was convinced that Beauty and the Beast was about Stockholm Syndrome and incredibly anti-feminist and overall, just a poor piece of media.

That was until the live-action remake made me reconsider my feelings.

Now, there are plenty of videos (like this one and this one) that far more eloquently explain the myriad of failures of this movie; so I’ll keep this portion brief. The live-action film calling out the “mistakes” of the animated movie only stand to make the live-action movie seem weaker.

Making Belle more “feminist” simply makes her a lamp of a character. Gaston having PTSD is…insulting. LeFou being gay is…also insulting. None of the changes the live-action film makes to the animated classic help the plot, character or themes of the film.

But this isn’t about the new movie. This is about me falling back in love with the animated classic.

For now, a synopsis: Beauty and the Beast (the Disney animated classic) was released in 1991 and is based off a classic French fairytale. The story surrounds Belle and her desire to find adventure in the great wide somewhere Her father goes off on a fetch quest and ends up in the claws of a Beast, The Beast, in a castle on a mountain that in no way looks scary at all. Belle decides to find her dad, because of course, and goes up to the not scary castle and sees the not at all scary Beast. The Beast bargains with Belle, saying that if she stays in the Enchanted Castle full of living enchanted dinnerware and such with him forever, he’ll let her dad go. Belle agrees, because plot, and magic castle-based bonding ensues. Eventually, Belle has to go back and rescue her dad from the villain I forgot to mention: Gaston. There is a very dramatic castle battle and then The Beast ‘dies’ turns human only after killing Gaston and then the pair can go off.

There’s plenty to love about this movie in hindsight. It has amazing graphics that are still fantastic and whimsical, a soundtrack that is still lovely and voice acting that is still well done.

But I want to talk about what made me like this movie again and it honestly may surprise you.

It was Gaston.

Gaston as far as villains go is pretty special. If you watch the movie, despite all of his scary framing, he makes a lot of sense. He’s a not-so smart hunter who is attractive and has a semi-homoerotic harem. His pursuit of Belle makes sense; she’s the only girl who won’t fall for his charm immediately.

Gaston’s songs are actually what turned me more towards liking this film again. His main song where a group of men sing his praises is hilarious but also wonderful social commentary on what makes the muscle jock oftentimes so popular in society. But the more interesting song is The Mob Song, lead by Gaston as he whips up a mob to fight against The Beast. The song explicitly encapsulates fear-mongering, paranoia and refusal to listen to reason. That message doesn’t seem so off in this current socio-political climate.

But this is a tepid apology. I do still have issues with this film. It is for sure a kid’s movie and I can admit that but jeez, the tone here is a problem. This film has some seriously dark moments and then Goofy laughs thrown in. Really, most of the 90s Disney films have a tone problem but this film has some pretty awful tone shifts like Gaston literally falling to his literal death.

Which brings us to the part of the film that I still dislike: Belle. And that surprises many people. Folks would assume that me, being a bookish know-it-all, would love Belle. But I’m not a fan. She claims to want adventure and she starts off different and unique but the romance that has to happen between her and The Beast just bores me to tears. For someone who wants more than her small provincial town, she sure does settle down quick. I’m sure for some, she’s just fine, but for me, I’ve been bored with her for over two decades.

And the themes of the film still seem really washy to me, especially now as a critical reader and writer. The themes of wanting more and not judging people by their outsides are the two biggest we’ll tackle here. The theme of being small for your town is very 90s Disney but really, Belle’s wish isn’t met in the end, she moves literally down the street from her childhood home to a castle. The second theme of not judging a book by its cover is also undercut by the fact that The Beast doesn’t remain a beast and while, yes, I cop to the fact that a Disney movie couldn’t be so progressive that it would transcend species getting together, it’s an irk I’ve had even with the original novel: if the theme is that beauty can be found in even in the heart of a beast, it’s undercut by having The Beast be secretly actually hot. Phantom of the Opera handles that a little better because we come to find Eric as inwardly beautiful despite his physical looks (we’re ignoring all the places where Eric is really problematic for now but rest assured I have not forgotten about that).

But all of that aside, the animated classic is a classic for a reason. And while the critical response to the film seems to lose sight of what actually matters, I have one thing to say.

I am sorry.

This movie is still beautiful and full of heart and whimsy that does not need to be explained. The live-action film shows us that in very stark contrast. The logic of an enchanted castle of course falls apart once you think about it but that’s the literal point. It’s an enchanted castle, it isn’t supposed to make sense. Sure, Belle isn’t as self-actualized as we remember but that’s okay. It was the 1990s, the internet hadn’t invented feminism yet. It’s okay that the tone is weird and that Gaston doesn’t feel like a villain. It’s okay that The Beast is a jerk sometimes. It’s all okay.

It won’t take away from the fun, the whimsy and the love put into this film. It won’t take away that Tale as Old as Time may be one of the best animated sequences done ever, it doesn’t take away that the movie can make an entire generation sing Be Our Guest, it won’t take any of that away.

The film is better than I ever gave it credit for, and for that, I am sincerely sorry._Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he.png