Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Disney movie Frozen, which I watched this past week with some of my friends. If you don’t want spoilers, please don’t read below. TL/DR summary: Great movie, go see it! [also, the paragraph below, while containing no plot points, does have a short discussion of an event in the film, so if you want to be totally surprised stop here, if you want a little non-spoiler commentary, read the paragraph below, then stop... :)]
Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the film – I’d heard mixed things, a review by someone who hadn’t seen it, but who hated it because it destroyed the Ice Queen story, and some people who had seen it and loved it. But I love Idina Menzel, and I’m always game for a fun movie (though not usually in the theater). So my friends and I went to a morning showing (fewer people, less crazy, etc.), and I absolutely adored it. I am sooooo going to see it again. In addition to being a really fun film, there are a couple of really awesome things that Disney doesn’t often do – it puts the self-worth of the female protagonist(s) on their own terms, rather than those of the male supporting characters. And there is an *amazing* scene where they model consent incredibly well, and that absolutely made me giddy, because that is the model of a relationship we want young people to see. (The line went something like: “I could kiss you right now!… I really want to kiss you… may I kiss you?” and then he *waited* for her response!) But the thing that stuck with me was something I wasn’t expecting… there’s a couple of really interesting parallels to autism and how we treat autistic kids/people (and disabled kids/people in general), and I really related much more closely with Elsa (the sister/ice queen) than I did with Anna, the protagonist/official Disney Princess for the film. That’s what I’ll be discussing below. But all I have to say is that if you haven’t seen the film yet, I think it is really worthwhile. Obviously, it’s not perfect, but I was really pleasantly surprised. And it made me happy. Oh, and I’ve had “Let It Go” on repeat basically continuously since I saw the film… I think a good 1% of the 12 million views it has on Youtube are courtesy of your truly. I’ll get my hands on the actual soundtrack next month when my budget allows…
Do not read below this if you don’t want spoilers. Sorry, I’m not skilled enough to make a “click here to read below the fold” so I just have to trust that you, my lovely readers, are smart enough to stop here if you don’t want spoilers for the film.
DO NOT READ BELOW HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT DISCUSSION OF THE STORY!
Despite the fact that obviously, Anna (the younger sister) is the main character of the film, and we’re supposed to relate strongly to her, I found myself much more attracted to her older sister, Elsa. From the very beginning, when Anna climbs on top of Elsa in bed begging to play, and I was reminded of how my little sister used to do similar things to me. But more than that, I saw a lot of parallels to how my family (and how lots of people) treated me and my autistic traits when I was growing up.
Elsa’s “power”, the ability to cast ice and snow wherever she is, especially when it comes in contact with her hands, is unique, and it makes her seem special to her sister. But as Elsa grows, her powers grow with her, and become harder to control. Anyone else see a parallel to autistic traits and development/growth of autistic kids?
When Elsa is officially “diagnosed” by the trolls, they tell her father to lock her up and keep her hidden. [edit: as was pointed out in the comments, and as I noticed the second time I saw the film, the trolls don't tell Elsa's parents to lock her up, they do, however, warn of scary things and tell them she needs to learn control, as well as remove all mention of magic and conceal all things related to it. It is Elsa's parents who have such an extreme and unnecessary response.] They are to hide this abnormality, and to keep her sister and the rest of the world away from her. This is ostensibly for Elsa’s own protection. They basically place her in solitary confinement, and instead of teaching her how to wield her powers, they teach her to suppress and hide it. They even hide her whole identity from her sister. And when she is unable to do what they want, unable to appear normal, they lock her up. They bind her hands (where her powers come from) with gloves – quiet hands – and they force her to conform or be locked away. This is what happens to autistic kids. We are forced to conform. We are forced to suppress our autistic traits, to hide them from everyone. And when we fail, as we often do, because autism is an integral part of who we are, we are hidden from view instead. There isn’t any help for us to learn how to work with what we are given. We don’t have the opportunity to learn and grow with our powers, we are told to suppress them or there will be dire consequences.
When she is being crowned, and has to remove her gloves, you see her muster every tiny ounce of self-control she has, so that her hands will work the way “normal” people do. She is able to do it, but only briefly. Because that’s not how her body works, and there are limits to how much anyone can do to “pass” as normal, and she is finding her limits. And when she is pushed past her limit later at the party, she has a meltdown, and her magic spills out uncontrollably. She accidentally hurts someone she loves, terrifies everyone around, and spirals into a complete shutdown, running away from everyone in the process. I’m sure I am not the only one who has had this experience…
And heck, she even has a song that I related to:
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in; Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well now they know
But there is a happy ending, of course. In the end, Elsa learns that her powers aren’t so bad. She learns to control them, to work with what she has. While it isn’t easy, she learns how to be her true self, and when others see that her true self, powers and all. Others see that her powers are just a part of the person who she is, and they love her for all of her, strange power and all. Only when she finally stops hiding herself, does Elsa truly gain acceptance. She isn’t normal, but she is a person, a wonderful person, with some very unique things to bring to the table. And when that happens, everyone is happy.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Elsa is an autistic character. I’m not saying that autism is a superpower like the magic in the animated film (obviously it is totally different!) All I’m saying is that Elsa’s childhood and coming of age experience that is portrayed in the film has a number of parallels to my own life, especially based around my being autistic. And I wanted to recognize that, because it made me really really happy. I almost never relate to movie characters that way, but I did, and it made me smile.
So overall, I have to say well done, Disney, very well done. Of course there were some issues with the film, but nothing is perfect. Sure there were some missed opportunities (yet another white, blonde haired, blue eyed princess). Sure, there were some ridiculous over-sexualization moments that were a little unnecessary (Ice-Queen transformation, anyone?). And sure, they mangled the original story to the point of near unrecognizability, with some pretty weird plot holes, but what Disney movie doesn’t? If we can’t suspend our disbelief and just enjoy a fun, animated, obviously fiction story, then that’s another problem. I think this is going on my list of awesome movies I want to own that make me smile and feel good.
Elsa’s main song, “Let It Go” is here: