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Immersed in Movies: Pretty Females vs. the Bold Feminism of 'Frozen'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 1, 2013 at 2:12PM

Now that the "Frozen" "pretty female" controversy has thawed, let's take a look at how Disney shatters the fairy tale model with two strong female heroines.

"It helped having Jen as both writer and director and wanting to raise the level of performance, telling you what’s on the mind of the characters and what the subtext is. And we explore the right subtext without going too hyper-real."

In the case of Menzel (the star of Broadway's "Wicked"), DiSalvo even moderated "Inside the Actors Studio"-like sessions between her and the animators. They benefited greatly from observing her singing and breathing, the way she moves her diaphragm and her hips back, and the tension in her neck. It lends enormous power to the showstopping "Let It Go" performance (written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez), which also has to be considered the Oscar frontrunner for best original song.

It's a liberating moment for Elsa after being afraid of her magical power for creating snow and ice (the result of Disney's latest technical innovations). She flees her kingdom, embraces her inner self, and builds an Ice Palace from a single snowflake in a flurry of artistic triumph. And the exquisite animation blends in perfectly with the music and lyrics. The late Howard Ashman ("The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast") would be proud.

By contrast, Anna is fearless and unafraid to say what's on her mind, even if it's embarrassing and makes her seem goofy. Her awkward meet cute encounter with the handsome prince Hans (Santino Fontana) is the stuff of rom-com. It's a delight to see such vulnerability displayed with her eyes, brows, hands, and perky mouth under Rebecca Wilson Bresee's inspired supervision.

"My interest is in emotional truth," DiSalvo proclaims. "I want to make sure that the takes we have from the actors aren't super cleaned up. I want to hear lip smacks, I want to hear breaks, I want to hear the unique cadence. Even in the songs you hear their breaths. It's going for that familiar feeling you've had in your life. For me, it's a natural progression from 'Tangled.' We're learning new tools and we're good at this CG.

"I want to pick up where we left off in 'Frozen' on my next film. I want to use that breath, I want to use that subtext, that juicy screen test. What can we find? I want to use that as a starting point."

But the Disney animators have definitely turned a corner with Anna and Elsa, learning to hold back, wait, and let the emotion speak for itself, using just the right timing, gestures, and phrasing. It has nothing to do with being pretty and everything to do with their humanity.

This article is related to: Frozen, Disney , Immersed In Movies, Women in Film, Animation, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards, Awards, Oscars

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.