This morning’s headline was expected (and, frankly, inevitable) but still gratifying: The House of Representatives is drawing up articles of impeachment against Trump even as I type, signalling a new chapter in the horror story of his so-called presidency. Finally! And yet, with the GOP in control of the Senate, will anything come of this attempt to fight corruption at the highest echelons of the US government? I honestly have no idea. I also have zero power to impact the outcome. Given that reality, I must adopt an approach my therapist calls “radical acceptance,” and wait with everyone else to see what happens with the current shit show that has overtaken our nation’s capital. Sigh…
Fortunately, my therapist also taught me that distraction is a valid method of dealing with the emotional distress typically associated with situations—like our current national constitutional crisis—that require radical acceptance. Over the years, I’ve learned that my favorite forms of distraction include writing (obviously), reading, and watching movies. While writing is necessarily solitary, I prefer to share the other two forms of entertainment with others—especially movies.
Winter holidays are extra-awesome because there’s usually at least one blockbuster release to look forward to. When I was a kid, no matter where we celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving—either in Chattanooga, TN, with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, or in Kalamazoo with friends and neighbors—we could always find time to check out a movie. That’s why the big movies come out over the holidays, isn’t it? So that everyone can escape the family fray and rest their weary minds for a couple of hours in a darkened theater? One of my favorite family memories involves piling into a crowded theater with my aunt and cousins, popcorn and candy in hand, and cheering as Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto) declared, “I am no man!” right before she killed the Witch King of Angmar.
Ah, good times, good times… And yes, Eowyn is that LOTR character, the one our daughter Ellie was sort of, unbeknownst to Kris at the time, named after.
This year, Kris and I continued the Christie family holiday movie tradition by attending not one but two movies over Thanksgiving weekend: Frozen 2 and The Sound of Music Sing-along. The first selection shouldn’t come as a surprise. We have an eight-year-old and six-year-old twins, so Anna and Elsa the Sequel is necessary fare. Seriously, we already deprive our kids enough by having zero video games in the house; we can’t make them complete pop culture pariahs. I still remember how the girl next door, whose parents refused to buy a television, used to stand outside my living room when we were little watching TV through the windows, and, yeah. I think we’d rather avoid that level of Ludditism.
Kris and I were differently excited by the weekend movie line-up. I couldn’t wait for Frozen 2 because I was excited to see a sequel to the first Disney princess movie ever to focus on a positive relationship between sisters instead of on romantic love. And, I admit, because of the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign on Twitter. Would they or wouldn’t they? I suspected they wouldn’t, but I was curious all the same.
Meanwhile, The Sound of Music is one of Kris’s favorite movies despite the fact she’s not generally sentimental (being emotive is not popular in Minnesota) and can’t hold a tune to save her life. But it’s a lovely film—if you ignore the problematic construction of girlhood (“Your life, little girl, is an empty page/That men will want to write on”—UGH), the unrealistic depiction of the Anschluss, the lack of anti-Semitism in Nazis both onscreen and off, the stereotyped shrew character in the Baroness, and the stereotyped Jewish and gay character in Uncle Max. Still, if you don’t look too far beneath the surface, the well-loved classic has beautiful scenery, fun music, and anti-Nazi messaging, which is more than a lot of older movies can say.
It’s not just Kris’s favorite, either. On long road trips, we can put The Sound of Music on and know that the kids will be happy for three whole hours. Plus the soundtrack is wonderful, which helps make up for the fact that our minivan’s entertainment system has been commandeered by the DVD player. In fact, our kids like the movie so much that Alex decided to dress up as Maria Von Trapp for Halloween this year. This is why the sing-along sounded like such a perfect experience for our family.
First up, though, was Frozen 2. The day after Thanksgiving, we headed to the theater in true Christie family fashion with a party of eight—our family of five, my parents, and my mother’s sister who was visiting from Florida. We reserved our seats ahead of time on the Regal app, one welcome change from the bygone days of Kalamazoo holiday theater-hopping when we had to arrive waaay in advance to find that many seats together. Kris doled out snack bags to the kids, and we waited impatiently through various commercials (an unwelcome change from the movie days of yore) and previews until, finally, the movie started.
Normally I find my interest wandering during children’s movies. Pixar and other animation studios have honed their ability to appeal to parents as well as kids, but I often find the pacing lacking or the plot over-obvious or the character arcs not the most compelling. But as with Moana (my favorite kids’ movie for so many reasons!!) and the first Frozen, I found myself interested throughout and not checking my phone to see how much time was left. The pacing felt perfect, the intense moments not overly frightening for our sensitive kiddos, the humor engaging, and the music enjoyable. Plot-wise, Elsa and Anna once again demonstrate their individual power and mutual devotion as they [SPOILER ALERT] discover their grandfather’s atrocities against the indigenous Northuldra and, what’s more, attempt to remedy the actions that led the spirits to curse the Enchanted Forest thirty years earlier. Honestly, the plot was significantly more involved than I expected. As an article in the LA Times points out, the story “touches on grief and how to battle through near-crippling depression…. [and] also nods to worldly topics including man-made environmental disasters and colonialism.”
Frozen 2 does not shy away from political issues. Does that mean Disney decided to give Elsa a girlfriend? No, of course not. But they didn’t not give her a girlfriend, either. They introduced a new character, Honeymaren, who fans (including myself) hope might one day fill the role of Elsa’s love interest. But given that the second installment in the franchise took 6 years to drop, we could be waiting a while for Frozen 3.
In the meantime, here are my Elsa-is-super-gay queer subtext moments from Frozen 2. Beware, for spoilers be ahead…
- Early on, in a scene set pre-Frozen, young Elsa and Anna are playing with little snow people Elsa created with her magic. When Anna makes the boy and girl kiss and then wants to marry all the snow people off, Elsa visibly cringes—which is totally how a baby gay would react. Just sayin’.
- Later, when [SPOILER ALERT] Elsa and fam are hanging out with the Northuldra, the indigenous people who live within the Enchanted Forest near Arendelle, Elsa sits near a campfire with the aforementioned Honeymaren, a young Northuldran woman. A baby reindeer is curled up on Elsa’s lap, and as the women talk, they both pet the animal. At one point their hands almost touch—or maybe they do, out of the camera’s line of sight—and the whole atmosphere is so GAY that I leaned forward to catch Kris’s eye. She smirked back at me over Sydney’s head, and I knew she shared my sentiments.
- Finally, at the end of the movie [ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT], Honeymaren is the one who says to Elsa, “You know, you belong up here [in Northuldra].” Elsa is immediately all, You’re right! I know just who can be queen of Arendelle when I abdicate! (This scene is actually on Youtube, in case you want to watch.) Again, Kris and I exchanged knowing glances. They’re actually holding hands during part of this scene (see below). How are we not supposed to ‘ship them?
The super-gayness of these exchanges did not go unnoticed by Frozen’s queer fandom, which was already sizable thanks in part to Elsa’s power ballad from the first movie, “Let it Go.” This is the song where she proclaims, “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.” Whether intentional or not, those lyrics sound like something a queer teenager might sing. Plus, Elsa’s parents’ insistence that she isolate herself and hide who she is from the rest of the world is, unfortunately, also very consistent with the LGBTQ+ teen experience. The adult queer experience, too, for that matter. If you’re interested in reading more about the queer coding in the first Frozen, check out this article “Conceal, Don’t Feel: A queer reading of Disney’s Frozen” penned by queer and children’s lit professor Angel Daniel Matos.
But for now, back to Frozen 2. The credits were still rolling when I pulled out my phone and searched “Elsa x Honeymaren” on Twitter. It didn’t take long to discover #Elsamaren—their shipping name—and down the rabbit hole I immediately fell. Soon I was browsing Frozen 2 tweets, Instagram posts, fan art, fan fiction, screen grabs, you name it.
Ah, Tumblr, I’ve missed you so.
Here are some of my favorites from the newly minted Elsamaren fandom:
It wasn’t just fans who spotted these homoerotic moments, either. Three days after the movie premiered, Refinery29.com, a website aimed at millennial women, published an article called “Frozen II’s Director Explains Why Elsa Doesn’t Have a Girlfriend (& This Is The Key Word) Yet.” Kelsea Stahler, the writer, notes, “While Honeymaren and Elsa don’t share any explicitly romantic moments… there are hints at something more, even if the filmmakers say that wasn’t their focus.”
Reading the subtext is nothing new for queer fans. Sometimes it feels like that’s all we do, especially where blockbuster movie franchises are concerned. For once, though, it would be nice to have the subtext lead to something more than… additional subtext. An entertainment website claiming to have inside information on Disney’s plans insists that Elsa will be confirmed as a lesbian in Frozen 3, but I’m not new to this whole queerbaiting thing. While I hope #Elsamaren happens, I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t.
One reason I don’t expect Disney to come through in Frozen 3 is that homophobia is still alive and well, especially when children are in the intended audience. Just take a look at some of the comments on the Refinery29.com article:
“Leave sexual preference out of cartoons, kids don’t need to watch that,” says troll #1, clearly unable to parse that Anna’s relationships with Hans and Kristoff have already brought “sexual preference” front and center in these particular animated features.
“Bringing in lesbianism into a story like this would completely ruin the magic of these films. I don’t care about everyone’s theories or desires to make the world a one love type of place, I feel we need to let our kids be kids and enjoy the innocence that films like this bring,” says troll #2, equating compulsive heterosexuality with innocence.
To which I would respond, “Well, I feel you’re homophobic trash, so…”
I mean, seriously, lesbianism as anti-innocence? Troll #2 is basically saying that LGBTQ+ relationships are impure, sinful, not fit for children to witness. Sheesh. So many idiots on the Internet are incapable of even a little critical thinking. Twitter is full of comments like these, only ruder. Straight people make merciless fun of queer fandoms, frequently proclaim that “Not everything needs a homosexual character” (which, good thing, because Disney isn’t exactly teeming with queer representation), and/or simply denigrate us by posting vomiting emojis at the idea of Elsa being gay.
Right back at ya, homophobes.
Heterosexist and homophobic jackasses like those found on Twitter and in the Refinery29.com comments (I know, never read the comments!) are not confined to the virtual world, unfortunately. They exist in plentitude in real life, too. Case in point: The Sound of Music Sing-along.
Two days after experiencing the fabulousness of Frozen 2, Kris and I took the girls to the sing-along, excited to see the family favorite on the big screen. What we didn’t know was that the sing-along would more closely resemble Rocky Horror than a Disney film. At the theater door we were handed a plastic bag of props, and then we headed in to find seats. We picked a row near the back where we could make sure the kids could see, since it was an old theater with a stage built well before the advent of stadium seating, and then settled in, buzzing with the excitement of our new adventure.
Soon a colorfully-dressed emcee came out on stage to joke with the crowd and lead us through the audience participation callbacks. These included booing anytime the Nazis came on, waving plastic white flowers during “Edelweiss,” holding up assorted props during “How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria,” awwing every time Gretel spoke, and last but not least, hissing or making a cat sound every time Baroness von Schraeder—the Captain’s love interest before Maria arrived—was referenced or appeared on screen.
At this last one, Kris and I exchanged a questioning look, both of us sensing something odd about the callback. But then the costume contest began, and I rushed Alex up to the stage to participate in the kids’ round. There was only one other child competing, so the emcee gave them both prizes. Looking back, that was our first sign that the sing-along was aimed more at adults than families, a fact we became increasingly aware of once the film began.
Don’t get me wrong—singing along to the words flashing on the screen karaoke-style was fun, as was some of the audience participation. The people in that theater knew the movie backwards and forwards, and sometimes they would call out funny things that made the rest of the audience erupt in laughter. But as the movie went on and the Baroness appeared more and more, the experience took a different turn. The hissing and catcalls directed at the Baroness were loud and continuous, and the mood felt increasingly hostile, as if the audience members were feeding off each other’s negativity. More than once Kris and I exchanged uneasy looks over the heads of our children. This wasn’t what we’d expected at all. We’d anticipated lighthearted fun, not aggressive heckling of a middle-aged female character.
“I like the Baroness,” Kris said to me at one point, raising her voice to be heard over the hissing.
“So do I!” I replied. “This feels like misogyny, especially when he’s the one who’s cheating.”
“Right?” she agreed, shaking her head.
At the intermission, I asked the kids if they wanted to head home early and watch the second half in our living room, but they weren’t ready to leave yet. So we stayed, and fortunately the Baroness soon recognized that it would be best if she took herself out of the running for the Captain’s heart. Even then, the audience couldn’t let her exit the scene gracefully. They hissed and laughed and shouted things at the screen. One man’s voice rose above the others: “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass!” The audience erupted in laughter as Kris and I looked at each other, shaking our heads yet again. This was really not what we’d expected.
A few minutes later, the Captain found Maria in the gazebo and they danced and sang the lovely classic, “Something Good.” But the audience, still all riled up from the previous scene, couldn’t just let it be lovely. They kept catcalling, and any time the characters came close to each other, people (mostly men, judging from the voices) would yell, “Kiss her!” Not, “Kiss each other” or even just “Kiss” but “Kiss her.” As if Maria was a literal object and the Captain the main character of the film. The obnoxious chant reminded me of some weddings I’ve been to where the guests tap their glasses and whistle at the bride and groom until they kiss, as if it’s the newly married couple’s job to perform for their audience.
When Maria and the Captain did kiss, the audience members set off their theater-provided poppers in unison and cheered as if the war had been won and Hitler was dead—all because the heteros on screen had gotten together at last.
Honestly, I couldn’t wait for the movie to be over.
The kids had fun, so that’s something. But as we drove home with the Frozen 2 soundtrack playing on the minivan’s sound system, Kris and I quietly agreed that we would not be buying tickets next year to the annual Sound of Music Sing-along. We were both disappointed. Given how much we’ve enjoyed the movie and its music as a family, we had hoped that this might be the start of a new holiday tradition that combined both sides of the family—the Christie love of going to movies and Kris’s love of The Sound of Music.
Still, the afternoon wasn’t a total loss. The audience at the sing-along applauded Alex’s costume, and an older man sitting behind us gave her a high-five when we returned to our seats after the costume contest. The kids had a good time singing along with their favorite songs, and we were together. Not only that, but the hostility toward the Baroness probably went over the girls’ heads. Everyone had a good time booing the Nazis in the movie because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy booing Nazis?
I think I’ve had enough audience participation to last for a while, though. Turns out those unspoken rules most of us observe at movie theaters—don’t talk amongst yourselves or to the characters on the screen, and definitely don’t bring props from home to wave around at odd moments thereby blocking the view of the people seated behind you—are fairly decent rules.
Well, having enjoyed a few caroling expeditions with your family (and thank you for that because it was the first time in my life I wasn’t embarrassed to sing out loud), I say have a sing-a-long at your house next year. Invite some friends over and hand out props, but give them the positive and family-friendly vibe that you want. Also, congratulations on making me almost want to watch Frozen II.
That’s a fantastic idea! Thanks. 😊 I miss those holiday parties. They were fun, weren’t they? Also, the kids say SEE IT. It really is a fun experience, and feels more like a Broadway hit than a kids’ movie. Well, except for the talking snowman, of course. Happy holidays! Hope all is well with you and your family.