The animated Disney film Frozen (2013) may seem like an expression of pure girl power, but can we really, as the song goes, “let it go” at that? Rustad doesn’t think so, noting “a certain insidiousness” to this popular and thus highly influential film. Following this provocative opener, Rustad provides some film theory overview: film offers both the pleasure of looking and ego identification. He then delves into the use of gender and romance in 14 Disney movies that he believes fall within the “Disney Princess film” genre, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and including not-so-obvious choices, such as Hercules (1997). Giving each selection its own chapter, Rustad asserts that while early films had shallow romances and passive heroines, Disney’s later return to this genre, from The Little Mermaid (1989) onward, advanced on such origins with mixed results. He makes the case for the way Aladdin (1992) conveys “a very positive and healthy vision of romantic love,” yet Tangled (2010) disappoints with “pandering insincerity.” As for Frozen, the sneer put on Elsa at the end of her big song and Hans’ shift to villainy are among the “flaws which at first seem inconsequential next to so much quality work, but really drag the film down upon careful analysis.” An essay on Enchanted (2007), the only live-action selection and only film assessed out of release-date chronology, wraps up this collection, with Rustad praising it as “mature and balanced.” Debut author Rustad, who unfortunately never states his particular credentials, has written a series of engaging if not particularly groundbreaking essays that will be enjoyed by film buffs as well as parents feeding/tempering princess fever. Rustad quite rightly expresses concern about sneaky sexualization (e.g., Ariel’s arched back) and mixed-message merchandising, including Mulan’s warrior heroine “swooning on Shang’s shoulder on the cover of a glittered diary.” Yet he also credits “the ability of children to form their own judgments and values.” Overall, a thought-provoking, evenhanded examination.
Accessible, entertaining analysis via a feminist lens.