Short Film Review: Elsa (2020)


Elsa is a candid and endearing, coming-of-age short film that turns the table on gender conventions and sticks it middle finger up, gracefully, to purists who think boys should never attend dance classes. A pixie-faced, long-haired child with a sweet, chirpy voice, does not hide its obsession with Queen Elsa from Disney's movie Frozen. With Frozen-themed costumes, dolls, and even a chime box completing a fan girl's collection, the child is seen happy being in the whimsical, make-believe world created by these merchandise and the unmistakable theme song 'Let It Go' that child simply cannot let go of.

This snow queen fantasy is about to be disrupted as the child's formal education looms. [Spoiler alert] A shocking haircut scene reveals the gender of the child and suddenly, the film doesn't feel so Disney anymore, but in fact, something better. Stanley is a young boy who is about to enter school and interact with the outside world. With the Disney fantasy he has gotten too comfortable with, the real world appears to be daunting. We are led to empathise with Stanley as he has to go through some new adjustments such as trying out a new uniform and being mistaken for a girl.

Living in a conservative Asian society, many people still subscribe to codes of gender-specific behaviour. Gender subversion is common in many films but typically involved older characters. Elsa the film takes a bold leap and questions behavioural rules where they matter most - kids. What is also remarkable about the film is the film director's relationship with the subject matter. Lim Jen Nee, the director, is Stanley's mother. In putting an unclouded lens on her child and giving us an honest vlog of a precious chapter of his life, we are observing not just the child but an important conversation that is happening between mother and child. Indeed, Jen Nee's film forces us to reflect more deeply on inclusive parenting and nudges us to say 'let it go' to prejudice.

Elsa was screened at SeaShorts Film Festival 2020 and the film also received a Special Mention from the jury.

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