16 January 2015

+JMJ+

Twelve Things about Frozen

12. You have no idea how much I wanted to like Frozen. I miss the Disney "princess movies" of my childhood, which took the studio's tradition of "princess movies" to an amazing new level. The first generation's Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora were nice and all, but they were a lot like porcelain dolls behind a glass wall--and it was obvious that the writers and animators had a lot more fun with the other characters in their movies. Then along came Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, whose unique personalities and voices leaped off the screens. They had an equally memorable supporting cast, but nobody ever stole their scenes from them. The latter three still set the bar for leading ladies in animated films, and I'm afraid that Elsa and Anna of Frozen don't come close.

11. Indeed, we're kind of back where we were in 1950s. Everyone's favourite Frozen character is Olaf the snowman. (Admit it!!!)

10. Many times while watching this, I wondered what the heck the filmmakers were thinking. And I came up with a few guesses. For instance, maybe they thought that having two princess figures instead of one would double the impact. Well, maybe it would have if the sisters had shared more screen time and been working as a team. But giving each one her own sub-plot and making one yin to the other's yang only halved the power of each . . .

But yeah, they are both adorable

Elsa's dramatic story of empowerment is undercut by its being the weaker of the two (I know, right?), while Anna's heroic journey to retrieve her sister and to save the kingdom is sold short by the lack of a proper villain. Who knew that evil foes were so necessary? =P

9. Instead of the conventional "good versus evil" dynamic, Frozen has a character who believes that there is something intrinsically evil about her that must be hidden away so that others will still see her as good. (How is there not a review of this on The Last Psychiatrist blog???) It is a subtle (or not so subtle?) parallel to something else that we like to say "dare not speak its name," though it is not limited to that: for these days, a lot of things that used to be kept very private are "let go" from the rooftops.

Conversely, a lot of things that used to dominate and to envigorate the public square
are now considered matters of private conscience.

8. Also, the world building is a mess. Arendelle has got to be the fakest faerie tale kingdom ever. It's vaguely European in the sense that it borrows a lot of the "codes" of European monarchies--but it's certainly not rooted in the traditions that give meaning to those codes. (Contrast it now to Disney's Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, which at least try to seem that they could have happened in our own Europe, once upon a time.) It's like a fantasy of the Europe-that-might-have-been if women had been seen as equals to men.

7. It's also a fantasy of the Europe-that-might-have-been without that pesky, backwards Catholic Church. And now you know who the trolls are meant to be. =P

6. All of which made me wonder why Disney didn't try to stick more closely to the source material, Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen. Yes, the studio is notorious for changing up the originals, but it usually keeps them identifiable. In the case of Frozen, if you happen to be familiar with The Snow Queen, you might think that their stories were similar . . . but you wouldn't know that they were the same.

Yet if you think about it, The Snow Queen is the sort of story that feminists would approve of. Instead of a passive damsel in distress being rescued by a prince, it has a brave and intrepid girl going to the rescue of the boy who is her best friend. And they don't fall in love and get married at the end of it, either, which would reduce their free relationship to something patriarchal (*cough*); but it closes with them as very good friends. Why not that story for the "girl power movie"?

Ironically, much of it has to do with the original boy being too passive--for these days, we want our boys and girls to work as a team. (I approve of that, by the way: it's the greatest thing I've noticed in married couples of my grandparents' generation.)

5. Since we get two girls, it's only right that we get two boys. And because having both of them follow the usual romantic story line would be too boring (I admit it!), we get some unexpected twists. I won't give all of them away . . .

. . . though those of us who "speak Meme" now want to kill me =P . . .

. . . but I do want to comment on the one that lays a new moral on with a trowel.

4. When two of our leads meet, they find that they like the look of each other . . . they start talking, and feel as if they've known each other all their lives . . . they see have a lot of adorable, idiosyncratic things in common . . . or in short, they fall in love at first sight. With a song to mark it! And the most insidious thing that Frozen does is make that a bad thing.

Now, not all Disney couples fell in love at first sight: in fact, without making actual tallies, I'd bet that there are more who don't than who do! And yet, when Frozen goes to the trouble it does to portray this kind of start to a relationship as an evil, it still feels like it is flipping the bird to decades of romantic tradition. Never mind that it wouldn't even have been produced if it weren't for the legacy of that tradition. Ungrateful, short-sighted movie.

3. So it is with some starke schadenfreude that I note that Frozen has really mediocre music. Say what you like about Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, but gosh, when they opened their mouths to sing, didn't their very souls sound wonderful? Well, the big song of this movie . . .

. . . a soaring anthem of empowerment and self-expression . . .

. . . Oh, Lord, I can't finish my own sentence. (*cry*) What makes it hurt even more is learning that Disney had originally intended to stick relatively closely to The Snow Queen, with one of the girls as the (proper) villain, until one of the co-directors heard the demo of Let It Go and didn't want to give it to a character on the level of a Nordic Maleficent. That's like thinking Poor Unfortunate Souls is so good (which it is!) that Ursula should get to be Ariel's iconoclastically cool best friend . . . or that Gaston is so fun (which it is!) that there should be a proper love triangle with Gaston, the Beast and Belle . . . or even that Be Prepared is so regal (which it is!) that Scar should get to be king instead of Simba. If you think that, then you don't understand villains.

But we seem to be in an "age" of faerie tale revisionism. Didn't the original Maleficent recently get her own movie, which sacrificed the Christological symbolism of the first Disney film to "girl power" and "the overthrow of the father"? Look, I'm a girl, too, and I like stories with round and interesting female characters, but the idea that women don't get happy endings because they are held back by men with power, and that what they need to do is to get that power for themselves is a mistake as old as the overreach of Lucifer. Can't we let our girls be girls and our villains be villains?

2. Back to the music so that we can all just admit it . . . Literally every other song in this movie is better than Let It Go. My own personal favourite is In Summer, which I also call "Olaf's Song"; but I'm a minority in my family, which would vote overwhelmingly in favour of For the First Time in Forever.

vs.
Mini face-off to tide you over until June!!!

You're all probably voting for the sisters' song right now . . . and not just because Josh Gad was allowed to warble through his rendition of Olaf's song. There's a certain punch that the lyrics are missing--and the funnier the song is supposed to be, the more obvious the omission gets. (And the more evident the late Howard Ashman's genius.)

1. If we let Frozen stand on its own, without comparing it to either its source material or its predecessors, how does it stack up? Let me count the ways . . .

All the potential of the sisters dynamic goes unrealised, while the attempt to make one of them a "woman of experience" merely exposes our society's discomfort around innocence. Meanwhile, nothing in the setting has real weight; the plot cuts corners and oversimplifies major points to smash the story within the running time; the songs are a mixed bag; and none of its fits together well. (The trolls, mate. The trolls!) Finally, the "act of true love" twist at the end was done better in [Secret Decoder Ring Spoilers Follow!] the more openly Marxist Maleficent (but best in Robin McKinley's novel Spindle's End . . . and now I've also spoiled the surprise that I was planning to write for Amy =P. But if you have a couple of hours with nothing to do, enjoy romantic comedies, and would like to brush up on the constantly evolving codes of pop culture, it's worth a watch. For Olaf.

Image Sources: a) Frozen poster, b) Elsa and Anna, c) The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Alan Marks, d) Team Hans vs. Team Kristoff

10 comments:

Sheila said...

Sadly I have to agree with you. We recently rented it (like a few days before Miriam was born - I was hoping I'd go into labor that night and didn't) and at the end we both agreed ... it needed less music, more plot; less Anna, more Elsa. Elsa's story is fascinating ... Anna struck me as just a ditz. Perhaps the more so since I am more of an Anna myself ...

I have to disagree with you about the subversion of love at first sight. I think the LAFS notion has caused a lot of really unhappy relationships ... perhaps formed by all those fairytales people were watching growing up. Girls need to be warned that just because they have an *emotional* connection with a guy doesn't mean she is destined to be with him. In the same way we get a subversion of the "let it go" ideology -- she DREAMS of being able to let it all go and "be herself," but that's a daydream ... in real life, our true selves can be destructive.

I don't see the connection to the gay agenda, despite every single Catholic news outlet trumpeting it. There are SO MANY things that are parallel to Elsa's powers -- things we are told are the bad parts of ourselves. On the one hand, simply repressing them doesn't help; on the other, giving them free rein is horribly destructive. We each have our own. Mine is my emotions. I spent so many years being told they were bad, and I was bad for having them, and I had to learn "self-control" which meant being like everyone else .... boy, would I have loved to run away to an ice castle and stretch my emotional wings! But I've seen people as emotional as me just turn into sappy people, rushing from relationship to relationship, "following their hearts," and I see that there is a danger there too. (Though I don't think I'd be even able to go that road, because I was trained so far against it.) So the lesson is balance -- learn to use your powers for good and not evil, learn how to prevent them from harming others. You can be you, but you can't be unfiltered you. The same message comes across in X-Men. (I love the X-Men franchise. I grew up watching the cartoon.)

I hated "For the First Time in Forever" and loved "In Summer." Easy vote there.

Now go watch "How Frozen Should Have Ended" on YouTube. It is the greatest.

Brandon said...

I could not stand this movie. Two things in particular got me:

(1) The music! Maybe we were just spoiled growing up in the midst of the glory days from The Little Mermaid in 1989 to The Lion King in 1994 when the soundtracks were one of the things people loved about the movies, but I just found the music for this movie to be agonizing. Even the better ones were fairly bland and unmemorable.

"For the First Time in Forever" is the least awful of one of the egregious musical offenses of the movie: singing mostly useless exposition. "In Summer" at least would have made a decent contributor to a real Disney soundtrack, so my vote goes with it.

(2) If the plot of your tale of female empowerment depends crucially on all the women acting completely irrationally at several intervals, you don't actually have any kind of plot of female empowerment. This gets me so much, because it's such an obvious thing to get right, and so easy to tell when you are getting wrong, and yet here they don't even get close to getting it right. Beauty and the Beast which has absolutely the least promising backstory and narrative framework for a strong female character of any Disney movie, nevertheless did extremely well with Belle by simply making sure that she avoided doing anything stupid or weak-willed. These two, however, act like raging stereotypes of silly women: ruled entirely by their emotions, unable or unwilling to think through the consequences of their actions for others, fickle in their motivations. Weak heads, weak wills, weak characters. I think part of the problem is that Elsa needed much more to her story for her actions to make any real sense.

It's also, as a side matter, a little weird that a Nordic kingdom far enough north to have icemen and reindeer can't handle snow. It's like cursing Seattle with never-ending rain; yes, it will in fact force some pretty hard choices, but no, it's not a dramatic effect.

Sheila,

The X-Men cartoon was awesome, and growing up with it is a major reason for my own like of the X-Men franchise overall. There was something where people, despite having to work with some very off-the-wall premises, managed to put together something worth watching, and did it repeatedly.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- While reading your comment, I kept thinking that I'd bring up the X-men next, but of course you beat me to it! ;-) I never understood the message of the franchise as, "You can be yourself as long as you have the right filters/restraints" (Dare I write, "boundaries"? LOL!)--though I see how that would work in the cases of Cyclops and Rogue, to name two people. But while this moral applies to superheroes whose powers come naturally (like Superman) or through an accident (like Spider-man), it needs qualification for people whose powers can be fairly described as a perversion of nature. The mutants in the X-universe hide their powers for reasons that are very different from every other superhero--but exactly the same as Elsa's. (With those gloves, she's the Rogue of the movie!)

The gay subtext is strong in the X-movies, but we also see the directors playing up the parallels to the Holocaust or to the Civil Rights movement, which I personally think are closer to what the X-men are about. Being born a mutant is quite like being born Jewish before the 1940s: you'd probably be genetically smarter than everyone else, but they'd view you with suspicion and resent your use of your "powers." But ultimately, the only way they could justify discriminating against you is to say that certain qualities associated with your race (whether or not you yourself have any of them) are genetic. And if that "bad part of yourself" is indeed written in your genes, then you have to hide what you are. Society may accept you if you put certain restraints on yourself, but what is the line between holding back something truly destructive and slipping into Harrison Bergeron territory?

This is also why the theory of evolution drives the "science" in the X-franchise: if that "bad part" is actually an example of natural selection, then it's not a bad part. The X-men franchise asks, as no other franchise before it, where the powers come from . . . but because it doesn't have a definite answer, everything is up for grabs. Neither does Frozen have an answer; Elsa's powers are just there, as the people's fear of such things are just there.

(Also contrast the modern world's fear of mutants and those of different races to, say, the Ancient Greek acceptance of people with extraordinary abilities: they were considered demi-gods and admired rather than feared.)

Love at first sight may not be the most practical way to go about things in real life, but it is a powerful symbol in a story because of the ideal that it represents. (You already know that I believe in Universals.) I really do find this movie's moralising twist, however well-intentioned and reasonable, to be a disparagement of innocence. But I will add that Anna's characterisation as a complete ditz (to borrow your apt word!) is the biggest sign that the filmmakers didn't get innocence to begin with.

I'll come right back after I see "How Frozen Should Have Ended"!

Brandon -- And I thought I was being harsh! Say what you really feel! LOL!

We may have been spoiled in the early 90s, but we were spoiled with the really good stuff. Disney may never top the music that it put out in those days.

I think that the first thing that really killed this movie for me was Elsa exposing herself in public, after so many years of drilling control into herself and over something as trivial as Anna's new relationship. It really rushed things along for her to say no immediately and to lose her temper so quickly--and that's the only justification for it.

Jenny said...

I haven't seen this one. I've had too many people tell me to avoid it. Still, I'm curious. That's just how it goes I guess.

Sheila said...

Now you're getting me wanting to write a paper comparing the different views of super-dom across franchises. There's the "with great power comes great responsibility" of Spiderman, the "if everyone's super, no one will be" of the Incredibles, and the fear with which normal people view the mutants in X-Men.

In that last one, the fear is really justified -- evil mutants are just about the most dangerous thing that could face humanity. (If evolution is really blind and unthinking, we all know what happens to the less-fit!) No one questions this in, say, Superman.

But if you're stuck *being* the next stage of evolution, you wouldn't want to wipe out everybody else .... and yet the approach some take, of wanting a "cure" or, like that one kid, trying to shave off his feathers, would also be a bad thing. Hence the whole "it's okay to have powers, but you have to learn to control them." Like Jean Grey .... for her, to go to X's school isn't really a choice. It's the only way she can ever learn to strike that balance.

In the Incredibles, people don't *fear* the supers (though I can't think why not, are NONE of them evil?), they envy them. And that's the other response to someone who's special in some way.

I don't understand what you mean about love at first sight being a symbol for universals .... can you elaborate?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Jenny -- I'm surprised to be running across a lot of underwhelmed reactions to Frozen, including those of your friends. Before I watched it myself, I got mostly glowing recommendations from people! If you ever do watch it, I hope that you write a movie review for your blog. =)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- I finally did see How Frozen Should Have Ended. LOL! And the creator does have a point that the king and queen's decision to hide Elsa's powers away is very odd. Their primary motivation to keep Anna safe isn't enough of a reason, especially since Anna's memory gets wiped and Elsa's gloves turn out to be an effective suppressant. It is only revealed to be reasonable after Elsa accidentally reveals them and people react with fear. But now we have the question of why the people reacted that way. Why do they think that powers are so evil? This is a huge blank that Frozen doesn't fill in--and it's right beside the other huge blank answer to the question of where Elsa's powers come from in the first place.

At least the X-men have better world building. The powers are caused by random mutations, and the link to evolution means that the get to see themselves as the first of a newer, fitter species. And it makes sense that the old established species would feel a little threatened by that. But this makes Professor X's policy to protect people from the mutants who want to take over a stranger decision than that of Elsa and Anna's parents. It's a very Christian thing to do in what seems to be a post-Christian world--or even a non-Christian, totally amoral world. If evolution is true, then mutants should be taking over and not just getting their civil rights recognised as if they were our equals. Apocalypse and Magneto are no more bad guys than Pope Urban II and Pope Gregory IX.

(This discussion reminds me of the time I watched Interview with the Vampire and learned about the connections between the main characters and Anne Rice's own family. It made me wonder about what higher meaning her characters could strive toward. But since I didn't have the time back then to add a bunch of new novels to my schedule, I settled for asking questions on an online forum for her fans. It took a while, because the other users had no idea what I was asking, but eventually someone quoted an interview in which Rice said that her fictional world has "beauty without revelation." And I saw that her entire fictional creation, not just the vampires, were stumbling about in the dark. There are lights other than evolution in the X-universe, but only evolution is recognised as real.)

And now you throw something else into the pot! That's a great question about The Incredibles: why don't the people there fear supers at all? Well, my quick answer is that they see powers as just another talent: in this world, Mozart and Beethoven would be supers, too! This is a very positive way to look at powers . . . and I wonder if it's slightly naive. But if it is, then it's our own naivete. We ourselves don't tend to see highly gifted people as threats to us--not even after the intellectually gifted gave us the Manhattan Project and the politically and charismatically gifted gave us modern Europe.

I think that love at first sight is a symbol for pure love (the greatest Universal) and the proper reaction to it. While it ultimately doesn't matter how we find love (which is not merely romantic), I think that it's right to have that instant recognition as our ideal. Whenever I come across St. Augustine's famous "Sero te amavi . . ." I feel for his wish that he had "fallen in love" with Christ the first time he "met" Him. The purer the heart, the more instantaneous the reaction of loving what is worth loving. We can also become wise through experience, but I find that the promotion of experience often goes hand-in-hand with the devaluing of innocence (as is indeed the case in Frozen), which is both materialist and cynical.

mrsdarwin said...

Loathed LOATHED Frozen for the reasons that you and Brandon ennumerate. The plot hole was strong with this one. What were the scriptwriters smoking? They were afraid to make any of the main characters BAD and therefore UNLIKEABLE, and so we're saddled with a strange melange of characters who have no moral agency. The parents, only trying to protect! Anna, only trying to belong! Elsa, only trying to behave! There simply aren't enough moral choices made in the movie for there to be any hook for us to hang real drama on. And so there's a bunch of pretty, disconnected visuals -- I did like the style and the costumes, Kinda Scandinavian Enlightenment -- and no continuity. How can Anna blame Elsa for shutting her out? Has it escaped her notice that her parents are keeping Elsa locked away and quiet? Why can Anna never leave the castle? What the hell, kingdom? How have you survived all this time?

The music followed in the modern annoying trend of having no relation to the story it accompanied. One reason I've never been able to sit through the Wicked soundtrack (besides hating the book, I mean) is that the score is reminiscent of nothing more than Musical of the Oughts. It's divorced from the visual style of the show, a layering-on. Frozen has the same problem -- a bunch of songs dropped onto a look. Or is a look dropped onto a certain modern attitude? Certainly Anna's adorkable "Oh gee, don't mind me" personality is rather a product of the here and now than anything that will stand the test of time. The only song which seemed to tie together mood and style and theme was the very first one, which is why I won't vote for either "For The First Time in Forever" or "In Summer". Wild card here.

Sheila said...

I've been turning over your last comment in my mind for a few days. The idea that the mutants "should" rule the world doesn't sit right with me.

Evolution makes a great theory and a terrible religion. ;) If you believe that you are more highly evolved than Joe down the street, that's an observation, but it doesn't come with a mandate -- whether to take over the world or to kill everyone else or have fifteen babies or whatever. People still have their own morality -- and no matter how post-Christian or amoral our society is supposed to be, almost everyone accepts the basic premises of the Christian moral code. Our morals depend on what we want. If what we want is to go to heaven, we'll keep the commandments; if we want our species to succeed, we'll have lots of kids and kill everybody else; but if what we want is to be what we have been brought up to think of as basically decent, we'll go on being decent regardless of whether that is an evolutionary effective life strategy.

Because evolution is more complex than simply fit species wiping out the less fit. Sometimes they outcompete them for the same resources. Sometimes they discover slightly different niches. (For instance, would the mutants really *want* to be mechanics or plumbers? Or even presidents? They seem to be mainly good at superhero work.) Ecosystems are full of mutually dependent species, whose relationships themselves are winnowed out by evolution.

And in some sense, our beliefs and moral codes are subject to evolution. Which moral code will triumph, Professor X's or Magneto's? We often imagine the bad guys have an unfair advantage because they aren't moral, but X gets a lot of advantages from his stance -- the cooperation of the regular people, for instance.

Now, why ARE the people of Arendel so scared of Elsa's powers? Perhaps her great-great-grandmother was an evil ice queen who kept the whole place smothered in snow for her entire reign. Who knows? It almost -- *almost* -- makes me want to write Frozen fanfic.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Mrs. Darwin -- On a human level, the dynamic between the two adult sisters is really unbelievable: it's as if they both entered an enchanted sleep right after Anna was saved by the trolls, then woke up right before Elsa's coronation. The adult Anna is exactly the same as her five-year-old self, while the adult Elsa's emotional development also seems to have been arrested at the night Anna nearly died. On a logistical level, someone must have looked after Elsa after the death of the king and queen, which means that there was a way into that room. Did the precocious Anna really: a) not find that way in during all that time; or b) respect the rule to leave Elsa alone all that time?

Frozen Heart is so different from all the other songs on the soundtrack that I'm amazed they left it in! Little Kristoff and little Sven were adorable!

Sheila -- I don't think that mutants should rule the world, either, but I'm not surprised that some of them reached that conclusion, because it's a very old one. There were people who believed as early as Socrates's time that it is both natural and just for the strongest in society to have the most powerful positions--if only because they can consistently get them and keep them! Herbert Spencer's "survival of the fittest" was just a marrying of modern science with politics. And this has been a recurring issue throughout history, even in very Catholic societies. So inasmuch as the X-universe is psychologically realistic, taking out the evolution element wouldn't take out those who think that if you can get power, then it's only fair that you should have it. (Interestingly to both evolution and X-men fans, Socrates demolishes that view by arguing that survival is not the highest good and that it's better to be punished unjustly than to escape just punishment.)

When you asked the question of whether mutants would want to be something other than superheroes, my imagination went in the opposite direction. In a world where mutants are both accepted and accepting of the status quo, I see Scott Summers being perfectly happy to wear special glasses while working for his grandparents, carrying on the family business, and being a pillar of his community. If Hank McCoy had had a chance to pursue his career as a research scientist, I'm sure he would also have grabbed it. Who says that you have to use your powers just because you have them or that they have to be the main thing that dictate your path in life? That the X-men must be superheroes because they are the only ones strong enough to stop renegade mutants is actually kind of sad.

If I ever write Frozen FF, it will be about Kristoff and Sven! Seriously, rewatching the Frozen Heart video made me imagine an alternate universe in which Frozen is mainly about those two than about the other two. =P