Friday, January 9, 2015

The Problems with Frozen

Anybody who knows me knows that I am a very big lover of Disney movies, especially the classics. Anybody who knows me also knows that I have a HUGE opinion when it comes to movies, basically to the extent of a critic's (a side effect of studying visual storytelling in college). Last, but not least, anybody who knows me knows that there are basically 3 movies that will send me into a rant; Sucker Punch, Avatar (blue people, not last airbender), and Frozen.




Now let me get something straight before I continue. The reason I feel so passionately about these movies is because they had SO MUCH POTENTIAL and then they just crashed and burned. I did not go into these movies hating them, I went into these movies excited, which is why it hurts. Sucker Punch had all of the concepts I love to write about and draw, but it became a man's wet dream with no rhyme or reason; Avatar was Pocahontas with blue people and I predicted EVERYTHING from the first 2 minutes, by the 5th I wanted to leave; and Frozen. Frozen is my lengthiest rant, hence this post. I feel I have been silent long enough.

Note this though, I respect everyone who worked on this film and all of the hard work and talent that poured into it. Not only that, but Disney is one of my absolute favorite studios. So know that my thoughts are in no way personal, but are strictly about the work itself.


Now that that's said, let's begin.

As you may well know, Frozen was originally based on the 1844 fairy tale, "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen. This fairy tale happens to be one of my absolute favorites (and I am very into fairy tales, so this story is very personal to me). The tale is a long one, so I'll paraphrase it. But if you would like to read the whole thing in full, click here and just skip over my summary when you're done.


The story is told in seven segments and focuses on the struggle between good and evil experienced through the eyes of a little boy and girl, Kai (Kay) and Gerda. It goes as follows.

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An evil troll known as the "devil" has made a magic mirror that distorts what the mirror reflects on its surface, reflecting the subject's bad/ugly traits, making the subject look no better than "boiled spinach." The troll had a school of students who enjoyed using this mirror on everything around them. The troll and students had so much fun that they decided to go to Heaven to try to make fools of the angels and God, but the higher they went, the more the mirror grinned and the harder it became to control. It soon shook so hard with delight that it fell to the earth and smashed into a million pieces.

Some of these pieces ended up so small that they were no larger than a single grain of sand. The wind blew the pieces about, which got into people's hearts and eyes as a result. This either froze the hearts of the victims or turned their eyes into products of the mirror, therefore only letting the victims see the worst traits in people.

A long time later, a little boy, Kai, and a little girl, Gerda, are growing up together as neighbors in the attics of buildings that are right next to each other. These buildings were so close, you could go from one attic to the other just by taking a single step over the gutters between the two. Since the two kids had window-box gardens to play in, they were around each other all the time.


Then, one day, Kai's grandmother tells the kids about the Snow Queen, who rules over all of the "snow bees" (snowflakes that look like bees). She is essentially the queen bee and is seen where the snowflakes cluster the most. One winter, after hearing this tale, Kai looks out his window and sees the Snow Queen, who beckons him to come with her.



The following spring, Gerda sings Kai a song about roses and tells him that the roses in their garden-boxes remind her of her love for him.

On a summer day later on, splinters from the troll-mirror get into Kai's heart and eyes while he and Gerda are looking at a picture book in their window-box garden. Kai becomes cruel and aggressive. He destroys their window-box garden, he makes fun of his grandmother, and he no longer cares about Gerda. The only beautiful things to him now are tiny snowflakes.

The following winter, Kai goes out with his sled to play in the snowy market square and hitches it to a curious white sleigh carriage, driven by the Snow Queen, who appears as a woman in a white fur-coat. Outside the city she tells Kai who she is and kisses him twice: once to numb him from the cold, and a second to make him forget about Gerda and his family. If she would've kissed him a third time, she would have killed him. She then takes Kai to her palace.


The people of Kai's city looked and looked for him, and, after not finding anything, concluded that he died in the nearby river. Gerda, heartbroken, goes out to look for him. She offers her new red shoes to the river in exchange for Kai; but by not taking the gift at first, the river lets her know that Kai didn't drown. Gerda next visits an old sorceress with a garden of eternal summer. The sorceress wants Gerda to stay with her forever, so she makes Gerda forget about Kai, and makes the roses in her garden sink beneath the earth, since she knows that the sight of them will bring back Gerda's memory. But Gerda's warm tears raise one bush above the ground. It tells her that it could see all the dead while under the earth, and Kai wasn't among them. Gerda fled.

While she ran, she met a crow, who told her that Kai was in the princess' palace. So Gerda went to the palace and met the princess and the prince. The prince wasn't Kai, but looked like him. Gerda told them her story, and they gave her warm clothes and a coach.

While traveling in the coach, Gerda was  captured by robbers and brought to their castle, where she befriended a little robber girl, whose pet doves told her that they saw Kai carried away by the Snow Queen. The captive reindeer Bae told her he knew how to get there since it was his home.

The robber girl freed Gerda and the reindeer to travel north to the Snow Queen's palace. On their way, they made two stops: first at the Lapp woman's home and then at the Finn woman's home. The Finn woman tells the reindeer that the secret of Gerda's unique power to save Kai is in her sweet and innocent child's heart.

When Gerda reached the Snow Queen's palace, she was stopped by the snowflakes guarding it. She prayed the Lord's Prayer, which caused her breath to take the shape of angels, who resisted the snowflakes and allowed Gerda to enter the palace. Gerda found Kai alone and almost immobile on a frozen lake, which the Snow Queen called the "Mirror of Reason", on which her throne sat.



Kai was engaged in the task that the Snow Queen gave him: to use pieces of the ice like a Chinese puzzle to form characters and words. If he could form the word "eternity" (Danish: Evigheden), the Snow Queen would release him from her power and give him a pair of skates.



When Gerda ran up to Kai and kissed him, he was saved by the power of her love (Gerda wept warm tears on him, melting his heart and burning away the troll-mirror splinter in it). So Kai burst into tears (which dislodged the other splinter, the one from his eye) and became cheerful and healthy again.

He and Gerda dance around on the lake of ice so joyously that the splinters of ice Kai had been playing with are caught up into the dance. When they tired of dancing, they fell down to spell "eternity."

The Snow Queen never returned. Kai and Gerda left the Snow Queen's domain with the help of the reindeer, the Finn woman, and the Lapp woman. They met the robber girl and walked back to their home, "the big city."

Kai and Gerda found that everything at home was the same and that it was they who changed; they grew up and it has become summertime.

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Great fairy tale, right? Now let's move on to the movie.

Frozen was an exciting new movie when it came out. It would be the first princess movie (supposedly) that would show that a woman could save herself and didn't need a man to be happy or to save her for her. It also passed the Bechdel Test (1) Are there 2 or more women with names? 2) Do they talk to each other? 3) Do they talk to each other about guys?), and defined the "true love" in the movie as sisterhood, as opposed to love between significant others. But it still had a bad message that it was sending out to little girls... the one thing that made Elsa special was her powers, right? So this is saying that the one unique, special thing about you is also shameful and dangerous and needs to be hidden. In other words, according to The Daily Dot, "girls are emotional time-bombs who can't be trusted to control their bodies or their minds." Not a great improvement, is it?


Then there's the plot holes.

Princess Elsa has the power to freeze while Princess Anna, her sister, is innocent and normal (which is weird because the movie never really shows or tells where the powers come from, which means the powers are just there for the story's sake and don't hold up in any sort of reality otherwise. This is because the entire plot hangs on whether or not Elsa can control her powers or not).


The sisters play in the winter wonderland castle with Elsa's powers until Elsa accidentally hits Anna in the head. So the king and queen take them to the trolls (Why trolls? Random.) and, after the trolls tell them that fear is their enemy and something worse will come from it down the road, the king and queen make the whole situation worse and become abusive (as opposed to counseling and careful instruction?).


They quarantine Elsa and Anna away from the world and Elsa away from everybody, which alienates Elsa from everybody in the entire world and takes Anna's sister away from her for no reason that she knows of. Then the parents go and die in a shipwreck for no reason and no destination once the girls are good and traumatized enough. This means that there was no actual point for the parents to be there but to move the plot forward by abusing the kids. There is literally no other reason for their existence. We don't even know where they're going or why when they get shipwrecked. They just needed to die.


Now Elsa and Anna are alone and Anna has no idea why her sister can't/won't talk, play, or even see her, and Elsa is confined to her room (what did she do in her room that whole time? No strange talents or hobbies were shown in the movie, so what? She didn't practice her magic, right? Because she was forbidden and scared). This happens until coronation day (Elsa's 18th birthday), when Elsa and Anna open the kingdom gates again. This begs 3 questions... 1) Who kept the doors shut after the king and queen died? Why?,  2) Who allowed them to be opened at the coronation? Why couldn't Elsa and Anna open them before?, and 3) Who ran the kingdom once the king and queen died? The kids certainly weren't functional enough and, even if they were, they never would've been able to run a whole kingdom from inside the castle gates.


But back to the coronation day. Anna's abusive background and need for acceptance lead her to get engaged to a guy the same day she meets him, leading Elsa to lose her cool (literally) and then banish herself to a mountain. By the way, the guy is evil just so the audience of young impressionable girls "learns" that you can't marry the first guy you meet (just get with the second guy, because the first guy is either the perfect one or the villain and if the first guy isn't perfect, the second one will be). There is seriously no other reason for him to exist. Also, when Elsa accidentally reveals her powers, notice how nobody is scared or angry (other than the old man, who also has no reason for existence other than to be evil for the sake of being evil). But even after the old man tries to start a mob, nobody is angry or scared, just extremely confused. So what the hell?


Anyways, once Elsa banishes herself to the mountain, she starts the song, "Let It Go." But there are problems with this too. First, if she had gone through the years of abuse that she did, she wouldn't be that comfortable with just using her powers, especially to that extent. She would be having a huge breakdown with even a little bit of magic and probably would be hyperventilating while she's at it, making the powers go more awry and creating a whole havoc out of nothing. Next, her powers wouldn't work that great. Magic, like anything, would take a ton of practice, and you're telling me that after 10-12 years of no practice, Elsa can build a perfect ice castle to scale complete with living icebots? Hell no! I call BS.


Then there's the whole transformation process. The power ballad is supposed to be freeing for her and is supposed to show her going from shy, abuse victim to powerhouse strong woman. The problem is that (a) a world-class makeover is the symbol for strong woman, and (b) the Daily Dot says it best that when she sings "'Let it go, let it go,/ Can't hold it back anymore' suggests that Elsa is prepared to rejoin the world and be herself, but 'Let it go, let it go/ Turn away and slam the door' negates that, with the imagery of shutting the world out."


Elsa doesn't even rejoin the world willingly like the song says she will. Her sister, Anna, has to pull Elsa back into the fray (and why won't Elsa tell Anna why she's scared? The secret is out about her powers, so what is there that's left to hide?), and this is after Anna meets guy number two, who ends up being the perfect one (sound realistic?) and helps her straighten everything out (so the sisters didn't exactly win the day on their own, they still needed a man). By the way, whatever happened to Kristoff's parents? How did trolls come into the mix? If he was around so many ice miners, who were the ice miners and why did the trolls get him? Did the other miners even know about the trolls? Did they even notice a little boy with a pet moose randomly coming in and out of their group? Who wouldn't notice something like that? 


There's also the small issue of the princesses being gone and Hans telling the villagers that Anna is dead (there's usually foreshadowing with bad guys, like evil glances or laughs or something to build the tension. But there's none in this story, so the evilness just comes out of the blue and isn't as fun for the audience) so he can be king (since everyone thinks Elsa gave up the throne). Why aren't people more worried? Why don't they go and look for her? She is their princess, after all. They gave up rather quickly.


When Anna is injured by Elsa again (accidentally as well), the trolls decide that THEN is the right time to tell them how to cure things, which is by true love. Why do they wait til then to say something? The trolls have no reason for holding things back like that. Then Hans has custom handcuffs that he puts on Elsa to prevent her from using her powers. Does something like this happen often? How are power-preventing handcuffs just lying around? It doesn't make sense.
 

Then the story just ends. There is no character development at all. The characters start out one way, go through the story the same way, and end up the same way (ie: Elsa is scared and sweet throughout with no personality metamorphasis). If there's no character development, why does the story need to be told? There's no purpose to the story, which means there's no point. There's no fun in a story with no point, it's not even a story. A story, by definition, involves change.


Oh yeah, and there's a stupid (literally stupid, has no brains sort of character) snowman named Olaf who serves as the dumbed-down version of the explainer character for the audience. Do the writers really think the audience is so dumb that they need a dumb character to break down everything that is happening for them? He's not a narrator, but he serves as comic relief to ensure that the audience laughs no matter what at any stupid thing he can do and/or say (ie: "Hah hah I have no skull, and no bones, D'uh...).


This character put me off so badly that he's the reason I walked out of the theater the first time I tried to watch this movie. Don't underestimate your audience. We're not brain-dead, you know. Smart movies will make money. That's why your classics are classics.


Also, why is Kristoff necessary? The message of the movie is to not marry the first guy you meet, right? And that's accomplished with Hans being evil, right? Then what is Kristoff doing there? Oh yeah, because Anna needs someone to kiss at the end of the movie, right? Then the message doesn't say anything, because she still depends on a man, which is what this movie is trying to work against.


Then there are the songs. Take a moment to think. What songs do you remember from the movie besides "Let It Go" and "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"


None or very few, right? That's because the other songs don't move the plot forward and are not important to the story at all. They're fillers and there's a HUGE amount of them. It seems like every second another song is on. Now I love musicals, but when you KNOW it's a musical and you're annoyed by it as a musical-lover, then you know it's too much. Tell the story guys, don't run the clock.


My last issue with the film is that it is essentially Tangled on ice, character design-wise. Don't believe me? Look below.

Rapunzel

Elsa/Anna


Flynn Rider


Kristoff/Hans


The King/Queen of Frozen

The King/Queen of Tangled

Maximus from Tangled

Sven

Even though there are a lot of things I don't like, I do think this could've been a really great movie. That's where the ranting comes from. But anyways, I'll keep my fingers crossed for better movies from them in the future. You can't get every one right.

-S

References
  • "The Snow Queen." Princeton University. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Jan. 2015. <https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/The_Snow_Queen.html>. 
  • "The Snow Queen." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Queen>.
  • Suarez, Ana L. "Community Post: 15 Questions Disney Forgot To Answer In "Frozen"" BuzzFeed Community. Buzzfeed, Inc., 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Jan. 2015. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/analuisa1234/15-questions-disney-forgot-to-answer-in-frozen-fxd2#.ytg2QzGa2l>.
  • Swiz, Alicia. "The Problem with 'Frozen'" The Daily Dot. N.p., 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 09 Jan. 2015. <http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/the-problem-with-frozen/>.