Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Disney's Frozen

So I went to see Frozen the other day.  The Snow Queen (which Frozen is very loosely based on/inspired by, and I am linking it because surprisingly most people I've tried to talk to about the movie have never actually read or even heard of Hans Christian Anderson's longest and one of his most famous stories) has always been my favourite fairy tale, ever since I was a kid.  When I found out a few years ago that Disney was making a film based on it I totally geeked out and I've been waiting for it in eager anticipation ever since.  At least until I saw the first trailer and lost all hope in a just and fair world.  I mean, look at this crap:

Oh joy, obnoxious non-human sidekicks, how original.  I can't wait to watch a movie full of that snowman's horrible voice squawk out gag-worthy one-liners while the big dumb caribou tries to eat his nose and they have horrible unfunny slapstick scenes all over the place.  The other trailers did equally terrible jobs of selling the film, because I just looked some up and they made it look like utter crap.  I'm really glad now that I only saw the one above and not any of the others, because aside from looking awful, they spoil some great jokes and some neat scenes in the film.  If this had movie bombed, I'd blame the trailers completely fucking over a good thing, not the movie itself.

Anyway, I went to see it anyway (because there was no way I was passing up any version of The Snow Queen, especially a Disney version, no matter how they butchered it), and was very pleasantly surprised.  It was actually pretty fantastic!  Not like the trailers at all!  There's still some stuff that I think could have been done better, but a lot of it really exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.  I'm probably going to start going into spoilers while I write this, by the way, just in case anybody is worried about that stuff.  I forgot to mention it earlier -- sorry!  At least I remembered before I actually said any spoilers.  Anyway, movie talk.  Pleasant surprises!  Go!

There's the music, for one.  I didn't realize this would be a musical.  Well, I figured that as a Disney princess movie there would be a few songs thrown in, but Frozen was a real straight-up musical.  How do I know it was a real straight-up musical?  Well, it's because musicals are the only movies I can watch once then immediately have to watch again.  I downloaded the soundtrack when I got home, but it wasn't really the same because while the songs are still good, it's also a really, fantastically visual movie.  For example, when I went looking for that godawful slapstick trailer to post above, I found they'd also posted Idina Menzel's show-stopping number that I felt was really the centrepiece of the film's soundtrack.  Listening to it alone on the soundtrack has a very Wicked feel (because duh, Idina Menzel), but I didn't notice it quite so much in theatres because of how fantastic I thought all the snow and ice stuff was, plus I was thinking of her more as the character of Elsa and not as the actress Idina.  Watch:

How great is that?  It's a good song, I really liked it on its own, but the song paired with the visuals of Elsa blossoming into the Snow Queen, finding the beauty in her powers by sending gorgeous works of snowflake art spinning around, creating a swirling staircase of frost, and raising a massive palace of aurora-gleaming ice from the mountain and the air itself.  It's one of my favourite scenes in the movie, because it's just such a spectacle.  Mind you, not all the music was great.  I found some songs to be a little grating; for example, Anna's first song, where she is asking Elsa if she wants to build a snowman like she did before.  It's very cutesy, a bit too much so, and some of the lyrics are rather uninspired and don't make the characters all that impressive; for example, "Do you wanna build a snowman?" "Anna, go away!" "Ooookay byyyyyye."  The way the two words were dragged out sounded pretty bland, and it made Anna seem like the least determined person ever.  She desperately wants her sister back!  But as soon as her sister is all, no go away, she's like gosh ok what else can I do.  And growing up with siblings, let me just say I wish it was that easy to get an obnoxious kid to scram.  

Another good surprise was the characters.  The obnoxious sidekicks from the first trailer aren't obnoxious at all in the film!  In fact, they're pretty endearing.  The reindeer doesn't do any slapstick bullshit, as far as I remember, and while the snowman -- I think his name is Olaf?  Or Oglaf, but I hope it's not, for any google-happy kid's sake -- is goofy, sure, but it's not the grating in-your-face goofy that it was in the trailers, it's more...I dunno, I want to say understated but it's really not.  And instead of just being dumb one-liners he's actually got some really funny bits!  And a lot of the time he's not supposed to be funny himself, really, but more setting up for someone else's funny.  For example, when he's singing his I Want song, the song's a joke, sure, but the real joke in the scene belongs to Kristoff, at the end.  I won't spoil it here because I liked it, even though I think one of the trailers might have done already.  Neither of them get as much screen time as the trailer I saw seemed to imply, and what time they do spend onscreen they usually act as actual comic relief, bringing a bit of lightness and humour to an otherwise heavy part of the movie.  Compare Jar Jar Binks, one of the most famously annoying Adorable Non Human Sidekicks In A Kid's Film characters, who had long scenes of him being unbearably annoying and dragging the film down.  No, Frozen did it absolutely right.

Of course, the characters were also one of the things I didn't always agree with.  For one thing, the original fairy tale had such good side characters!  I was so looking forward to meeting the clever Princess, who has read every book in the world and when she decided it was time to get married, she turned down every suitor until she found someone who was only interested in her mind and knowledge and not her face or her riches or anything.  Or the robber girl!  She was just so rad, she's basically just the hero of another story; she shows up as a kid with her mother and the rest of their band of thieves to kidnap Greta (the girl in the original story, I'd say she's Anna in this but she kind of isn't, the Disney version is hugely changed), and steals her horse and her clothes and everything, and she's kind of like an anti-hero; she sleeps with a knife and threatens her pet reindeer with it for a laugh, and threatens to kill Greta, but then when she hears Greta's story she's all "Well that sounds like a pretty awesome adventure! You know what, you go and get on with your bad self, go save your boy if you really think he's worth it" and gives her back her fancy warm clothes (but keeps her fancy muff and instead gives Greta her mom's bulky old mittens, because she's amazing and takes what she wants) and lets her reindeer free on the condition that he will help Greta get to the Snow Queen's palace, and off they go.  And then at the end of the story she shows up again, riding Greta's stolen horse all grown up with a pair of pistols strapped to her hips because she'd decided to wander the world and find her own way, and she's just like "You did it!  You go girl, if I'm ever in your town I'll stop by for a visit" and rides off into the sunset.  But I guess the story was so changed in Disney's version that they couldn't fit them in, or didn't think they suited the tone of the movie or whatever, I don't know -- the point is, they weren't there and that makes me sad because I loved them so much when I was younger.  The Snow Queen was really just full of awesome ladies, and it bums me out that Disney's version didn't have them.  There was a lady for everyone!  There was the good but sad magic woman who wanted to keep Greta, so she tricked her into staying in her garden out of loneliness.  There was the aforementioned genius Princess and the badass robber girl.  There was the Snow Queen herself, who I always loved; she wasn't really a villain, not really.  At least I never got a sense of evil from her in the versions I read.  She was impossible and otherworldly and had a completely different set of morals; she invited Kay to come with her out of loneliness, I thought, and I don't believe it ever would have occurred to her that it was wrong.  After all, she's an ancient and powerful fairy queen who sees mortals live and die in misery all the time, who would miss the little boy who caught her eye?  But whatever.  The story I remember wasn't the story Disney was telling, and that's okay even if I'm sad I never really saw it, because the original story really was just too religious to go over well now.  Let's talk about the character problems that are in the story Disney was actually telling.

For the record, spoilers are going to start here, for reelzies.  I really did like all of the characters in the movie, at least for the first half.  I didn't have any real problems with the characters themselves.  My problem was really where they paired them up or dealt with them at the end.  For example, Anna and Hans, her prince.  They meet in the beginning of the movie and over the course of an evening fall in love and decide to get engaged.  Everybody gives them crap over it, though; Elsa refuses to give her blessing because they'd only just met (which upsets Anna, who grabs her glove off and accidentally reveals her hidden powers to everyone, setting the main drama of the film in motion), and later on Kristoff gives her a hard time over it too and is all, I don't trust your judgment!  Who gets engaged to someone they only just met?  Well...Disney princesses do.  That's why it worked for me.  In the context of a Disney film, especially one of this style, meeting cute and falling in love and knowing you are truly Meant To Be is the norm.  And Anna and Hans were really adorable; he was a super-cute dude, they had a chemistry-filled song about falling in love with each other, he was responsible and helped her kingdom and tried to save her sister after the whole snow thing went down.  So I was really surprised when Hans turned out to be a bad guy in the end.  It really felt like more of a cop-out than a twist, not least because it made a lot of his earlier actions not make much sense.  For example, his plan all along was to marry Anna and have Elsa die in an accident so he could inherit the throne through Anna.  But if that's the case, why try to save Elsa from the Weaseltown dudes when they invaded her palace in the mountains?  If he never loved her, where was all that chemistry coming from in their song together?  And if he's so brilliant he can just come in and take over the kingdom as easily as he did, why was he so dumb as to leave Anna alive in a locked room in her own castle, just assuming she'll drop dead, then wander out and be all "Oh yes, she died (just don't go to look at her ok) and we totallly got married without any witnesses and I have no proof but that's so totally how it went down you guys, and again she is just so very dead in that locked room over there, no need to check and please ignore all knocking or cries for help."  The apparent moral of "you probably aren't really in love with that dude you just met at a royal ball who sang a love duet with you" doesn't really work out very well in a Disney film.  It feels like a last minute change they made in order to set up Anna and Kristoff as the main couple, since they spend most of the film together.

And I realize I'm getting into very shippy territory here, but I don't think they really work out all that well together, either.  Well, they're cute, I guess, and the romance is very light.  But they seemed more like friends for most of the film, with a few ham-handed "he totes has feelings yo" scenes here and there, and I really thought Kristoff would meet and fall for Elsa, the Snow Queen.  It makes sense; his immediate reaction to seeing her beautiful ice stairway and palace is to shed a tear, because as he says, ice is his life (he sells it for a living).  Of course his reaction would be one of admiration before one of fear; he is very well aware of the beauty of ice and snow, and is struck speechless by it the first time he sees anything she's made.  I was really looking forward to them meeting properly for the whole film, and it...it just never really happened.  I don't think they had a single conversation.  Bummer.

But there was another thing I liked!  They kept the shards of ice in the heart/eye from the original story.  Well, the original story actually had shards of glass made by the devil to make things ugly, but I've seen the ice version before too so it works out ok.  And they didn't keep it completely true, but they had the "ice in heart freezes it" thing, and part of the drama at the end is Anna trying to find an act of true love to thaw her freezing heart.  The characters went looking for true love's kiss, and I was sitting in my chair going, "Man, wouldn't it be great if the act of love wasn't romantic?  Elsa loves her sister, she could give herself up and risk being locked away and losing her newfound freedom in exchange for a chance at saving Anna."  And the movie subverted both itself and my expectations; the act of love came from Anna herself, sacrificing herself at the last minute by running away from kissy Kristoff in order to save Elsa from Hans' blade and turning to solid ice right then, so his sword shatters on her frozen hand.  I really liked the idea of the act of love coming from within rather than without, because it shows how powerful love can be.  I kind of liked how Anna saved herself, but then I was like, can it really be "she saved herself" if she did it by sacrificing herself?  There are a lot of narratives out there about how women need to be loving and self-sacrificing, I'm not sure if this one needs fanfare.

Another problem I had with the films were the character designs.  Don't get me wrong, everything was very pretty!  But seriously, everyone looks identical.  Elsa, Anna and their mom have completely interchangeable faces (which, it has been pointed out to me, look basically like Rapunzel's face in Tangled, because Hollywood is only interested in having pretty white girls around and can't figure out how to make them both pretty and look like individual people at the same time.) and it's kind of dull to look at.  If you saw them without the hairstyles or colouring to distinguish them, would you be able to tell them apart?

Courtesy of this tumblr...I think.  I really don't understand how tumblr works, tbh

Another thing I regret about the film is how little I feel like I know the characters.  Compare other movies; in Beauty and the Beast we know Belle spends all her time reading and being a weirdo with her inventor dad.  In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is obsessed with the human world and spends all her time collecting human artifacts and being a weirdo about boys with legs.  Tiana in The Princess And The Frog has a hell of a work ethic and spends as much time as she can working and reading cookbooks and being a frog, which is pretty weird.  In The Aristocats, the kittens spend their time studying high-class stuff like painting and music, but are still kids and would rather play.  The kitten Marie likes to be very feminine and thinks of herself as a lady, while her older brother Toulouse wants to be big and tough like an alley cat.  In Lilo and Stitch, Lilo's main character trait is what a weirdo she is, doing strange things like making weird dolls and practicing voodoo, and she loves to hula dance and take photos of random tourists.  My point here is that I don't get anything like that from Elsa and Anna.  Elsa spent years alone in her room -- what did she do in there all that time, aside from "have magic ice powers"?  Anna ran around the castle....talking to paintings, pretty much.  She rode her bike down the stairs once.  I have no idea what their lives are like or what they do.  What are their personalities like, how do they change once they aren't all alone any more?

One thing I really took away from this movie was, I want more.  Like I was saying earlier, I'd love to see what Elsa did when she was locked alone in her room most of her life, afraid of herself and of what she could do.  Did she become the well-read princess of the original story?  I can imagine her room full of shelves upon shelves of books as she tried desperately to lose herself in fact and fiction in order to distract herself from her hellish, lonely life.  Or what about Anna?  Did she read too, or did she run around bothering the servants all the time?  Did she go outside?  She must have, because she had a horse when the movie started.  Why would she have a horse and know how to ride if she wasn't allowed to leave the castle?  Or how about what happened after the film; did Elsa ever tell Anna that the reason she hid her powers was because she hurt her?  Did Anna ever remember?  How did they deal with suddenly having so many people around; after all, they aren't used to social interaction after being kept shut in for most of their lives.  Does Elsa retreat to her ice palace when she's feeling overwhelmed?  Did Kristoff ever mention that he saw them that night when they brought Anna to the trolls for help?  Basically, I just want all of the fanfic ever, pretty much, because I just didn't get enough character interaction in the movie, and the stuff that I did get was good enough to show me that it would be worth seeing more of.  It might be a little early to say this (and I might be jinxing it, considering Disney's past track record with the subject), but I'd like to see a sequel where we get to know everyone more.  And maybe Elsa and Kristoff will get together in the next film....ah, I kid, I know that a Disney princess is paired for life.  Still though.  It'd be neat.


  1. Heh. Really, when I saw this movie, I sorta wanted there to be a remake where Anna and Elsa aren't sisters, but sorta raised together. And the whole film would focus on the gay metaphor. Does that make sense?

    1. Do you mean you want them to have a non-incestuous lesbian relationship in the film? Haha, you'll probably have to turn to fanfic for that, too :P It would be awesome if Disney could make a pro-gay kid's film, but unfortunately I doubt they ever will. I really liked how the themes of the film were broad enough that they fit easily with gay messages and themes, but alas, that's probably as close as we'll ever get from Disney.

  2. I absolutely loved this movie.

    Regarding Hans, personally I think he's the best Disney villain ever, because he's the most plausible and thus the scariest.

    He strikes me as extremely adept at reading people, and in retrospect, it's pretty clear that he was manipulating Anna from the beginning. Watch how, in "Love is an Open Door" he's clearly surprised by some of Anna's responses ("We finish each other's ... sandwiches"), but he immediately adapts and rolls with it. Indeed, that's perhaps his key characteristic -- every time one of his schemes is derailed, he immediately adapts.

    And it makes sense that he "saved" Elsa from the two guys with crossbows. At that point, he didn't know whether or not Anna was even alive, so it made sense to keep Elsa. Perhaps more to the point, if Anna *is* alive, she would be distraught over Elsa's death, and probably wouldn't be inclined to marry Hans.

    And even *more* to the point, he needed Elsa alive to break the curse. For all he knew, killing Elsa would have made things even worse. If he captured Elsa, he got to play the hero, and with luck, he could convince her to break the curse.

    One really neat, very subtle thing is that when you re-watch the scene, you can see that Hans quickly looks up, notes the exact position of the ice sculpture, and deliberately aims the guard's crossbow so that the bolt hits the support. Thus he looks like he's trying to "save" Elsa, even as he brings the sculpture down, allowing him to capture her alive.

    Sociopaths are often *extremely* adept at reading other people's emotions and in faking their own in order to manipulate people. If that's what Hans is doing (and everything in the movie relating to him shouts out that this is the case), it makes him a wonderfully subtle -- yet realistic -- villain. That's why I think he's the best that Disney has come up with yet.

    If only he hadn't committed the classic James Bond Villain mistake of leaving Anna to die instead of killing her himself while she was helpless, he'd have gotten away with it. In fairness to him, how could he *possibly* have anticipated that she'd be saved by a talking snowman, of all things?


    Again, this is precisely why I love the movie so: it so beautifully plays on our expectations, and then subverts them. The *true* moral is that True Love is not something that happens at first sight, but something that is built up over time, as two people come to know each other. Marrying someone you've literally just met is a very, *very* bad idea.