Monday, April 14, 2014

Finally Saw Frozen and I Confess Myself Disappointed

Silly me, I was expecting a Pixar-level plot or at least something as good as TANGLED. I also kind of felt the bitter disappointment I felt when watching The Little Mermaid as a teen, seeing that the Hans Christian Andersen plot was barely homaged, more kind of exploited. But the Disney Mermaid has far more in common with Andersen than Frozen does. 

Here’s what I was most disappointed in (spoiler alert):

1) Because the climax wasn't adequately set up, it felt more like a bait-and-switch: it wasn't clear that ELSA had a frozen heart for Anna to sacrifice heserlf to melt, and that in this world, one can sacrifice oneself in order to bring ONESELF back to life. It would have worked better if Elsa had sacrificed herself for Anna, but the current climax just felt too much like rule-breaking. Better setup would have fixed that. Basically, it's a plot patched together and greenlighted because it was considered good enough for a marketing vehicle for kids (hey! Now Disney gets to sell TWO MORE Disney Princesses! Double profits!), but not for intelligent adults. Since the Pixar/Disney merger, it's been a while since I've had my children's intelligence insulted by a Disney film, but then again, I haven't been paying complete attention.

2) The song "Let it Go" (with beautiful lyrics and presentation) hogged the emotional weight of the plot, and nothing else came close to matching it in power and artistry. This is a problem, because even by the plot's own rules, the song is a negative song sung by the antagonist, and "letting it go" is NOT a good thing, but the thing that triggers the destruction of her home world. If Anna had matched that song with an equally powerful one of her own, it would have worked, but the same kind of half-done story work that botched the climax was at work lyrically, making this movie the equivalent of a Phantom of the Opera that included "Music of the Night" but not "All I Ask of You."  In Phantom, it's the second song that responds to and completes the first, making the play a masterpiece, but Frozen (all too typically) got the bad guy spot on, and left the perky heroine floundering metaphyiscally and plotwise. Writers, be aware that a powerful song is a force unto itself that can unbalance your plot.

3) The much-lauded plot twist regarding Prince Hans: What? A rich heterosexual white male turns out to be the villain of the piece? Now THAT's a trope we've NEVER seen before in a Disney movie! If that's what constitutes a daring and original plot twist, I'm more depressed about the future of Disney than I have been since Beauty and the Beast came out.

4) The Greek-tragedy-like speedy timeframe of the actual story action (everything happens in what? three days?) reduces the connection to the original Snow Queen so much that trying to connect it to Andersen's original is a hopeless exercise, even as a theoretical "true story of what became a myth." So, basically, the legend of the Snow Queen boils down to a girl with a misunderstood talent who for roughly 24 hours "let it go" and made herself an ice palace in the frozen north, but fortunately her heroic sister convinced her to come home and take her rightful place as a queen with a talent for snow entertainment (as opposed to administration, leadership, etc. says the sarcastic feminist in me).  Heroic Gerda and lost Kay have no place in this new mythology.

The original fairy tale featured a strong girl saving a boy, and not just a nice sensitive worthy boy, but a cold-hearted, exploitative, cruel boy: a story that genuinely would have been revolutionary and welcomed by the shortcomings and sorrows of our culture.

It would have been amazing to see a potentially strong character like Disney’s Anna take on Gerda's role saving a boy with the frozen heart of Hans (or even a reworked Kristoff), but that's now a story that we're never going to see on the silver screen with anything like the money and artistry of Frozen.  It's sad to think of the possibilities in the original story that are now going to be lost to a generation of children (probably several generations, if the marketing muscle longevity of Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast is any indication). We're going to be surrounded by Made-In-China dollies, Broadway renditions, deep-sounding prattle about  the importance of sisterhood, and theme-park Snowmen in Summer for a long, long, long time. 

And that's about as depressing a Snow Queen Winter as I can imagine.