Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Filmflam: Frozen

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Y'know what?  It's a boring title.  Thanks a lot, Tangled.
If you're alive and live in the world, you've probably seen Frozen.  Then again, I suspect even those few who haven't seen it, thanks to the prohibitive DVD availability within cave systems and under rocks, are aware of it.  Who can escape?  Frozen is everywhere, and it's on everything.  You know that song?  Yeah, you do.  And isn't it delightful that Let It Go manages to be both enormously popular and, as a titular piece of advice, totally ignored by all.

I hate Frozen.  Oh god, someone make it die.

It's tempting to hate such monumentally popular movies simply because they are annoyingly ubiquitous – even if I just sort of liked it, I'd still be utterly sick of hearing about it now – but no, it's actually more than that.  I find Frozen unenjoyable for a host of (I think, entirely legitimate) reasons.  In a nutshell, though, it's just not a well told story.  Disney have done better.

It's no secret that the story has been heavily rewritten since its origins as The Snow Queen, and not just in changing Elsa from a baddie to a goodie – more on that later, re Hans.  The trouble is, the rewriting shows.  It’s full of random, unsupported ideas.  Elsa has ice powers.  Why?  No reason.  And nobody else has any powers.  Just… ice powers out of nowhere.  Then, when she accidentally zaps her sister, her parents take her to some magic trolls.  Huh?  Magic whatnow?  These guys literally only exist so characters can visit them to cure magic ailments, caused by equally random magic powers from nowhere.  None of it means anything.

(Quick sidenote: remember Tangled?  That movie hinges on a character having magic powers, and although the explanation is entirely driven by fairytale logic – a drop of sunlight lands on a flower, flower cures mother, mother has baby – they at least explain how Rapunzel ended up with it.  From the start, Tangled puts more thought into its plot than Frozen.  Also, we don't get to know their parents at all, other than their dad gives THE WORST ADVICE IMAGINABLE to his guilt-ridden daughter.  If you want a story of orphans where the parents' absence is actually felt, you'd be better off with Lilo & Stitch.  And hey, you want female empowerment, you got Mulan.)

Now, they do try to make a point about troll magic, and what it can and can’t do – specifically, you can’t change “the heart” as easily as “the head”.  This makes poetic sense: somebody’s heart, aka the way they feel about others, is who and what they are.  You can’t change that with ease, whereas minds (facts, opinions) are more malleable.  Clearly this is a “frozen heart” in the metaphorical sense: a cold, evil heart that needs thawing.  So Elsa's heart, right?  Since she's the one with the ice powers?  Apparently not: we’re talking literally about a frozen heart (Anna's) which has nothing to do with the person's feelings.  Anna isn’t cold emotionally.  She still loves Elsa even when she’s dying, and the act of freezing her heart was an accident anyway.  So there is nothing intrinsically impossible about fixing her heart – it’s just impossible for the trolls to do so because the plot requires this.

No problem, though, because an act of “true love” will save her.  Yes, it’s the love-between-two-sisters bit which everyone adores.  No, I don’t have a problem with the story revolving around that, rather than a romantic love story of which we’ve seen umpteen.  But the act of true love that saves Anna is… from Anna, to Elsa.  Er, Anna consistently loved Elsa throughout the movie.  Even when she had brain damage, she loved Elsa.  Even when Elsa zapped her in the heart, she loved Elsa.  This is not character development.  OBVIOUSLY ANNA LOVES ELSA, so what kind of huge, emotional change is that?  It’s right there from the start!

The person who should really be going on an emotional journey is, of course, Elsa.  But most of her journey is already dealt with in Let It Go, where she’s finally able to be proud and happy and insert-pleasing-subtext-here.  (Before promptly settling back down in her Fortress Of Solitude to sulk some more.  Um, yay?)  Even she doesn’t have to learn to love her sister in the course of the movie, though – it’s because she loves her so much, and doesn’t want her to get hurt, that she was so repressed and dangerous in the fricking first place.  OBVIOUSLY ELSA LOVES ANNA TOO.  So the journey of the movie is simply that she needs to fine-tune her random X-Men powers.  Do excuse me, I must have something in my eye.  Sniff.

"Olaf, you're melting!"
"Some people are worth melting for."
They're desperately trying to find an act of true love.  Why doesn't this count?
Instead of putting Arendelle into an eternal winter because of jealousy or wickedness, or y’know, for any actual reason, she’s now doing it out of simple incompetence – like Anna’s frozen heart, a major plot point from The Snow Queen no longer means anything.  The script even manages to muddy the whole issue of “eternal winter”, since the passage of time is such a rush.  Anna starts talking about how Elsa has banished summer, but it’s been a matter of days.  And anyway, the movie is set in a location full of ice, cold and blue from the start – the first song is about ice sellers, the second about snowmen! – so the weight of Elsa’s “eternal winter” being against the norm is never really felt.  And so what?  Elsa does a whole song where she learns to control her magic mojo.  Why not just keep trying?  It's not like she has anything else to do.  And yet, despite "letting it go" and being all with the smirking self-actualisation, when it comes to actually doing something to solve the situation, Elsa is pointlessly reticent.  It's like the song didn't happen.

And none of this is my least favourite bit.  Making the Snow Queen a misunderstood goodie is what Disney are all about nowadays – just look at Maleficent.  But as with that movie, this just means somebody else has to be the bad guy, and they’re going to be an outright jerk whether it makes sense or not.  Just try to follow poor old Hans as he goes from “traditional Disney love interest” to “hugely concerned about the welfare of Arendelle” to “saves Elsa’s life” to “wants to usurp Elsa’s throne”, and finally to “wants Elsa and her sister dead”.  This guy plainly was not the bad guy when they started making the movie.

Let’s skip past all the “genuinely seems quite nice” stuff, because we’re retroactively meant to think it’s all an act.  (Yeah, right.)  He wants to marry into the throne (because he’s thirteenth in line in the Southern Isles), and he was “getting nowhere” with Elsa, so he focuses on Anna.  Okay.  (Except the day he met Anna is the first time he was ever likely to meet Anna or Elsa, so he’s surely only been at this for a couple of hours.  Jeez, Hans, it’s only your first day.)  He ingratiates himself with Anna and is left in charge of Arendelle.  Good work: all he needs to do now is marry Anna and do away with Elsa.  Great!  Except – d’oh! – he saves Elsa’s life, which is the opposite of helpful.  Okay, no matter, he can kill her later, just get on with marrying Anna, right?  Except – d’oh! – now she’s dying, so he tells her he doesn’t love her and plans to murder Elsa, then leaves Anna to die and tells everyone else she’s dead.  Uh… dude, you forgot the “marrying into power” bit?  You’re literally just some guy Anna liked who held the fort when she went for a walk.

We lose the traditional female villain, and viva la difference, but only at the cost of hastily rewriting a minor character into the same position.  It doesn’t gel at all, unless you want to believe he’s an utter moron.

Okay, there's more.  I'm not a fan of the animation – it's all so uniformly blue-and-white, the faces are so bland, I just get tired of looking at it.  I much preferred the songs, and the general musical style of Tangled.  I want to punch Olaf in his monotonously chirpy guts.  Kristoff adds virtually nothing to the story.  (Apart from a randomly coincidental link with Anna, Elsa and the trolls that is never acknowledged.)  I hate the way Frozen sneers at Disney tropes like love-at-first-sight, then has Anna and Kristoff get together after a normal-amount-of-time-for-a-Disney-movie.  I hate the way everybody raves about Elsa's super-strong un-Disney-like female empowerment while being totally okay with Anna the stereotypical clutz.  (And forgetting they already made kickass movies like Mulan.)  The tortured-magic-power plot worked better in Tangled.  The tale of two orphan sisters worked better in Lilo & Stitch.  I hate Frozen.

But hey, it’s been two years.  Time to let it... well, you know.  At least there's a chance Frozen 2 might be an original screenplay, rather than an established fairytale with severe identity and script problems.  But something tells me there will be Frozen 2 stationary and toilet roll holders regardless.