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.


  1. Yay! I agree with all of this, except with a bit more vitriol about 'Let It Go'. Mulan and Lilo & Stitch definitely did female characters a thousand times better.

  2. Everything you say is true. Now, I ramble a bit:

    Despite all those flaws, and even though there is no internal logic and it's all a lot of nonsense, I found Frozen reasonably enjoyable. I thought it was trying too hard at the start, with almost uninterrupted singing past the 40-minute mark or so, and all the plotholes do grate. It oozed "we want to make a broadway musical out of this" from all its pores. I think what rescues Frozen is the songs, and the general feel-good factor of the film. (Oh dear, that sounds like a review of Mamma Mia, which is a film I loathed...)

    Tangled is the far, far, far better film. Its songs are much weaker, though. And its villain is psychologically scary and emotionally abusive, which is quite harrowing. And it has that moment of a near-execution that could traumatise kids. Frozen, by comparison, felt a lot more fluffy and accessible to the littlest ones. It has cartoon logic, with characters that can fall apart and put themselves together again, and its villains are comic relief and bland. It is perhaps the least scary Disney film ever made. It has all the punch of a Tinkerbell film, with catchy songs.

    I think Disney has a strange habit of making several good films in a row, but it tends to be the movie after the best one which makes the most gazillions of cash. So after Little Mermaid - Beauty and the Beast - Aladdin came the monster hit Lion King, which was a good film (no matter what Rebecca thinks) but not as good as the preceding ones. And this time, Disney did Bolt - Tangled - Frozen, of which Frozen is by far the inferior.

    1. Peter Pan is the least scary Disney film ever made (and is therefore utter shite).

      Also why am I being attacked here? What did I do? I like Timon.

  3. Of Tangled's songs, I can only say I preferred them. A lot of this is down to I've Got A Dream, which is traditional Disney "fun," something I couldn't find in Frozen. Frankly, I didn't laugh a lot. (Partly because I was so thrown by the plot and characters making no overall sense. Also because Olaf is asinine.)

    I agree the villain in Tangled is very psychologically harrowing; to that I'd say, well, good. It's dark, it's interesting, somewhat more complex than we expect from the relationship between villains and victims. It makes her parents' heartbreak (communicated largely without dialogue - that's good animation) all the more poignant. An indoctrinated victim is harder to save. Fascinating, I think. (Though Rebecca rightly pointed out that Hunchback Of Notre Dame did it first. Brrr - horrid film!)

    And hey, you want to talk about harrowing - what about The Lion King! His father is murdered in front of him, he's blamed for it and accepts that. Later, for good measure, the real perpetrator *is eaten alive*. No wonder the movie abruptly spends about half an hour hakuna-matata-ing it up, almost immediately after Mufasa snuffs it. (I love Lion King 3, by the way. Delightful stuff, though the songs won't stick in your head.) If The Lion King is allowed to do horrendous things, heck, so is Tangled. (I'm not convinced by the "execution" bit, mind you. She's falling apart anyway. Why trip her up? It felt like a script note. "Someone should contribute to her death, otherwise she's getting off lightly!")

    Bolt's okay, though the plot is a very improbable mix of The Truman Show and Buzz Lightyear. As a dog lover, though, it does make my heart ouch.

  4. I meant the near-execution of the thief (at some point, he's convinced he's being taken to the gallows).

    Re: Hunchback - I've recently watched that film (for the second time ever). Watching it shortly after Pocahontas, I could not help thinking that Disney had a strange aspire-to-worthiness period which resulted in some unpleasant films. I disliked Hunchback immensely: the songs are awful, there is a hopelessness at its heart (Quasimodo is so deformed he can only ever hope to be barely tolerated, but never loved) and some of its themes are not really child-friendly at all.

    That said, the "Savages" song from Pocahontas made me think of the Us vs Them attitude of Islamists and EDL/UKIP racists, while the "Hellfire" song from Hunchbach made me think of Iran's Ayatollahs, Afghanistan's Taliban, Saudi Arabia's clerics and ISIS. So if ever there is a need to explain "the War on Terror" to children, those two movies might be quite handy, unpleasant though they are...

    1. The near-execution didn't strike me as remotely disturbing. Isn't that just... peril? Characters often face certain death only to get rescued / use their pluck to wriggle out of it.

      The sainted Lion King did the same thing, incidentally: after Simba's dad is murdered and he's blamed for it (still with us, kids?), three hyenas are sent after him to kill him. He, *very* luckily escapes. But he could just as easily have not. What's the difference?

    2. Probably that they're animals rather than humans. People seem to think that makes a difference. It doesn't and a savvy kid will see these 'teach kids about death through the slightly distanced form of non-human animals' themes and promptly turn vegan.

  5. Having now rewatched Frozen, I can shed some light on Hans.

    When he saves Elsa's life, it could be conceived that he is trying to push her into the way of a falling chandelier whilst looking like he is saving her life, but if he wanted to kill her at this time, he could have just let the two guys who are there specifically to kill her get on with their job. Taking her back home to be executed is just pushing his luck. Also, the moment he diverts the crossbow that is about to kill her, thus causing the chandelier to fall is nanoseconds, and there is no way he could have aimed with purpose, so nah, you're right, it's dumb retrospectively demonising a character who isn't mean.

    After leaving Anna to die, he does claim that they exchanged their wedding vows before she died, so he does have a claim to the throne. The idea that that would be a legal contract is of course ludicrous - couldn't any random guy just say he is married to a dead princess in that case, but at least he is trying with his dumbest plan ever.

    As for him appearing to be really nice for 90% of the film, one of the makers of Frozen claims this is because he is a sociopath and takes on the personality traits of the character he is with. I certainly didn't see this. Even if he is nuts, he's still all moony over Anna after meeting her by chance, not knowing who she is and when no one else is looking. If he was evil, why is he moony when he's on his own? Does his sociopath nature mean he is burdened with the other person's personality until he speaks to a new person? I don't think that's how it works at all.

    Besides all that, teaching children it is wrong to trust people is a cruel lesson.