Friday, April 21, 2017

Lee Mendelson Films

Lee Mendelson? Who's Lee Mendelson? Mendelson is one of the reasons that you have all those great Peanuts specials! Mendelson served as executive producer on many of the Peanuts specials and his animation studio created the lot of them. Mendelson started out making documentaries, culminating in his making one based around baseball player Willy Mays. Shortly after he came across a Peanuts comic strip focusing on Charlie Brown and his baseball team. Mendelson decided that he had done a documentary on the best baseball player of all time, so now he was going to make one on the worst. He approached Charles Schulz about making a documentary about Schulz and his Peanut characters, something that Schulz readily agreed to, having seen Mendelson's work. The result was 1965's Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz, which kicked off a 30 year collaboration between the two. While Mendelson was shopping the documentary around, Coca-Cola approached him about producing a Christmas Special, to which he agreed readily. He immediately contacted Schulz about using the Peanuts characters in this special, and they pick up Bill Melendez as director. Melendez had worked with Schulz on some commercials before this and was used to working with the Peanuts characters. Composer Vince Guaraldi rounded out the group and the result was the instant classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

By 1969, Lee Mendelson Films had a few TV specials under their belt and decided the time was right to make a movie based around the Peanuts characters. The plot followed a strip storyline from 1966 and involved Charlie Brown going to a Spelling Bee and being a failure in general. What's new? A Boy Named Charlie Brown was a hit, grossing $12 million and getting rave reviews. Many heralded it as a nice alternative to Disney, as Disney was starting to lose momentum after Walt Disney passed away. This was followed up by the stand-alone sequel, Snoopy, Come Home in 1972. Sadly, this movie would not fare anywhere near as well as its predecessor, not even grossing $1 million. Like its predecessor it was a critical darling, and its one I remember fondly as a child. While I remember liking Snoopy, Come Home, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown was by far my favorite. This was the one where the Peanuts gang is at camp and has a boat race with some bullies. It fared better than Snoopy, Come Home, but reviews were so-so at the time. I must have watched this one a million times as a kid and I still love who ends up winning the race. Mendelson only made one more Peanuts movie, named Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and don't come back!). Released in 1980, it follows Charlie Brown and the gang as they are foreign exchange students in Europe. I remember this one too, but only little bits and pieces. This movie did as well as Race for Your Life, both critically and financially.

The Peanuts movies did well in a time where Disney wasn't doing as well, though Rescuers still grossed $71 million by comparison, so Disney is still going to reign supreme. Lee Mendelson Pictures was still making that sweet TV money so they seemed to stop focusing on releasing movies to theaters and instead just stuck with made for TV. This will not be the last time you see Peanuts in this series however, but it won't be from Lee Mendelson Films.

UPA

Where Fleischer Studios was sunk in part due to the start of World War II, UPA was helped by it. UPA, or United Productions of America, was founded in June 1943, and started out by making industrial and World War II training films. The studio was founded in part by John Hubley, along with many other disenfranchised Disney workers who left during Disney's 1941 strike. Hubley had grown to hate Disney's ultra-realistic style of animation and longed to make more stylized animation. UPA kept itself busy through the early forties doing shorts for the UAW and the government, but they eventually dried up during the Red Scare and no one really wanted to be associated with the movie industry. UPA rebounded quickly by winning a contract with Columbia Pictures. After Hubley was able to utilize Columbia's characters, they were given freedom to create their own characters. From this they decided, like Fleischer Studios, to create a human character, namely Mr. Magoo.

Mr. Magoo was a huge hit for UPA, making lots of money at the box office, and even winning Academy Awards for Best Short Subject. They also won another Academy Award for their hit, Gerald McBoing-Boing, which was based on a Dr. Seuss story. UPA eventually turned to television and started the trend of limited animation. Disney and many other studios were trying to make their cartoons look as detailed as possible and that may have looked nice, but it took forever to make cartoons. Limited animation cut down on time and labor by using the same parts of animation, the ones that weren't changing from frame to frame, throughout a scene. The best example I can give is the backgrounds of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? The background was reused several times when the characters were running from ghosts, and in many frames you can tell which item would be moving in that shot because it was a little bit lighter than the rest of the animation. Hanna-Barbera utilized limited animation a ton, but UPA started it and it gave them a lot of success.

Though they had a few more hits with Mr. Magoo, like Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, the writing was on the wall. By the 60's the world wasn't as keen on movie shorts, so the animation studio shut down and the studio would go on to distribute Toho Studio's "giant monster" or kaiju films in the U.S. UPA would go on until one if its founders, Henry G. Saperstein died in 1998, and the company was sold off to Classic Media in 2000, ending the studio's history. Classic Media was shortly thereafter bought by Dreamworks, though UPA still holds the licensing rights to Mr. Magoo.

UPA, like Fleischer Studios, only came out with two feature films in its history, 1001 Arabian Nights, and Gay Purr-ee. I had only heard of Gay Purr-ee before researching the company, but have never seen it. 1001 Arabian Nights, which came out in 1959, is unique in that they shoe-horned Mr. Magoo into the film as Uncle Abdul Azziz Magoo. Yes, really. 1001 Arabian Nights was not the hit that UPA hoped it would be and it contributed to Columbia dropping them. Gay Pur-ee came out in 1962, and had the star power of Judy Garland behind it. Chuck Jones helped write the story and you can definitely see his animation style in the movie. Judy Garland and Chuck Jones' style was not enough, as the movie flopped, though critics liked it.

Not sure if you're seeing a trend yet, but while these animation studios could compete with Disney on a shorts level, they could not when it came to theatrical releases. That sort of competition won't come around until the 1980's. Still, these movies are still worth noting, as they still hold an important part of animation history. Animated films outside of Disney were few and far between, and not all of them were that bad.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fleischer Studios

Fleischer Studios started out as Inkwell Studios in 1921 in New York City, founded by the Fleischer brothers Max and Dave. The early days of the studio brought new innovation to the medium with their Song Car-Tunes which were three minute shorts that had the audience "follow the bouncing ball" and sing along to a song. This was the first instance of this karaoke precurser, and the series would also be the first to use sound film to animation, four years before Disney's Steamboat Willie. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope, a device that allowed for animation to be more lifelike by tracing motion picture footage of human movement. Their first major cartoon character, Koko the Clown, was a product of rotoscoping. In 1929 they changed the studio name to Fleischer Studios. It was also around this time that the studio started to experiment with sound. Talkartoons became a hit with the studio going into the early 30's with their character Betty Boop eventually becoming the star and getting her own show which ran until 1939. 

Fleischer Studios had their biggest hit when they licensed E.G. Seger's comic character Popeye starting in 1933. Popeye even surpassed Micky Mouse in popularity at the time. The studio was hitting its stride by 1936, and this made their parent company, Paramount, demand more output in shorter amounts of time. This led to the first ever strike in the motion picture industry. The strike lasted five months and resulted in Fleischer cartoons being boycotted throughout the strike's duration. Max Fleischer had been bugging Paramount to let them do a full length animated film, but they didn't go for it until Disney pulled it off with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Once Disney had proven that it could be done and people would go see it (and see it they did, Snow White still tops box office returns when adjusted for inflation for animated films), Paramount then demanded a movie be done by Christmas 1939. 

The first of two feature films made by Fleischer Studios was Gulliver's Travels, the classic story by Jonathon Swift. The production of Gulliver's Travels was not a smooth one. Paramount demanded a film in 18 months, a daunting task considering that Snow White was made in twice that amount. On top of this was the Studios move from New York to Miami, Florida. While the studio gained a bit of freedom on how they were making the film, the remote location made their relationship with the Technicolor lab. Rotoscoping was used for many of the main characters to give them more life-like movement, and like Disney would eventually do, used the voice actor as the live-action model. Even with Paramount constantly threatening to cancel the film, the studio was able to get it done in time for Christmas 1939. The film was a success, grossing $3.27 million domestically, a feat made even more impressive considering it was only playing at 50 theaters. Paramount was happy enough with Gulliver's Travels and wanted another movie for Christmas 1941. Despite the profit made from the movie, Paramount still penalized Fleischer Studios for $350,000 for going over budget. This was just the start of Fleischer's financial woes.

Things were going downhill quickly for the Fleischer brothers. The move to Miami and the stress of trying to get Gulliver's Travels made had damaged their relationship. They eventually stopped talking to one another after Max slept with Dave's receptionist. Dave eventually gained full control of production, with Max dealing with business affairs and research. Things didn't go much better with Dave picking what to make. Their new cartoons were very unpopular, with only Popeye sticking out as a money-maker. Max attempted to save the studio by acquiring the rights to Superman, which was a very popular character, but was too little too late. Superman was also expensive to product. Their first short featuring Superman cost $50,000, the highest of any short of that time.

Fleischer Studios still hadn't paid Paramount all their penalties and Paramount eventually fully acquired them, though letting them keep producing cartoons. They hoped that Popeye, Superman, and the studio's second film could get things going again. Mr. Bug Goes to Town, the studio's second feature, was not going to save them. It was first previewed on December 5th, 1941. Critics enjoyed it, but theater owners rejected it. Two days later, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and Paramount canceled the release of the film until February. Paramount had had enough of the Fleischer brothers and had made them sign resignation forms ahead of the films release to be used at the company's discretion. Dave quit, and Max was fired shortly after. Mr. Bug Goes to Town, originally titled Hoppity Goes to Town, was a complete bomb, and that, together with Paramount noticing that both of Disney's recent releases, Pinocchio and Fantasia tanked at the box office too, led Paramount to completely abandon making animated films. Fleischer Studios was renamed Famous Studios in 1942.

Fleischer Studios still exists today, but not as a traditional studio. Max's grandson, Mark Fleischer, currently owns the studio, which owns the rights to Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Bimbo, and Grampy. Mark basically controls merchandising on these characters. I'm guessing Betty Boop is the only one making anyting. Superman was eventually bought by Warner Bros., and Popeye's cartoons are owned by Turner Entertainment.

Not all of these will be this long. Fleischer Studios holds a place in history and their studio history is more interesting than their two films. Fleischer Studios found success because they were drawing in a way that no one else was. They had a rougher feel, but along with rotoscoping and more human characters, it felt more life-like. The settings in the cartoons tended to be more urban, in areas that looked all too familiar to the lives of those living during the depression. Disney did funny cartoon animals, while Fleischer tended toward more human characters. Most studios went with animals, so this really helped with Fleischer's popularity. All of their cartoons have a very specific look, and you know one when you see it. This animation style is not altogether gone either, as there is currently a video game in development that uses that same style called Cuphead. It's nice that the early animation giants are still remembered in some ways today.


Animation Studios

It's been 2 years since I've written for this blog, so I wanted to write about something interesting that many people may not know about. Most everyone knows about Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, and Illumination, but there are many more animation studios out there, much more now then there have ever been. We are going through an animated renaissance of sorts, and everyone's trying to get in on it. Sadly, not all of these studios lasted, with some only putting out a single film. My new series will tackle all of these studios and give you a little information on them and the movies they came out with. I will only be covering animated feature films released theatrically. I'm excluding any live action with animation added, though I will be talking about those studios anyway. I won't be covering any animated films made for adults, and I'm only going to cover American films. I may make a few exceptions along the way. One last note is that Disney will not have their own post because I've done a write-up on all of their films and the studio's history is peppered throughout. All of the studios are competition with Disney and for the most part Disney has always stayed on top, so most will go into a little bit on comparing the two companies. If you feel like I'm leaving out a movie, let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Disney's Big Hero 6

Tired of Frozen yet? It's been over a year and Frozen is still at the forefront of many children's thoughts, much to the chagrin of their parents. Big Hero 6 has been out since the fall, and though it has made quite a bit of money, it's nothing compared to the juggernaut that is Frozen. I don't really hear too much about kids really loving Big Hero 6, just people that are a bit older. It is arguably a movie for an older audience, and it may skew towards the male persuasion just because of the whole superhero thing, but honestly anyone should enjoy this movie, just like anyone should be able to enjoy a princess movie. I also think it's easier for kids to latch onto movies when they have songs. Almost every movie from my childhood was a musical, and I remember those ones way more than the ones without. The best example I can give is Rescuers Down Under. A great film and I remember enjoying it fine when I was a kid, but it wasn't nearly as memorable as Aladdin or The Lion King. Maybe it was the story, or maybe it was the songs. Anyway, Big Hero 6 seems to be a part of Disney's new trend of having a princess movie followed by a non-musical movie aimed more towards a wider audience. Big Hero 6 is also Disney's first use of a Marvel property for their animated films. It was a pretty big gamble to take a non-mainstream comic and adapt it into a kid's film. Luckily for Disney, the gamble paid off.

Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, and it took them very little time to start looking for a Marvel property to adapt. CEO Bob Iger encouraged the Walt Disney company's divisions to look into a more obscure title, so they'd be able to come up with their own story. Don Hall, who at the time was co-directing Winnie the Pooh, looked through a bunch of Marvel titles and came upon Big Hero 6. He liked the name and had never heard of it before, so he pitched it to John Lasseter, who in turn loved the idea. Big Hero 6 started production in 2012 and it was decided that it would be produced solely by Disney. Disney did get some consultation from Marvel, but didn't let them butt in too much. Disney also made it a point that Big Hero 6 would not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in a universe of its own. Sorry, you won't see Baymax showing up in the next Avengers film. Baymax would differ greatly from his character in the comics, with a much more friendlier exterior than a standard robot. Disney wanted a robot that was unlike anything anyone had seen, so they decided to visit Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. There they met a group working on a soft robot, one that would use inflatable vinyl. These robots would be used in the healthcare field, which further inspired the Disney team. Baymax would become a huggable robot that was meant to be a nurse more than anything. Baymax's face design was inspired by a copper suzu bell that Don Hall noticed while at a Shinto shrine. The design worked in giving Baymax a more minimalist look.

Big Hero 6 takes place in the fictional mash-up city of San Fransokyo. The design team wanted to give the city an equal parts Eastern world and Western world feel. Parts are unmistakably San Francisco, but with a Japanese touch to it. Some areas of downtown look more Eastern than Western, with a very heavy Blade Runner feel to it all. The explanation of the city was that after the earthquake of 1906, San Francisco was rebuilt by largely Japanese immigrants, who made the city in a way to better withstand earthquakes in the future. With the obvious blending of cultures, the city decided to rename itself in honor of its inhabitants that helped rebuild it. Disney created a whole new program for animating this film. The system, called Hyperion, rendered all the details of the animation and made new illumination possible, such as light shining through translucent objects. Hyperion was a complex program to run, and needed its own super computing cluster just to handle the processing demands.

The voice cast has a nice blend of new voice actors and veterans. Some lesser known actors like Ryan Potter (Hiro Hamada), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), and Daniel Henney (Tadashi Hamada), join big names like Scott Adsit (Baymax), T.J. Miller (Fred), Damon Wayans, Jr.(Wasabi), Maya Rudolph (Aunt Cass), James Cromwell (Professor Robert Callahan), and Alan Tudyk (Alistair Krei). Disney must like Alan Tudyk, because he's been in the last three Disney films, including Wreck-it Ralph as King Candy, and Frozen as the Duke of Weselton. The voice cast is perfect, though my favorite by far is Scott Adsit as Baymax. I really liked Adsit in 30 Rock, and you can tell he enjoyed doing this film.

Big Hero 6 premiered on October 23rd, 2014 at the Tokyo International Film Festival, with its theatrical release in the U.S. on November 7th. The version of the movie we have seen is just a bit different from the version released in South Korea. Since South Korea and Japan aren't exactly friendly right now, all Japanese has been removed from signs in the movie and replaced with English, while names where changed to make them Korean instead of Japanese. Big Hero 6, at the time of this article, has made over $220 million in the U.S., and over $350 million in other territories. Big Hero 6 is the third highest Disney animated film behind Frozen, and The Lion King. Big Hero 6 has been critically lauded, with an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many focusing on the beautiful animation and depth of characters. Big Hero 6 has also won Best Animated Picture at The Academy Awards this year, and was nominated for the same honor for the Annie's, Golden Globes, and BAFTA's.

Big Hero 6, along with Guardians of the Galaxy is a welcome anomaly for comic book movies. Disney gambled on both films and it worked out for them. Both are Marvel properties that were pretty obscure, which opened up the films for a different interpretation. If Disney made a Iron Man animated movie, then they'd have to follow a certain formula, because people know Iron Man and expect certain things. Big Hero 6 is quite different from its source material, and you can see why they changed a few things. Created in 1998 by Steven Seagle and Duncan Rouleu, it started out in what amounted as a cameo. They had their own series starting in 2008, and they featured all the same characters from the film. Fred, AKA Fredzilla, can turn into a Godzilla-like creature. Wasabi-No-Ginger is, in the comics, and Asian chef who is skilled with swords. Honey Lemon has her Power Purse that contains a series of miniature wormholes that allow her to pull anything she prepares out of it. GoGo Tomago is able to transform her body into an explosive ball of energy which can be projected at vast speeds. Perhaps the most different is Baymax, who in the comics is a hydro-powered robotic sythnformer that has been invented by Hiro Takachiho. Baymax was meant to be his chauffeur and bodyguard until Hiro's father dies. Hiro programs Baymax with is father's brain and therfore Baymax becomes more of a father figure to him. Baymax is able to transform into a large humanoid creature, a battle dragon, and a action mecha. So yeah, a huggable robot nurse versus a transforming robot with the mind of a deceased father. The latter would have been a little weird. There are other members in Big Hero 6, but Disney was not able to use them, since they are tied into the X-Men, and therefore are not fully owned by Marvel.

While it may not be as popular as Frozen, Big Hero 6 is, in my opinion, a better film, and just plain fun. Even if you don't like superhero movies, you're sure to enjoy this movie, which deals much more with real themes of life than typical superhero fare.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story is probably the most polarizing Christmas movie of all time. People either love this movie to death, or hate it with extreme passion. I was raised on this movie, and had no idea that other people even knew about it until TNT and TBS started showing it for 24 hours straight from Christmas Eve night through Christmas Day. Turns out everyone knows about this movie, and luckily it hasn't ruined it for me. I am unfortunately one of those people who don't like when things get too popular, but you can't ruin childhood favorites. I really can't see a reason that people don't like this movie other than that it's a bit overplayed. It's on for 24 hours straight! Why?! It's a great movie, but why for that long? Why not make it an event and have it on Christmas eve at 8? Everyone would tune in! Instead you look for things to watch on Christmas day and after you have watched A Christmas Story once, you're not going to stay tuned in! You're going to look for something else! To be fair, A Christmas Story scores TBS huge ratings. People really do love this movie. Some even to the point of obsession. A fan bought the original house from the movie and made it into a walk through museum! That's pretty crazy!

A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark, who at the time was best known for directing Black Christmas and the two Porky's movies. I know what you're thinking. He's the perfect person to direct a feel-good Christmas movie! We actually have Porky's to thank for A Christmas Story, funny enough. No studio wanted to touch a Christmas movie, mostly because they weren't popular back then. The success of Porky's allowed him to finally do the Christmas movie he always wanted to do, and not one that involved murder like Black Christmas. For source material he turned to Jean Shepherd, whom he had first discovered in 1968 when he heard Shepherd's semi-autobiographic story "Flick's Tongue" on the radio. Story ideas came from many of Shepherd's stories that he published in Playboy in the sixties and others that were unpublished stories from Shepherd's days touring colleges. I think this really helps with the appeal for many in the older generations. Not that the movie isn't entertaining to other generations, but it's always fun to see a story true to how life was back when you were young. This begs the question then: what year does this movie take place? It's left ambiguous on purpose, though many have tried to nail one down following clues from the movie. Clark and Shepherd, both of whom helped pen the screenplay, decided that it was supposed to be vaguely set in the 30's and 40's. I'm not sure why, but I always thought it was the 50's as a kid. Shows what I know! While the story takes place in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of Shepherd's hometown of Hammond, Indiana, the movie was actually shot in Cleveland, Ohio, with a few in Toronto, including the "Oh, Fudge" scene and the dinner at the Chinese restaurant.

Music is big part of the movie, which mixes classical, western, and Christmas songs. To extenuate the hyperbolic nature of the film, some scenes are enunciated with familiar classical songs, like Tchaikovsky's Hamlet (Oh Fudge scene, the second breaking of the leg lamp, and Ralphie breaks his glasses), Alphons Czibulka's Wintermarchen (Ralphie is blind dream sequence), Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Miss Shields grading papers in Ralphie's fantasy), and my favorite, Prokofiev's "Wolf Theme" from Peter and the Wolf (anytime Scut Farkus is seen). To make the predator-like bully seem even more linked with the music, they gave him the last name Farkus, which means "Wolf" in Hungarian. I never really got why they named him Scut. I always thought it was Scott, and was really confused when I saw it wasn't. Who names their kid Scut? There's also music borrowed from Movement 3 [On the Trail], for any scene involving the Red Ryder BB Gun. Many Christmas songs were used for the movie, with even some modern ones (for their time) that included Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Fred Waring. The music really makes this movie. I mean, yeah, it has a lot going for it, but the music just takes the outlandishness of the movie and makes it fit perfectly together.

A Christmas Story was released in November of 1983 and didn't fare too well, thanks in part to the aforementioned fact that people didn't really care for Christmas movies in the 80's. The film stopped playing at most theaters by the time Christmas rolled around, but some people put up a fuss and few hundred theaters let it stay until January. Released initially by MGM, the movie grossed a little over $19 million and probably would have faded into the background of forgotten Christmas movies had it not been given a second chance on video and TV viewings. It first aired on HBO in 1985 and quickly gained a following. It was then aired by WGN, WTBS, and Fox in the late 80's and early 90's, each of which started the tradition of showing the movie on or the day after Thanksgiving. Ted Turner acquired MGM in the mid-80's and therefore owned A Christmas Story. He took advantage of the movie's growing popularity by putting it on all three of his major channels, TNT, TBS, and TCM. The tradition of having 24 hours of A Christmas Story started in 1997 on TNT, which lasted until TNT realized it was a serious drama station and was too cool for Christmas movies. In 2004 TBS took over the Christmas Story marathon and it has stayed there since. Each year it gains more and more viewers, so Turner must be doing something right. Honestly I think it's hurting the long term value of the movie by over-saturating us with it, but people still watch It's a Wonderful Life after all these years and it's on every Christmas.

So are you one of the people that love or loathe this movie? As you know, I love it, but I grew up with it, so maybe I'm biased. I appreciate the dark humor and the hyperbolic antics. It's not your traditional Christmas movie. A kid wants something the whole movie, is warned about having that thing, and then when he does receive said thing, he promptly does the thing people warned him about. Go figure. Such is the struggle of being a kid though, right? We've all had to put on the "bunny suit." We've all wanted something awesome that had unforeseen consequences. We've all accidentally said a bad word in front of our parents, though at lease mine didn't end up with soup in the mouth. A Christmas Story is legit funny, entertaining, and so what if it's everywhere on Christmas, it's still awesome.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Disney's Frozen

There's this film called Frozen, have you heard of it? Probably not. It's not like every child everywhere is singing its songs non-stop, or purchasing all related merchandise. This movie is ridiculous, and I don't mean that the movie itself is, I mean that everyone needs to shut up about it already. It's a fine Disney movie, but people are going nuts over this and I'm not sure why. It has some good music, I'll give it that, and the animation is great as usual, but this isn't The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Those movies are timeless classics. Maybe I'm just biased because I grew up during the 90's and therefore those Disney movies are the best (arguable). I do feel that Frozen will live on longer than anything Disney has come out with in the last ten or so years, not counting Tangled. It will be beloved, though it remains to be seen if it will be because it's legitimately a great Disney movie, or it's just a fun, nostalgic romp for "Teeners." Yes, I just created a term for kids that grew up in the 2010's. Patent Pending? Anyway, let me cut this rant short and get into the movie.

Frozen is based on "The Snow Queen," by Hans Christian Anderson, though very loosely. "The Snow Queen" tells the story of two young playmates, a boy named Kai, and a girl named Gerda. Satan and his demons carry around a mirror that shows people the ugliness inside themselves but it is broken when they attempt to fly it up to heaven. The shards fly around Earth and randomly affect people, causing them to only see the worst in people, plus erratic behavior. Cut to Kai and Gerda, two best friends that live next to each other. Kai's grandmother tells the children of the a Snow Queen, the queen of the snow bees. Yes, they are snowflakes that look like bees. Wow, I'd hate to live in this world. Can't even catch snowflakes on my tongue without worrying that they are bees in disguise. Kai sees said Snow Queen beckon to him later that night from his window, but he's afraid of her and moves away. One day, while Kai and Gerda are playing outside, one of the evil mirror pieces lands in Kai's eye. Kai becomes cruel and aggressive, no longer caring about his beloved playmate. The only things he cares about now are the snowflakes that he sees through his magnifying glass. While Kai is out in the town, he is taken away by the Snow Queen, whom he is apparently not too frightened of anymore. She carries him off on her sleigh and kisses him twice. Once to numb him from the snow, and twice to make him forget about those they are leaving behind (a third kiss would kill him).Gerda is heartbroken when the townspeople insist that he probably died in the nearby river. Gerda's having none of that and goes out to search for her lost friend. Long story short, Gerda, along with a reindeer, are able to save Kai with the power of love. Yes, I said love.

The plots are just a little bit different. About the only things that are sort of the same are the reindeer, the one person having to travel a long distance to save the other, and love conquering all. In Frozen, the story revolves around a princess with ice powers, Elsa (Idina Menzel), and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who is isolated away from her for fear she may get hurt. Elsa grows up to fear her own power and avoids contact with her sister at all costs, causing a major rift in their relationship. Their king and queen parents die in a boat trip (to Rapunzel's wedding?) and the girls are suddenly left alone. Fast forward to Elsa's coronation day, where a bunch of freeloaders come and attempt to curry favor. Anna is finally able to get out of the castle and run around, which leads to her meeting Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Hans and her have a duet together and apparently it's love at first sight because he asks her to marry him, which she hastily agrees to. Elsa's having none of it and refuses to bless their marriage. The sisters start fighting and Elsa's powers are discovered. She leaves in fear and, unbeknownst to her, casts an eternal winter over the land. Elsa gets rid of her restraint and uses her powers to build herself a castle far away from Arendelle. Anna leaves Hans in charge of the castle and hastens to bring her sister back. She is helped by a man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who seems to be in love with his reindeer. Together they attempt to coax Elsa back to Arendelle so she can get rid of the permanent winter. They are also joined by Olaf (Josh Gad), the snowman they made when they were children.

Things don't go so hot and when Anna finally confronts her sister, she is accidentally struck by her sister's ice power. Elsa scares the group away, and they go to a group of trolls when Kristoff notices that Elsa's hair is turning white. They learn from the trolls that Anna's heart has become frozen and without an act of true love, she will turn to ice. Anna deduces that she must therefore kiss Hans, much to Kristoff's chagrin. Hans, meanwhile, decides to lead a party to find the group and happens upon Elsa's castle, where they capture her and bring her back to Arendelle. Hans begs Elsa to get rid of winter, but she claims not to know how. Anna makes it back to Arendelle in time to meet with Hans, but it turns out that he doesn't love her at all, and was only using her to become king. *Dum Dum Duuuummm.* Elsa escapes from the castle and makes her way across the fjord, just as Olaf tells Anna that Kristoff loves her. Every character is now out on the fjord, and it's snowing like crazy! Though Anna is looking to kiss Kristoff, she decides instead to sacrifice herself to save her sister from Hans. She turns to ice before Hans can kill her sister, thus fulfilling an act of true love. Disney totally tricked us! It doesn't have to be romantic love that breaks curses and such, but also the love between family members! Elsa realizes that love is the key to her powers and unfreezes the land. Hans goes to Scandinavian jail and Kristoff and Anna apparently live happily ever after.

Disney had this movie on the bench for a very long time. In 1943, Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn planned on making a collaborative biography on Hans Christian Anderson. Goldwyn and his studio would do the live action and Disney would do the animation. The animated segments were supposed to include such works as "The Little Mermaid," "The Little Match Girl," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Snow Queen," "Thumbelina", "The Ugly Duckling," "The Red Shoes," and "The Emperor's New Clothes." Disney had trouble with "The Snow Queen" and couldn't find a way to make it interesting for modern audiences. Disney knew that the story had a lot of cinematic potential but they couldn't make it work. This, along with other problems, led to the project falling apart. Goldwyn would finally finish the project in 1952, sans animated segments. Funny enough, Disney adapted most of the segments into either feature length films or shorts. The Snow Queen was pitched several times from the mid-90's to the late 2000's but Disney still couldn't make the story work. It was thanks to Tangled's success that Frozen gained some footing and was lifted out of Development Hell. The problem they kept hitting was having Elsa as the villain of the film, though perhaps misunderstood, like Kai. Things started to look up when they decided to make the Elsa and Anna characters siblings and make Elsa not so much the villain. Originally, Elsa intentionally hits Anna with her powers and tries to stop her as she tries to get back to Hans. Yikes.

Turns out that the whole bait and switch at the end with Anna saving Elsa was the very first idea the writers came up with. They wanted something different, something to go along with the saying, "an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart." What really changed everything was the song "Let It Go." Before that point, Elsa was a villain, but after the song was written, they decided Elsa worked much better as a scared, vulnerable character just trying to deal with her powers. The whole twist near the end where Hans turns out to the villain didn't come until very late in the writing process. First he was absent from the script, then he was brought in as a hero, then finally as a surprise villain, but one that was revealed early in the story. Hans is portrayed as a sociopath in the movie, perfectly mirroring each character he interacts with to better suit his needs. They decided to make it a surprise reveal near the end so as to not make the film so predictable. They attempted at one point in the writing process to have a character explain why Elsa has powers, but they found that the more they tried to explain, the more complicated the story became. The character of Olaf was hard for the writers, mainly because they didn't know how to properly utilize him. At first he was Elsa's obnoxious sidekick (much like Iago in Aladdin), but the main writer, Jennifer Lee, couldn't stand him. So, Olaf went from evil sidekick to a hapless sidekick for Anna.

If you didn't realize it, most of the cast of Frozen is made up of Broadway singers. I think Disney really wanted to dive back into the Broadway-esque heyday they had back in the 90's. Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) was chosen for Anna based on vocal tracks of her when she was younger, including her singing "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Idina Menzel (Wicked) auditioned for Tangled but didn't get the part, but that didn't stop Tangled's casting director from keeping her audition tape and showing it to the production team for Frozen. Menzel and Bell did table reads together and even sang "Wind Beneath my Wings" as a duet since there was no songs nailed down yet. After the two main characters were chosen, the rest came easier, with other Broadway veterans like Santino Fontana (Cinderella, Billy Elliot the Musical), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon), and Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening) rounding out the rest of the cast. The only other main character that is the in film is the Duke of Weselton, brilliantly performed by Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Wreck-It Ralph). I honestly think the casting was very well done, except maybe for Menzel, and I know people will get mad at me for this. She sounds too grown up to voice a girl in her late teens. Maybe I'm alone in this thought, but "Let It Go" does not sound like it's sung by a teenager. Elsa seems more like her mother or much older sister in the movie.

Frozen was released theatrically on November 27th, 2013, accompanied by the Micky Mouse short, Get A Horse! Frozen went on to make over a billion dollars worldwide, but who's counting? It is now officially the highest grossing animated film of all time, edging out Toy Story 3, though The Lion King is still the highest grossing traditionally animated film. The film has also garnered widespread acclaim among critics who praised the voice-acting, songs, and overall story. Obviously everyone loves this movie, or at least they did until their children made them watch it twenty times a day. Critics are calling this the second Disney Renaissance, and maybe it is, but I think it really started back with The Princess and the Frog. Sure, the films that came before Frozen weren't as loved or high grossing, but that doesn't mean they weren't good.

It may not sound like it, but I did like this movie. I think it's a worthy addition to the Disney line-up, but what bothers me is people's reaction to it like it's the second coming of The Lion King. There are many, many Disney movies that are better than Frozen, and if you think otherwise, then you are unfortunately, and sadly, mistaken. It's got some good music, but nothing better than most of the 90's fare, or some of the Golden Age Disney films. It's got humor, but not enough to consider it up there with The Lion King, Hercules, Aladdin, or The Emperor's New Groove. The story is probably the best part of the whole movie. While you have to suspend some disbelief at the beginning, the rest of the story works really well. They put a lot of twists in the story, which is a welcome change from some animated movies where you can see things coming a mile away. I think this was Disney's way of showing us that they can take a fairy tale, present it like some of their other classics, but change it just enough to show us that they aren't really out of fresh ideas. Princess movies are probably back for good now, though I'm not sure where they can go from here. If you think about it, they have done many of the popular princess movies. Remember the whole issue with Tangled and its new name? People were sure that Disney was all of a sudden afraid to have a "girl-centered" movie. Disney denies this, claiming that they wanted a title that made it clear that Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder were both the main characters and not just Rapunzel. If Disney was afraid of losing the male audience, then they did an about-face rather quickly, having a movie that centered around two sisters, something they've never really done. It looks like it worked for them. Not only was it hugely popular in theaters, but Anna and Elsa are huge for merchandising. I can't tell you how many kids I see with Frozen merch. Disney had no idea and didn't make enough product, so now you can find dolls and costumes for upwards of $1000 on ebay. Yeah, people are going nuts. The Disney Parks initially had Anna and Elsa character meet and greets to promote the film and then were quietly going to discontinue them, but the movie was such a hit that they've continued it indefinitely. The lines to meet the characters have stretched to four to six hours. It truly is a terrible time to have small children.

Frozen may or not become a true classic in the coming years, but it has undoubtedly left a mark. A Broadway musical is already being planned, and talk of a sequel has been whispered around. If they do decide to do a sequel, I hope it's just a straight to video, because I really don't want Disney to go the way of Pixar, which is now just doing a ton of sequels. Pixar, we really don't need Cars 3. I'm excited about The Incredibles 2, but it better be as good or better than the first film. Monsters University was cute and all, but was unnecessary in the long run. Disney has done three sequels in their entire run, and only one of them is a traditional sequel. Disney shouldn't try to milk this movie or its potential sequels for everything they're worth, or we are going to have another Cars situation. Big Hero 6 is the next film out for Disney, and seeing as it's a Marvel movie, chances are that it's not going to be geared towards girls as much as Frozen was. I don't think Disney should expect the same levels of popularity from this next film, but I could be wrong.