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.


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