Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frozen: A long delayed review and opinion

Part of me really wants to write some sort of scathing review of Disney's latest mega-hit, just to be a dissenter. There was so much hype surrounding this movie that I purposely waited until May to see it, just so I could enjoy it somewhat free of the saccharine squeals, endless quotes usurping adult conversation, and repeated renditions of "Let it Go" everywhere from the Oscars to YouTube and everywhere in between. By the time I finally did see it, there were no surprises left because all social media and entertainment news centered around the ins and outs, Easter eggs, conspiracy theories, hidden agendas, and every other angle imaginable in Frozen. I'm serious when I say there is nothing stemming from Frozen that can surprise me.

Well first off, I won't deny that it actually is a pretty good movie, even if did feel like a shameless Disney scheme to make new princesses to add to their marketing collection. But don't get me started on Disney's marketing schemes. Anyway, this latest installment features a princess and a rarity: a queen that wants to be good. Generally speaking Disney queens are evil, and Elsa goes a little dark, but not evil. Although I'm going to guess that Elsa will still be marketed as a princess.

So assuming that any readers either saw the movie or suffered my same fate, I won't bother explaining the plot. But I'll admit I liked it. I respectfully but heartily disagree that it's the "finest Disney movie ever" as some have implied, but that's an opinion and they're entitled to it. Here's the thing: I liked it, but I didn't love it. And maybe that's because by the time I saw it, I felt like it had been shoved in my face (and ears) everywhere I went. The movie simply couldn't live up to that much hype, and even now I find it difficult to really assess the quality of the movie from a clear angle because I feel like all the hype surrounding the movie was orchestrating a pre-made opinion for me that I need only walk into, and be part of the collective.

With all that in mind, I'm doing my best to think objectively.

The music was pretty good, and it was nice to see a return to the "sing-along" styles of earlier Disney pieces in songs like "In Summer", "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman", and a few others. Certainly "Let it Go" is catchy and feels empowering. In context, it's a song that celebrates independence, freedom, and escape from social oppression, but with great cost: total isolation.  Some would argue that Elsa's decision to be in a self-imposed exile is to protect people from her powers. However, her complete glee in doing so seems to somewhat contradict that point, and opens a psychological box that I'm not sure I'm qualified to get into, but I'm going to try because I think that it has some very interesting implications.

  • Although inadvertently, I would posit that Elsa was emotionally abused. Her parents were well-meaning, but their insistence to "conceal, don't feel" did not teach her control-- it imprisoned her in fear. 
  • Going off the above point, Elsa flees her responsibility out of fear, and then experiences a freedom that drives her to...isolation. Not so different from her years of solitary confinement when you think about it, except that now in her ice castle there's no one she need fear hurting, if that was what she really was afraid of in the first place.  

With the above points in consideration, it's interesting that Elsa's freedom so closely resembles her years of concealment, and that she so enthusiastically embraces it. I suppose it's some sort of metaphor about hurt people choosing to stay isolated, and deluding themselves into believing it to be the best thing. She evolves from the attitude of "I have to do this for others" to "I want to do this for me." In Elsa's defense, she really did not know who she could have turned to for help. Her parents should have provided this support, so her choice to be isolated is understandable when weighed against her years of conditioning. Eventually Elsa figures out that learning to control her powers and daring to love will hurt much less than continuing to isolate herself in safety. For that reason, it might have been interesting to see "Let It Go" have a reappearance in the movie after Elsa's enlightenment, showing her actually letting go of her fears, rather than just unleashing her pent-up powers.

Onto lighter topics! I'll just talk about Olaf because he was my favorite. Josh Gad, who voiced the lovable snowman based his inspiration of Olaf on the iconic Genie. Reportedly, Gad wanted to create a character that could be just as unpredictable and unconfined by normal barriers as the Genie was in Aladdin. As a result, we have a snowman who is almost indestructible, more or less fearless, witty, and whose greatest desire is entirely incompatible with his nature (not unlike the Genie's longing for freedom). Without Olaf, Frozen would have really just been a dark and depressing tale, but Olaf's presence keeps things buoyant in the right moments. His wide-eyed childlike wonder at the world is endearing and amusing. Olaf has significant symbolic value, but getting into that would be laborious, so go and google it instead. Someone else has probably already written about it.

All in all, Frozen was a well-made and entertaining movie that proves Disney has still got a few tricks up its sleeve. It took a unique spin on the true love concept, appropriately transferring it to be between sisters, rather than a hasty romantic love. Furthermore, Frozen somewhat gives a smack in the face to previous princess tales that do involve a love-at-first sight occurrence. Anna and Hans meet, connect, and want to be together forever; it's really not all that different from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, or any number of other stories. It turned out fine for them, but Frozen takes a more practical, cautious approach to this cliche, and directly points out the foolishness of acting hastily on the euphoria of new love. For that, Frozen gets some extra points. I'm not one to say that stories of this nature need to be realistic, but it is nice to see a little cautionary reality thrown in every now and then as regards relationships. So my closing note is that Frozen was good and quite enjoyable, but I am ready to get back to the days when I could say "just let it go" without inspiring a chorus bursting forth from surrounding eavesdroppers.

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