Sunday, December 1, 2013

Selma Ruins Frozen

From the creators of "Tangled". You don't say.
A brief interlude in our series of Disney sequel reviews - a new Disney Princess movie is out in theaters, so of course I couldn't resist going to see how we've progressed from Tangled.

The answer is: We have not.

Yeah, the art design is basically identical. But that's actually not what I mean when I say Disney's storytelling hasn't progressed since Tangled. Unfortunately, I think we've taken a step backward.

Frozen and Tangled are infinitely comparable because not only do they have the same art design, but they also have the same tone. They have that same Dreamworks-esque arched eyebrow and witty banter. These aren't the earnest Cinderellas of old, or even the yearning Jasmines of the mid-90s. These are Disney movies that make fun of themselves and want to be the cool kid.

"Well, this is awkward. Not you-awkward, me-awkward.
Just we, us - this is awkward. You're gorgeous. Wait. What?"
Caution: Contains spoilers for both Tangled and Frozen.

In Tangled, a baby is stolen from her family and locked up in a tower so an evil-ish woman can use her for her flower power. Rapunzel wants to go out, but Mother Gothel won't let her leave for fear of losing that power. When thief Flynn Rider climbs her tower to hide from the authorities, Rapunzel strikes a deal with him: She'll let him keep his ill-gotten gains if he'll escort her to see the outside world. The authorities and Mother Gothel are hot on their heels, but they evade all the obstacles in their way until Mother Gothel rigs a staged betrayal. Rapunzel goes back home with her only to realize that she is her kingdom's missing princess. Flynn gets out of his trap and tries to rescue her, but is killed(ish) by Mother Gothel. As his last act, Flynn cuts her hair to free her of Mother Gothel's tyranny, and true love brings him back because of course it does.

In Frozen, Princess Anna and Elsa are best friends until they're playing a game and Anna accidentally gets struck by Elsa's magic (which is apparently a secret...?) so they all take her to some trolls who cure her and lay down some foreshadowing about ice in the heart. So then Elsa won't talk to Anna anymore even though she tries to sing at her and Anna grows up all alone and their parents die and the gates to the kingdom are closed but then three years later there's a ball for Elsa's coronation which is mandatory I guess. At the ball Anna meets Hans, her true love, and they ask Elsa's blessing to be engaged. Elsa says no and Anna gets ticked off and then Elsa gets ticked off and then Elsa makes with the magic and everyone's horrified so Elsa runs away and accidentally brings down an eternal winter on the kingdom. So Anna sets off to find her and then she meets this guy named Kristoff and his reindeer who he has an unnaturally close relationship with and they banter and meet an irritating snowman sidekick on the way to Elsa's new lair AND WE'RE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH YET. Are you beginning to see the problem here?

Frozen goes at absolutely breakneck pace with no breathing room. We get characterization, but not the extra time we really need to empathize and feel like they're three-dimensional (in spite of the fact that every movie is apparently made in Real 3D now, whatever that is). In Tangled we had scenes that had no dialogue at all, and small but extremely effective touches like the first time Rapunzel whacks Flynn in the back of the head, squeaks, and runs away from his prone figure. There's no silent moments in Frozen. Every single moment is packed with dialogue to ensure that you remember which traits belong to who.

I think that one of Frozen's biggest mistakes may be its large cast. When you only have 108 minutes to work with, two main characters makes for a much more cohesive story than four.

In spite of its less typical Disney princess feel, Brave feels more like Frozen than Tangled does, in that both movies suffer from having gone through a million rewrites. Frozen is unquestionably a better movie than Brave is, but that doesn't mean it's really good.

Much has been made over Frozen's head of animation saying: “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

While those aren't words any feminist will be pleased to hear, they are if nothing else an honest reflection of the way women are generally viewed in society. We're somehow a majority minority.

But in spite of the comments of its animator, the movie definitely gets a big ol' check in the feminism column. The story is resolved without the help of either of the leading men. Neither woman is saved by a man in any way.

In fact...

Why did we need the guys again?

No, seriously. In a movie full of structural defects, this is Frozen's biggest flaw. It's forgotten that the Disney prince/princess love story is there only to set in motion the wheels of a compelling tale, like in The Little Mermaid. But this story is already compelling. Anna and Elsa are sisters pulled apart by Elsa's issues. Anna desperately wants to help Elsa, but Elsa is too afraid of hurting Anna to let her in close. This is riveting stuff! Not only that, but the voice acting is top notch. I desperately wanted to see more of the relationship between the two sisters, but instead we kept getting yanked away to stare at the Inevitable Conclusion Romantic Arc some more.

I like Disney love stories, but Hans and Kristoff were entirely superfluous characters. They don't set the wheels of the story into motion (other than by way of Anna's engagement, but Elsa's break in control could have been caused by oh, I don't know, literally anything else). They don't teach Anna anything about herself. They don't save the day even a little.

A few people may feel the need to point out that the fairy tale Frozen was based on ("The Snow Queen", which I guess tested a little too girly for Dreamisney) was about a boy and a girl. Unto this I say shut up, Frozen has absolutely nothing to do with The Snow Queen other than "there's people and someone likes snow a lot".

Tangled isn't a perfect movie, but it's focused. It has time to show us that not only is Mother Gothel a baby-stealer, but she's also an emotionally abusive jerk ("You are not leaving this tower ever!!!!! ...Great, now I'm the bad guy"). It has time for quiet moments where Flynn and Rapunzel simply enjoy a festival together, so that we believe in their romance.

I wanted to like Frozen a lot more than I did, but I find myself feeling the way I did after seeing Brave - frustrated at watching so much unfulfilled potential, and irritated at being able to see all the cracks showing. This movie was rewritten too many times. After being shot in the heart with ice, Anna turns surly and snaps about never coming back to see her sister again... only to drop that development entirely and never return to it. And while the love interest was likable, he wasn't anything else.

If you want to make a movie about sisters, make a movie about sisters. Don't sacrifice half your running time to an uninspired, pointless love story that only distracts from the true heart of the movie.