Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Frozen (2013)

(Disclaimer: in order to give a thorough analysis, this review contains spoilers. Normally I'd keep it spoiler-free, but this review is primarily directed towards people who have already seen Frozen. Also, it's been awhile since I've seen the movie; so forgive me if I get any details wrong.)

When I first saw Frozen, I knew very little about the plot. Three pieces of information had leaked through the social networks: one, that Olaf is apparently a cool name; two, that pretty much everybody loved Frozen; and three, that “Let It Go” was supposed to be the most incredible song in the history of ever.

As a result, I watched Frozen with almost no idea of what was going to happen.

Just like every movie, Frozen had its ups and downs. I'll leave off aesthetic details like animation style and song tunes and focus instead on theme and story.

First, the positives! Frozen marked a departure from some of the typical clichés of the “Disney” genre. The most obvious is that Disney finally refuted the idea that true love can be forged in a day. (For some reason, however, “Love Is An Open Door” remains a popular song, despite the fact that one of the singers ends up being a lying traitor and effectively nullifies the song's message.)

More importantly, the sort of love dealt with in the movie is, for once, not romantic. It is instead the story of sisterly love—a much more powerful and relevant theme in a culture that tends to neglect family relationships.

Other highlights of the movie included humor and originality. In terms of humor, Olaf had the monopoly. He had more good lines than anyone else in the movie, I think; my only disappointment is that he didn't melt at the end. (I'm one of those people who love bittersweet endings – don't hate me.)

One of my friends once told me, “Yeah, humor doesn't really get better as you get older—it just gets more vulgar.” Frozen illustrated this very well, especially when compared to shows for older audiences such as Sherlock. The banter was clean, without losing any of its potency.

Something Frozen also did well was creating a unique concept. I've told many people before, I love Frozen in concept. Elsa's ability and the danger she brings to her family as a result are perfect story-starters. Inadvertently causing everlasting winter but being unable to find a way to reverse it is another concept that is incredible fodder for a good story.

And yes, in terms of story, there was a huge amount of potential. The first ten or fifteen minutes were the best of the movie, as they provided a slew of character development, background, and emotion in a very condensed amount of time. Here is where Elsa received most of her development, and it made her (by far) the best character of the movie.

Here is a good place to transition into the drawbacks of Frozen. Yes, there was a lot of potential—but sadly, a lot of it was unused. The dilemma Elsa had was excellent—whether to maintain contact with her sister and risk hurting her again, or to refuse to see her in order to protect her.

Yet the emotional punch only went as far as twenty minutes. I was under the impression that the use of Elsa's gift could kill Anna, if Anna remembered. (Think Doctor Who and the Doctor-Donna.) When Elsa revealed her gift and nothing happened to Anna, I felt cheated of the story's tension. Before, the cost of revealing her gift was to kill Anna; now it was only the potential of hurting her, which was hardly as potent. Elsa's nobility in hiding herself from the world became, instead of a sacrifice, a self-imposed independence.

Which brings me to my next point: the contradictory nature of “Let It Go” and how it lessened my respect for Elsa. (In clarification: I have no qualms with it, musically.)

My reservations about the song could be summarized in one line: “The cold never bothered me anyway.” If the song had been about letting go of fear and hurt, then perhaps I would have liked it. But the bent of the song was not towards letting go of the negative things that her gift has given her. It was letting go of other people so that she could be by herself with her gift. It represented a rejection of her self-sacrifice, a rejection of her responsibility. (“No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” she says in the song.)

Her solitude became less and less a sacrifice, and more and more an affirmation of “I don't need them. I can be myself here, alone,” which is ultimately a destructive ideal.

That's what it says in the context of the story. But it seems like the writer half-wanted to relate the song to the story, and half-wanted to create a single all by itself. In context it is a negative song—but taken alone, it seems more like a positive cry for independence and the fearless use of her gift, which completely contradicts where Elsa's character is at that point in the movie. (The use of her gift in later scenes is anything but fearless.)

The end of the movie dealt with this fear well, and yet the song is still written and interpreted positively, rather than in the negative context. It's a contradiction that bothered me the whole movie.

This could have been solved fairly easily. If Elsa's choices, motivations, and the prices for her actions had been clearly defined, then there would be no contradiction, and the story would be stronger. Instead her character was static and the potential emotion that comes with self-sacrifice was wasted.

It's not the only contradiction, either. Anna, too, was contradictory at times. While her impulsiveness never changed, the way she related to her sister did. She exhibited bitterness at her sister's isolation, which is the natural, human reaction.

Yet she pursued her sister, sang a duet about not living in isolation—what happened to all those years where she never saw her sister? Did she harbor no lasting character change as a result? Her motivations were vague and confused.

The movie suffered from other issues. There was no real villain character until Anna was betrayed at the end—and from the first time the prince saw her, I knew that he was going to turn traitor. And the conversation that ensued when he did was so rife with clichés and wooden dialogue that it made me wince. Some of the songs also had problems with being bland and overused—and everyone saw that Anna and Christophe were “shipped” by the writers. (That is to say, they would be a couple by the end of the movie.)

Plotwise, the story lacked a satisfying and even arc. The pacing had problems. After the first ten minutes, which were heavy in character development, Elsa's character came to a virtual standstill, and Anna accomplished almost nothing to do with the plot till she got herself stabbed with an icicle.

You see, good stories rely on raising the stakes progressively higher to keep the tension high; for half the movie, the stakes remained the same. The tension only grew once the “ice” began to chill Anna's heart. Raising the stakes too slowly or too quickly either cause a movie to feel dragging or rushed. A good movie plot might progress by developing the plots and raising the stakes thus: two, four, six, eight, ten. It felt like Frozen went like this: one, two, seven, eight, ten.

In summary: Frozen had a lot of potential, and a lot of highlights. The theme was wonderful and sorely needed. But unfortunately, it was tainted by irregular pacing, some generic subplots, and sloppy character development. It was great in concept, poor in execution.

What do you think? What was your opinion on Frozen?


Mirriam said...

Okiedokie! I just saw Frozen today and then Nathaniel told me I should read and comment, so here I am.
I agree that Frozen had some unfulfilled potential - at times it felt like, 'wait. Shouldn't there be a villain somewhere? Higher stakes somewhere?' - but in spite of its flaws, I was surprised by how much the movie impressed me.
1. DISNEY actually made a movie that went against the idea of 'following your heart' after one day? What??
2. The prince wasn't...a prince (I know Flynn wasn't a prince, either, but in Frozen the prince was the VILLAIN. That never happens!)
3. The sister storyline was very close to my heart because my younger sister and I are almost exact parallels of Anna and Elsa - except we aren't princesses, and I don't have magic powers.
4. The act of true love wasn't a 'true love's kiss.' It was an act of true love, an act that anyone can do. That was pretty amazing - again, especially for a Disney princess movie.
5. Olaf was hysterical. Disney is good at making cartoon sidekicks, what can I say. They just get better and better.
6. I would go into a very girly swoon about the dresses and such, but I'll spare you.
7. The music was great, even for a Disney movie - in which the music is usually great anyway. It had a very different kind of feel to it; more Broadway than princess movie.

'The cold never bothered me anyway' - interestingly, this bugged me a little, too, until I thought about it. The first time it's used in the song, it sounds defensive - she's up on the mountain alone, and she's telling the world she doesn't care. The second time around, she's more confident, and the use is 'I do what I want.' It didn't really flow with her character, who didn't want to hurt anyone (or be killed) and therefore fled. It's still a good song, but there were some character continuity issues.

I think the biggest flaw was that they tried to combine 'The Snow Queen' with a coming-of-age story, which was an excellent idea, but they didn't blend it well enough. I, however, am perfectly willing to forgive them because they did so much /right/ with the movie.

And this was not a rant.
This was...just a thing, and I'm sorry it's so long. Anyway.

Writer4Christ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writer4Christ said...

I agree with this. The song. Except when she sang "Let it go" I felt like it was more about letting out her creative side that had been suppressed for so long. That's why it has potential to inspire writing. It felt like a typical Disney song otherwise, standing out, being yourself, etc. I felt like the movie and song shouldn't have won best movie/song award, because Disney always wins awards. I wonder why...
I think there's more to Elsa's character development than we realize. Her father was the one to say, "Conceal IT. Don't let it show."
Then after they were gone, Elsa said, "Conceal, don't feel. Put on a show."
She had changed what he had said. He meant to hide it. Not to abstain from feeling Anything, or to conceal herself. I think she was very confused, herself, motivation-wise, later though. But a lot of the time we get confused about ourselves too.

Someone on Tumblr did a very long character analysis of Hans and discovered that he's basically a personified mirror of everyone he comes into contact with. He's Anna's perfect prince that she was just imagining earlier in the song, he mirrors her during the song Love is an Open Door, he mirrors Elsa. Then, Anna feels like Elsa has sort of betrayed her, and that's when Hans betrays her. Interesting isn't it? And when the duke is mean to him, he is mean back to the duke. When he's alone at the end in the cell, he slumps like a creature without a purpose for there's no one else to mirror. There was a lot more to it in their post but yeah. And it would make sense, because in the Snow Queen, the mirror is an important part. I hope they reveal this in the second Frozen movie. I'm pretty sure they're gonna make a sequel.

Jake said...

I agree with pretty much all your points, Mirriam! Like I noted, there was some fantastic stuff in the movie - particularly in the themes. However, it didn't /quite/ outweigh the continuity and plot issues, for me. It was like the writer(s) didn't let the story marinate long enough - hurried it along, you know?

Good thoughts, Write4Christ! A sequel, hmmm. The idea has potential - with the right plot, of course. And with Frozen being so popular, it would be a good business move for Disney.

Mònica said...

Really excellent post, I saw Frozen in the theatre with my sister and we had a terrific time, but something felt 'off'. My biggest deal was the character development, and now that you mention it, the pacing too.
As for Let It Go, here's what I got from it. The song shows how beautiful and powerful Elsa's gift can be, and that it's good how she's not stifled anymore. But all the confident things she says (I don't care what they're going to say! No right now wrong, no rules for me!), after that scene, it doesn't seem like she believes them herself. And it's shown that her 'liberation' was just trading one prison for another. Both her room and her tower were isolated from human contact. Elsa's running away was also what triggered the main events of the plot.
What I gathered from it was that not everything that makes you immediately happy is going to keep you happy in the long run- or be good for the welfare of others. I'm not making any sense here, and my point is unclear, but that's my two cents. Thanks for being patient.

Anastasia Cross said...

I agree with everything. I couldn't have said it better.

But I also didn't like the ending. It was too rushed. I mean, Anna got frozen, Elsa was crying, and then poof! She's better now! Yay! Now Elsa magically knows how to use her powers!!

It was rushed. Other wise, great movie. I love it despite it's flaws.


Keturah Lamb said...

I haven't watched it yet, but I can see how everything you are saying would be true. It irritates me also when a story had plot holes. Yet I want to watch Frozen ;) I usually like the music best in movies, but we'll see if that stays true with this movie. If you listen to a lot of songs out there today the words are mostly not good or contradictory.I think this is because most writers aren't Christians, and their songs are negative because they are rebelling against good.

brightface said...

Ignited with righteous Frozen indignation, I began writing a comment and unintentionally ended up with a three-page essay. So if you see any awkward pauses, transitions or otherwise, do not think ill of me-rather, blame the 4,000 character restriction program.
Though this is obviously a subjective point, I believe that Elsa's fear of revealing her power to her sister was largely due to the way she was taught to use it. (I do not think that this takes away Elsa's responsibility for her actions; but our worldviews do undeniably shape the way we think.) She was never given an alternative to fearing the power. It was recognized by herself and her family as a consuming and uncontrollable force, a force that was a danger to all around her. Elsa was raised to live in shame and fear of that power, as illustrated by her father's line in the beginning of the movie: "Conceal it. Don't feel it. Don't let it show." Elsa's powers were not restrained by her concealment, instead, they grew stronger. We see how little control she has over them when she cannot pick up the scepter at her coronation without freezing it. Elsa lives in constant fear of the power she does not know how to use and it affects her in all areas of her life. So if she was to see Ana, the life-long lesson she has learned is that power hurts people. So she refuses to see Ana. Maybe it is an unnecessary sacrifice-again, subjective-but it is a sacrifice and a beautiful one regardless.
Let It Go, though grossly over dramatized and overplayed in today's society, was in my opinion an excellent song. Music-wise and message-wise. She begins with the idea that her life has been "a kingdom of isolation," and states that it looks like she's a queen. The wording here is important: Elsa is scoffing at the situation. She knows that she is not queen of her power, she is its slave. She then breaks into a reminiscence of her former rules with "conceal, don't feel, don't let them know" making a reappearance, but now a twist-this time, they know.
So Elsa decides to (pardon the horror that is this next pun, but I cannot resist) let it go.
(here follows the greater majority of the three pages. I will spare you.)
On to Ana: Where to begin. When someone that you love, and are fully secure in, just leaves, it's not something you just kind of get over. Ana was afraid of being hurt again but she so badly wanted to get close to her sister that she risked it. Was she bitter? Absolutely! The type of relationship that she was in is emotionally charged in a thousand different ways.Ana struggled with guilt, pain, hope, and rejection very clearly through the movie. Her character is built to be slightly spasmodic and she projects different emotions at different times, making the switches very, very quickly, and she shows it. It highlights the contrasts between Elsa's rigid fear and Ana's reckless optimism.
All in all, I think Frozen was a thought-provoking and enjoyable watch. I will watch it again and will encourage others to do the same. I especially enjoyed Olaf's distinction of love: whereas Ana had previously believed that love was an open door (not saying that it isn't, but her perception was definitely off) he clarified that it was selfless. I applaud you, Disney.
I look forward to reading you again, and apologize for the disjointed thoughts bouncing around this (incredibly long, most likely boring, and definitely pointless) comment.
Best wishes,

Jake said...

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts!

Brightface: thanks for the comment! I love discussions, never fear. If you want to send me your essay via email, feel free - my email is on the site.

While I don't have time right now to go in depth, one of my problems with the movie is that it was vague enough for disagreement as to the main themes of the movie. The end was clear enough, but I've heard multiple interpretations of the first hour of the movie. From a writer's standpoint, that's bad. If your viewers can disagree about the core motivations of the characters, that's sloppy writing. The very fact that we disagree shows that the story should have been more specific and clear.

Again, I've seen over and over that the motivations that people use to defend the movie are, for the most part, read into the story. In other words, the characters are way too subjective. I read "sacrifice" (combined with fear) into the first twenty minutes; you read "fear"; and even among those who say that Elsa's main motivation is fear there is disagreement. This carries over into "Let it Go", which can mean a dozen different things depending on how you interpret the movie. Is it letting go of fear? Is it letting go of rules? Is it letting go - or rather letting out - her creativity and gifts? Is it letting go of her responsibilities? It shouldn't be subjective - but it is, to the detriment of the movie.

Like I've said, it's a good movie - there are a lot of praiseworthy things - but it needed more thought and "marination".