Thursday, May 1, 2014

Frozen: A Revised Review

(Disclaimer: this review contains spoilers.)

A long while back I wrote a critical review of Frozen.  Since then, I've talked to a lot of people about the opinions expressed in that review—my thoughts on “Let It Go”, for instance, or the pent-up potential of the characters' development.

All of this discussion led me to rewatch the movie, so that I could examine the plot and character a little more closely.  I was surprised how much more I liked it the second time—and so I decided to overhaul my review, clarifying the points that people often get wrong and modifying the parts where my opinion changed.

To start out with, what impressed me the most is the theme of Frozen.  In my first review, I noted the ideals: the idea that love is not just romantic, but is bigger and more powerful than that.  Seeing it again, the themes felt larger and more powerful.

Anna has “ice in her heart” that is “put there by her sister”—you can easily see the analogy to the figurative “ice” that comes about in sibling relationships.  Sometimes you get hurt by the people you love.

What's incredible is that Frozen implies that the way to get rid of that ice in your heart is to love all the more.  Anna's sacrifice melts her heart.  If you follow the analogy, the way to heal a relationship where you've been hurt is not to love the other person less, but to love them more.  It's remarkable is just how “Christian” that idea is, especially coming from a secular studio that often emphasizes romantic love and feel-good tropes.  It's “love your enemy” wrapped up in a Disney fairy tale.

I still hold that the first ten or fifteen minutes were the best of the movie.  (My favorite song of the movie is the one that opens the credits, followed by “Frozen Heart”.)  There's a huge amount of character development from there to the end of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”  In some ways, I wish the rest of the movie had followed the trend—especially the focus on Elsa, and the emotional punch that her isolation brought to the movie.

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.  When Elsa revealed her gift and nothing happened to Anna, a potentially explosive twist was erased. 

Then Elsa runs away and sings (as “Honest Trailers” puts it), the “YOLO song”, Let It Go.

(Disclaimer: this section is very long, because it is the most controversial, and I took a lot of time to explain my position.  Feel free to skim!)

My original perception of the song was that Elsa was abandoning her sister and her kingdom to live alone, a “Who cares about them, anyway?” mentality.  There are still some hints of that in the song, but in order to analyze it, I split it into two parts.  (One reason why this song has so many facets is that Elsa was originally conceived as a villain, and Let It Go was her villain song.)

Why split it up?  Well, I really don't mind one message of the song.  The first and second verse are mostly about her “letting go” of her failures and seeing what her powers can do when she unleashes her creative potential.  There are still some iffy parts, but it's not nearly as bad as my first assumption.

But the second half of the song, combined with certain phrases from the chorus, is where it strays into a gray zone.  The song shifts gears: it's no longer about letting her potential out, but more about letting go of everyone else.  (“I'm alone, but I'm alone and free,” she says later in the movie.)  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. 

The first half of the song says, “Since I can't be with them, I might as well let it go.”  Her “kingdom of isolation” isn't self-imposed; she says it “looks like” she's the queen.  The second half says, “I'm going to let it go in spite of them all.”   Who needs them?  Slam the door!

Instead of accepting her isolation as a necessary evil, she accepts it as a necessary good.  “Let the storm rage on,” “you'll never see me cry,”  and “the perfect girl is gone”; she overcompensates for all those pent-up years by letting go of all of her fear and bitterness—towards her powers.  The cold never bothered her anyway. 

But she lets go of all of her responsibilities and, more importantly, her sister, and that's where the song goes wrong.  “I'm never going back – the past is in the past!”

This is fine—in the context of the story.  Later on, she finally realizes that this “freedom”, which is really isolation, hurts her just as much as her first isolation did. (“Nobody wants to be alone,” Anna says.)   But the problem is, the song has now become a phenomenon —so I'm wondering if people missed the point.  Elsa goes through two extremes: isolating her powers and being with others, or isolating herself and freeing her powers.  Both eventually harm her.

By the end of the movie, she learns that it's love that will make her really free.  That's how she controls her powers—and her isolation, of all sorts, ends.

Let It Go is the song that deals with Elsa's swing to the other extreme.  As such, it shouldn't be trumpeted as a great cry for independence and creativity.  Because it's not – or half the song isn't.  The rest of the song promotes a mentality prevalent in our culture: you don't need anyone.  Just be true to yourself.  And that's not what Frozen is saying.

(Okay.  Rant over.  Thanks for listening.)

This brings me to the three major contradictions of the movie.

First up.  Elsa sings that her fears that “once controlled her, can't get to me at all”.  Except in her next scene, she says, “There's so much fear.”  So which is right?  Either the movie contradicted itself, and the writers of Let It Go were in a hurry to make it a feel-good single, or Elsa contradicted herself.  (I'm leaning toward the latter.  As it turns out, isolation can't solve your fear – but “Perfect love casts out all fear”, which is exactly what happens later in the movie.  Another strike against Let It Go.)

Then, Anna exhibits a few symptoms of bitterness when she tells Elsa that she's been shut out for so long, an understandable and human reaction.  Those dissolve, however, and never surface again—which means that we lose some realism and character potential.

Finally, despite Disney's previous treatment of “true love”, Anna and Kristoff are romantically interested.  “Sure,” says Disney, “True love can't be forged in a day – but it might happen in two days, if you go on a snowy trek with an attractive fellow.” 

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.  It definitely felt rushed, like the filmmakers hadn't marinated the story long enough. 

This is most clearly seen if you contrast the first and second halves of the movie.  The first half introduces the characters, and for the most part has good development and smooth dialogue.  The second half slacks off – once Anna finds her sister, the goal of the story becomes uncertain and the plot meanders. 

Then we have Kristoff's sudden fondness for Anna, culminating in breathing her name when he sees a random tornado thing over Arindel.  Because that line has never been done before.  To top it off, we have Hans, who recycles so many bad villain lines that he ought to be sued for plagiarism.

Combined, this creates a movie with some really good parts and some really sloppy parts.  The humor's great and the theme is surprisingly deep.  But unfortunately, the symptoms of rushed production are evident: character contradictions, irregular pacing, and clich√© lines.  It had a lot of potential—but only some of it was used.  However, the philosophical shift that has taken place through Frozen is remarkable, and gives me hope for future Disney movies.

What do you think?  Did I hit closer to the mark this time?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Writer4Christ said...

Yep, I think the more we think about it, the more we figure it out.

You're very right when you said you thought the story wasn't "fully marinated" yet. A lot of the decisions were last-minute ones. Kristoff's character for instance kept getting changed. They did need a lot more time than they had. Maybe that's why the trailers came out so late.

Sarah said...

Great review. I agree much more with this one than with your last one.

My thoughts on the first contradiction you mentioned:

When Elsa sings "All the fears that once controlled me/Can't get to me at all," there are two things to note. First, she's away from everyone. A large part of her fear, from what I can tell, is that she'll hurt Anna or someone else with her powers; since she's run away, there's no one but herself who she can hurt- or so she thinks. Second, when people rebel and break away from responsibilities and normal life, it can make them feel powerful, fearless at first. That, as you noted in your analysis of "Let It Go", is what Elsa is doing.

However, when she sings "There's so much fear" in the "First Time in Forever" reprise, those two factors have changed. Anna's there- potential to hurt someone. Anna wants Elsa to come down the mountain- potential to hurt someone. Anna reveals that Elsa's started an eternal winter that Elsa doesn't know how to fix- Elsa has already hurt most of her people. Therefore, the fear of hurting someone has returned, possibly stronger than ever. Also, by this point, Elsa has realized that she can't completely escape from her responsibilities, and the rebelliousness that made her forget her fear has crumbled.

And I hope that made sense. It does in my head, but thoughts don't always translate well to paper.

Rayne Speryll said...

@Sarah: I agree with you. I see Jake's point, in that "Let It Go" doesn't exactly represent a positive mind-set, but I do think that the song is appropriate for her character at that moment. You're right; when people are hurt, they do have a tendency to over compensate, and I think that the movie did a good job of showing the downsides of that.
Actually, I think of the song the same way as I think of "How Bad Can I Be?" from the Lorax. They're cool songs, but not ones that I would sing from the heart; because they apply to the character that sings them. When I sing the songs myself, I sing them as the character to whom they belong. :)

@Jake: Good review! I liked this one, as well as your previous one. They have some interesting thoughts. :D

Jake said...

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts!

Sarah: you have a very good point. However, even after that - after everyone left her again - Elsa was consumed by fear. She paced her ice castle with the ice turning dark around her. True, she knew now that she had caused an eternal winter, but that knowledge just serves to reinforce the fact that she can't run from her problems and hope that they'll solve themselves.

Keturah Lamb said...

Good I've watched the movie, and personly I love it...and all the songs. I thought there were some very unique plot twists in it. Though I do see your points, and some of those lines did bother me too.

Robert T said...

I wondered if you, or anyone else, had seen the Honest Trailers for Frozen. It's so true.