Friday, November 22, 2019
Disney Watch: Frozen (2013)
I was on hiatus with The Signal Watch when I saw Frozen (2013) the first time, so there's no record here of what I thought at the time. I do regret not having any of my reaction caught, because it was the most I'd loved a new Disney movie since Lion King, and, now, Frozen and Moana are probably my two favorite Disney animated features produced post Walt's passing.
Frozen became a smash in a way even Disney hadn't anticipated, becoming the soundtrack of choice for kids for a two year stint there, with merchandise everywhere, and with BluRays on repeat. I know it became one of those things that a lot of people turned on, simply burnt out on a thing they'd initially liked. It got so crazy, I recall Mommy Blogs ranting about how Disney was ruining their lives by way of under-producing Anna and Elsa dolls (btw, not Disney's fault there, moms... That's a toy company's issue, or a sudden case of supply and demand not meeting.).
The thing that struck me hardest about Frozen the first time was not necessarily that it had some instantly memorable tunes and a world-class showstopper, or that the dialog was shockingly sharp for a family-feature, live-action, animated, what-have-you... it was that the story upended Disney tropes and fairy tale tropes, acting as both meta-commentary and pointing the way forward with new types of characters in the leads.
And, I'm still stunned every time I watch Frozen that Queen Elsa exists as a non-villain in a wide-release children's film.
Fifteen years ago, I wouldn't at all have been surprised to see a film about how a sibling's difference led to a bitter and cold heart and the normie sister had to walk her away from villain-hood, but, oddly, in cutting out the "I guess I'll just be evil now" portion of the story, it's all the stronger. We may mostly see the story through Anna's eyes as she pursues her sister, but, really, Elsa's alienation, self-exile and self-condemnation is a hell of a thing and hundreds of times richer a story than a sister pitching a fit and becoming an intentional menace/ antagonist to our heroine who must unfreeze her heart or destroy her.
"Let It Go" will become the anthem of every musical-theatre kid out there kicking off the constraints of suburbia, as well as a sure-fire "I just came out!" anthem for kids on the cusp of doing so, and I love it for that, but it's also a remarkable character moment that - as much as I love Moana's songs about restlessness and not fitting in, mostly express the stirrings of a pretty average kid realizing things are bigger than their world and wanting to explore. As a character moment, "Let It Go" is the release of more than a decade of repression for a character who has lived in fear of herself, escaping the hell of both a mask of who she is not as well as the danger of what can happen is she is who she is. It's not hard at all to code the experience to any of a number of personal journeys, not the least of which is the closeted young person accidentally exposed and leaning into it, but it's also specific to the literal danger someone may contain within from any number of ailments. Or, the quite literal interpretation of the film, which is story enough - not everything need to be a 1:1 analog.
But, yeah, rewatching the film, I was amazed at how genuinely sharp the dialog and performances are - and I think, over time, it will age as well as Lion King (and much better than the "it's the 90's!" Aladdin). The jokes are there, but references are stuck to things that will continue to be recognizable in 40 years, even if the mode of delivery may change stylistically for similar ideas by then.
Look - you've seen Frozen, and I'm willing to hear you out on your complaints and arguments, but at the end of the day, it's one of the first animated Disney movies that actually grapples with "love" in a meaningful way and not as a reward or via shorthand. Our troll-ish love experts aren't wrong, but they also aren't right, really, at all. It's a story I can buy as an adult, and not just something that the viewer accepts as simplified storybook stuff. It doesn't mean I want *every* Disney cartoon to deconstruct prior narratives, but when you can make it work this well? Sure.