I haven’t blogged for months, and what finally goads me into writing? A movie. Or rather, some public reaction to a movie.
When I saw the trailer for Frozen, months and months ago, I wasn’t interested; obnoxious snowman/comic relief/foil/”endearing” character, large animal anthropomorphized (or at least with the heart of a dog), perky heroine with great hair and eyes half the size of her face. The trailer just made me feel tired. I felt the same way about the trailers for Tangled.
But I started hearing that the movie was surprisingly good, and armed with my eventual enjoyment of Tangled, I decided to see it.
Frozen was surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) good. As is with every quality movie that will be seen by children, there are plenty of important talking points here. Added bonus: the movie is entertaining, offers lovely, engaging characters and is unquestionably beautiful to look at.
So why are some people so disturbed? I mean, beyond the usual Disney-princess yadda yadda or objection to animation. I think there are two answers to this:
1. I’m going to call Frozen a musical. That alone could be a count against it with many people. Especially male people. But that is what the movie is, so I’m going to refer to the script as “the book,” which is what you call the script of a musical. A “book” is not going to feel like a movie script. The lines are pitched differently. I’d have to sit down with this and think about it carefully in order to articulate the mechanics here. But the point is, you go, expecting to watch a movie, and what you’re really watching is the pilot run of material that is meant to end up on the stage. This is now the Disney process. And this film will make an impressive stage production.
Still, the “stage” feel of the writing and the blocking might put some people off, or at least, make them feel a bit uncomfortable. None of this bothered me at all, past the moment when I realized that the language was awfully stage-y. I simply changed hearing modes, and it worked wonderfully for me.
2. My main point here: the way the story is built, it pivots on the moment when Elsa leaves her home and, once safely isolated, builds the ice castle. This moment seems to be the focus of all the brouhaha. And the trigger is the now nearly-beaten-to-death song: “Let it Go.”
In terms of storytelling, this song is a mid-plot sort of fulcrum. It is sung by a young woman who, feeling rejected by the people she has cared about all her life and fearing her own nature, runs away and closes herself off. It is a song that absolutely nails adolescent suffering. It is a bitter denunciation of hope – hope for – more than acceptance- for love, for the great joy of being part of the community you love. I’ve felt all those feelings, and I’m willing to bet that most of you have also.
It’s a human “rights of passage” moment. When you slink off to pity yourself.
It is a perfect pivotal moment, when the emotional maturity hits it’s nadir – loud, passionate, immature – and a lie. The song is a young girl lying to herself. I believe the usual phrase for this in life is, “And I don’t even care.”
The problem here? Not that the song was sung in that moment of the plot, sung with that stinging passion. The problem was that the song was used again – this time, under the credits.
The credits are the place usually reserved for summing-up songs: finally we fell in love, or see??? In the end the right is going to prevail, whether they like it or not – that kind of song. The credit slot is for the triumph pantheon of popular songs.
And during the credits of Frozen – that’s the moment when the song begins to warp – why? Because here it seems to be framed as a triumph song, not a mid-growth suffering song. It becomes the summing up of the movie, rather than the moment when the character hits bottom. Someone had a terrible lapse in aesthetic and philosophical judgment when they made that call. The point of the movie is not triumph in running away and wallowing in defiant self-pity. The point of the movie is that a pure and true heart can, and sometimes does, act as a catalyst for a miracle. And that pain should not end in you turning your back on what’s really important – on the work of loving people.
If you understand the history of the song, you may understand better what I’m trying to say. The song was written to be a song of evil triumph – a moment not unlike Maleficent’s morph into the dragon. In that earlier version of the book, which is much closer to the source material, “The Snow Queen,” a Hans Christian Andersen tale, Elsa becomes a villain – heart frozen, cruel and vengeful. Thus the song was first written not as a navel-gazing bit of self-medication, but as a weapon – sung at those she has come to destroy: “give it up,” meaning your hope. I am here to destroy you.
The fact that the character, as she was coming to life in the story the Disney team was discovering, was not a villain. Quite the opposite. Elsa, obeying both her parents and the magical advisors, sacrifices the love her heart treasures in order to protect the people around her. She does NOT defy her parents. Neither girl does. The fault in this story lies in the understanding of the parents, which – you must admit – gives the film a certain heartbreaking verity. Rather than working with the strange gift their daughter has, helping her to discover what good it can do, giving her the balance and strength that growing up with love would offer, they want to hide her away, ultimately running from what they don’t understand.
It is this, more than any other thing, I think, that has given rise to the rather ugly and sad howls about the nature of Elsa’s situation. If the parents don’t understand her in this story, it must be because the writers built is so that what makes her different will be understood as whatever controversial and wildly popular difference of our own day and culture. And the assumption has been made by some that the writers are telling this story to make some specific politically correct point. But the fact of the matter is that the power to freeze things is morally neutral. There is no religious or cultural onus on it. And this is an old story – it doesn’t have to be bent in weird shapes to provide whatever metaphor the audience comes looking for – the metaphor was there from the beginning, and it is broad. The story can be used as an allegory of thousands of things. If one person is looking for ugly, she will find it. If another is looking for beauty and light, she will find it. Using the self-same metaphor. And this is true even if there is an agenda lurking somewhere. You see what you look for.
I say this as a deeply religious person, by the way, a practicing (which means “living it”) LDS person who believes very much in the value of spiritual, moral, intellectual health anchored in belief – searching always for truth.
To throw the baby out with the bathwater – and that is a very apt phrase for what I’m saying – smacks of a certain hysteria, not of a heart that loves.
We all have children we don’t understand. Some of them turn out to be artists and that is our problem in understanding them. Some of them don’t turn out to be artists, and that is our problem understanding them. Some have no sense of social interaction. Some have only too much. Their dreams aren’t ours. Their choice in clothing alarms us. Whatever. Choose any one of a million things that sends a child stamping up the stairs to slam the bedroom door. Why set this particular movie into some kind of absolute-evil-agenda stone? To do so is just silly.
I do realize that in any creative team, I am certain to find people whose personal attitudes and mores do not harmonize with my own, and I do not give this studio a pass just because it bears the Disney name. And I am not saying that your child can’t take away from – any experience – a “lesson” or message that you might not want them to have assimilated. But I am saying that to accuse a creative team of evil intent, when the product was patently not evil in any way, is not productive.
Anyone who lets a child participate in ANY kind of entertainment – may it be books, TV, movies, commercial music – without experiencing it themselves is naïve and irresponsible. We need to participate WITH our children, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear. Learning their perspective. And using our own at the same time – not so much because we need to censure things, but because we need to learn from the children – what they think, how they think – what appeals to them in this book, this music – and why. We can’t teach them without hearing them. And hearing them react to outside things is a great opportunity to begin understanding on deep levels. Shared context is of tremendous value.
For me, this movie was about love.
That is a simple statement, but it is the most important one. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is the beating heart here. Anna disregards her sister’s advice about love and suffers for it. The child learns to trust the older heart. And in the end, in all of the relationships, love and worth are proved by sacrifice – willing, spontaneous, dogged sacrifice. As it is in life.
Or should be.
And that is why I enjoyed the movie. And that is why I will buy it.