~:: Frozen – a Case for Thawing Out a Little ::~

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.

This entry was posted in Epiphanies and Meditations, IMENHO (Evidently not humble), Movie reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to ~:: Frozen – a Case for Thawing Out a Little ::~

  1. Guy Randle says:

    Well said.

  2. Nate Hoffman says:

    I haven’t seen Frozen yet, but I appreciate your thoughts here. I have had similar feelings about “Let it Go” since I first heard it. It’s kind of a funny choice as the Standalone “single” from the movie because of the attitude it portrays, which really belongs in the middle of a story. The lessons learned at the end of the story would be better subject matter for a song that is going to be played and covered to death independent of the context of the film.

    • K says:

      Exactly how I feel about it. You’ll enjoy it, Nate. It’s really fun. The song has some terrific “power” moments in it that appeal to singers, especially young women, especially those who still thrive on angst. Musically, it’s uneven – but the power bits are good for belting. So what if it doesn’t make sense? You can just FEEL yourself FEELING–

  3. Ginna says:

    I like this:
    “the power to freeze things is morally neutral” Seriously, right? So that’s the story, read from it what you may.
    I thought it was about love too, and I really liked that it turned the handsome prince saving the princess thing on it’s head–the guy she met that day wasn’t her true love, and it didn’t end with a wedding. It was family love that saved the day. It was awesome I thought.
    And wasn’t the snowman pretty hilarious? “I don’t have a skull…or bones….”

    • K says:

      I didn’t think I’d like the snowman, but I did. His character design was just too “cute” and weird in the trailer, but how can you know from a three minute thing that he was made by a child? And a child who had no exposure to traditional cultural ideas. I bet one of the staff’s kids drew that guy and they used him. I like prince stories – I won’t lie. But I love the way they’re letting the romantic stuff take a backseat to the more important relationships. Like in Brave.

  4. Ginna says:

    And the song is catchy but the more I hear it the more I HATE the movie version by the broadway singer. I really dislike her voice tambre, her time is terrible and it’s just kind of strindent. Subject matter and placement in the movie aside.

    • K says:

      Is she the one in that YouTube thing with the rhythm band instruments? I don’t remember her delivery at all. So whatever she did, she wasn’t the memorable part. Chaz hates it, too. Just kinda rolled off my back and didn’t inspire me to stay and listen.

  5. Donna says:

    I liked the movie and am so afraid I don’t watch movies very critically at all…I like ’em or I don’t…and it is usually based on how I feel when it’s over.
    I did think in the midst of this movie that ‘that’ song was gonna be sung a lot for show choir and musical theater auditions in the near future! At least I got that part right. :) I always enjoy reading how you think.

  6. Sam says:

    Great post. The director said (in reference to writing a power ballad for Idina Menzel) that if you buy a Ferrari you have to take it to the race track. I’m not sure about Idina Menzel being the musical equivalent of a Ferrari but that explains why they used the song for the credits. You’re right in saying that it doesn’t fit there, either way.

    • K says:

      I’ve been trying to come up with a Ferrari crack, but I’m too stupid. My sit down time to read and interact is mostly in the morning before I’ve had my hit of treadmill, and the little gray cells aren’t firing yet. It was an interesting thing he said, and I understand it. But you also don’t — there it goes. Total analogy failure. Trying to come up with over kill and not-so appropriate, but I cannot do it. A crisis of creativity. Maybe when I’m shoveling out the stalls I can come up with something. That’s usually the natural time for that sort of thing.

  7. Marilyn says:

    I agree with this entire post; great thoughts. I thought as I heard the song during the movie, “oh great, more ‘celebrate yourself’ stuff” (typical Disney) but it didn’t bother me any more than the typical (or stereotypical) storyline where “the kid is an artist! But the dad wants him to be a lawyer! Should he disappoint his father and follow his dreams?!” Oh, the angst! It seems lame to me but it’s such a universal thing for teens, the whole Who Am I? Who I say or who my parents say? Question, so of course we see it in movies. And it’s not a bad question to consider, it’s just so overdone that it makes me roll my eyes. Anyway—Let it Go seemed like more of the same, no more offensive than any of it, and I in fact quite liked the melody and the singer (I like Idina Menzel). I never put that together that it shouldn’t have been in credits, message-wise, but of course you’re right about that.

    Agree with Gin that I expected to hate the snowman but I liked him. A funny sidekick is super rare. And I thought the feminist message (you don’t need a man!) was ok—I like prince stories too, but they’ve been going away from them and I’m okay with it as the underlying message has truth to it. I did like that the love at first sight thing was mocked a little. I do love a good happy ending with a marriage, but I understand why they don’t want to make that the only possible happy ending–so–yeah, all in all, I liked the movie and think it’s funny that anyone would assume Allegory provides only one meaning. The whole point of it is to fit different narratives; that’s what makes it appealing and personally moving to different audiences.

    This has got to be the most rambling and run-on-y comment ever, but I’m not correcting it, as my free minute is now at an end. :
    Always so happy to see a post from you–

    • K says:

      I love your comments, especially when they ramble. I have just not gotten back in the blog saddle since Google reader went down, somehow. And I began reading novels again, which I hadn’t done for years, and doing genealogy, which is like using a high powered vacuum and sticking the end of the hose into your ear. I actually have no idea who Idina Menzel is, which leaves me in the no respecter of persons position there. And I don’t remember the performance – I was too busy trying to understand why I felt unbalanced by it. Last thing: I guess that whole adolescent angst period must be a kind of chemical trauma that leaves us all a little shell-shocked for the rest of our lives – when you look at our culture, we are so heavily marked by it, and the more contemporary your survey, the more of us seem to be stuck there, even into our ancient years. I think that farming was a good antidote for it, where sitting on your behind at a desk with a screen in front of you generally is not. Now, I have rambled back.

  8. wsw says:

    Um. I am SO out of the loop here. Haven’t seen the movie. Haven’t heard the music. THAT’s how hip we are.

    Still, like Donna, I love to read about how you think. Now if we ever do watch the movie I can think intelligent thoughts.

  9. Baamekniits says:

    I haven’t seen the movie because the boys friend said it was a love story, they weren’t keen. I however will probably now buy the movie thanks to your review xx

    • K says:

      It was a lot of fun, and quite lovely to see – and a good story. And not a love story = the boys might actually learn something from it about man hood, which is always good.

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