Disney’s Frozen Analysis: Musical Missteps
Being festive, it’s only natural that song and dance are in the air, and we’ve finally found a way to apply it to analysis. Join me as I plunge into the cold shallows of this rather thin Disney film and discuss not only the decline of animated cinema, but musicals in general. Oh, and Merry Christmas!
There comes a time in everyone’s life when we feel somewhat isolated from our own species. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it can be something little, like watching someone chow down on a bucket of jellied eels or sticking their finger in their ear and having a little rummage around. But the most painful is when it’s something truly irrational and petty- like, not liking a famous person or not enjoying a type of music, or, I don’t know, thinking that Disney’s Frozen is a turgid piece of animated cinema. Oh. So that’s just me? Ah. Right.
Well, knowing that I truly am crazy makes me feel somewhat better about doing this publicly. It’s okay, I understand that this appears to be a frankly dangerous opinion. The correct precautions have been taken-a team of experts have been hired to secure the perimeter and ensure that nobody is hurt by any kind of differing viewpoint. It’s a damn dirty job, but someone has to do it.
What follows is a critique of not only Disney’s Frozen, but what I feel represents the general decline of Animated features and Musicals in general.
So the polls are in, and blimey, if you were a complete shut in (like me~) you might believe that Disney’s Frozen was the second coming. With the amount of stars being thrown at this film you needn’t go far to see entire galaxies of praise that encircle its immediate vicinity. People are claiming that it’s bold and adventurous, subverting the typical Disney trends and finally acting as the most progressive piece of our time! All this and I still can’t actually bring myself to say that it was even passably good.
Subversion is the flavour of the day with Disney’s audience. There’s a lot of attention to be made online if you’re in the business of social justice- There are swathes of articles every year that gain vast attention for pointing out adult themes present in Disney films, or people reminding others that Disney might be racist or sexist and that it influences our behavior towards others. It’s understandable that this happens- Disney is popular. Leapfrogging with it is the easiest way to put social analysis into practice and curry favour with the idea that you’re part of the critical cognoscenti thanks to its popularity- though enough about what i’m doing (:v)
The problem is that some people treat it as though the company owes them something, and the criticisms become less and less about the art of making movies, which is effectively now just a pretense, and has become more and more about politics of morality and representation. There’s a lot of people hitching their high horses to the Disney bandwagon, as if somehow the end result won’t be a horrible simplification of whatever they were after from it in the first place. This month, Disney’s Frozen has assuaged this.
Well I’ve seen the film, and I felt that not only was it not subversive, it wasn’t very well made, either.
I think it’s worth noting something about subversion, or more specifically, subversion of a trope. It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that by virtue of undercutting an existing trope, you will somehow be a better storyteller. I agree with the notion that certain ideas are lazily parroted and diversity within films, particularly disney films, is an important part of expanding creative horizons. However the problem with tropes is that they don’t exist in a vacuum- they exist within the context of the piece and within the eye of the audience, the reaction differing from person to person. Juliet and Cleopatra both commit suicide over love, for example, but it is the context and execution of their individual stories that matters more than the straight up semantics of how and why they kill themselves. I promise that i’m not pulling that out of my arse (LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE)
but the point is that if you hang your praise or criticism purely on the semantic of the trope existing, you run the risk of creating a fallacy where you suggest that tropes dictate the quality of a piece. Not at all, the context and execution of the content at large is what counts. Get used to seeing mulan in this video folks. S’gonna happen a bit.
From a visual standpoint Tangled WHOOPS Disney’s Frozen suffers from an incredibly bland aesthetic that doesn’t really give it any kind of distinct flavour other than the snowy palette. Any attempts at doing something new are clouded by the reliance on Nostalgic imagery which is so overt that it distracts from the actual artistic direction present, which isn’t all that impressive.
The animation itself is competent but doesn’t do anything new or vibrant- i’ve seen reviews commenting on how stunning, breathtaking, charming the visuals are but what animated film (with that kind of advertising) hasn’t received such praise in the last decade or so? Have we really not gotten over the fact that we can pretty much create anything we want, but that we keep choosing to make it look soft and shiny? What about praising technique and ability- Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a chance of meatballs both possess a level of animation that hasn’t even shown its face at Pixar or Disney. Does help that one was directed by Gennedy Tartokovsky. You’ll find him in the dictionary under ABSOLUTE FUCKING ARTISTIC GENIUS
The art direction is a far cry from the ingenuity that made the original Disney features feel so cohesive as individual experiences. Mulan uses techniques from Chinese brushwork to actually capture the flavour and look of ancient Chinese paintings. Treasure Planet uses art inspired by N C Wyeth who worked on the illustrations for the original book, the washed out look bringing forth elements of the ocean, and a bygone age of pirates. Aladdin’s art imitates the curvature of Arabia mixed with the curved Broadway stylings of Al Hirschfeld to give it a real east meets vegas vibe. In all these cases, the art direction is so focused that it goes a long way to giving that movie a particular flavour, which Disney’s Frozen is sorely lacking.
The script appears to not feel that the words order important of is. Many lines feel completely non sequitorial (in fact so do most of the characters) and there’s a lot of forced dialogue which ultimately feels inconsequential. One scene where Owen Wilson tells Anna that he can’t believe she dated a guy after only knowing him for an hour feels more like the writer stroking their ego about how clever they are for pointing this cliche out rather than a natural little bit of comical banter- particularly galling when Disney have already handled this idea with far more wit and precision. In fact that whole pointless subplot about these two characters having a relationship never quite hits the mark in the same way Flynn Rider and Rapunzel’s banter did in Tangled, seemingly there just to prove that Anna has a case of the not-gays (sorry).
With the Disney musicals of the 90’s you really felt that the writers were genuinely trying to write good scripts. Ron Clements admitted that they wanted to make films that they would enjoy and just hoped the audience would do the same. There are obvious mandates, but the actual words that come out of their mouths are written with a great degree of competence and sincerity. No such reliance on Codas like Heart, one of the most insipid things to perpetuate American animation. I mean you used to have lines like-
And then there’s Disney’s Frozen.
BEST FILM SINCE THE LION KING
And if you’re able to get past the miss mashed structure of the story to even dig into the dialogue then you really must not give a toss. You only have to look at the simplicity of the plot of the snow queen- in the original tale a mirror that brings out the ugliness in people smashes, and as a young boy and girl are playing outside a shard hits the boy in the heart, making him cold and distant. The snow queen arrives and he willingly allows himself to be kidnapped, leading the girl to venture forward and save him. It’s a clear story of forgiveness which could have easily been adapted into something building upon that basis. However Disney’s Frozen gets so far ahead of itself that it just becomes messy. Elsa and Ana are sisters, for some reason Elsa has ice powers which are never truly explained or dealt with and one day she hurts her sister, and then the parents get some rock people to heal and alter the memories of Ana before locking elsa away, except they die which means Elsa never really comes out and deals with her sister who has no idea she has magical powers, which becomes pointless because very soon after anna learns and…and…goddammit that’s just the opening exposition, and i can’t even read it
Themeing, in musicals in particular, is a good way of making sure that everything within your piece is relevant, which goes a long way to improving its impact, and if your theme is strong enough you can sum it up in about one or two words. In Mulan the theme is Self identification. The family is necesercassy because they represent the tradition that has restricted mulan from being herself for years. The women and the matchmaker represent the absurdities of homogenised female identification, the men in the camp represent the absurdities of homogenised male identification. Mushu is used as a reflection, in this case representing Mulan’s feelings of not being able to measure up and a lack of self worth. Shan Yu represents what Mulan must overcome- a person who is completely uninterested in masculine or feminine traits and who’s only goal is to achieve self worth through aggression, which is what Mulan does not wish to represent. Mulan is the focal point and feeds off of all these different points of view, and once she has come face to face with them all, she is finally ready to make a play for what she actually wants- to do things on her own terms. It’s an incredibly engaging story of self discovery and a very good example of how to do this kind of stuff right.
So what’s the theme of Disney’s Frozen? Is it sisterhood? Well a large bulk of the film doesn’t focus on this and it isn’t really talked about in any kind of meaningful way. Of course siblings can experience love (which is perhaps too affectionate) but this kind of unconditional love seems apparent from the beginning and doesn’t feel like a source of conflict. Is it love? Seems more likely but nothing is said about the subject of love that feels in any way poignant or unexpected.
At every turn it appeared that the film was attempting to put the cart before the horse. It was so desperately trying to let us know that it was being subversive through it’s overt use of archetypes that it forgot to give them any kind of character. As a wise Allosaurus once told me, intentionally archetypical is still archetypical and it’s simply not enough to leave it at that. And you know what? At the end of the day I really didn’t find Disney’s Frozen to be subversive at all. Moreover I found it to be the epitome of everything I generally dislike about lazy disney musicals. I mean, sure, you say it’s subversive?
Like how the bad guys are upper class and obsessed with money and how the good guys are ditzy and lower class?
Like how the two sisters are conventionally attractive and also both princesses?
Like how Elsas expression of self discovery involves her being a little provocative and rebellious more than anything else?
Like how Anna is quirky for the sake of being quirky?
Like how Owen Wilson is a strapping young man who gets the girl?
Like how the little animal sidekicks are completely irrelevant to the plot and are just there to make funny noises?
Like how there’s a communal number for the funny little people to make kids giggle and for little else?
Like how this guy is a lazy stereotype included to get easy laughs?
Like how the council cheers at the end when the bad guy gets punched despite the fact that they shouldn’t know he’s evil yet?
this scene from watchmen
Like how the power of love, regardless of who uses it, is what saves the day as the ultimate deus ex machina?
But I think this is that oversight thing I talked about earlier. You think the sister thing is progressive? Uh-huh. You think the redemption thing is surprising? Okay. You think the twist was really well done? You keep right at it.
And then there’s the music. Urgh. I should probably mention that my first love, something I don’t really talk about on here, was musicals. I was a musical theatre nut and am absolutely a musical theatre snob, so Disney’s Frozen really brought out a chip on my shoulder.
The thing that separates musicals from something with songs attached is that the music is just as interwoven into the overall design of the piece as the art or script or anything else you’d add. It’s not enough that the music must help move the story along which, I must add, does not happen enough in Disney’s Frozen to any kind of meaningful degree, but that the music embodies that particular piece. The problem with a lot of modern musicals is that the music reflects popular tastes and chart works in order to pull in both tourists and modern crowds. You could genuinely change the songs around to other musicals and it wouldn’t matter, especially when a lot of people aren’t even that interested in the all important lyrical content and are only there to see the spectacle. Hells bollocks, why do you think THIS atrocity got the green light?
Songs must represent characters not just in emotion but in speech and expression. Sondheim is easily the master of this art form. Every song he creates (for the most part) represents specific characters and beautifully captures the way in which these characters converse with one another. Mannerisms and character types become rhythms of their own. As a result each song becomes unique to that moment and keeps the score feeling fresh and vibrant. Sondheim also likes to make sure a musical works like a puzzle, like how into the woods features a key series of notes that slip in and out of every number to tie certain ideas together musically. What, you think I like this guys work? Whatever gave you that impression.
Too many musicals like Disney’s Frozen focus on loud, overly long pop ballads designed to show off lung-power and little else, and their idea of variety is to stick another stock-style piece of music onto the film. Wicked, the musical that Disney’s Frozen directly lifts from (in more ways than one) is certainly guilty of this. Failing that it’s attempts to actually do something more traditional is marred by sub par lyrics- the use of colloquial dialogue over music that doesn’t fit that pattern is exactly the problem I have with Opera, and it’s fucking tacky.
Disney has actually done this right before- look at how many films of the 90’s actually managed to encapsulate the world of the movie within the music. In Hercules the Gospel chorus is actually a clever gag that extends back to greek theatre, where a chorus of citizens were used as a dramatic device to explain the story to the audience. The gospel sound completed the desired effect of their modern twist of likenthing Thebes to New york. Mulan uses this lovely bit of canon to express many things at once- the sound of female culture in china that surrounds Mulan, emulating gossipy voices, the instruments used in that culture and the pressure that the character is under.
In Disney’s Frozen the numbers don’t really add anything of this nature. We establish that characters are things such as quirky or laid back or lobotomised but they never grow from that point on. Sondheims rule is that the end of a song must bring you to a completely different place from the start of a song, and this rule allows songs to become more energetic and really drive the audience to some kind of reaction. Let it go is the song that comes closest but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere after it’s done. A shame because I get exactly why people are going crazy for this scene- if only i didn’t feel that it was about self projection more than anything else.
These songs are utterly self indulgent, a barrage of noise that becomes more and more obnoxious with each passing generation. It’s a form of self aggrandising, noise and fury signifying nothing, which is probably why its appeal is so universal. And that’s it, isn’t it. As musicals become more and more homogenised, there’s less call for talented composers and lyricists. All people want are deafening noises and overwhelming visuals, as if they’ve been vomited on by a rainbow of excess. Time was less was more, and more was rather vulgar. I don’t worry if you think I’m an incredibly narcissistic snob and have clicked off the video, because you’d be absolutely right :v. Quite literally, fuck this noise.
I sit here and I know that it’s going to be a lonely, aggravating Christmas as a result of this film and my critique. Yeah I know, you don’t agree and i’m utterly wrong, cool cool. When the movie ended me and three of my close friends left feeling a little depressed, though morso me than anyone else. To satiate my depression I actually downed two McDonalds meals, so if it’s any consolation to anyone who didn’t like this critique, the movie made me fat and even more unattractive as revenge for not enjoying it.
But far from remaining cynical, I do have hope. A few years ago Disney released a film which didn’t do as well as they hoped. It didn’t change the world though it did try some new things, but most importantly it told a story that was engaging, and you could practically see the excitement leaping from the animators drawings as it moved. Sure, princess and the frog was far from perfect, but it was a lovely experience. As I watched I found myself rather moved by the notion of its existence- and for once in this old miserable cretins recent a tear came to my eye. It was actually a lovely bit of closure- I can only hope that something similar might come round the corner again to surprise me.
Right, time for a wank.
MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS