Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Frozen": I Just Can't "Let It Go" Unscathed

Available Now on DVD and Blu-Ray

(SPOILER ALERT: Considering that just about everyone and their dead parents have seen this movie already, I'm going to write this review assuming you know all the major plot points already.  If you are one of the two people who haven't seen it yet, I do recommend it, despite my reservations below.  Come back when your spoiler-free sensibilities won't be shocked.)

Alright.  Let's get this part out of the way.  Yes, Frozen is a good movie.  It's a damn good movie, as much as one can say that about a Disney princess movie.  And on that score, it improves upon the Disney princess formula in just about every conceivable way.  It subverts the trope of finding one's true love only having just met the guy.  It makes the female lead (Anna) a fully realized character whose identity isn't reliant on the existence of her prince.  It makes a point of demonstrating that more than just romantic love matters when finding those who will love you back.  Hell, it gave us Olaf, who should have been just another annoying, pointless sidekick, but instead is the film's comedic center with a surprisingly dark sense of humor.  These points put the film a step way above any animated film Disney has put out in recent years, and it deserves commendation and recognition for them alone.

But let's take a step back here.  Is this really as great a movie as the hype would have us believe?  I would posit that no, it is not.  I could nitpick about how the song "Fixer Upper" is total tripe and completely antithetical to the film's message that one can't just fall in love over the course of one day.  I could point out how Prince Hans's betrayal was nowhere near sufficiently foreshadowed, making it feel like a bit of a cheat when he is revealed to be the film's villain.  I could make an issue of whether this film needs a villain in the first place.  But no.  The film's biggest flaw comes down to one word.  One character.


Yep.  I said it.  Elsa is the biggest problem with Frozen.  Now, that isn't to say that I don't like the idea behind her character.  A princess locked away by her parents because of her supernatural abilities, only to have those abilities become the manifestation of her inability to cope with her anxiety?  I'm totally on board with that premise.  Unfortunately, it's in the execution that the film fails to fully realize Elsa's potential.

Think back to before Elsa leaves the kingdom.  The film establishes her as a painfully introverted individual, hurt by the emotional abuse of her upbringing and seemingly unable to cope with the world around her.  She runs away after everyone discovers her icy powers, off to the frigid mountain where she can be in isolation.  That's all well and good.  But here is where the film's pacing just kills Elsa's character.

We get one huge surge of character development in the form of "Let It Go."  Yes, it is a good song, isn't it.  But think about how quickly and suddenly Elsa gets over the emotional trauma she just went through.  In the three minutes and forty-four seconds it takes to sing that song, Elsa goes from a mess to a self-empowered queen of her own ice castle.  It's jarring.  It's sudden.  I don't like it.

Then her development grinds to a screeching halt.  When Anna and Elsa are reunited, Elsa is understandably withdrawn, and at the realization that her kingdom is frozen, her relapse into anxiety is totally valid.  But that's about all we get to see her actually grow.  From that point on until the climax, Elsa is either fighting off those who would do her harm, in captivity, or running away.  She doesn't get nearly enough screen time for us to really connect with her in any meaningful way.  Because of that, when she finally does figure out how to thaw her realm, the conclusion to her character arc feels hollow and convenient.

I've seen this movie twice now, and the first time around part of me thought that I was putting pressure on this film for it to be what I wanted it to be and not judging it on its own merits.  However, upon a second viewing, I stand by my original thoughts: Elsa is a severely underdeveloped character.  And when you take that into account, it really undermines the climax of the film when Anna saves Elsa.  Aside from Elsa's anxiety, we really don't know much about her, and that makes the connection between the sisters harder to believe in. 

Elsa deserved to be a much more fleshed out character.  They should have given her more scenes, both with her sister and in her isolation.  Solitude doesn't have to be boring if you're effectively showing its effect on the character.  (Watch the first half of Wall-E and tell me I'm wrong.)  This should have been a story about two very different sisters trying to understand each other and repair their relationship.  And I think the movie is trying to be that on some level.  The other plot threads and characters are more than welcome, but they distract from the true substance of the narrative, which is the sisters.  Unfortunately, half of that equation got bungled along the way.

So there.  I have effectively ruined Frozen for you.  Leave your hate mail in the comments below.

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