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13 November 2013 @ 03:29 am
❄SPOILERS❄ Frozen Film Discussion ❄SPOILERS❄  

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Frozen in 3D in early November and it was a wonderful theater-going experience. I’m really looking forward to the movie coming out at the end of the month because I know audiences are going to have great fun watching it. Frozen is gorgeously animated, laugh-out-loud funny, full of lovable characters, music that’s alternatively toe-tapping and transportive, and for good or bad, the point of departure for a lot of discussion.

I decided not to post this discussion until the movie was released nationwide, because what fun is a debate if no one knows what you’re talking about? Even after the film comes out, I bet I’ll be waiting a few weeks before the honey-glow of a new Disney film to dim and fans will want to discuss the finer points. I also want to see it again to be sure my views are consistent. I want to stress I really do like Frozen, but I think it could have been a lot better on the plot end.

One sentence review
The parts are better than the sum, but it’s a lot of fun!

Anna is a memorable and lovable heroine in a way that differentiates her from any Disney heroine to date. Kristen Bell sought to make Anna unique, and she succeeded with flying colors!

Well, Anna has Mulan's social awkwardness coupled with Rapunzel's gregariousness, but to the nth-degree. Anna was awkward in ways that weren’t just cute or endearing, she reached cringe-worthy more than a few times in a spectacular way. She loves her sister and is excited to make friends and be a part of the world outside her gate. You love her, you root for her - she carries this movie and makes it work as well it does. She jumps without worrying where's she's going to land.

Elsa is everything I said about Anna inverted.

Here's a fun exercise: Try to describe Elsa without using the words fearful, repressed, or regal. Beyond those three aspects there is no other dimension to Elsa. Her best moment in the movie is definitely the 'Let It Go' montage when we get to see Elsa have fun building a cathedral of ice and being just a little bit sassy. We glimpse who Elsa might be sans powers and status, but then that just gets buried again for the rest of the film. Elsa is so terrified of showing any emotion whatsoever there is no other aspect to her character.

Who is Elsa? What does she think, what does she feel, what does she want for herself? What are her dreams and aspirations? What does she think of her parents, her sister, her subjects? How does she feel about her powers - does she resent them and wish to be rid of them? Does she wish she could be ordinary? Or does she feel most herself when she's at the heart of the storm?

We don't know!

We don't know why she felt like she had to be Queen of Arendelle in the first place. Does she have a love of pomp and panache? Of service to her kingdom? Does she feel like she’s the most qualified for this leadership role? Or does she believe she's has no choice but to fulfill the position she’s been born to?

It's like all the time spent developing Anna's character was taken from developing Elsa's. I got such a good sense of Anna that I felt like I knew her, but ask me anything about Elsa as a person and all I can do is speculate. Elsa is a cypher.

Also, Elsa, baby, bubbalah - you had a chance to live the Calvin and Hobbes/Ice King dream and create an army of gargantuan snow guards! WHY DIDN'T YOU?





Kristoff was unexpectedly likable. I say 'unexpectedly' because Kristoff's charm is so downplayed you like him long before you realize you do. He is gruff and rough around the edges (my friend was grossed out by the way Sven and Hans shared food). Heck, the trolls sing a song about him being a Fixer-Upper (I like to think Kristoff had a family, but the trolls just kidnapped him and raised him as their own).

Kristoff and Anna eventually connect within their compatible weirdness and make a cute couple. The movie ended leaving room for their relationship to grow, which was a step in the right direction.

Also, Kristoff witnessed and remembers the trolls healing Anna. He presumably knew Elsa had ice powers before she revealed it on her coronation day. Kristoff didn’t seem to have any obvious prejudice to the Elsa’s ability - he wanted to know why she went ‘crazy’ but seemed more interested in the reason why than that fact that Elsa had ice magic. And as a guy who makes his living from and loves ice, it’s a wonder he didn’t harbor a crush on Elsa for her powers alone. Though helping Anna worked out in his favor as he was appointed Official Ice Master and Deliverer by Elsa. Especially because Elsa’s magic could have instantaneously put Kristoff out of business.

Hans was a peach of a prince, matching Anna's energy beat for beat in Love is an Open Door, being dreamy and accommodating and protective - overall just a swoon-worthy fellow right up until his heel-turn (big gasp from audience).

Hans sells dreamy a lot better than murderous usurper, but that seems to be the point. It comes out of left field but also underscores that Anna didn't know who she was marrying after one day. I'd like to know more about his motivation to be a King from a childhood of 12 older brothers ignoring him. If the story had played out differently, Anna and Elsa would be dead, but Hans would be ruling Arendelle. And truth be told: Hans seemed good at it. Infiltrating the royal household and commanding the kingdom within a day takes a great deal of skill and ambition.

Though I would have liked Hans’s monologue to have been less from the mustache-twirling school of villainy and more consistent within his personality. Hans struck me as a Bob Benson-style sociopath - nice to everyone, deeply ambitious, and if someone is in his way he uses his impeccable reputation to rally people against them. One of the hallmarks of this kind of sociopath is he doesn’t actually have much of an ego. He doesn’t need to earn the respect or admiration of others because he’s skilled at cultivating it out of nothing. Everything he does is about achieving the position and lifestyle he believes is worthy of him.

Hans wouldn’t gain anything emotionally from tormenting Anna beyond that he can, and that doesn’t gel at all with the rest of his personality. Hans didn’t resent Anna’s trusting nature or despise her royal position. She was a perfect mark for his plan and he would have felt lucky to find such a dysfunctional Princess to manipulate. If Hans had a grudge against anyone, it was his brothers or Elsa, because she treated Anna the way his brothers treated him.

In that moment when Hans realized Elsa froze Anna and all he had to do was let Anna die, Hans would have been elated! His plan had just been simplified to where he’d just let the magic take its course. He’d feel cheerful and excited rather than smarmy and condescending. Hans would feel grateful toward the sisters for cancelling one another out, and leaving only him to legitimately ascend the throne.

So I didn’t want Hans to lose his winning personality and outlook when his true intentions were revealed. Maybe that’s why Hans’s heel-turn feels forced, because Hans being such a smug, petty murderer doesn’t gel with the rest of his winning personality. Also, the entire delegation to Arendelle saw he was about to stab Elsa so Hans wouldn’t have got the throne anyway.

Duke of Weselton was the character created to monger fear against Elsa when her powers were revealed. He's exceptionally goofy and reads like a last minute addition. Alan Tudyk makes him fun, though.

Olaf is great. You wish you could have a snow-friend as funny and supportive and sweet. I'm glad I got onboard the Olaf-train early. My trust that Olaf would be great was not misplaced!

The Trolls were just sort of there to contextualize the magic elements, be funny, and tell Anna that you can't change someone, you can only love them. They come into the story at important points but seem to slow down the momentum. They're fun to watch, though, so it's an even trade.

Oaken of Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post is in the movie for five minutes, but he makes every second of screen time funny. He’s everything a big, sweet Norwegian fellow would be! Just mind your manners with Oaken.

Like Brave, Disney/Pixar seems interested in making movies centered around female relationships (mother-daughter, sister-sister) but in the most bland, inoffensive way possible. And the result is bland, inoffensive stories with bland, inoffensive themes. Everything else about the movie can be spectacular, but the stories are weak and unremarkable on their own. With Frozen, Disney changed the character roles but not the situation. There are so many more interesting scenarios and emotions to use than just the unimpressive True Love Conquers All. We’ve seen it enough, especially in Disney fare.

I suspect there's a lot of executive meddling in these movies, and not just as it relates to merchandising. Frozen was obviously written by committee as there are small scenes that are exciting, heartfelt, and funny while all the important plot points aren't well-developed, feel forced, phony, or meandering. The movie feels incomplete, likely because it was on a rushed production schedule.

Do You Believe In Magic In A Young Girl's Hands?
I really, really wanted context for Elsa's magic, especially after it was so well contextualized in Tangled. We understand Elsa was born with her powers, but has that happened before historically, or in her family? Did no one notice it when she was a baby or toddler? Why did her family feel the need to hide it? Was their a native prejudice toward sorcery in their kingdom? Were they afraid that their subjects would reject Elsa as Queen because of her magic?

What happens to Elsa's magic after the movie? Does she invade other kingdoms with her inexhaustive ice, or do other kingdoms bring the war to Arendelle out of fear of her sorcery? What does the future hold for Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff?

Queen Nobody
Since watching Frozen, I've read the script and spent a lot of time trying to read into the symbolism and actions to understand Elsa, a clear sign the movie could have done a better job with her development. And the answer is pretty obvious, but it bears definition because it’s so vague.

What Elsa's Uses Her Powers For:
  • Creating snowstorms of ballroom-, kingdom-, or snowman-sizes
  • Creating a layer of ice across a flat surface (ballroom, fjord, castle court etc.)
  • Creating snow slides and peaks
  • Suspending snowflakes in the air*
  • Turning others hair white
  • Building cathedrals of ice
  • Granting independent sentience to snow
  • Freezing people to death
  • Creating icicles and ice structures to attack people
  • Dissolving the ice and snow up into the sky, then dispersing it
How Elsa's Emotional State Unintentionally Affects Her Powers:
  • Grief :: Suspended snowflakes in mist*
  • Anger :: Ice spikes
  • Fear / Confusion :: Snowstorm
*Does this really happen? I'm doubtful, but not altogether unconvinced. Someone screen Frozen for Neil deGrasse Tyson!

How Elsa Describes Her Powers:
  • Curse
  • Raging/swirling storm inside of me
  • My soul [is spiraling in frozen fractals all around]
How Elsa Describes Herself:
  • The Queen
  • The good girl you always have to be
  • That perfect girl is gone
  • Such a fool
  • A danger to Arendelle
After consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that Elsa’s powers represent her true self outside her role as Queen. Elsa magic is the manifestation of her feelings, desires, and suppressed personality. When she escapes to the mountains, she finally feels comfortable enough to act like the person she’s always wanted to be, not the one that was prescribed for her. And she only feels comfortable being herself by herself because she’s so afraid of what people will think of who she really is.

Even though her powers make her unique, Elsa lives in fear of two things:
  • She will hurt someone, especially someone she cares about. We all have thoughts and actions we didn’t intend to say or do. Elsa has only learned to deal with her true self by suppressing it. She can’t trust herself to be herself because she doesn’t know what that person will do.
  • She will be ostracized or attacked because people don’t trust or understand her. It’s interesting, however, that Elsa doesn’t seem to fear the people she cares about (Anna) rejecting her or wanting to harm her.
Elsa is told “fear will be [her] enemy” by the Grand Pabbie (grandfather troll). What he means is Elsa being afraid of her powers will put them out of her control, while Elsa and her parents interpret it to mean that Elsa has to hide her powers and from now on pass as ordinary. Elsa is forced to entirely suppress who she is, to subvert herself into the role of heir apparent.

Based on this vagueness, you could read into this symbolism that Elsa is gay or transsexual, or has a mental, congenital, or degenerative illness that she has to hide. Or maybe she’s just got an artistic soul, and that was her first opportunity to express herself honestly. Or it could just be Elsa has a really inappropriate sense of humor. It could be anything because almost anything considered deviant or abnormal could be substituted for Elsa’s ice magic.

It’s a fairly obvious symbol: Elsa’s magic = Whoever Elsa Is To Herself. And there’s a certain self-insert genius to it - if you've ever been afraid to be who you are and terrified of how people would react to your true self, Elsa knows that feel! She's been there! But that vagueness that makes Elsa so relatable also makes her a very dull, generic character. She's everyone and no one.

How Does This Work?
So why ice magic for this metaphor? The film is set in a Norwegian-inspired region, where there is a lot of sub-arctic weather, especially up in the mountains. Ice is also a very mutable form - Elsa uses it for structure, defense, and recreation.

But it’s still magic, and thus has supernatural properties and obeys supernatural laws instead of natural physics. For example, a person’s hair will whiten and they will slowly freeze to death when struck by Elsa’s ice. This can be undone by memory-altering magic if a person is struck in the head, but it’s irreversible if a person is struck in the heart. For a frozen heart, that magical cure-all - True Love - must be conveyed by physical contact.*

Why? Who knows. Who knows why a person’s hair turns white first if they’re struck in the heart. Hair color is not affected by issues in a human cardiovascular system. Who knows why Anna’s lungs, diaphragm, ribs, spine, stomach, or spleen were unaffected when she was hit in the chest by that wave of ice. Who knows why Anna’s hands turned blue before the rest of her, even though her heart is far closer to her brain. Because it’s magic, and magic only has to follow the rules you make up.

You can probably tell I find all these answers unsatisfying. Again, Tangled contextualized it better.

*In order to be True Love, both parties have to be feeling the same kind of devotion and affection for one another to the same degree. It is usually fostered between those romantically in love, though in Frozen it is proven sororal love can also considered True Love. Otherwise... Frozen just raised a lot of awkward questions about incest.

It is possible Kristoff could have unfrozen Anna while carrying her down the mountain because he loved her. Kristoff was developing feelings before and during that alpine descent for Anna that Anna reciprocated for him. Unfortunately, Anna was still fixated on Hans being her True Love which prevented the spell from breaking. In fact, it is unknown whether Kristoff’s public display of affection would have thawed Anna’s heart. He may yet be a future ex-boyfriend.

You're Frozen When Your Heart's Not Open
As to the crux of the film, there was an important head/heart dichotomy in Frozen:
  • If Anna's mind was touched by Elsa's ice, the mind could be convinced not to let the body freeze to death,
  • but if the heart was struck by supernatural ice, the heart would kill the body, or let it die.
Symbolically, this dichotomy is compelling. If you understand someone doesn't want you around rationally, you can come to accept it (head). But if you feel someone doesn't want you around emotionally, you can't understand it and eventually stop trusting people because you can’t understand what may make them potentially reject you in the future (heart).

That’s a rich vein of metaphor in freezing the heart versus the head, and thus should have been the effect of Elsa's magic on Anna. If Anna's metaphysical heart - her personality - had frozen instead of her body, she would become more hesitant and indifferent to her friends, similar to the way Kai was affected by the demon mirror shard in The Snow Queen. As Wikipedia surmises:

These splinters are blown around and get into people's hearts and eyes, making their hearts frozen like blocks of ice and their eyes like the troll-mirror itself, only seeing the bad and ugly in people and things. [...] Kai's personality changes: he becomes cruel and aggressive. He destroys their window-box garden, he makes fun of his grandmother, and he no longer cares about Gerda, since all of them now appear bad and ugly to him.

Anna is such a colorful character, it would have been devastating to her companions and audience to see her vibrancy wane into hopelessness (similar to the way her hair color is bleached away). Thus Anna's friends would be fighting to save more than to just Anna's body, they would have been fighting to preserve her as a person.

Now the argument may be made that this metaphor is achieved in the movie: by freezing Anna physically they also froze her personality. I agree with that - the film wisely tamps down Anna's antics throughout the third act to underscore how she's disappearing.

But we understand loss in the abstract. We don't understand how loss will affect ourselves or our lives before it happens. Loss is an unknown quantity, and that makes it terrifying. But by freezing Anna's personality - removing what makes Anna Anna and replacing it with fear and distrust, the audience is shown how her loss affects everyone else in the story before she’s gone. It creates more conflict between the characters and thus raises the stakes.

It was always Elsa's responsibility to conquer her fear and live openly in order to reconnect with Anna. It was Elsa that needed to change. But if both sisters were experiencing a personality change neither could control and would have to sacrifice their fear to overcome it, that would have made for a resonant and meaningful reunion.

Even more than that, it would mirror to Elsa her own isolationism and fear, helping her realize how destructive and ineffectual her behavior really was. Elsa would understand how she had been affecting Anna for the worse, more than regretting killing Anna by accident and or feeling guilty for Anna taking a sword for her. Both regret and guilt suggest that Elsa has loved Anna in the past, but I would want Elsa to realize she loves Anna now and hates to see what’s become of her beloved sister because of her own callousness.

That makes the movie’s solution - True Love - directly applicable to Anna’s state. It would be emotion combating emotion, rather than emotion combating magic. True Love doesn’t cure hypothermia, but the forgiveness and patience fostered by unwavering devotion and admiration from another person (“True Love”) can help a beleaguered individual open up and trust again.

Thus Elsa's demonstrative love for Anna (a warm hug, aww) would still have thawed Anna’s frozen heart. Heck, I would have lost it if Elsa tearfully reprised "Do You Want To Build A Snow Man?" while hugging Anna's frozen corpse. The audience would have realized Elsa had positive remembrances of their childhood the way Anna did, AKA the entire context of their healthy relationship. It would also give Elsa more to do than cry with her back to the audience (more on that in Animation) as a display of grief for her sister.

The core of the story is about two girls freezing to death because they cannot love - one who isolates herself out of fear of truly knowing herself (Elsa) and one so deprived of love she can’t recognize it anymore (Anna). But the opposite of love isn't it's absence - it's indifference. Both sisters would rather ignore or give up on one another during the coronation ball - they’re indifferent to one another. Anna as a statue is absence. Anna as a terrified inversion of herself, convinced she cannot be loved, wandering away from everyone who loves her - that’s a fate worse than death.

I've thought a lot about this because the movie's solution ("feeling loved will help me control myself") is nonsensical and a little unsettling because the inverse ("love me OR I'll go into the mountains to die") is concerning.

So what did I like about the movie? Everything else.

Frozen is probably the biggest departure from anything else in the Disney fairy tale canon. Alan Menken it isn't. As soon as you can start thinking of Frozen not as a Disney film but a fairy tale musical brought to you by the songsmiths of Avenue Q and Book of Mormon, it works! The lyrics and comedy throughout the film are very different, in an awesome way. Each song is cleverly worded and the arrangements are sweet and plaintive, goofy and fun, beautiful and sweeping, powerful, funny, or uplifting. The music is the strongest feature of the film on it’s own musicality but also because it also features a lot of comedy.

There were titters of laughter here and there before Olaf wanders on screen, but after he shows up? Belly laughs so loud you can't hear the dialogue. Josh Gad is funny. Trust.

Remember the foofaraw around what Frozen's director of animation, Lino Di Salvo said?

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty - [...]"

At the time that quote blew up and differing communities reacted:
  • Feminists saying women have the full spectrum of expressions and not all of them are pretty OR should be beautified, and
  • Animators saying the quote was out of context as it really related to the character being on model (something Lino goes on to say in the original quote).
So after seeing the movie - no, I agree, it really is a problem. Because despite Kristen Bell's heroic effort to inject Anna with personality, both Anna and Elsa have a limited range of facial emotions when they’re on screen together and it hurts the film. Anna and Elsa barely seem to have a relationship to reconcile because we can't see it in their faces.

Watch this scene again without the sound on and see if you can tell what I mean:

Seems like they're just having a mild sibling tiff, right? The acting is so subtle and constrained that it doesn't read to the audience as the plot-hinging blowup it's supposed to be.

And that's it - that's the whole movie. I really wanted to see these emotional expressions and gestures between these sisters that had to be inferred through the dialogue. The characters could tell me what they're feeling, but I didn't believe them because I didn't see it. I didn't care about the crisis of the third act because the characters didn't appear to. In that regard, as a visual medium it failed.

More than anything this movie made me miss Glen Keane and Mark Henn. Neither were afraid to let their leading ladies look ugly at the expense of letting them emote. Just go back and watch Rapunzel talk for a few minutes, or watch Sergeant Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph yell at everybody. These were visually interesting, dynamically-animated leading ladies.

Anna and Elsa look pretty and not much else. Even looking at Anna’s expression comparisons in Tumblr GIFs maker her facial range appear drastically limited. It's bizarre when you have Anna next to the Duke of Weselton or Olaf, male characters who are allowed to have big, hilariously-grotesque expressions because it looks like they're from two different films, and that's a problem.

And of course, the effects animation is beautiful and impressive, but it's hard to focus on when what you're thinking about is how underdeveloped the character animation is.

Two steps forward, two steps back. Where are we going, Disney?

• Stay until the end of the credits to find out what happened to that which Elsa left behind.
• Rapunzel and Eugene have a cameo. Look for them on the lower-left hand corner of the screen as Anna comes out of the castle gate during “For The First Time In Forever.”
• There's a disclaimer in the credits: "The views of Kristoff and all men who pick their noses are not necessarily those of the Walt Disney Company."

Frozen 2: Hans With A Mustache
Frozen 2: Elsa Develops A Personality

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: "Let It Go" Demi Lovato
Shisora: Malta - hugging flowersshisora on November 27th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC)
Read through it one time, but surely will do it again after i got to see everything myself and can really talk about it :)
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on November 28th, 2013 01:41 am (UTC)
Thank you, thank you! *Pageant wave*

I'm excited for you both to see Frozen (it really is a hoot!) and come back with all that you think about it.
accidentalzombi on November 28th, 2013 12:21 am (UTC)
Great review! I'm kinda sad that the movie doesn't succeed in every way, but hopefully it will be enjoyable and something I'd like to watch again and again.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on November 28th, 2013 01:43 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Despite it's foibles, it really does succeed at being a fun movie! I'm excited to see it again this weekend. And I think we'll get a lot of good "what-if" discussion out of the picture.
qlbunnies: real mulanqlbunnies on November 28th, 2013 05:37 am (UTC)
Just saw it and I totally agree with most of what you've said. Your comment that Elsa should have made ice guards to protect herself is pretty spot-on. I didn't think of that, but I know for one thing I was wondering why Hans carried out his evil plan in such an odd roundabout way. Why did he stop Elsa from killing those men and tell her not to be a monster? Was it just to disarm her? Because I feel as though he could have taken that opportunity to turn everyone against her, kill her (which he'd said he was planning to do even before he knew about the magic) and then solve the winter problem and become king with Anna none the wiser. I dunno, it's just strange to me, as you mentioned, that he made his plans known when he did. I agree that it wasn't really in line with his personality since it seemed like up until that point he didn't mind biding his time until he could become king. That was probably the most dissatisfying thing about this movie to me - it doesn't really give us a strong villain to oppose its heroes (and no villain song either! boooo). What I did like, though, was that there also wasn't an ambiguous, non-violent but implicitly horrible, villain death for Hans at the end. Just him falling over the side of a boat was probably enough.

It's kind of funny because having seen the movie, I care a lot more about Hans than most of the characters, even though I wanted to love them all. I agree that Elsa is pretty underdeveloped as a character, and I think her emotional struggle is kind of unclear (at least, it was to me). Which sucks because it's supposed to be driving the plot. And I have to say, although I liked Kristoff, I didn't feel that we really got to see him and Anna connect in any meaningful way. Maybe I'm just a tad resentful that they had to have her end up with someone at the end, even though it's made clear several times that the movie is about sisterhood, not romantic love. And I feel that honestly, plot-wise, Kristoff could have been left out entirely, along with Sven, Olaf, and the trolls (especially the trolls). Not that I don't like the characters, but even when they're fun, amusing, or sweet, they don't really have any meaningful purpose that makes them essential.

Really though, pretty much all of my complaints about this movie are due to the fact that I think the story was just severely in need of revisions. If scenes and even entire characters can be cut out and the essential plot isn't affected - that means they should be cut out. This is exactly how I felt about Brave, so I'm pretty frustrated.

Nnnnnrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh so many feelings I want to discuss....... my brain is just filled with "what ifs" right now, this could have been the Disney movie of my dreams and it just wasn't.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on November 28th, 2013 06:47 am (UTC)
I think you hit the nail on the head in you comment at the d_princesses discussion: Fans are going to like this movie, maybe even love parts of it, but it's overall not a satisfying cinematic experience like we hoped it would be. It took me about two weeks to figure out what I didn't like about the movie. I hope with all the discussion going around it'll take less time for you!

I find Hans very interesting because he really is a Disney first - a villainous character who enjoys appearing and acting good. Like Elsa, Hans will do everything expected of him except Hans is warm, charming and inviting. He thrives on other people trusting him, so we want to trust him! There isn't a point in the film at which we seem him and think, "Maybe he isn't who he says he is," so his whole "mwah-ha-ha, I'll get you my pretty, and your witchy sister, too!" seems so forced and unnatural for his character. I think Hans didn't kill Elsa or allow her to die in her ice palace because he had a narrative to maintain - he was acting on Anna's behalf, and Anna wouldn't want her sister harmed. But if Anna was killed by Elsa, Hans would have a whole new angle to act out in front of the kingdom while maintaining his veneer of perfect goodness. Because that's what's important to Hans: appearing unimpeachably trustworthy.

While the trolls/Kristoff/Sven/Olaf are memorable and fun, they really were more plot devices than useful characters. I get what they were going for with Olaf - he was supposed to be this embodiment of the sisters' shared happy childhood. But he never comes off that way in the film, so his purpose remains unclear (Once again, DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOWMAN should have been a reprise as Elsa was hugging Anna!). Similarly, Kristoff is there to give Anna an unappealing choice for a lover that she comes to realize she likes more than the ideal Prince. Again, not well-utilized in the film, and thus Kristoff is just there to shepherd Anna from plot point to plot point. Though I think Anna and Kristoff matched each other well in super-weirdly-into-this, don't-care-what-it-looks-like enthusiasm, so they make a neat set.

I know Disney puts enormous strain on these films to have the story worked out, voiced, and animated in a very short period of time and sometimes it produces unbelievable results! But lately they've been pushing projects through without the absolutely vital coherent vision to carry these stories through such strenuous schedules. For this reason, Frozen and Brave are doomed to be forgettable even with their "progressive" characters or amazing music because the story won't connect with audiences. And with Frozen poised to rake in mad holiday dollars, I doubt Disney will rethink it's business strategy anytime soon.
qlbunnies: real mulanqlbunnies on November 28th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Hans is such a likable character that I seriously still love him even after seeing that he was willing to kill the protagonists of the movie. Of course, the movie does try very hard to make you like him, but this just underscores the fact that none of the other characters made me feel so strongly about them, except Anna. I was more convinced by the falling-in-love montage and song Hans sang with Anna, which even had tons of embedded clues that their relationship was not meant to be long-term (thank youuuuu amazingly clever songwriting team), than I was by Kristoff and Anna. Which is really a problem, because even though Kristoff and Anna's relationship rightfully takes a backseat to Elsa and Anna's, it's still supposed to be the most appealing romantic relationship in the movie, and personally I just wasn't invested in it. Although I do really like the painfully awkward way he asks her if he can kiss her at the end. And I like that the movie ends with their romance just beginning. (I can deal with the fact that Disney is decidedly un-feminist most of the time, but I have to appreciate a princess movie where nobody gets married at the end.)

I think there's so much missed opportunity with these characters - especially Elsa. They are so vague with her emotional journey and her powers, as you pointed out, and that’s the sticking point for me in terms of things they really should have worked harder to develop (and probably should have had nailed down before they even started animating). I was really expecting to connect with Anna and Elsa's relationship because I have a sister myself. Not only that but my sister is also somewhat distant, and tends to shut people out in ways that are callous and sometimes even seem cruel. So this movie should have spoken to me! But I couldn't relate. Because Anna and Elsa's relationship is not clearly characterized. They don't feel like real sisters.

So weirdly, what stuck with me the most about this movie was Hans, because even though Elsa should have been the most interesting character, I feel like he ended up being that character instead. Like you said, he doesn't really fit any of Disney's molds. It feels odd for him to be cackly and theatrical. He also seems smarter than most villains. What I'm confused by, though, is that he meets Anna, and she first falls for him, in a way that he could not possibly have planned? Although it's incredibly funny for me to imagine him evilly engineering a meet-cute like that. He's an atypical villain for sure.

I also think that Olaf's connection to Anna and Elsa's childhood memories should have been reinforced (and I loved Do You Want to Build a Snowman, it about killed me at the end). I really thought Olaf was going to be the seemingly annoying character that turns out to be the heart of the film, like Ray in The Princess and the Frog. But even though he had some heartwarming moments, like his (adorable) song and when he showed up at the castle to save Anna, I think overall his emotional potential as a character was wasted.

This is how I feel about the film in general. It had the potential to be a tearjerker in the best way. But all of the characters, really – except maybe Anna – seem to be lacking emotional centers. This is the most important thing to think about when writing a character! But since we don’t really know what’s driving these people, we also can’t easily empathize with them, and it really hurts the film.

And yeah, speaking of characters not emoting visibly, I agree SO MUCH about what you said about the character animation. The "they always have to be pretty" thing is total BS, and good animation is so not about that. I would have liked to see a greater range of expressions for Anna and Elsa.

Have you seen The Sweat Box, by any chance? (If not you totally should!) Your comment about Disney's production style made me think of it. I'm curious to know if this movie had a troubled production process, because that would explain a lot.

Edited at 2013-11-28 06:05 pm (UTC)
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on December 2nd, 2013 01:13 am (UTC)
I absolutely agree about Hans! He's the second-most developed character in the film behind Anna. By rights Elsa should be as well-developed because her relationship with Anna is supposed to be driving the conflict, but that's not the way the movie worked out. And so, we get a lot of really interesting discussion about Hans. He comes out of Frozen as the most interesting royal character from Disney canon in recent memory.

And Frozen smacks of feminist tokenism in an unsatisfying way. Yes, there were two female leads, the charming prince was untrustworthy, the sororal relationship saved the day, and no one got married at the end. And a girl punches a guy who was mean to her! The directors were trying so much to be progressive, but because the story doesn't drive or support many of these decisions they just ring hollow. It's as if Disney just approved these points so they could say they were trying to reflect modern feminism.

I have brothers instead of sisters, so I thought I may be harder on Frozen because I don't have that sister-to-sister relationship the film could emotionally exploit. It's good to know from your specific experience that wasn't the case. I don't think I've read a review yet that said how Elsa and Anna reminded them of their sister.

But then again, I have a mom and I still couldn't relate to Brave.

This is how I feel about the film in general. It had the potential to be a tearjerker in the best way. But all of the characters, really – except maybe Anna – seem to be lacking emotional centers. This is the most important thing to think about when writing a character! But since we don’t really know what’s driving these people, we also can’t easily empathize with them, and it really hurts the film.

Nailed it! Frozen builds you up, makes you interested in these characters and their situations, and then just leaves you hanging. I told someone today asking for a recommendation: "It's better than you think, but not as good as you hope."

And I haven't seen The Sweat Box! But now that you've recommended it, I totally will.
qlbunnies: real mulanqlbunnies on December 2nd, 2013 05:40 am (UTC)
Awesome! You can actually watch the movie here. Disney keeps taking it down whenever it gets posted online, probably because it makes them look bad. It's a very eye-opening documentary on the troubled production of The Emperor's New Groove, that gives you a hugely different look at how these big animation studios make movies. This is why whenever people assume I want to work for Disney (I'm an artist, I like Disney, it's easy math), I'm pretty quick to correct them, heh. I love watching the movies, but I wouldn't want to be in the artists' shoes.

I guess there could be sisters out there who do relate to Frozen, since there were people who really responded to the mother and daughter in Brave. (My mom and I didn't, though.) But I felt like the beginning of Frozen set up the basis for a potentially very deep, real relationship between Elsa and Anna, and then it didn't explore it any further. I know that sisterhood can be really complex and interesting, and so I was hoping to see that - just like most audiences want to see themselves in the stories.

Also yes to your comment about hollow appeals to feminism! It felt like that to me, too, although I still hate to condemn the movie because from what I've seen, kids who watch it are really internalizing those messages and talking about them with their parents and friends. And that's so important, I sort of feel bad that as an adult feminist I wasn't totally satisfied with the movie.

Edited at 2013-12-02 05:43 am (UTC)
Chris90scartoonman on December 15th, 2013 07:09 am (UTC)
I think Hans was constantly adjusting his plan as the movie progressed. His original idea was to get Elsa to fall in love with him, marry her, arrange for her and Anna's death, and then Arendelle would be his. After he met Anna, however, it was easier for him to manipulate her and get her to want to marry him than take the risk of trying to seduce Elsa (which is a bit of a longshot).

As for why he didn't let Elsa die, it's possible he didn't want to take the chance that her death would mean the winter is permanent. Best to tackle the immediate problem of saving the kingdom so he has a kingdom to rule later. Keeping Elsa prisoner means a better chance of reversing what she did.
madison_face09: Ariel Hipster Hayley Williamsmadison_face09 on November 28th, 2013 07:47 am (UTC)
Wonderful review! I am so impressed that you took the time to analyze it so in depth. I only watched it for the first time today and I actually really loved it, but every point you brought up is true. I just didn't notice it while I was watching it, I guess.
The one thing that did bother me coming into reading this was Hans' odd roundabout villainry (is that a word?). By turning him into the bad guy, there wasn't really any strong villain to oppose, like qlbunnies said. Coming in to the movie I was under the impression that the Duke of Wesselton was the film's villain, which, to some extent, he was; he did try to have Elsa killed when the search party left to find Anna. But then Hans comes in and undermines everything he did by leaving Anna to die, and attempting to execute Elsa. But that's only in the last dare i say 30 minutes of the film. There's no set physical villain, which felt lacking to me at least.
Walking out of the theater today, I even told my friend, "I hope there's not something at the end of the credits." She responded, "I doubt there is." Turns out there was.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on November 28th, 2013 02:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you! It really was just me trying to process the movie on paper and trying to figure out if I could improve on what I felt was lacking.

I'm under the impression that for a long time during Frozen's production, Elsa was actually the villain. So when they felt they needed to switch it up and have her be a misunderstood heroine, there was no other villain to fall back on (it also might explain her personality absence).

From his very abrupt personality change alone, I don't think Hans was originally written to be a scheming bad guy. Maybe he was just going to be a sweetheart Anna would realize she didn't love "truly" and he'd take the disappointment graciously. And the Duke of Weselton really just feels like a tacked-on character - like: We need a character to be a jerk, just design some old guy. I see where you're coming from - the film really could have used a villain from the start who had a more substantial hand in the plot.

Don't worry! You'll see it again and it'll be worth it!
Prettytailsprettytails on November 28th, 2013 12:51 pm (UTC)
"in Frozen it is proven sororal love can also considered True Love. Otherwise... Frozen just raised a lot of awkward questions about incest.

*is dead*

This is a great read though, I still cant wait to see it.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on November 28th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
Let's just hope that's Disney meant the Hug of True Sisterhood really can break spells as easily as True Love's Kiss. It also makes me wonder if the High Five of Father-Daughter Togetherness could have broken Aurora's spell as easily.

If you enjoyed the review, I think you'll still have fun seeing the movie!
accidentalzombi on November 29th, 2013 12:00 am (UTC)
I wrote a short story a little while back that had a girl breaking the curse on her sister because they truly loved one another. (well she *did* kiss her sister, but it was because in some cultures, it is tradition to kiss a loved one on each cheek and then the lips, relative or not).
I'm glad that Disney finally put out that True Love could be the love of a family member and is just not romantic.
&; too much wine has made you sentimental: b&b; do not forget menorringtons on November 30th, 2013 02:17 am (UTC)
Saw it last night with my boyfriend, and yes, you summed up my thoughts exactly.

We both hated with what was done with Hans. My boyfriend said Han's shouldn't have been an evil character: they should have had him kiss Anna, but realize he is not her true love, which would have opened up another element of heartbreak and rejection, which the film had already talked about. Hans would've remained good, but again show another way of people rejecting others (like how Elsa had with Anna).

I felt Hans' transition to villain didn't work. This is why I love Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. He's not an evil character per se in the beginning of the film, but the transition to villain WORKED. I would've loved to have seen Hans really emulate Gaston...be a bit morally dubious, but still an alright guy, but really make that final transition and it be frightening.

Like you said, he just needed a mustache to twirl!

A lot of people are comparing it to Beauty and the Beast, but it shouldn't be. B&B was a cohesive story. Frozen seems like a bunch of scenes strung together that don't flow well. Something in the editing process went wrong. It feels like scenes were taken out. I couldn't connect with Elsa because we never learned anything about her. Kristoff like you said is a plot device. I didn't believe him and Anna's relationship at all. Hans and Anna seemed far more genuine. This pains me in comparing them to Rapunzel and Flynn, who worked together and had an amazing relationship. Yes Flynn carried the plot forward many times, but he still connected as a character and love interest.

Several plot holes abound too. We learn NOTHING about Elsa's powers. That older man with the false hair calls Elsa a witch, so are witches present in this world and feared? Where the heck did the trolls come from? They just seemed added in and didn't connect. What about Kristoff's family? It was implied at the opening number he did?

I liked the film, but it didn't connect emotionally to me. Why? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Edited at 2013-11-30 02:20 am (UTC)
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on December 2nd, 2013 12:48 am (UTC)
I read an interesting analysis on Hans last night that posits the Hans feelings for Anna were real (thus why he didn't kiss her at all, to not even risk it) but his ambition to be King overshadows any possible affection. Thus his mustache-twirling monologue is Hans convincing himself he's glad Anna is dying.

It's a very interesting idea, and makes the scene work if you do assume those are Hans's motivations. However, it's still the same problem that you have to assume what Hans's motivations are instead of the movie telling you.

And to be fair, Beauty and the Beast has its plot holes, too. The difference is it works seamlessly on an emotional level. I don't think Frozen works as well on an emotional or intellectual level. Like you said, a lot of material must have been taken out during production and so we're missing many important details. I just got the deluxe soundtrack and haven been listening to the deleted songs to try and fill in some of the blanks.

It really does feel like Kristoff and the trolls are coming in from a whole other movie with a different comedic style and theme. Still, I love him and Anna together. I like it when weirdos pair up, so it works for me on that emotional level.
organicfantasy: Cinderella's Hopeorganicfantasy on November 30th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
Augh, this. All of this. I loved the movie, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. This megapost pretty much filled in what was. <3
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on December 2nd, 2013 12:52 am (UTC)
I'm with you! I take a lot of issues with Frozen but I still really like it. I think I'm going to see it again this week. I'm glad you enjoyed the megapost!
Takochacusha on December 5th, 2013 04:58 am (UTC)
Man... I agree about Hans. I get why they did that with his character, but it just wasn't believable. I think you have to balance surprise and Making a Point with consistency and giving your characters actual legit motivations. When people have to struggle to interpret or justify what was going on with character X's actions / personality / motives, I think it's somewhat of a failing on the filmmakers' part. He could have pulled off a kind of affable evil, or quirkily carefree evil, but the mustache-twirling, I'm so eeeevil evil? Waht.

I like your idea of more head/heart dichotomies. I think it would have both helped make the ice magic more rooted in something understandable as well as helped make the emotional part of the story more emotional. For example, Elsa's ability to rein in her ice powers at the end seems random and not very well-explained. The impression you got was that it was due to Elsa's feelings of being loved; the impression I got was that it was due to Elsa regaining her own ability to express love freely. I think this could have been much better defined. What IS going on with Elsa's powers? What IS the difference in the before (no ice control) and after (ice control) pictures here? Connecting icy hearts with the ability to love (or lack thereof) could have made the rupture between Anna and Elsa much deeper and more dangerous, as the icier they get, the more convinced they are that loving someone is potentially hurtful, and the less likely they are to take the plunge with a selfless act of love.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on December 5th, 2013 10:20 am (UTC)
There is a GIF set from a pirated version of Frozen that shows Hans's eyes flick upward just before he seizes the henchman's crossbow and then re-directs it to hit the chandelier above her, making Elsa's death appear accidental (LINK). Which goes to show that maybe there were hints Hans wasn't as well-intentioned as we believed, and answers why "Hans didn't kill Elsa/let her die when he had the chance." He took the chance, but Elsa was a better sprinter.

It also goes to show that any evidence of Hans's duplicity is so "blink and you miss it" it might as well not exist. Hans is so frustratingly and fascinatingly mishandled as a villain. It really seems like they decided at the last minute they needed a villain and based on the characters and scenes they already animated they could just refurb some of Hans's scenes to fit the bill, complete with quickly-phoned in villain monologue.
Abigail: Wall-E Soundtrackmdmbrightside on December 5th, 2013 10:20 am (UTC)
Elsa's ability to rein in her ice powers at the end seems random and not very well-explained. The impression you got was that it was due to Elsa's feelings of being loved; the impression I got was that it was due to Elsa regaining her own ability to express love freely.

I didn't think of this as a sticking point for the film when I wrote the review, but now that you mention it - yeah, Frozen is not explicit about whose or what aspect of whose True Love allows Elsa to gain control over her powers. Elsa just says "Love will thaw... Love, of course!" and then she can dissipate her ice. So whatever it is Elsa learned about love or the mechanics of how it affects her magic remains unsaid.

It is interesting, then, to go back to What Do Elsa's Snow Powers Represent To Her, because Elsa mostly uses her powers to keep people away from her. She creates ice spikes, snow monsters, and blizzards all with the intention of keeping everyone at a distance no matter the cost (embedding her kingdom in an everlasting winter, freezing her sister from the inside out).

When marketing the movie, the directors claim the central conflict comes from Fear vs Love (Source), how every character struggles between being afraid and wanting to love. Elsa and Anna are obviously polar opposites on that spectrum, as well as Olaf being the embodiment of pure love. Elsa's ice magic could be in part representative of her fear. Her magic has many uses, but she uses it almost entirely to isolate herself. So I think you're right in your assessment that it's Elsa's act of rediscovering love that allows her to thaw the winter - love being the polar opposite of fear, it melts ice like heat. Elsa realizes her ability to love is as powerful as her ability to conjure ice after she witnesses Anna's transformation.

And for that matter, who "unfroze" Anna - was it Elsa's demonstrative love for Anna (a warm, healing hug, as canonically supported by Olaf/the Trolls), or did Anna let herself freeze to stop the sword, then unfreeze through the power of her love by sacrificing her life to save Elsa? Or did it actually have to be a combination of these gestures? It goes back to my theory that True Love can only be spell-breaking when love is equal and reciprocal - that's why Kristoff couldn't break the spell for Anna (she wasn't as focused on him as she was on Hans) or Olaf with his fire (the magic rules may be different with sentient snowmen).

Tragically, maybe Anna wouldn't have thawed if she had not forgiven Elsa for freezing her or shutting her out even if Elsa embraced/demonstrably loved her sister. The directors could have raised the stakes significantly by making that a condition of Anna's unfreezing, because who among us hasn't resented someone who hurt us? Who would blame Anna for holding a grudge against Elsa for ignoring her for so many years and causing her to die? But the nature of Anna's personality is so open that there was never any doubt she loved Elsa despite everything her sister did to her. Still...

Connecting icy hearts with the ability to love (or lack thereof) could have made the rupture between Anna and Elsa much deeper and more dangerous, as the icier they get, the more convinced they are that loving someone is potentially hurtful, and the less likely they are to take the plunge with a selfless act of love.

Exactly! And wonderfully put!
Chris: icon90scartoonman on December 15th, 2013 07:22 am (UTC)
Thank you for this! Very thoughtful analysis of all aspects of the movie. I enjoyed reading it.

I liked your analysis of the way Elsa's powers manifested and what it meant about her true self and emotions at the time. I would argue, though, she does have a personality and she's not quite "everyone and no one." "Fearful", "Repressed", and "Regal" just scratch the surface. For her it feels like having those powers at a young age has caused her to be cautious and thus kept her from exploring what would make her really happy. After her parents died, it's the responsibility to them that motivates her. She wants to do right by them, and that means taking care of the kingdom. However, that keeps her from any choice, until she is all of a sudden relieved of that responsibility by becoming a threat to the kingdom. "Let it Go" is her letting go of all ties to family or responsibility to the kingdom that she's had all her life.

As much as I'd like an explanation of the existence of magic, curses, and how troll society operates, sometimes in fairy tales, you don't get anything. I'm okay with that, although part of me believes there's some kind of season embodiment that gets reincarnated constantly to perpetuate the existence of winter, summer, etc and that for whatever reason the previous Snow Queen died just as Elsa was born and the powers and spirit passed on to her.
tommycruisestommy50702 on November 29th, 2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
I hated tangled, which is why i didn't watch it in the theater.