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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Snow Queen Reins Supreme! - Thoughts on Disney's 'Frozen'

I've been holding off on writing a review for Frozen, which may seem odd to my readers, as I've been writing about the film with an extreme emphasis for months now. I even had the lucky opportunity to see it before it was released to general theaters, as my wonderful boyfriend obtained tickets to an early showing at the El Capitan in Hollywood.

I knew I would love the film, but I wanted to give the public - and myself - some time to digest. I needed to see the film again, and see how it looked in a regular 2D viewing - which is what I just did today! My mother and I had a movie date - and yes, she enjoyed the film ;)

With all that said, let's talk about Frozen. If you haven't seen the film and don't want anything spoiled, then get out of here and go see it! It's easily a Disney classic, it's been nominated for several awards and is probably going to beat The Lion King domestically at the Box Office because it's just that good.

For some, Frozen is like any traditional and beloved classic Disney animated feature film. It is a compelling story inspired by a classic fairy tale, it features a heroine (or in this case, heroines) in trouble, is made up of a cast of interesting characters, has beautiful animation, and has a magnificent soundtrack.

These are all classic Disney elements that make the brand what it is. One may claim to not appreciate the Disney Princess franchise or enjoy musicals, but they are undeniably integral parts of the Disney legacy.

Where Frozen is different, however, is it's celebration of love. Traditionally, Disney fairy tales celebrate the idea of romantic love overcoming the greatest obstacles and saving the day, but here it is sisterly love that breaks the spell.

Frozen also boldly confronts the idea that some of us do not know what love is, or what can constitute as untrue love, and that the handsome prince isn't always so beautiful underneath his exterior.

I sincerely enjoyed the fact that every main character taught the audience something different about love. Love takes on many forms. Heck, even Olaf, who many were ready to hate coming into the theaters, was the physical embodiment of Elsa and Anna's love for each other and charmed his way through the film.

Disney has shown familial love before. Finding Nemo is a prime example, but Marlin's fatherly love doesn't break a curse. I applaud Disney for breaking from the traditional route here and celebrating something that is all too-often ignored in entertainment representation. Family is tremendously important, and in times like these, it is very important that we are reminded that at the end of the day, we have family (whether blood-related or the families we create with friends, pets etc.) that we can always count on, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Everything that Elsa does is out of love for others, and her prime motivator is her love for her sister. After nearly killing Anna in an accident, Elsa is mortified and fearful her powers - beautiful, but if not controlled, dangerous. To protect everyone that she loves (her kingdom included), she is forced to lead a life of seclusion, even at times cutting interaction with her parents that know her secret. And even after her parents are gone and she becomes Anna's estranged guardian, she is fully willing to make herself out to be the "bad guy" in order to protect Anna when her younger sister absurdly proclaims that she is going to marry someone that she just met. Anna is selfless in her act of protecting Elsa from Hans even after believing that her own sister meant to hurt her, but it is Elsa's tremendous love for Anna that saves her sister's life and the future of the kingdom - and, in turn, she saves herself.

Some are frustrated with the fact that Elsa did not get a love interest in the film, but Anna got two. The reasons as to why stem from a very, very long development process.

If you have kept up with this blog, you will know that Disney has attempted to bring some incarnation of the story of the Snow Queen to life for several decades, going as far back as to when Walt Disney was still alive and running the show. Obviously, things kept seemingly not working out. Try as they might, Disney's creative teams constantly ran into trouble when trying to get a handle on the Snow Queen's character. Here's one excerpt from James B. Stewart's Disney War:

... June 11, 2003, (Then-Disney CEO Michael) Eisner has invited me to a creative meeting of the feature animation team, led by (Thomas) Schumacher's replacement, David Stainton. Eisner usually attends these meetings once or twice a month.

"That's why this has to be a Legally Blonde-type comedy," replies Mary Jane Ruggels, another creative vice president.  

"Sleeping Beauty was 1938," Eisner says. "The ending was forced. Like Treasure Planet-- it just ended. It wasn't funny or clever. Are you sure you can save this? Is Ice Queen better?" 

"You mean Snow Queen," Ruggels says.

"I love The Taming of the Shrew idea," Eisner says. "Take Martha Stewart. She's tough, smart -- a worthy adversary. If she were a doormat of a woman, no one would go after her. Marlo Thomas used to call me about marketing 'That Girl.' She said, 'If I were a man, I'd be president of the network."

Eisner expresses some reservation about the team assigned to Snow Queen, then adds, "John Lasseter. If we make a new deal with Pixar ... " 

Stainton jumps in: "You mean when we make a new deal with Pixar."

"I said to John, you can have Snow Queen. He loved it. John said, 'I want to do a princess movie.' "

Eisner asks for the Snow Queen synopsis. 

"The Snow Queen is a terrible bitch," Ruggels says. "When her suitors try to melt her heart, the Snow Queen freezes them."

"Each one should be a phony, but different," Eisner says of the suitors.

"Then along comes a regular guy," Ruggels continues. 

"This is perfect!" Eisner exclaims. "I'm afraid to hear more."

"The regular guy goes up there, he's not that great, but he's a good person. He starts to unfreeze her ... she melts."

"It's great," Eisner says. "Finally. We've had twenty meetings on this." 

Some of the language used to describe this shelved concept of the Snow Queen makes me cringe.

Clearly the creatives were toying with the idea of the Snow Queen having a love interest. Perhaps having the title character simply be a "bitch" that has all her problems solved by one man sounded good to some people (this meeting certainly reflects the film industry of the time), but as John Lasseter said to the Chris Buck's team (this was before Jennifer Lee joined the project), "You haven't dug deep enough." Everyone has a motivation. Audiences need to be able to identify with the characters that they see on screen.

Soon Jennifer joined the project (and thankfully breathed some realistic female essence into the leading ladies and story and broke the glass ceiling at Disney) and somewhere along the way someone asked, "What if Anna and Elsa were sisters?"

That question changed everything. Finally there was an emotional core that the creatives could work from, and the story took off.

Could Disney have come up with a version of the story that would have given Elsa a love interest? In Frozen's incarnation that we now know, I do not think so. If Elsa had to cut herself off from her own sister, often her own parents and completely from anyone else in her kingdom at such an early age because she felt she was too dangerous to be around anyone, how could she allow herself to emotionally connect with someone romantically? When Elsa says at her coronation ball that she doesn't dance, it's not because she feels that she has two left feet - it's that she doesn't dare touch anyone for fear of hurting them. It's why she quickly turns away from Anna when her sister reaches to touch her. Elsa is almost completely covered up, but she is still afraid that any contact with her sister could result in harming her.

This is, however, not to say that Elsa doesn't deserve a love interest. Elsa absolutely deserves love, in all forms of the word! And yes, even though it crosses fandoms, Elsa and Jack Frost would make quite the lovely couple (and hey, it's not like Dreamworks owns the entire concept of Jack Frost - Disney could potentially do something with that idea...I wonder what the copyrights are regarding that name...)

Anyhow, the problem was that if Elsa couldn't even let her own sister into her life, how could she even fathom allowing a complete stranger in? Elsa had to reconnect with the person she loved most before she could allow herself to connect deeply with anyone else - and love herself.

Personally, I don't think that Elsa needs a man, because she's so amazing on her own. When we go to the movies and see a male character not have a love interest, are people always getting upset over it? I've never seen that kind of complaint. Leading female characters do not need to be paired off to be interesting to service a story. BUT, I think that the reason why some fans are so upset for Elsa is that they connected with her so deeply - they felt that she deserved to repair all of that awful loneliness and pain in her heart. And I very much feel the same way. Some are calling for a sequel - I truly, truly hope that if a sequel is made, it will be of at least the same caliber as Frozen. Lasseter put his foot down several years ago demanding that Disney films that came out in theaters only get sequels if they are good enough to also be released into theaters. But Cars 2 wasn't that long ago (sorry John)...on the flip side, the Toy Story sequels were all amazing. Cross your fingers.

In the meantime, I have to say that while Anna is a charming character that gives the Disney Princess lineage a nice shakeup and I understand why the film was set essentially from her perspective, I really wish Frozen spent more time with Elsa. The film could have easily used at least an extra 20 minutes with her. We got a fantastic amount of backstory leading up through "Let It Go," which is an amazing song that I cannot stop singing in my car. But after that, we saw a lot less of Elsa and her awesome ice palace didn't really get much use (though at least Marshmallow was able to use it after - please tell me you all stayed after the credits?!) Anna and Elsa's confrontation sped by like a bullet train, and before I knew what was happening, I realized that Disney had cut the whole sequence of Elsa shooting a blizzard at Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven.

And that little piece of footage was what had me hooked to see this film, folks. Do I regret seeing the film because this footage was seemingly cut? No, of course not. But my curiosity is driving me crazy.

Of course we all wanted Elsa to be a hero in this story, but were curious about her also being an antagonist to a certain extent. Disney kept her character shrouded in mystery for a very long time. Of course, originally they planned to have her be even more of an antagonist then she ended up being in the final film, and the script and story went through so many changes...

Still, I have to ask about this bit, because it was (and still is) in a lot of the more recent marketing! I'm sure you all remember the, "That's no blizzard, that's my sister!" clip. Originally, the full clip which is now entitled "That happened" had our characters land into the soft pillowy snow after their encounter with Marshmallow to then be suddenly attacked with a flurry of snow and wind. Kristoff then shouted, "Now we just have to survive this blizzard!" and Anna finished with, "That's no blizzard, that's my sister!" as the camera panned up to Elsa in all of her icy glory. Now, however, if you went on to the official Disney Animation Youtube page, you would see a slightly different video with no Elsa in it at all, which fully matches what you see in the final film version. I wanted to find the original clip for you, but I have a feeling that Disney sought to remove every trace of it that was ever around. Even when I type to search for this particular clip on Youtube, the webpage crashes. Coincidence? I think not!

And neither is this! I am now officially convinced that Rapunzel is cousins with Anna and Elsa.

Anyway, I can't help but think back to when Tangled was coming to theaters. Disney had made some fairly entertaining promos - one of them even got their own poster. And I wondered if maybe this little bit of Elsa's awesome ice magic was merely developed to be used for promotional material.

We got to see Rapunzel dangle Flynn/Eugene out of her tower, and apparently she was enjoying it. But if you think about it now, do you really think Rapunzel would have done something so cruel?

I certainly don't.

And that is possibly what came into play for Frozen, but on a grander scale, and not spawning from trying to generate interest for the film. It wouldn't make much sense for Elsa to shoot ice magic at her own sister after she accidentally struck her and was mortified by the whole thing. Yes, she created Marshmallow, but only so that she could be assured that her sister would be escorted off of the premises.

So perhaps kind of late in the game, the creators decided to cut that footage. But Anna's line kind of stuck with potential moviegoers, and those moments have still found themselves as tidbits in current Frozen trailers. And every time I get a glimpse of Elsa in this footage, I get that darned pang of curiosity.

I still don't have The Art of Frozen in my possession. It may answer all sorts of questions for me. At the same time, I feel that it will leave just as many unanswered. If the Blu-Ray does not have a serious making-of documentary on this project, I will be very, very disappointed. Disney already dropped the ball with Tangled on that front. Are they embarrassed about the amount of times they tackled this project and it didn't go anywhere? They shouldn't. They should also know that there will be fans out there that will want to know more. I just sincerely hope that we will not have to wait 20 years before we get an honest behind-the-scenes-look at the making of this film.

There's still so much more to write about's yet another reason why I've held off. I just had to focus this post on my new favorite character! But don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Anna and the rest of the characters. I'm actually really excited to talk about Hans with all of you - some people do not give the filmmakers enough credit for the creative genius that they put into this character!

In the meantime, I hope you all have had happy holidays and will have a happy new year!

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