Sunday, February 14, 2016

Zak Attack Unleashed: Disney's Frozen

Now a lot of people (family and friends specifically) seem to think I have this strange obsession-like hate for Disney’s FrozenAnd honestly I wouldn’t say it’s an “obsession”, or even a “hate” really. More like a… fascination, if you will. And a slight bit of an annoyance as well. A fascination of how a film of this caliber managed to gain such a popularity in the mainstream audience so quickly, and an annoyance for how people continue to praise it even long after its initial release. Not to mention the fact that the film's overtly enthusiastic fans tend to refer to it as if it were the second coming. Praising it's inherent virtues with such claims as “It's a new Disney classic.”, or a "Wonderfully enchanting wintry fare.", or more simply "Frozen is fabulous."

How Frozen fans are reacting to that statement.
Now I know I’m probably gonna come off as a cold-hearted bastard for saying this, and I'm quite privy to the fact that I'm in the minority on this, but to be perfectly honest... I think Frozen’s really overrated.

Now when I say "I think Frozen’s really overrated.", I’m not necessarily saying that Frozen's a bad film. It's important to remember that distinction, especially in today's Internet savvy age where things are constantly being taken out of context. No, contrary to popular belief, there are actually some things in this film that I do legitimately like. All I'm saying is that I don’t think it’s as good as it's been made out to be. And I think a lot of that has to due with the amount of hype generated around the time of the film's release.

Compared to some of Disney's more recent fare like Wreck-It Ralph or Tangled, Frozen definitely had a much bigger marketing push. Before and especially after Frozen's premiere, there wasn't a single bit of ad space that wasn't occupied by either one of the film's characters or songs. It was virtually inescapable for a while. The hype train was running full steam ahead, and I was practically tied to the tracks all damsel in distress-like. Unable to get out of the way from the locomotive barreling towards me. Needless to say the experience left me a little jaded. Admittedly to some extent this did sour my first impressions of the film upon my first initial viewing. However upon later viewings, I found myself realizing that maybe I was a little unfair in my first appraisal.

However despite my reevaluation of the film, I still hold true to the fact that I think most people (particularly the fans) tend to overlook some of it's flaws in favor of what they attest to be as sheer magnificence. And any self-proclaimed film critic must always remember that no movie, despite however many accolades it has to it's name, is truly without flaws. Or however flawed a film is, people can still find enjoyment out of it. Hell, I think the original Star Wars (1977) film is proof enough of that statement.

So with that in mind, how did this movie become such a big hit audiences anyway? Well before we get started, I think it's important to mention that there will be SPOILERS in this review. So for the two of you who have yet to see this film, do so now, or read on at your own peril.

Let’s start off with the thing that people can’t seem to get enough of from this movie, the soundtrack. While I’m not exactly a music buff, to me personally a lot of the music in the film seems to fall on the lines of either okay, meh, or "NO GOD! NO GOD PLEASE NO!!! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!" For the First Time in Forever, while it is basically in the same vain as some of the more classic style of Disney soundtracks, it's okay. Not perfect, just okay. Love Is an Open Door sounds less like a song you'd hear in a Disney film, and more like leftovers from the cutting room floor of a fairy tale inspired Glee episode. Let It Go, I’ll admit, I think it's one of the better songs of the film's soundtrack. It's got a decent sound to it, and it's pretty catchy after the first couple of listens. Overall, it's actually not that bad. Now if only the fans would stop making so many damn covers of it already.

Then there's Fixer Upper. Next to songs like In Summer, this is one of those songs that doesn't really serve as a way to move the story forward, but rather as a "HEY LOOK AT THESE CUTE CHARACTERS DOING ALL THESE SILLY THINGS!!! ISN'T IT CUTE?!" In short: both seem like roadblocks to the plot, or rather annoying sideshow attractions that won't shut the hell up. 

And then there's Do You Want to Build a Snowman?. The song that launched a million and one memes, parodies, and godawful song covers. A song so overblown and overplayed, that it quite literally rivals Let It Go. Nothing really much to say about the song itself, except for the fact that it's repetitive, annoying, and gets really fuckin' old really fast. I get that the song's purpose is to serve as a way to show the passing of time between Elsa and Anna as they grow further apart as children and later into adults, and it does serve it's purpose fairly well, but good God is it annoying.

Now to be fair, this is probably more of the fault of other outside sources rather then the actual movie itself. Back when Frozen was just starting to generate buzz, I had certain relatives play Do You Want to Build a Snowman? numerous times on repeat. All to my utter annoyance. At that point Shake it Off would've sounded more appealing.

In short: in the context of the film, it's serviceable as a means of advancing the story, but either way it's still unbearable to listen to. But that's just me.

Then there's the animation. Now as much as I love to buck a good trend, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t agree with folks in saying that the animation does look good. Hell I dare say... it looks great. Disney has come a long way since the days of Chicken Little or Meet the Robinsons in terms of their CG animation department, with the animation continuously improving with each passing film. Personally I've always been a fan of traditional hand-drawn animation, films like Mulan, Treasure Planet, and The Iron Giant still look great even by today's standard. However it's hard not to notice that Disney's CG animation has and is getting better with time. And Frozen is definitely proof of that.

Disney took full advantage of the film's setting and environment. Creating a visually impressive world that almost feels as if it were something pulled right out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. I mean the snow effects alone look fantastic. If I had to pick something that I genuinely liked about the film, it’d be the animation hands down.

The characters themselves, while not spectacular by any means, do have a few things in particular that stood out to me. Elsa for example is one of those characters that clearly possesses a great deal of potential for a story, but thirty minutes or so into the film the focus then shifts away from her to her less interesting sister, Anna (which I'll get into a bit later).

 Screwing up your own child psychologically
because she might be a danger to herself and 
others? That's gotta be worth a Razzie Award 
for Worst Parenting Ever right there.

Elsa is kept hidden from the outside world due to the unpredictable nature of her powers. Because of this, she ends up becoming somewhat introverted as well as a bit timid around other people, even around her own sister. Much of this can be attributed to the fear of losing control of her powers. A fear of which that's basically been projected onto her by her parents since childhood, after Elsa accidentally injured her sister Anna while playing. Inevitably, years later, through the provocation of Anna, she does lose control and runs away into the mountains. Where we then get the musical number/marketing centerpiece of the film, Let It Go. Instead of confronting her problems head on, she essentially skips town and relegates herself into her own little self-imposed exile. A short time later, when Anna does confront Elsa in hopes of bringing her back home, as well as spare Arrendel from the oncoming apocalypse-level ice age. She is then firmly rejected by Elsa because she still sees herself as a potential danger to anyone around her.

Now in the final cut of the film we get a reprisal of Anna's song from earlier, For The First Time in Forever, between Anna and Elsa. In this instance, the song is supposed to convey Elsa's frustration with never being able to escape the pressures of her own life, while Anna continues to persuade her to return home.

However, there is a deleted scene consisting of a song that for one reason or another, never made it into the final cut. The song is called Life's Too Short. In this alternate scene, we see Elsa and Anna engage in more of a confrontation with one another as opposed to the final cut. Both characters engage in bit of a sisterly slap fight, as Anna is trying her hardest to convince Elsa to come back and undo the eternal winter that she's unwittingly caused. Whereas Elsa is more or less coming right out and saying "Fuck that noise! I'm looking out for number one now."

Life's Too Short deleted scene
Honestly, I'm pretty disappointed that this scene was cut from the film. In my opinion, it would have made the character dynamic between Elsa and Anna a lot more compelling. I mean what's wrong with Elsa being a little selfish in this case as opposed to the "Oh woe is me, I'll never be free" spiel from the final cut? For someone who's been forced to repress her abilities from childhood well into adulthood, something of which has obviously effected her emotionally and psychologically, is it really that far fetched to believe that she might adopt a more self-centered mindset after finally snapping from years of internal conflict? And when she does lash out out, striking Anna in the heart with a blast from her powers, the emotion of the scene has more of an impact. You can practically imagine what Elsa's feeling afterwards. Confusion, regret, anger, panic, fear. It gives more relatability to their relationship as sisters. As for the song itself, it's actually pretty good. Hell, I dare say it might be almost as good as Let It GoThe way this scene plays out in the final cut just seems rather contrived to me. And it's really unfortunate that this was cut from the film and relegated to just being an extra on the soundtrack.

But I digress.

I feel like there was a lot that the writers could have explored with Elsa's character. Everything from peer pressure, isolationism, fear, these are ideas that are touched upon here and there during the film when in regards to Elsa. Unfortunately, a lot of that is bogged down due inclusion of Anna as the film's main lead. I mean I get that part of the appeal of Frozen is it's theme of sisterhood, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but even then it's just kinda mediocre and nothing really to write home about. Overall, I just wish the film put a bit more focus on Elsa as opposed to Anna. As I believe there to be some unrealized potential for her character. But for what we got in the end, she's not half bad.

And speaking of Anna, let's dissect her a little bit.

Hmm, I wonder why? (  -__-)
As I mentioned earlier, she does get most of focus in the film. And while some may find her eccentric behavior and unwavering optimism appealing, to me she tends to come off as over-enthusiastic, annoying, and if I'm being perfectly honest here, not all that interesting of a character. Now I get it, she's supposed to be the polar opposite of Elsa, which is fine. And I'm not suggesting that you cut her out from the movie entirely, but did you have to make her the animated equivalent of every female character from a Disney Channel sitcom?

With that said, despite her annoyance, there are some things that the film does do with Anna's character that deserve recognition. One of her main goals in the plot, aside from rekindling her relationship with her sister, is too eventually find her “one true love” – ugh, just saying that sounds cheesy. However, interestingly enough, she eventually comes to the conclusion that one's happiness doesn't necessarily rely on that of another. Better to be patient and wait for the right one to come along then to rush headlong into something you might not even be ready for. Which is an interesting take on the whole love-at-first-sight-married-in-three-days shtick that most Disney films are known for these days. So I gotta give credit to the writer (Jennifer Lee) for pulling this element off pretty well. Even if her characterization of Anna could use a little work.

Kristoff on the other hand, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about. It’s not that he’s bland or forgettable mind you, it’s just that I didn’t really gravitate towards him as much as I did with Elsa. However, much like Elsa before him, he does act as sort of a voice of reason against Anna's insistence on marrying the first guy you meet. He's cynical, but pretty offbeat. So at the very least he's not some thickheaded jock serving as the film's sole comedic relief. Sure there's his relationship with Sven, but at least that's not his entire character. And while his backstory does get glossed over - in fact the film barely addresses it, there's still a bit to like about the guy.

And then there’s Olaf. Okay I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a fan of this guy… Just want to get that out there. I know a lot of people really like him, but for me personally, I just didn’t think he was that funny. Or at least, not as funny as the trailers made him out to be. I mean he can be quirky at times and he has somewhat of a soft-spoken personality, which is a nice change as opposed to the typical fast talking comedic sidekicks we usually get these days, but honestly I just didn't find him all that funny. However, at the very least he did get a chuckle out me a few times, so points to him for that.

And there's the villain of the film, Prince Hans. Oh did I say he was the villain? Oh... SPOILERS I guess.

Now I'm gonna be completely upfront when I say this: but I think Prince Hans is a pretty weak villain and overall not that interesting of a character. Why's that you pugnaciously inquire? Well allow me to elucidate:

It's stated in the film that Hans is the youngest of his family, so it's likely he’ll never inherit the throne. So the only way he can become king is that he’ll have to marry a princess from another kingdom. And in order to accomplish this goal, he creates this false persona of being an honest, noble, kind hearted person, the ultimate princess's true love as it were. Upon meeting him for the first time, Anna practically falls head over heels for Hans's act, literally. As such, Hans uses her naivety to his advantage as a way to usurp his way to into becoming the king of Arrendel. Originally he had planned to marry Elsa, but given her reclusive tendencies, he decides to settle for Anna instead. Once that was done, he would then stage an "accident" for Elsa, thus allowing him to take possession of the throne.

Anna only learns of this much too late, as she lays dying on the floor due to the ice in her heart. With Anna at death's door, Hans decides to leave her there to die while he goes out to confront Elsa, and is more then likely going to kill her. With both of them out of the way, there would be nothing stopping him from usurping the throne and taking over kingdom. All while under the guise of the hero that saved Arrendel from an eternal winter. Literally powerless to stop him, she defiantly tells him that he'll never get away with this. To which Hans responds, "... I already have."

On paper this sounds brilliant, and in theory should make for some great materiel for Han's character motivation. In practice however, it's not very well executed. I think most of my problems with Prince Hans comes down to the either the writing or the actor himself. The motivation for Hans is solid, don't get me wrong. But something about the execution just didn't click with me. And I think that's mostly down to the character himself not being all that interesting. While the actor who voices him (Santino Fontana) does a decent job at portraying the character, it doesn't really add much the character himself. Which is a shame because I think if they had either fleshed out Hans's character a little more, or maybe gotten a different actor to voice him, I probably would have liked him a lot more. Overall though, he's just lacking that spark that a lot of great Disney villains possess.

The surprise twist at the end where it's revealed that Hans is the villain, I'll admit, I was genuinely surprised at first. But aside from that and his motivation, there's just not much to him as a character. Hell, in retrospect you really don't need Hans as the villain. You could have just used Elsa. You could still have Elsa snap from the peer pressure and the constant repression of her powers, and have her be sort of a unwitting antagonist of the film. And Anna, being the protagonist, would of course be the one to redeem her. That I think would have made for a better story.

From I could gather, the film apparently underwent several different story treatments before being commissioned into production in 2011. Originally, Elsa was intended to be the villain, but after the creation of Let It Go, it was decided that Elsa would instead be more of a "misunderstood" character. So it's possible that Hans may have just been added in at the last minute due to later rewrites of the script. Plus with the benefit of hindsight, I think a fair chunk of my issues with the film can be be traced back to the film's writing.

Now with all that said, do I think Frozen is a bad movie? Well no, not really. I mean granted the story is pretty clunky at times, the music as a whole is pretty 50/50 for me, and like I said before Hans is a pretty weak villain, that doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s a bad film. If anything I think its okay. A bit too overrated for its own good, but okay.

In all honesty though, I just don’t think the film is really that deserving of all the hype it’s received. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t see why people enjoy it so much. Hell, the marketing campaign and Let I Go were probably the biggest contributors to that. Personally, it’s just not what I’d consider to be one of Disney’s best animated films in recent years (that honor of course goes to Tangled). But for a film that's supposedly been in development since 1943, it's not too bad. It may be overrated and overhyped, but it’s an okay film. Not great, not terrible, just okay.

For whatever reasons that you may like Frozen despite whatever I've said here, I’d say more power to you. These are just my personal opinions of the film, nothing more. And for those of you who have yet to see the movie, I’d say give it at least a viewing and draw your own conclusions from there.

And seeing as how I’ve finally said my peace about this movie, perhaps now I too can finally “let it go”.

Don't be shocked. You knew that joke was coming.