Because fans should be critical, too

The Hypnotized Never Lie: A Passionate “Frozen” Fan Speaks Up

A few days ago, I received two comments from someone named Kelsey, and she had some very interesting things to say regarding my harshness towards Frozen and The Legend of Korra. I’ll post both comments here, along with my general response:

You want to write a Frozen review, but you don’t even know the name of the keynote song? (It’s “Let It Go,” not “Let It Be.”) That throws all your credibility out the window right there.

Frankly, between your thumbing your nose at Frozen (a film written by a woman, directed by a woman, and focused on female characters and relationships), and your insistence that Korra isn’t worthy of being seen as a “real person” because she’s a brash “honorary boy”** instead of more traditionally feminine, I suspect you have some deep-seated internalized misogyny issues you should think long and hard about.

**I know you stole the “honorary boy” quote from Ebert, but seriously, just stop for a second and think about how offensive and insulting that is. It implies that a woman who doesn’t fit into society’s narrow definition of femininity isn’t even a woman at all, and that the best she can hope for is to be sneeringly labeled as an honorary man. That’s just…more gross than I can even say.

I clearly didn’t edit that post well, otherwise I would have corrected that error immediately. I suppose I’m more used to typing “Let It Be” instead of “Let It Go” because I have much stronger and more positive memories of that Beatles tune than I do with the entire soundtrack of Frozen. Regardless, it was a silly mistake that I shouldn’t have let slide. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

The use of the “honorary boy” phrase is something I’ve long since regretted using. I haven’t altered the post to address this regret, but I probably should have. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so precious about the integrity of the original piece (if one could it that).

Now, regarding these accusations of deep-seated internalized misogyny…

All of those facts you pointed out about Frozen (the female director and co-writer, Jennifer Lee, and the focus of the film on female characters and relationships) were all things that made me excited to see Frozen. I liked the sisterly angle they were going with, and seeing it was coming from a female director (and, apparently, the first female to direct any major Disney animated film) gave me more than enough high hopes.

Unfortunately, these major victories cannot rectify the underlying failure of the storytelling. That’s where my problems with Frozen and Korra lie, not with the things that make them progressive and interesting in their own little ways. (I noted in my most recent post about The Legend of Korra that my qualms with both Aang and Korra are essentially the same: a lack of focus and challenge to their personal integrity.) The story world of Frozen lacks a truly coherent inner logic, possibly because it would interfere with the emotional manipulation of the sisters’ story. Either you go with the blatant sentimentality on display, or you don’t. Many, many people went along with the manipulation. A wise choice, in retrospect, because going along with the “feel good” nature of the plot is much less taxing than giving the story a moment’s thought and realizing it makes very little sense.

These are all things to be discussed in the review, so I’ll end this train of thought now. So fear not: my deep-seated issues are with the story, not the women.

(The next post, I will respond to in pieces, due to length and to points of interests. This post was technically in response to frequent commenter rosemon, but I believe it holds worthy virtues.)

“Still, give it another ten years or so, and I wonder if anyone will actually remember Frozen.”

I think you’re woefully (and from the tone of your post, likely willfully) underestimating/downplaying the impact Frozen has had on people’s lives. It didn’t reach its vast popularity or make the insane amount of money it did (top-grossing animated film ever, and number five highest grossing film of any genre, just in case you didn’t know) simply because it’s a cute family-friendly movie with a feel-good message and catchy songs. Sure, that’s part of the reason it did so well, but not the only factor. Plenty of other films meet that description, but don’t come close to the critical, cultural, or financial success that Frozen has enjoyed. So what makes Frozen so different?

Ask ten different people that question and you’ll likely get ten different answers, but in my opinion, in a word, it’s relatability. In a nutshell, here’s what I took from Frozen: I relate more to Elsa than to literally any other person, living or dead, real or fictional. She could be me, and I could be her. No, I don’t have hidden magical ice powers, but the powers are just a symbol. I know exactly what it’s like to live a life of emotional isolation, constantly eaten up by anxiety but unable to share that burden with anyone. I know what it’s like to be unable to be who I really am because I know from experience that people will judge me for it. I know what it’s like to struggle with depression and feel that the world would be better off without me. I know what it’s like to be misunderstood, to be considered weird, rude, monstrous because I’m not just like everyone else. I know what it’s like to be reserved and introverted and to be sneered at by extroverts who don’t get that my brain is wired differently from theirs. If I had a dollar for every “but why can’t you just be more outgoing/extroverted/talkative?” I’ve received, I’d be rich. (Coincidentally, I also have a younger red-headed sister with questionable taste in men, but that’s neither here nor there.)

One thing Frozen has that other “cute family-friendly movie[s] with a feel-good message and catchy songs” do not is thepower of the Disney brand, which has had a strangle-hold on popular culture for decades, especially in relation to animated feature-length films. Any Disney animated release is bound to draw attention in some form or another due to Disney’s legacy as the forerunner of animation. Frozen was essentially marketed as the self-proclaimed start of a new Disney renaissance. With nostalgia and brand recognition to bank on, how could they fail to turn in such a huge audience?

In terms of relatability, I’ve actually experienced many of the things you listed, but I saw none of it portrayed effectively in the film itself. I appreciate their attempt to bring those qualities into the story, but it could have been done much better while keeping it kid friendly, and without sentimentalizing it so much. The vast, obvious, blatantly manipulative lengths that the film goes to make us “feel” the sisters’ drama only serve to mask the story’s weak foundation and structure. All the more power to you if you were able to find something genuinely effecting amidst this endless spectacle.

When I saw Frozen, and watched and listened to Elsa sing “Let It Go,” I burst into tears right there in the theater. I first heard the song almost nine months ago, and I still listen to it nearly every day, and it still often makes me tear up. Why? Why does that song, that character, have such a profound emotional impact on me? Because Frozen sends the message that it’s okay to be like Elsa. The film portrays her as a sympathetic character who is WORTHY of life, of love, of being who she is, no matter what. And for someone who identifies with her as closely as I do, you have no idea what an incredibly powerful cathartic experience that was. All my life, I’ve been told–whether implicitly or to my face–that I’m not okay. I’m abnormal. I should change who I am to better fit the mold society has laid out for me. In one fell swoop, Frozen demolished that. (And for the record, I’m 29 years old; I’m no impressionable teenager.)

Because of Elsa, because of Frozen, I’ve started re-examining things about myself that I always thought–had always been told–were flaws. I’ve started learning to accept myself instead of hate myself. I’ve even renewed my previously-sidelined dream of becoming a writer, because someday I want to create a character who can be for someone else what Elsa is for me.

Are you sure you’re just a very passionate fan and not a marketing agent? In any case, if Elsa has inspired this much positive change in your life, then by all means, glorify the woman and the film. No argument can sway the life-changing psychedelia effects this feature has had on you. I certainly wish I could share in your catharsis as so many others have.

Also, if you are truly serious about becoming a writer, may I recommend a wonderful book I’m reading right now called How Fiction Works by James Wood. It’s a fantastic read that’ll set your mind in motion as a writer and a critic.

To be honest, I’m envious of you and others like you, who don’t understand Frozen’s popularity and think the film is forgettable and overrated, because it implies that you *didn’t* find the characters and themes relatable. You *don’t* know what it’s like to be judged by society and found wanting. Enjoy that privilege, please. I mean that sincerely. (Oh, and before anyone sneers at me for being too emotionally invested in an animated kids’ film, I’ll just remind everyone that the owner of this blog recently said [he] want[ed] to die” after watching the Korra season finale.)

Kelsey, you were doing just fine until this passage. You are correct that I didn’t find the characters and themes as presented in this film relatable. You are incorrect to believe that means I do not know what it’s like to be judged by society and found wanting. I’m still being judged. And I’m still found wanting. And as an animator, a storyteller, and a human being, Frozen has left me found wanting more. (Not to mention judged by society because I don’t get it like they do.)

All that to say: if you don’t like Frozen, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you want to criticize the film, go ahead. (Much as I love the film, I agree there are things worthy of criticism–the rushed ending springs to mind.) But to ignore and to downplay the very real, very lasting positive impact the film has had on other people’s lives, just because it didn’t have that impact on yours, is sadly ignorant and shortsighted.

This is the key point that I’m glad you brought up. I’m definitely aware of the impact Frozen has had on so, so, so many peoples’ lives. In fact, it’s become very easy to bond with strangers on their relationship with the film. Because just about everyone’s at least heard of Frozen, and to not have any opinion on the film is to risk the kind of shaming from both sides that traumatized Candide. So it’s influence on people on a broad scale is not beyond me.

That said, my main purpose is not to tell people not to enjoy the movie. Beyond it’s storytelling woes, it’s not an offensive film in the slightest. However, people should not hold Frozen up to be the standard for great storytelling. There is a wide gap between what people got out of Frozen and what it actually provided, and I want to illuminate how wide that gap is. And yet, Frozen does have wonderful qualities amidst it’s horrid circumstances, which also makes doing a review worthwhile.



11 responses

  1. Clander

    “You made brief and somewhat vague sentences based on your feelings of a movie mostly run by women and a female character? Let me use my extremely small amount investigative skills to conclude that deep down in your heart you hate all women because I am a supreme bitch”

    Though in all seriousness I am surprised a feminist didn’t show up out of the woodwork until now.

    September 2, 2014 at 1:16 am

    • Brian

      Pretty much. I kinda cringed when I was reading her comment.

      September 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    • At least she was polite and articulate about it (and I hope she responds soon, because I’m still debating as to whether she’s a real person or a marketing agent).

      September 3, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      • Brian

        I agree with that, though.

        September 4, 2014 at 2:12 am

      • BatBender

        As a feminist, I never once got the impression that you have “deep-seeded internalized misogyny”. In fact, one of the reasons I love reading your reviews and essays so much is because I think you do an excellent job at pointing out and addressing the sexism that does pop up in ATLA and LOK.

        She totally did sound like a marketing agent though. Actually, I kinda hope she was a marketing agent.

        September 5, 2014 at 8:37 pm

  2. Hey Marshall,

    I’ve lurked on your site for a while and have been meaning to comment since I’m a very big fan of your critiques on “Korra”, but haven’t quite gotten around to it, sorry.

    The commentator you were addressing just made me wonder “Frozen” might be the animated version of James Cameron’s “Avatar”? “Avatar” was huge in the box office and took cinema by storm but in terms of cultural legacy, it’s been relatively forgettable. Interestingly, immediately after “Avatar” some people became really depressed that they didn’t live in the world of “Avatar”. The commentator’s reaction just reminded me of that.
    I’m curious on what your thoughts on this parallel might be.

    Personally, I’ve been relatively isolated from “Frozen”, so pardon me if there really isn’t a parallel.


    September 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    • I think you’re onto something, and it’s a rather frightening thought. And I say that as someone who likes Avatar despite its flaws. Frozen presents something a little more dangerous, because it’s being praised for being “progressive,” “feminist,” and “groundbreaking.” None of which are necessarily true, but a lot of people seem to think so. Enjoying the movie is one thing (and there is plenty to enjoy in Frozen), but showering it with praise of values that aren’t actually there is going too far. The “Let It Go” sequence, for example, is praised as a feminist declaration of confidence and independence (and possibly a “coming-out-of-the-closet” moment), but in the context of the story, Elsa just abandoned her responsibility as Queen and created an endless winter. This is supposed to be a joyous moment? (And don’t get me started on the song itself.)

      I sincerely hope that no one becomes depressed because they don’t live in the world of Frozen. If anything, it’s been the complete opposite, as Kelsey pointed out: this movie has touched a lot of people and enriched their lives. That’s a wonderful thing. If only the movie were actually good enough and substantial enough to make that devotion less troubling.

      September 3, 2014 at 8:17 pm

  3. rosemon

    I thought more feminists would actually have a problem with the way most of the original tale’s female characters were erased from the Disney version, but then dissenting opinions are not very welcome on sites like Tumblr when it comes to stuff involving nostalgia.

    September 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

    • Yes, and nostalgia has always been part of Disney’s marketing strategies, so even they definitely know what they’re doing. Which raises the question: would Frozen have been so vastly received if it didn’t come from Disney (and came from, say, DreamWorks)?

      September 3, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      • Nautilus11

        Funny you say that, because Quest for Camelot was on the other day, and one thing that really struck me was how similar it was to Frozen, especially in the regard that it seemed to bank heavily on the nostalgia factor to make up for its shortcomings, specifically of the Ye Olde Sword & Sorcery animated film type.

        Yet Quest for Camelot was pretty much universally panned when it came out, while with Frozen it’s the opposite. Mystified? You can say that again.

        It’s times like these when one feels like an antique stuck in a different age.

        September 4, 2014 at 5:12 am

      • Now that is an interesting comparison.

        Granted, Frozen is neither obnoxious nor nearly as nonsensical as Quest for Camelot, but both films have the same core ambition/problem: trying to be something more than a typical Disney princess musical while still trying to be a typical Disney princess musical. No doubt much of Quest for Camelot‘s financial failure was due to this paradox (aside from it being an all-around terrible movie), but it presents a much bigger problem with most animated films.

        Feature-length animation is too often a slave to trends and formulas, largely because of the time and cost it takes to make them. Real risks aren’t encouraged. Whoever is the most successful becomes the trend-setter, which leads to a lot of derivative animation. In the public eye, Disney has always been the codifier of what constitutes an animated film (i.e. musical, innocence, heartwarming, questionable social values, etc.), and anyone who challenged those notions could be harshly received. You either tried to beat Disney at their own game or you tried to come up with your own formula. The former has almost always lost (Quest for Camelot is, many Don Bluth films, and countless others) and the latter has only sporadically provided worthy alternatives (Pixar used to be this, and we all remember what DreamWorks churned out for a long time after Shrek hit big).

        But people continue to gravitate towards Disney. The genius of Disney was to place their monopoly on childhood, innocence and nostalgia, so if they get you as a child, it’s all but guaranteed you’re a Disney fanatic for life. No other animation studio has that kind of influence, so the films they produce must fend for themselves–and often they’re much stronger for it (assuming they’re not following any animated-feature formula). This has also assured Disney’s longevity, so while they may have the periodical slump, they have enough time to: 1) get hip to what people really want and cater to it, and 2) revive certain traditions embellished with the previously mentioned “hipness.” Tangled was a big success despite its terrible marketing, so suddenly Disney princess movies were a viable business venture again. If you think about it that way, the success of Frozen was almost inevitable. (There’s a bit more to elaborate on, but I’ll stop here and save the rest for the review.)

        It’s nice to know I’m not the only one here who feels old.

        September 5, 2014 at 8:41 pm

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