Because fans should be critical, too

Announcement: Thoughts on the “Frozen” ABC Special, Update on Video Review

A few nights ago, ABC broadcast this special on Frozen entitled “The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic” (though, frankly, I think they missed a great opportunity to use the more accurate title “The Story of Frozen: This Movie Had a Story?!”). Cast and crew member interviews abound, detailing their process and inspirations. I truly enjoyed the descriptions of the more technical challenges, especially regarding the character animation. Unfortunately, that occupied maybe fifteen percent of the special’s focus. More time is devoted to everyone’s tear-jerking testimonies of how personal the process was and the product are to their lives. Not that their feelings aren’t genuine, and least of all unearned: they made a movie that has touched many, many, many people like so few have (even the more deserving ones, tragically). Besides, their sincerity was probably exaggerated by the inanely sentimental soundtrack of the special (I don’t know about you, but I am really sick of hearing a finger-picked guitar everything someone says something remotely emotional).

So how exactly am I supposed to even suggest that Frozen is less than perfect? That the story doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, that the flimsy nature of the tone muffles our experience and our expectations, that “Let It Go” is probably one of the most boring songs ever written? Even if I did tell them, would they listen or simply dismiss me as a “hater?” Would they take it personally? On top of that, why should I even explain why the story stinks if Frozen proves that a good story is no longer (and probably never has been) necessarily to make a hit film?

There were some of the thoughts I had while watching this special. I don’t remember the last time I felt so old and so alienated in my current existence. I just don’t understand the power that this movie has on people. Am I missing something? Is there a whole train of life experience that I somehow missed for over twenty years? What am I missing? Why is this movie so popular? And what does that mean for the future of American animation? Will every studio be trying to make their own Frozen for the next five years? (I’d blow my brains out if that were the case.)

I just do not understand, and it makes me feel alone. So very, very alone.

As for the review, let’s just say that I’m looking forward to a lot more thinking, more writing, and more thinking. So much more thinking…



6 responses

  1. rosemon

    Throughout the years, I’ve come to realized that a lot of commercially successful stuff is pretty shoddy (i.e. Transformers, Twilight, etc.) I think you said it best when you said that that tumblr or reddit make things easier to validate and enforce certain viewpoints. Being called a hater for having a critical opinion is pretty common, but don’t let it discourage you. You’re actually one of the few blogs anywhere on the web to have a nuanced perspective on animated works and their impact on others and their shortcomings. As for that special, I just find it cloyingly manipulative.

    September 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

    • Thank you so much for your compliment and your support, rosemon!

      And you’re right. That special was very manipulative, but I should have realized that going in. It was an ABC special, after all, and guess which company has owned ABC since 1996?

      September 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm

  2. Grindal

    Hey Marshall, credit goes to you for trying to find a way to explain the inexplicable. The mass hysteria over Frozen in can be confounding and at times unsettling – I haven’t felt as disturbed as I did in a while when watching that girl sing ‘Do You Want to be a Snowman?’ while getting a splinter removed. I feel comfortable to admit though that I got swept up in the whole spectacle and watched Frozen *three times* in cinemas. Looking back, I really don’t know why. I’ve come to appreciate the film now more a series of extremely well-crafted moments. The reprise of ‘First Time in Forever’ (IMO the best song in Frozen), the fight at Elsa’s palace and the climax are from both a technical and musical standpoint both entertaining and engaging. Thus my only theory of any substance as to Frozen’s popularity is that there are so many different moments that resonate with various people, although I doubt how true this really is. When we really stop and think there is so much to the entire universe we just don’t understand – what’s the harm in adding the incredible success of Frozen to this list?

    In regards to your uncertainty about the worth of your opinions, it’s not worth getting worked up about the backlash from members of our ever more individualistic society who do indeed take it as a personal insult whenever someone has the audacity to disagree with them or question certain aspects about something they love. But even if you get bombarded with responses or accusations of being a misogynist, it’s worth it for every rare but thoughtful comment that makes you question why you believe something. Whether an opinion is swayed or not is irrelevant. Contributions such as yours help us all reach a greater personal truth and understanding of ourselves. (By the way sorry for sounding so philosophical, just can’t think of any other way to word it.)

    Finally (about time), I personally think you need to consider what you truly define as a good story. Is it having every single technicality sorted out so everything can be logically explained, or is it just being vessel that allows for a cohesive experience with characters worth being invested in enough? I’m not too sure myself, but in regards to Frozen I enjoy emotional tone of the relationship between Anna and Elsa, from being close sisters to becoming separated emotionally to being willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. The rest to me are just details that to me are just not worth thinking over in great detail. Anyway I’ve rambled on for way too long – heck, even I don’t know if anything I wrote here is meaningful. I only hope it enables people to think of something they hadn’t thought before or view something differently so they can become more sure of what they believe in and why they believe in it.

    September 4, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    • Never apologize for a long post on this blog, especially if it’s a thoughtful one!

      I like your definition of Frozen as a “series of extremely well-crafted moments.” It reminds me of Howard Hawks’ definition of a good movie as “three great scenes and no bad scenes.” Frozen doesn’t quite fit that description (the troll musical sequence definitely qualifies as a bad scene), but it’s close enough that I can agree. My major grievance with the film is that it doesn’t hold up as a story, which, for me, cancels out the emotional power that these individual sequences could have. For example, the “Let It Go” sequence is always dazzling, but it makes little to no sense from a story perspective. How much more powerful this sequence would have been if the story actually supported Elsa’s triumphant revelation (for example, aside from the obvious danger her ice powers posed if uncontrolled, I was never clear as to why they were such a threat that no one else could know about them). In fact, with a lot of the sequences I liked, I’ve found myself inventing my own justification for them, just to feel something. In the right frame of mind, “Let It Go” becomes as emotionally devastating as “Hey Jude” (my personal “cheer-up-and-face-life” song). But why do I need to provide my own reason for this moment to work when the story is supposed to do that itself? Or maybe it’s that elusive quality that has allowed so many people to attach whatever justification they need for this moment to work for them. (In that sense, the film amounts to little more than a cinematic Rorschach test, albeit a very well-made one).

      Perhaps I’m no closer than you are to figuring any of this out. That said, I do believe I have a solid understanding of what constitutes a good story. (Or at least, being a storyteller myself, I hope I do!) I do tend to scrutinize technical details when they don’t seem to add anything to the emoto-logical flow of the story. I wanted to enjoy the tale of the sisters’ relationship without reservation–and I still think making the two of them sisters was one of the best decisions made during production–but too many little things kept getting in the way, mostly just questions. For example, what does Elsa eat in her isolated castle? How is she sustaining herself? I bet you anything there was a way to address that question and keep the story going naturally.

      I suppose this raises the ultimate question: does a movie have to succeed as a story to succeed as a cinematic experience? (I’m going to have to ponder that one myself before getting back to you.)

      September 5, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      • Grindal

        I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about the importance of story to the cinematic for yourself, but to me the Disney fairytale brand and maybe just Disney in general is meant to be experienced more as a cohesive parable than a technically constructed narrative. Take for example the ‘classic’ fairytales that defined Disney’s Golden age, in particular Pinocchio and Cinderella. Whilst both draw some criticism nowadays for their promotion of waiting for dreams to come true, the stories at least establish that these people’s dreams should come true because they have lived noble lives (something I think our cynical society is too quick to call naive). The Blue Fairy states that Pinocchio is Gepetto’s reward for bringing so much joy to children of the world; Cinderella works tirelessly as a slave but still manages to maintain compassion and empathy for others. To address these films’s technicalities in story is a disservice to the simple but communal message about adhering to one’s core values and living a moral life.

        There are similar examples throughout the Disney Renaissance exemplify this trend, but I shall rather just relate my idea straight to Frozen. The film is meant to be taken for its overall message about sisterly love and sacrifice, and I would argue it never intentionally looks to derail this message. Sure there are some serious issues with the plot when it comes under heavy scrutiny, but one of Frozen’s achievement is making such a simple message manifest itself in an undeniably engaging and exciting film as you picked up on from my last comment is because it superb moments in the film which you just cannot forget. Frozen’s story to me can be summed up in the reprise of ‘First Time in Forever’ and the climax where Anna sacrifices herself, whilst the attack on Elsa’s palace is just downright fun. (If you haven’t already really pay close attention to the score during that entire scene, it’s masterful). However, these ‘moments’ must be meshed together in a coherent way at the least. And despite the varying quality of this ‘meshing’ it never overshadows the central focus of the story, which is why to me when all is said and done Frozen deserves to be heralded and remembered, just not to the extent that some sections of soceity are willing to take it 🙂

        September 7, 2014 at 1:09 am

      • Aha! We’ve reached the heart of our disagreement!

        I’ve steadily grown discontent with a lot of Disney’s stories. I recently re-watched Aladdin and was shocked by how flimsy the story was. I realize these are fairy tales, but even fairy tales require basic narrative care. Thankfully, more than a few Disney films hold up well in that regard (Beauty and the Beast probably holds up the best), but even those that don’t have enough merit to make them worthwhile (Robin Williams alone makes up for many of Aladdin‘s flaws). Then some are just irredeemable (personally, I hate Pocahontas).

        What irks me about Frozen, though, is not just the disconnect between how powerful certain individual moments are on their own (which becomes very apparent when you watch the movie out of sequence) and how poor the overall story is. It’s the fact that many of these story problems could have easily been resolved without sacrificing those qualities that make Frozen so wonderful at times. I have no way of knowing if these problems weren’t fixed due to time (they had about eighteen months to get Frozen rewritten, animated, and released), to carelessness, or to both (even writer/co-director Jennifer Lee recognizes some weak spots in the script). That Frozen succeeded in spite of those flaws makes it timely, but not timeless, and that continues to bother me even as my stance on the movie has softened considerably since starting my review.

        September 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm

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