February 15, 2014

The Betrayal of Frozen

The success of Disney's Frozen comes as a surprise to me. I saw it opening day, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story held together pretty well. The animators created a beautiful landscape and incredible village begging for a full-size replication. Yet, I did not see the movie as equivalent to the Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. The music was largely ordinary. Even the "it" song, Let It Go, rang hollow and leaving the theater meant not being able to remember a single melody. But the story was strong, the animation beautiful. Expecting it to have a good run, I put the film in the back of my mind.

Then, the box office numbers continued to build week after week. Talk continued. "Great film, instant animated classic, huge moneymaker." Attractions planned, meets and greets with four hour waits, parade floats, and even talk of a sequel. What was I missing? Eventually, I decided to see it once again. 

The opening symphony of voices reminded me more of The Lion King than I remembered- it felt a bit bloated and self-grandising. Not a good start. Once the noise died down and the story began, I found it more appealing, if not redundant to Disney princess stories of the past: girl longs, girl meets boy, trouble ensues, happily ever after. 

It was in the second viewing, once I knew the story and watched for the clues, that the power of the film took hold. At its heart, Frozen, is the story of betrayal... and the triumph of love. Aren't the most powerful of stories the ones that include this angle? (Including the most famous one of all- The Son of God being betrayed and crucified for our sins. Him choosing to forgive us in spite of it. If that isn't the triumph of love over betrayal, I do not know what would be. But back to the film...)

Betrayal touches at the heart of the human experience. Every person lives through betrayal at one point or another. Some grow bitter, some thrive through it, and others find forgiveness for the person who wronged them. The act of forgiveness takes time- and it does not necessarily include reengaging in relationship. Would anyone but a fool counsel a beaten wife to return to her abuser? Should a molested child be forced to have a relationship with that deviate uncle? Of course not! Yet forgiveness must be worked through for the benefit of the one wounded. 

In the film, Anna and Elsa work through their very real issues. Anna doesn't understand the motives behind her sister's rejection and presses her for understanding. Elsa responses defensively, then in anger. Eventually owning her anger and making it a motivation for how she lives her life, she continues in this mode to near disastrous results. Thankfully -and every princess story must have a romantic angle- after a false start filled with manipulation, love steps in, real love. Revealing what's truly inside her, Anna saves the day and the relationship between the siblings is brought back to solid ground.

Now I understand why repeated viewings have built such a loyal audience. The story is unconventional and gripping. The central  characters are far more complex than we expect. The plots twists shock us. (In fact, I heard a very audible gasp from several viewers when darker secrets are revealed in the film.) There's no gap or weak point in the flow of the film. The beauty of the landscapes and settings hold their own with other eras of Disney greatness. The songs... well, they remain good but are still subpar to previous beloved hits. In fact, the movie may have been even more powerful if it were not a musical. Darker, perhaps, but more effective.

Whatever Disney does with the success of Frozen has yet to be fully seen. Revamp Epcot's under kept Maelstrom?  Finally use that trackless technology for a wild sleigh ride through the icy roads of Scandinavia to tell the story? The expected meet and greet whose queue never ends? Disney will keep its pulse on the popularity of its latest achievement- and families everywhere have a new tool in which to tell an important story.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


steve2wdw said...

I've said many times, Frozen might have actually been a stronger movie "without" the songs. I found them very pedestrian. I found they almost got in the way...with the exception of Olaf's song, which I really enjoyed. Great movie, very average songs (IMHO).

Mark Taft said...

I agree, Steve. I think the suits may have been afraid to break with recent tradition by not having songs.