Making Frozen Say What You Want It To Say

It’s not exactly a new phenomena that I’ve seen creeping up on the internet lately. Disney films, whether Walt was at the helm or not, have always been rife, fertile grounds for actual and fraudulent film theorists alike to put forth their theories.

When discussing actual theories I mean real, careful consideration of the narrative an visual cues of an entire work and not just analysis of a single frame in The Lion King where the word “sex” can be seen formed amidst dandelion spores.

The democratization of anything is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand the internet has helped bring forth voices in the world of film criticism that may not have had a platform 20+ years ago, on the other hand it gives a virtually free platform to someone with an ax to grind the ability, and the audience to transpose social norms and/or political debates on to a vague set of tropes set forth a film.

Frozen (2013, Disney)

Recently, and for some reason this has only crept up now that Frozen crossed the $1B world-wide threshold, there have been a rash of people discussing the homosexual agenda it puts forth.

If this feels like Déjà Vu, then you’re right, it wasn’t all that long ago (when Brave was out) in fact since outlandish claims of “homosexual indoctrination” and/or lesbian characters have been made.

Brave (2012, Disney/Pixar)

Specifically, these claims are citing the thrust of Frozen wherein Elsa feels she has “something to hide” and that if anyone found out about her “power” it would be bad and people would get hurt, and so on and so forth. If you saw the film you can connect further dots without having to subject yourselves to these entire posts.

There are a few things these posts ignore, even giving them the benefit of taking their claims at face value. The first being that quite often fairy tales though they may have specific imagery that can be read in a subtextual way by adults they usually have a very simple object lesson that is usually so reductive it can apply to a universal audience. Ultimately, Frozen ends up being about being yourself and not hiding who you are whoever that may be. That can apply to any number of things.

Drawing back to the Brave conversation it’s focusing a bit too much on the marriage plot. It’s a situation wherein you just can’t win with some people. When other Disney classics were made societal norms dictated there was nothing wrong with Snow White or Cinderella being rescued by a Prince Charming. That has changed. It doesn’t devalue the prior tale it just makes a new iteration of that trope undesirable. However, then you have Brave that emphasizes a strong, independent woman bucking the marriage tradition and reconciling with her mother; and Frozen is a sister tale wherein no man can really save the day and then there are shouts of lesbianism.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, 20th Century Fox)

The issue with the argument, setting political slant aside, is that there are things being ignored that factor in. Elsa has a supernatural power, therefore, she is closer to being a super-being afraid of how she can handle her power and that she may be villainous. Another superhero moment comes to mind an a point of comparison here:

In X-Men: The Last Stand the character of Angel is introduced. As the name implies he has wings growing out of his back. In his origin scene, we see a younger version of his character played by Cayden Boyd. he is trying to cut out his nascent wings to hide his affliction. His father walks in on him. Young Angel is bawling his eyes out, ashamed of what he has become.

One could take that scene in isolation and the emotions that Young Angel felt and correlate them to the homosexual experience. However, within the arc of the character as a whole the analogy doesn’t hold water.

This same faulty logic could lead one to deduce that Olaf is a drug addict because even though it may kill him, he wants “heat.” Or you could substitute with any other vice, and at the end he’s given an antidote of how he can be kept alive and still do what he wants. It’s far easier to argue, and more consistently represented in the film, that Olaf is merely seeking to be himself as well.

Mind you that he is also a creation of their childhood brought to life by Elsa’s power thus symbolic of their bond and what they lost and not really conducive to the drug analogy.

Getting back to Elsa these arguments also hang their hats on the vagueness of certain specific lines in “Let it Go.” Again this is hinging on the fact that her power is her hidden sexuality; and virtually ignores the ebbs and flows of Anna and Elsa’s relationship, and the fact that they have to be there for one another at the end, and the fact that Elsa’s power can quite literally stop someone’s heart from beating and give them hypothermia, I’m no physician but my core temperature never dropped based on someone’s sexual orientation.

Cinderella (1950, Disney)

I grant that last rebuff was extraordinarily facetious, but it almost has to be. The foundations of these arguments are cinematically shaky at best and come from a place where the answer is assumed and seeks facts to bear them out and doesn’t seek out alternatives – like the plot at face value or how it could easily apply to other things.

In Dumbo there is a statement being made about the stigmatization of, and harm caused by, involuntary admission to a mental institution. Where do I come up with that? It happens in the film. Missus Jumbo defends Dumbo. Is deemed a “Mad Elephant” and locked in a cell. Is it the entire point of the film? No.

Even if the Frozen theory hold water its presented in a way that makes it seem like “This movie is going to make kids gay.” “I mean it’ll be a Broadway show too so they’ll be super-gay after that happens.” I hate to break it to those folks but it doesn’t work that way. Similarly, even if it did have a normalizing agenda, that doesn’t always work either. Want an extreme example? Hitler’s favorite movie was reportedly Snow White; it was also one of Eisenstein’s. Hitler’s affection for that film didn’t make him dance about houses singing to birds and squirrels and little girls the world over singing “Let it Go” aren’t going to be gay if they aren’t already. You make Frozen, or any movie say what you want it to say in your head, that doesn’t make it true.

March to Disney: What Bolt and Dumbo Share

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

What’s been great is that I have through sheer luck managed to come across titles I had previously not seen as soon as this theme started. Just recently while browsing Netflix these two titles came up, then randomly on a Sunday morning on Disney Channel Bolt came on.

Now, again, this film came out when I wasn’t as ardently following Disney films. Since it happened to be starting I stuck with it, even with the commercial interruptions. What I hadn’t realized before it came out was that the tale, in which a dog who has been raised to believe the TV show he’s the star of is reality, is not just the set-up to The Truman Show, but in a way Disney refashioning Dumbo with a modern twist.

I saw that because the goals and the protagonists are similar inasmuch as they are unwitting stars. Dumbo is young and knows only the circus, his large ears are hidden, when they come out he’s mocked by the public he’d tried to win. When he learns to fly his unique trait is not a stigma but a mark of pride. The naïveté in the story is more about how he perceives the world.

Bolt’s reality, more modern, stylized, with action sequences, is no different. He’s presented everything as if it’s happening and has to defend his master. Granted the means of production, the stuntmen, the pyro rigs, any essentials needed to produce a TV show, are hidden so it’s easier for him to accept the reality. By chance he gets marooned out in the real world and he wants to and feels he needs to return home to the studio. He faces a lot of hard truths he has to come to terms with, the reversals of fortune are strong and quickly dealt with and the film is very funny.

While there are twists to it, like Dumbo being a more knowing participant in the circus, not that he ever “agrees,” it breaks down to the same path. You substitute a mother for an owner and both seek reunion with that figure. Both struggle against the odds and ultimately win out, gain that reunion and freedom from the life of performance that kept them trapped.

A recent New York Times article had one of the most telling quotes I ever saw, it was a discussion of both films and criticism where the statement “They don’t make them like they used to and they never did” was made. It may seem obvious that film is an ever-evolving artform, but sometimes it’s hard to accept that. There are technical and narrative trends that are the norm and en vogue in one decade and seem passé and almost wrong in another.

Dumbo is a masterpiece because of how perfectly all the elements of the story are rendered from the animation, to the emotional engagement, to the story, music and songs. Everything fits and works perfectly. I wouldn’t say Bolt is a masterpiece but it is very good, in part, because it borrows and adapts so well from a great source. Everyone borrows, self-plagiarism is style and any other quote you can think of can apply to this notion. Disney has done it before, but while it has fallen flat on other occasions like in Hercules, here it’s an infusion of technique, action film editing, humor and an updated sensibility that doesn’t seem forced that really makes it work.

March to Disney: From Snow White to Cinderella

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

It’s interesting to note that Cinderella was released in 1950. If you count the hybrid films (Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart) and the package films (Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros) it was the 12th animated feature that Disney had released. In a way it was like the circle closing after having started with a princess tale and embedded Silly Symphonies, Disney’s name for their early musically-inclined shorts.

In both the case of Cinderella and Snow White the anthropomorphism of the animals manifests itself by their interaction and communication, non-verbal in the former and verbal in the latter, that the protagonist shares with them. What Snow White possesses is much of what would become staples of Disney fare such as the great heightened moments. The innovation of technique in Snow White to an extent masquerades the embedding of familiar, albeit more defenestrated, tropes of earlier shorts. If you compare the narrative movement of Snow White to the films that follow, the progenitor of the Disney films ends up feeling like a cozy, quaint dream that, aside from the inherent value of the story and its bolder moments, isn’t tremendously riveting on a purely narrative level.

Cinderella is not entirely dissimilar with its asides to the mouse subplots, but is differentiated by having more parallel action. The ball is introduced early on and the Stepmother is a terrifying, yet very real, and down-to-earth villainess. The witch’s transformation and magic mirror are bold, tremendous images that stand out more than does anything in Cinderella. Cinderella’s coach, and, of course, the iconic castle are the standout visuals there.

This isn’t really to knock either of the two films. Of course, I still enjoy them both. Between the films I think Cinderella may work better and definitely has a slightly more forward pre-feminist-movement Disney princess.

The experiments that Disney went on after Snow White and before Cinderella, were highly interesting and for the most part wildly successful. In 1940 there was both Pinocchio and Fantasia. In narrative terms on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both really push the frontiers of what they could do with visuals.

While the Silly Symphony aspect of these films stands out, the musicality of Dumbo is well-embeded. Not only that but in terms of narrative it can’t move fast enough, the tempo of the music pushes the pace of the edits and allows the story to flow perfectly. There are many beats, and much emotion wrenched out of just barely an hour in Dumbo, which makes it even more staggering.

Bambi created a world devoid of humans, allowed real fears and traumas to sneak in still managed to tell a charming uplifting story with very little dialogue and not a lot of fat either.

The last untouched upon films pre-1950 that are all-animated would be the aforementioned package films, which are a pastiche of shorts so it by definition they have a more storybook, anthology feel to them. The sensibility is overgrown, related shorts.

So between 1937 and 1950 Disney about ran the gamut of what could be done at the time, and with Cinderella seemed to be consciously setting down a milestone with a similar tale. As if to say, “Thirteen years ago we were there, now we’re here and moving upward and onward.”

Spielberg Sunday- 1941

John Belushi in 1941 (Universal/Columbia)

Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

Here is concrete proof that comedy is unquestionably the hardest genre to succeed in. Without trying to get inside Spielberg’s head and trying to determine exactly what it was that he was trying to do with this film, one can look at it as is and be left scratching their head. It is at best funny in small patches and most definitely a humongous waste of talent both on and off camera. I applaud Spielberg for not only making a huge departure from his big successes (Close Encounters and Jaws) but also for poking fun at the latter in the opening sequence of the latter film. This stands out as one of the few truly comic sequences throughout a film that is plagued by many difficulties. This film especially pales in retrospect considering that I’ve laughed much more during his action/adventure and sci-fi films and this film doesn’t seem to make any sincere satirical jabs at the paranoia in the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nor does it really succeed at being a farce. In its better moments, which were few and far between, 1941 is hysterical. More often than not, however, 1941 is poorly executed slapstick, ham-handed, off-the-wall nonsense that follows the wrong characters and actors.

So that this isn’t a complete diatribe there are some wonderful performances to be found here but as I’ve mentioned above these people make their exit from the film much too early. Probably the best performance in this all-star cast is that of Slim Pickens. He delivers not only some of the best lines of the film but delivers them only as he could with that imitable voice of his. Elisha Cook is also there but that’s about all what strikes me as really being odd is how ill-utilized these actors were. Most of the cast was a mish-mash of SCTV and Saturday Night Live stars who really didn’t do anything noteworthy. Dan Aykroyd got to do some of his shtick but his performance was undermined by some stupid writing, when towards the end for no reason known to man he went bonkers and exclaimed, “I’m a bug,” while he had wrapped oranges over his eyes with pantyhose. It got worse though John Candy, one of the funniest people who ever lived was just there for seemingly no reason, it was as if the casting director went amuck knowing that Spielberg could get any actors he wanted and got big names to do meaningless roles. Another under used player was Joseph P. Flaherty who provided the film with one of its best lines following the USO riot (“Maybe in the future we could have some Negroes come in and we’ll have a race riot.”) was also hardly there. Then there was Belushi, who I’ve always found overrated, doing an annoying version of the Penguin from Batman. He was occasionally funny in this and in other roles but overall I was unimpressed.

The big problem this film had was that it was more likely to lose its audience before tying all the storylines together. The additional factor of having the last 45 minutes of the film being one explosion, crash or pratfall after another didn’t help much at all.

Another factor that didn’t help this film was that on home video (apparently this version is somewhat different than the theatrical release) it is 2 hours long, it’s very difficult to do a comedy that lasts more than 90 minutes long.

About the only thing that made me realize that this was a Spielberg film was the inclusion of the Dumbo screening, which was both fitting to the story and helped me make it through that part of that performance because it is one of Disney’s finer works. The score was also a non-entity that I didn’t even think Spielberg worked with John Williams. The writing was also schizophrenic, spotty and unusually unfunny most of the time and I was almost shocked to find that Robert Zemeckis had a hand in writing it. It’s as if everyone was embarrassed with the end result so that there were no opening credits only closing ones.