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.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Genremeld (Part 10 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Creepshow, Weird Science, Time Bandits, Splash, Big, Back to the Future, The Witches of Eastwick and My Stepmother is an Alien all of these films crossed genres to try and make something new and unique, and this was a staple of 80s filmmaking.

It has been said that nothing really original has been said after 1800. In film much the same conundrum exists in that there really are no new stories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t crave films. More so than any other decade prior the 80s were expert at recombining genres and on occasion creating something new or at least different enough that everyone flocked towards it.

One of the great hits of the genremeld was Gremlins. Never before or since has there been such a perfect balance of the horrific and comedic. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here it wants you to laugh and gasp in the same breath.

Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

In the film Gremlins we have two important things occurring: first, this is one of the first films of the Spielberg School. It was written by Chris Columbus while he was attending NYU he later went on to work with Spielberg on The Goonies. It was directed by Joe Dante a former Corman protégé who later in the decade directed Innerspace and Matinee. Plot-wise this film is very important in that it’s a great example of the ’80s habit of fusing genres. Many ’80s many horror films were unintentionally funny this one is attempting to be purposely funny and succeeding. It was also quite frightening mostly to young kids because the cute, little furry things mutate into nasty, putrid beasts.

Structurally, this film is very tight. In the opening scene where the father (Hoyt Axton) buys a mogwai we are given rules, a trait common to many fantasy films, they are ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight and they hate bright light.’ The breaking of these rules end up being our act breaks and/or plot points. The first act ends in one of the most clear-cut fashions I’ve ever seen. Gizmo, the mogwai, gets water spilled on him in the 25th minute of the film and we see his progeny pop right out of him.

What a lot of people fail to notice is that there was actually a new creature invented for this film under the guise of an old myth. Gremlins were supposedly little monsters placed in machinery during World War II by the Germans. This creature comes from China according to this tale. It also allows for slight social commentary when Mr. Futterman complains about foreign cars and also while drunk he professes to believe in Gremlins in the classic sense. In the 1980s foreign cars truly bothered people enough such that the phrase ‘Buy American,’ was coined. 

Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

The Spielberg School was always very big on ‘in-jokes,’ which can be readily apparent to the audience but are often missed (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky Rialto has the same billboard lettering as, and similar artwork to, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gizmo hiding behind an E.T. doll). There is also a cameo by animation director Chuck Jones. 

The characters in this film are quickly established. We see Rand Peltzer, the father, haplessly trying to pedal his invention, Billy (Zach Galligan) signing a petition, Kate (Phoebe Cates) works at a bar for free and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) refuses to give a family more time to pay their loan. This film is funny and fun-filled and allusions to classic cinema are also play an important part in this story there is a clip from It’s a Wonderful Life and the Gremlins watch Snow White and in a hysterical turn they love it. There’s also mimicry of a popular film at the time Flashdance, and it’s great. The whole second half of this film is a wonderful mix of the hysterical and the creepy and sometimes both. Mrs. Deagle is thrown from her Stairmaster out the window to die in the snow. This shouldn’t be funny but it is. Then on the gross-out side we see a Gremlin melting in the sunlight. We also have the music of Jerry Goldsmith in this film who is wonderful composer who will turn out tunes just as hummable as Williams’s, but he specializes more in these fun types of films.

Gremlins was a big hit grossing $148 million on an $11 million dollar budget, and it’s easy to see why. It turns from a horror/comedy and there’s a lot of action thrown in. We laugh at what we shouldn’t. This is also one of the more tastefully done ‘horrors-on-Christmas’ films with a Gremlin getting chopped to bits while Burl Ives’s ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is playing. I used to be deathly afraid of this film and it took me many years to gather up the courage to see it again. I’m very glad I did see it again though because, as strange as it sounds, this film is even whimsical in the way it handles its subject matter. As an adult, I don’t know who would be truly afraid of it but it does offer its fair share of the horror currency known as the “gross-out.” It’s so well handled in that regard I think we may be in suspense for a bit waiting for something else like it.

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.”