Friday, 10 April 2015

10/04/15 - Is Frozen the greatest movie of all time?

There’s quite a lot of compelling evidence to suggest that Frozen might well be the greatest movie ever made.
It’s not a new thing, of course - it was released in 2013 (and became the second most-pirated movie of 2014, after The Wolf of Wall Street), although I didn’t get round to watching it until just after Christmas 2014. Why watch it at all? Because I have a daughter, who was two years old at the time, and my uncle bought her some Frozen stuff for Christmas – a book, a lunchbox, a talking Olaf the Snowman toy, the franchise has merchandised pretty much every available avenue - so we thought we’d better buy the movie and watch it, just so that these new things made sense.

Now, if you have a daughter of around this age, you’ll know the borderline-narcotic effects that this movie has on young minds. She was captivated. She’d never had the stamina to watch an entire film before, but she swallowed Frozen whole. And we’ve had to watch it every day since. It’s like some sort of political, ideological indoctrination – we’ve bought into it wholesale, largely through having little choice in the matter. It makes perfect sense to us. We can’t help but love it. We listen to the soundtrack CD in the car. We collect the Panini stickers. It’s enveloped us. And here are some reasons why [caution – contains many spoilers]:

It’s not a typical Disney princess movie
Most princess-oriented Disney movies make me want to punch myself. But this one isn’t all about how it’s important to be pretty and popular but you really need a man to take charge so that you can waft about being vacuous.
The main protagonist here, Princess Anna, may be wide-eyed, slim and pretty, but she’s also fallible. She’s awkward, clumsy, neurotic, but also headstrong and independent. A pretty good role model – not ideal, but certainly not destructive. And – MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT – it’s very important that the quest for ‘an act of true love’ throughout the film turns out to be a cuddle with her sister, rather than kissing a handsome prince as they all assume.

It deals with gritty, dark shit
Within the first ten minutes of the film, the girls’ parents are lost at sea. But not in a they-walked-out-of-the-door-and-never-came-back way that you’d expect from a Disney movie; you see their ship being tossed about on terrifyingly large waves before the narrative cuts straight to their funeral. It’s pretty brutal.
Also, Prince Hans – who we believe is a nice guy at first, but turns out to be a total fucker – gets within a hair’s breadth of actually beheading the Queen. ACTUALLY BEHEADING HER. With a big fuck-off sword. Frightening.

That bit where Anna freezes solid…
…and her final breath escapes her icy husk in a solitary emotive puff. Woah.

It ignores Disney gender stereotypes
The story features countless tropes and themes that, as part of a movie in general, would pass unnoticed as normal behaviour - but as part of a Disney movie, are actually quite radical and impressive. The people of Arandelle unquestioningly accept the idea of having a Queen, once Elsa comes of age; there’s no suggestion that she should find a nice prince and then let him rule the kingdom. She inherits her parents’ country on her own terms.
Kristoff is a great example of what a male lead should be in a Disney movie too. He isn’t overbearing and patronising, but neither is he a doormat or a klutz. He works in tandem with Anna instead of trying to control her; he calls her out on her foibles, but also encourages her headstrong adventurousness. 
And Wandering Oaken? One of the best characters in the film – he’s friendly and polite, but doesn’t take any shit. And when we see a quick cutaway to his family in the sauna, we learn that he has a boyfriend with whom he’s presumably adopted a number of children. Right on, Disney.

Elsa heals her own personality disorder
Having been born with uncontrollable cryokinetic powers, Elsa is encouraged by her parents to believe that she’s dangerous and needs to hide herself away from the world; ‘conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show’. Her character was actually originally intended to be the villain of the story (which explains the lyric ‘let the storm rage on’ in Let It Go – how evil and heartless is that…?) until the producers realised how commercial that song could be and had the plot rewritten to make her a symbol of female empowerment.
Anyway, when her secret shame becomes public, she runs away – understandable, given that she’s spent years in isolation believing that she’s a freakish deviant. But rather than wallowing in self-disgust, she relishes the freedom – ‘Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free’. (Go on, see if you can find another Disney character who’s been trapped in isolation and doesn’t turn out to be a villain.) She finds beauty in her flaws. It takes a while, but she learns to share them. She becomes happy. This is good.

The snow is great
The production team drafted in a professor from the California Institute of Technology to lecture them in detail about the nature of snow. They then developed digital snowflake generation software to ensure that every snowflake in the film was unique, that the animated snow on the ground acted like real snow should when walked through, thrown or blown around. Snow is a tricky thing, as it’s neither liquid nor solid in its various forms, so they had to be very mathematical in their approach. It works brilliantly, all the snow looks real.

‘You can’t marry a man you just met’
Disney has always traded on the romantic ideals of fairy stories. The notion of ‘true love’s kiss’, employed as heavily in Frozen as it is in countless other Disney movies, is subverted by some actual logic, which is refreshing. When Anna agrees to marry Hans within a few hours of meeting him, the viewer sighs in dismay. But everybody who she tells about it responds with utter astonishment. Just like in real life. ‘You can’t marry a man you just met!’ they splutter, quite understandably. This, for Disney, is even more of a revelation than having a gay character or an intelligent princess. It contradicts everything that the saccharine franchise has ever stood for. And that’s a very good thing.

OK, so Frozen clearly isn’t actually the greatest movie ever made. It’s just not a bad movie. If you watch any film with endless, relentless repetition, you’ll quickly find yourself flung into either adoration or hatred – this is a natural human coping mechanism to stop you going insane. This acid test, if nothing else, proves that Frozen wouldn’t work as a Guantanamo torture medium. Incarcerated terrorists presumably have to watch Bend It Like Beckham or Showgirls instead.

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