Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Frozen indoctrination: End of Year 1

While Christmas shopping one recent weekend and being beset by "Let It Go" and various department store employees dressed up like Elsa and Anna, I came to a rather startling realization:

Frozen has only been with us for a single year.

This movie has been so entrenched into the very fabric of kid culture that it seems hard to imagine it, but last Christmas season, Frozen wasn't even a full-fledged phenomenon yet. In fact, in Australia, it hadn't even been released yet. Disney's big animated features tend to come out on Boxing Day, as is happening with Big Hero 6 this year.

So this is actually only the first Christmas season in which Frozen merchandise has even been an option for Australian children. I'm sure a small amount of it was bought speculatively last year based on the advanced marketing and some positive buzz from the U.S., but this time last year, Australian children didn't know Frozen (the movie about ice princesses and a plucky snowman) from Frozen (the movie about skiers stranded on a lift and being devoured by wolves).

Now, though, it feels like the images and songs from this movie are as familiar to us as the images and songs from The Little Mermaid ... perhaps the last time there was such an unimaginable furor over something released by Disney.

You could argue that Beauty and the Beast was the greater critical darling and The Lion King the more far-reaching overall phenomenon, but in terms of entrancing little girls, nothing beat The Little Mermaid.

So it is with Frozen. Storywise, Frozen has nothing on Tangled or even Wreck-It Ralph. (I can make these broad statements because it's my blog, and in my world, Tangled is The Greatest Animated Achievement of the Past 20 Years.) But in terms of entrancing little girls, even Disney's first recent movie designed to do that doesn't stand a chance.

Adding to that, it's also a Lion King-sized overall phenomenon. Now you see the secret to Frozen's power.

But Mr. Crankypants -- that's me, the Tangled lover -- still can't see what all the fuss is about. The movie has a couple good songs, sure, but even its undeniably greatest scene -- "Let it Go" -- strikes a person as odd in terms of what the movie is trying to convey in that moment. So wait, which bastards have been getting her down that she has to walk away from? And why is she dressing up in her icy winter ballroom gown and walking a runway? Isn't this supposed to be feminism lite?

I never really got into the characters, and I felt there were whole avenues that ended up as red herrings. (Why is there a whole song devoted to cultivating ice when the movie never spends any time on it otherwise? What purpose do those little ogre people serve?)

The failure to see this film's flaws is what frustrates me so much about the collective Frozen brainwashing of our young people. One of the things that makes Tangled so brilliant is its script. There isn't an ounce of fat in that movie, it's so damn tight. Frozen? It often feels like nothing but fat.

But I suppose what frustrates me the most is the fact that the movie's message is being prized above all else in considering its quality. Tangled made the apparently cardinal sin of having the princess interested in a man. Because Frozen is about a bond between sisters, it is viewed as more progressive and a further step away from the long Disney history of which it is supposed to be deeply ashamed. Maleficent and Brave (Disney via Pixar) both push men to the side as well and are lauded for their "I don't need no man" modern sensibilities.

But these are weak stories, especially Brave. Yes, it's about a mother and daughter. But it's also about a daughter who places a curse on her mother that ends up turning her into a bear. Let's not get so bogged down on the forest that you can't see the trees.

So I feel like the collective narrative has been to celebrate Frozen's focus on a sister-sister relationship, instead of a boy-girl relationship, like the one in Tangled. I count my wife as one of those concerned that Rapunzel doesn't have enough of her own agency in Tangled, since Flynn Rider is ultimately the one who chooses to make a (temporarily) fatal sacrifice for her. He is, therefore, "saving" her. These people forget, though, that Rapunzel tried to issue herself a life sentence of servitude to Mother Gothel to save him, only he flipped the tables on her. He who sacrifices last wins, I guess.

Now I'm really straying from my original point. My original point being that here we are, one year into Frozen's reign as The Greatest Animated Achievement of the Past 20 Years, and the blind adoration accorded this movie leaves me a little uncomfortable. This is a lesser cinematic product being celebrated like a greater one, and that's why I fearlessly refer to the cult-like worship of it as an indoctrination.

Closing on a more positive note, though, I will say that we owe Frozen for one of the funnier moments on our recent trip to the U.S. It was night 2 of the trip and we had just landed in Boston, where we would be picking up a rental car and driving out to my mom's house in Bedford. After we signed the paperwork and headed out to choose from about a half-dozen options (and when did this weird kind of inexactitude become normal practice when renting vehicles?), my son inexplicably ran ahead of us, turned around, and screamed:


It was an awesome release that really punctured the stress. We laughed and laughed and continued to mention it for the rest of the trip.

And I kind of love that he got the lyrics wrong in such a funny way.

Take that, Frozen.

That's one kid out there who isn't fully under your spell.

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