Thawing out the clichés and commercialism of Frozen
Frozen’s tale about two temperamentally different sisters, the frolicking, touchy-feely Anna (Kristen Bell) and the repressed Elsa (Idina Menzel) whose neuroses manifest in literal frigidity (everything she touches turns to ice, snow, tundras) resembles a committee-made checklist of marketable points. In post-Pixar lingo, that’s a series of recognizable tropes audiences can take to be classical without needing to be convincing. Who needs credibility when you sell updated clichés like a refurbished cellphone?
Elsa’s sensual crisis updates Han Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Anna’s rowdiness recalls last year’s Brave, loss of the girls’ parents is primordial while the unfortunate sibling rivalry reflects a modern complex vulgarly derived from Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls Fat and Thin. Trouble is, Disney Animation turns these elements into set-pieces to show off technology (impressive evocations of arctic locales, perspectival marvels like saw blades cutting through ice into chilly waters that is better than any 3D) which overwhelms the thinly-conceived story and characterizations.
The contrast of technical innovation and mundane “fantasy” narrative stops Frozen from sparkling. Almost immediately there is an incessant musicalization of the story modeled after The Lion King (a pseudo-native chant under the opening credits) and plot points that are really song cues and songs that are merely applaud-seekers: Menzel belts-out a solo that exposes Disney Animation’s craven attempt at stealing from Broadway’s Wicked (another sisterhood fable).
At least there is visual interest in Frozen (a rarity in this era when advanced computer graphics have returned visual fancy to the cookie-cutter) but when directors Cchris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s skills are combined with the usual Disney cuteness (fuzzy animals revive Anna) and canned-Broadway tunes, there’s little chance for a fable to truly frighten or inspire. The message of female empowerment could be powerfully clear (just as Brave made the same obvious points that Beasts of the Southern Wild sentimentalized) yet there’s an equally powerful cynical calculation by Disney Animation to undercut sexual tradition with the romance of sexlessness. Frozen returns cartoons to infantilism–smug infantilism with a Broadway tune where its heart ought to be. Perfect for new generations of eunuchs.
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