Sunday, 9 February 2014

Why Disney's Frozen did and didn't work for me

*warning, spoilers*
*Oh come on, you haven't seen Frozen yet? Get on with it!*

Copyright Disney
I read a post today about people claiming Frozen is a feminist film, based on people saying Elsa and Anna are 'strong female characters'.

I don't want to join the 'pile on', because I enjoyed the film and I want - no DEMAND - Disney make more films with women in the lead, driving the action. More, d'ya hear me? MOAR!

But writer Dani Colman makes some really valid points about where Frozen falls down. Elsa lacks true motivation (or characterisation), living her life according to the demands of trolls and her own father, to hide who she truly is.

Anna is … I'm not really sure. I don't think she knows what she wants in life. She reacts to things, she doesn't set out to change the world … sort of. I mean, she loves her sister to the point of endangering her own life, which serves to emphasise how important love is, but she also tears off into the winter without a proper coat, no preparation, and leaves a virtual stranger in charge of things.

Then there were the blatant open window /closed door references that made me feel like I was being whacked over the head with the metaphor hammer.

I have to confess tho, I found the hardest chunk to swallow was the mother. She said nothing in the whole film. Seriously. Sure, she was there on screen, but I don't recall her uttering one line of dialogue!

Then Disney killed off the parents!


Aside from having abandonment issues, the part that really fell down was in the characterisation, which is where I feel Dani Colman is bang on about the film NOT having strong characters.

Characterisation is where the characters have goals, motivation and conflicts.
a) what do they want (the goal)
b) why do they want it? (the motivation)
c) what's in their way? (both external and internal conflicts)

So let's look at Elsa.
In the beginning:
She wants - to be left alone
Because - people have told her the ice magic is dangerous and she could kill her sister
But … actually, she does all this. There is no conflict because she has achieved her goals and she's been a shut-in her whole life. Alas, she has lost any chance of a normal life but this seems to be OK with her. There is no mention of the film about how much Elsa has missed out on because of her shut-in status.

During the coronation Elsa
Wants - to hide her powers and be left alone
Because  - she thinks she'll hurt someone
But … she makes a mistake and sends some ice splinters loose so … she runs away.

OK, Elsa's character is ALMOST there, but it's not.

Let's look to Anna
She wants … to experience life? To get out of the castle?
Because - she's been shut in (by other people)
But - no, she gets this too. Anna gets out, makes a hash of things and falls in love with the first man she meets. But this is not conflict.

Which is where the story fell apart for me because although I really enjoyed the film - and the 10-y-old boy, 10-y-old girl and 8-y-old girl we took with us LOVED it - I couldn't help tinkering with their characters and writing my own fan fiction as I watched the film. I also re-wrote the parents back in as well, and the story worked just fine in my head.

You do that too, right?

Fine then. What about Anna's relationship with Elsa?

Anna wants - Elsa to come out and play (do you want to build a snowman?)
Later, she wants a proper relationship with her sister.
Because - she's lonely
But - Elsa won't come out because she's a shut-in. Later, Elsa chases Anna away because of her fear of her powers.

Hooray, goal, motivation and conflict! Even if it's external conflict brought about by other people, it's still conflict. Phew, I thought I'd never get there.
(Internal conflict is when a character self-sabotages … like the way Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler are madly in love with each other but they simply can't admit to it because of their true natures).

For fans of structure, this is definitely NOT the structure of The Hero's Journey, but it does follow several of the main beats of The Virgin's Promise, which is a more feminine journey of realising you don't fit in, self-discovery, becoming comfortable with your powers and acceptance of those powers. It's a structure of LOVE as the driving force of a personal journey, and Frozen has that in spades.

I lost it during "Let It Go" as Elsa acknowledged her powers and gave in to who she really was. I had tears, people, TEARS! Well played Disney, well played.

Loving your sister is a beautiful message, and I have to give Disney props for basically making a film about two dysfunctional women causing utter chaos wherever they go. Elsa with her accidental magic that gives her sister a heart condition, and Anna who can't stop falling over things.

Sure, they are not 'strong characters' because the goal, motivation and conflict are not fully developed, but they still carry with them a message of love and acceptance.

What did you think of Frozen?

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