Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Frozen (2013): Celebrating difference

Sisters Elsa and Anna are the center of this new Disney animation that is incredibly smart and very moving.

When Elsa and Anna are young girls (they are both princesses and Elsa will one day be Queen), Elsa uses her powers for fun but accidentally causes Anna to bang her head. Their parents take Anna to be healed by trolls and one of them warns Elsa that even though her powers hold allure, she should be afraid. He warns that she should live in fear of the evils her powers might bring. Anna's memories of magic are removed and Elsa is shut away in her room. Anna does not know why this happened and so spends a lot of her time alone in the castle as Elsa's parents try to teach her how to repress her emotions in order to stop her from showing her magic powers.

The animators took great care over the film, for instance they individually crafted 2, 000 snowflakes to make them look unique, which are seen at the beginning of the film. They also took a lot of inspiration for the look of the film from Norwegian culture, such as the clothes, landscapes, music and buildings. They took several months researching Norway, which shows the care they took in making the film and it helps ground the film and the characters in a viable place, with culture and history like human beings, not fairy tale characters. This makes them easy to relate to and it gives a chance for the viewer to appreciate the culture.

The first song of the film, after the beautiful choral piece Vuelie Frode Fjellheim featuring Cantus, is Frozen Heart. This is sung by men working on the ice and some of the lyrics are a precursor to the action, as ice can be seen as a metaphor for Elsa and her powers: 'Beautiful! Powerful! Dangerous! Cold! Ice has a magic, can't be controlled'. They warn that 'there's beauty and there's danger here' and we should 'beware'. Elsa's magic is beautiful, but those around her fear it. She has not learned how to control it as she was never given the chance to express herself or flourish.

Elsa's parents keep reinforcing that she should not feel anything, she needs to 'conceal, don't feel', she cannot 'let it show'. Of course, this is not possible, and the more she tries, the worse it gets. By teaching her that she needs to hide her powers, they are reinforcing that she should fear them and fear herself. Therefore, by their way of thinking she will never accept the person that she is and only learn to hate herself. This extrapolation of people's reaction to difference is one of the themes that really moved me. As most around her fear her difference, her parents are asking to cage who she really is. We come to learn though that it is acceptance and love that gives her the strength and self confidence she needs to be able to control her powers. When their parents die, Elsa still cages herself away, now fully trained to hate the fact she has powers, terrified of showing them to anyone. This is a powerful example of how many wrongly advise and teach people to suppress their emotions, and in tern making unhealthily ones multiply. In a world where we are told not to feel and to fear difference, it is no wonder that mental health issues are so stigmatized. People cannot understand how to deal with difference in a healthy manner, or how to deal with emotional pain once people go through it. They tell those who have been bullied or emotionally abused to shut away their pain and move on, as if it was that simple. This is a film that understands that pain and tries to send the message of tolerance and acknowledgement. When Elsa manages to acknowledge her own feelings of hurt and when they are understood by someone else, and they show they love her and accept her difference and her pain, she is able to use her powers positively and be in control of them.

When her powers are revealed to those around her, many respond in fear. One of the villains of the film, the the Duke of Weselton even calls her a monster. The reaction Elsa gets proves what she has been trained to think, she is a monster and she needs to live a life alone. So she runs away into the North mountain, and is finally alone, given the freedom to express herself, which leads up to the incredible sequence, Let It Go. As the film is a musical, there are many beautiful numbers that stand out, this and Do You Want to Build a Snowman have to be two of the best musical numbers in an animation for a very long time. What is so great about Let it Go, other than the stunning magic Elsa is able to perform now free from the judgement of others, are the lyrics and the performance by Idina Menzel (who voices Elsa). Idina Menzel really puts emphasis into those lyrics. The song is about the beauty of being different and about being free to express her emotions at last. In this moment, she is not afraid and therefore she is not limited. With her magic, she creates a perfect ice castle where she now wishes to live away from the rest of the word. Elsa sings, 'it's funny how some distance makes everything seem small and the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all'. Here she shows how her fears and her negative emotions were controlling her and limiting her ability to control her magical powers. Now she is able to let go those feelings and create something incredible. However, the past that she wants to leave behind her catches up with her. Even though she says she wishes to leave it behind and be free, she is still isolated, believing she is too dangerous to be around other people.

Anna is a very different person to her sister. Do You Want to Build a Snowman shows her growing up, repeatedly knocking on Elsa's door asking her to come out and play with her or at least to talk to her. After being told to go away and being ignored, she has to make her own fun. She is very optimistic and positive, and is understandably excitable when the palace doors open up for the first time as she will finally meet other people. When Elsa's powers are exposed and she runs off, Anna takes responsibility and accepts the blame for what happened. Anna then fearlessly decides to get Elsa back, to try and coax her down. Also, she wishes to try and convince Elsa to unfreeze the winter she has now cast on Arendelle. There is a touching moment when Anna pauses just before she knocks on the door of the ice castle and reunites with Elsa that speaks volumes as to the hurt that all those years of being shut out had on Anna. Do You Want to Build a Snowman is such a great number as it manages to emphasize Anna's pain, isolation and constant rejection from her sister. It also shows her innocence as a child and is a fantastic way to move time forward to when she is asking the same question after their parents death as she so desperately wants some comfort at this point. It really manages to say a lot about what it must feel to be so close to someone who goes through mental health issues or bullying, when they do not know why the person they care about is now shutting themselves off and unable to come out of their room. The pain of both sisters is very real and this number has manages to bring a tear to my eye each time I have watched it (I have now seen it at the cinema three times). Anna knows that her sister is in pain, but does not know why and is to not be able to understand. When Anna finds out about Elsa's powers, she can finally understand why Elsa shut herself away, as expressed in For the First Time in Forever (Reprise). She knows it was not her fault and that Elsa was just trying to protect her.

There are some great characters that Anna meets on her journey to the castle, such as Kristoff, a slightly gruff but good - hearted man. The film spends time to develop its characters and make them dynamic. As we see a bond develop between Anna and Kristoff, we see just how feisty and resilient Anna is, and how underneath it all Kristoff is quite soft and caring. This is an example of one of the film's messages that we can't always tell everything about a person from a first glance.

The film also carries a great message about young women. The princesses are not defined by their relationships to men, they are individuals with varying characteristics that we get to appreciate and relate to. There is also a brilliant feminist twist on how Anna manages to escape from a curse accidentally put upon her by Elsa. *Spoilers* An act of true love is what will save her heart being frozen and in turn herself. The trolls make out that it will be a true love's kiss that will do the trick. Conversely, what really saves her is a brilliant twist on previous Disney films. She has the chance to save herself and kiss her true love, but instead she runs to her sister and saves her from the villain's sword by putting herself in front of Elsa to stop him. It is an act of great bravery, which such a great message to children, as it is an act of pure selflessness. It is both a feminist move, as she can save herself with her own bravery and courage, but also Anna becomes a different kind of role model by doing something like this. She can stand up to a bully and put herself in danger by protecting her sister and doing what is right. None of us should be passive when we see bullying or victimization and Anna is a great example of this. She loves her sister, understands why she has isolated herself and acknowledges her pain. Anna does not accept Elsa despite or because of her gift, but she recognizes that this is a part of what makes her who she is and loves all of her sister, and this is what makes this act of true love that saves her so beautiful.

The Duke of Weselton seems to be a parody of some previous Disney villains, such as Jafar from Aladdin, as he is incredibly over - the - top. They even manage to turn this on its head and adding more commentary of previous Disney movies. *Spoiler* Anna meets a handsome Prince, Hans, and soon after meeting they sing Love is an Open Door, which could easily be a pastiche of Once Upon a Dream from Sleeping Beauty. Love is an Open Door is about how in love with each other they are, and agree to marry each other. Kristoff makes fun of this when Anna tells him about it, thinking it ridiculous as 'who gets engaged to someone they just met?' He also asks if her parents never taught her to be wary of strangers. Hans turns out to be a villain and therefore proving that you shouldn't trust the first handsome Prince you meet. Instead a relationship develops with Kristoff out of working together and getting to know each other through spending time on their quest to bring back summer. Their affection for each other grows as they find out more about each other's personalities. For instance, the more feisty and determined Anna shows herself to be, Kristoff starts showing a respect and affection for her spirit, which is such a welcome change to the typical Disney love story. There is also a welcome amount of women's names in the crew in powerful positions, which will hopefully be carried forward to future Disney films. The writer Jenifer Lee also co - directed the film and other positions include the writer of the lyrics to the songs, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, associate producer Aimee Scribner and many more.

This film is very special to me for many reasons, the themes it explores are ones that touch me on a very personal level. I do know that many people will be able to relate to these themes and think they are very important and positive messages to be sending not only to children but to the general public also. The characters of the film seem so human and unique, that to me everything that comes from this film feels magical. Especially the wonderful music and work from the whole cast and crew. I also know that it will be enjoyed for many years to come.
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