Kicking the Tweets
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Frozen (2013)

A Wicked Case of  Déjà Vu

I know she's playing with me. I'm just a sucker with no self-esteem.

--The Offspring

Either everyone in America has lost their minds, or I have (Hint: never side with a film critic when arguing sanity, kids). I understand why Frozen is such a record-breaking smash: the animated Disney musical is pretty much a parent's only option in a holiday multiplex bursting with adult fare. But I don't get the film's near universal praise. Having now seen it one-and-a-half times, I can safely say co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee have delivered one of the decade's most lifeless and unoriginal cartoons. Then again, I've also seen Wicked.

The film's press materials would have you believe its story was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen". But if you've read that fairy tale (or, ahem, read about it) and seen Frozen, you'd be shocked to see Andersen's name show up on the screenplay's paternity test. There are a couple of similar plot points, sure--but if that tenuous connection is our pop barometer, then every episode of CSI was "inspired by" David Fincher's Se7en. No, the real "inspiration" here is Wicked, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was Disney's second attempt in a year to unofficially capitalize on that Broadway smash's success.*

Skeptical? Well, riddle me this, Batman: Which musical features two young girls (one a ditzy, outgoing type; the other an afraid-of-her-own-shadow introvert with mutant powers) whose relationship is fractured when one of them is unfairly labeled a dangerous freak by the townsfolk? Retreating into self-imposed exile, to the tune of a raucous song about self-empowerment,** the outcast must avoid the story's real villain: a respected leader of the populace who organizes a witch hunt to claim her powers for his own selfish ends.

Oh, and which of these two ridiculously popular musicals stars Idina Menzel as the outcast?

Both of them? You're kidding!

Of course, I have no proof that Lee (who wrote the screenplay, or Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, for that matter, who wrote the songs) consciously stole many of her ideas from Stephen Schwartz, but I'd also be hard-pressed to prove a space opera involving light swords and daddy issues was consciously appropriated from Star Wars. In such cases, I give plausible deniability a wide berth and simply ask myself, "Have I seen all this before?" If the answer is "yes", I move on to the next question: "Is it new enough to hold my attention, or am I just having flashbacks to the source material?" Barring that, I cling as hard as I can to the lowest rung on the entertainment ladder--but pretty pictures and shiny lights rarely cut it for me past the ten-minute mark.

Such is the case here. I managed to watch the first half-hour of a screener with my wife before giving in to disappointment and fatigue. The opening musical number was a direct (and I'm talking pants-shittingly direct) rip-off of The Prince of Egypt--swapping oppressive desert landscapes for icy Norwegian ones. And the plot logic was lacking, even for a movie ostensibly aimed at kids who still believe in Santa Claus.

After all the hype surrounding this thing, I couldn't believe how derivative it was, and how dumb. Before shuffling off to bed, I explained the sour look on my face to my wife by laying out every twist and major development she would see after I conked out. The next morning, she said that she liked the movie--despite my being one hundred percent correct (for the record, I took no joy in being right, especially knowing I'd still have to see the movie from beginning to end in order to properly review it).

Allow me to explain that "dumb" remark. The film establishes two great logic chasms the audience must leap in order to accept everything that follows. First, after an accident where one young royal daughter injures her sister by freezing her brain, the king and queen consult a troll council in the deep, dark woods. The trolls explain that the only cure will also wipe her memory--meaning she'll grow up not knowing that her older sister can generate ice-energy with her fingers. Aside from "it's a fairy tale", I don't understand how forced amnesia enters the picture. If the spell, or whatever it is, can magically bring someone back from the brink of death, why can't it also keep all her marbles in place? And how does the young girl remember her own name, know who her family is, and perform simple acts like dressing herself, if she's been wiped clean?

Next, because this is a Disney film, the parents die within ten minutes of the Magic Castle's appearance. Fine. But it's made clear that mom and dad essentially shut down the royal castle prior to their departure, in order to keep anyone from knowing the family secret. So, upon their death, how did the girls not become like the feral children in Mama? Indeed, one grew up to be a head-strong ruler-type (Elsa, voiced by Menzel), and the other an undeservedly self-confident twit (Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell) who insists on singing about building a snowman--more than a decade after her sister first refused to open the door to her room.

Don't get me started on Elsa's coronation (how did anyone in the kingdom even know the daughters were still alive, much less competent enough to rule?), or Anna's engaged-after-two-hours relationship with a neighboring prince (Santino Fontana). Frozen's plot mechanics out-shine its story's believability and its characters' relatability at every turn. This is a film populated by idiots who, if pausing for even a minute of introspection, would solve everyone's problems in one of the year's most gorgeous animated shorts. Sadly, the machine grinds along, with the introduction of a Han Solo type (Jonathan Groff) and his trusty, moose; a silly snowman (Josh Gad), who just wants to experience warmth (after five minutes of his shtick, I realized how much we had in common); and the film's one true innovation: a giant snow monster that looks like the character designers draped an Oogie Boogie doll from The Nightmare Before Christmas over a Michael Bay-era Megatron action figure.***

Perhaps the most curious aspect of Frozen's popularity is its praise as a bastion of feminist entertainment. People love pointing out that the female leads aren't dependent on a man for their success/rescue, and that the big love story is really between two sisters. These people really need to watch more movies, and un-stick that cliche of Disney cartoons as sexist propaganda from their brains. While it's true many Disney movies have featured what one might refer to as "traditional cinematic" romances, I've seen little in them that might be considered "oppressive". Prince Charming, as far as I can tell, didn't send Cinderella back to scrubbing floors after her slipper fitting. Princess Jasmine didn't take any guff from Aladdin, either.

If anything, I say Frozen (along with last year's Brave, from Pixar) sets the clock back at least a decade with its portrayal of women as petulant and not very bright, but guided by a dangerous single-mindedness that is uncharacteristic of any flesh-and-blood woman I know. In fact, Frozen very much presents Elsa and Anna as either pawns in the scheme of a much (muuuch) smarter man, or as the kooky girl who needs to be constantly guided to safety by a guy with a non-bobblehead on his shoulders. Sure, the notes of self-sacrifice and sisterhood are lovely--but the filmmakers ultimately cop out on their own lessons by having everyone survive and everything turn out okay, in a classic fairy tale ending.

I should clarify: this movie may be great for little kids who have healthy, conversational relationships with their parents/legal guardians. But as a model of behavior, and as an entertainment for reasoning adults, this may be one of Disney's lowest low points (especially coming off Tangled, which was whimsical, heartfelt, surprising, and smart).

*It's one of the few blockbuster properties they don't own the rights to, see, so they've apparently decided to forge a high-brow version of the Asylum business model.

**What is "Let It Go", after all, if not an off-brand "Defying Gravity"?

***Technically, that makes it unoriginal, but I never expected to see such disparate elements combined in this way. Also, piecing together where I'd seen the designs before kept me (momentarily) from nodding off.

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