Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thoughts on Frozen

To preface, I actually still haven't seen Frozen yet (our church was having a family movie night and showing it, and we were planning on going even though we would have been the only adults there without kids, but out of town family trumped that in our plans). But reactions to it have been everywhere-in the fairy tale blogging world, as well as all of my adult friends and students asking if I've seen it yet and saying I need to because it's so good and I'll love it.

First of all it kind of brings up the issue we had some really good discussion about in my post Fairy Tales Sell: the popularity of fairy tales and whether or not that's a good thing. There's two sides: on the one side, people are being exposed to fairy tales and thinking about them in new ways. With Frozen, it's especially exciting because "Snow Queen" is not a tale many people could converse about and now people are at least familiar with the idea that Hans Christian Andersen wrote such a tale.

However, in the specific case of Frozen, and with many other Disney and otherwise produced modern fairy tales, the stories being made are very different than the fairy tales they are based on. Which in itself is not a problem: all fairy tales have been evolving and changing-the Grimms and other fairy tale collectors did their own editing, as did Disney. Although in the case of Frozen I believe the writers went beyond "editing" and into "vaguely inspired by" territory...

Nora Stasio did an article for Enchanted Conversation a while back entitled The Aftermath of Frozen: Its Staggering Success and its Imminent Impact in which she discusses this very topic. I found this to be poignant: "Whenever a movie is as successful as this one was, there are always copycats. The worst of them try to rip off certain iconic elements of a famous work while generally lacking the heart and the overall cohesion of the original. Most of these rip-offs are low-budget productions, using gimmicks to increase sales, instead of striving for an excellent product."

This is definitely true, and highlights the danger  in fairy tales becoming a formula for money. As reader Amy Willow pointed out in the comments to my previous post Fairy Tales Sell: "  fairy tales being used to market products isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it re-packages them for different audiences and keeps them alive in the public eye. However, I think that it distracts from the original tales and creates a stereotypical fairy tale image, which forgets most of the traditional content of the stories and just uses common motifs associated with them. So whilst it make them popular it doesn't stay true to their nature."

(emphasis mine in both quotes)

When I first discovered the world of fairy tale fiction, via Robin McKinley's Beauty, I desperately searched for similar books. I devoured all the Robin McKinley I could find, and went to the library searching for "Beauty and the Beast" and similar books again and again. Then after I discovered sources like Surlalune I learned how much fairy tale fiction is out there-yet I'm not adamantly looking up each book anymore. Partly because there's just so many new books coming out it's kind of overwhelming, but in large part because the quality overall is lacking in most of the new books. I haven't really been able to match the emotional power I found when reading Beauty for the first time. Other authors are very good-I enjoyed Shannon Hale, Francesca Lia Block, Gail Carson Levine, and the anthologies put out by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, for example. But most of those actually came out when fairy tale fiction wasn't such a trend.

Before, if someone wrote a fairy tale inspired book, it was usually because they had a vision-to reinterpret the fairy tale in an original way. Now, authors are realizing that Harry Potter was widely successful, as were many other fairy tale and fantasy books, and as Stasio said in the article quoted above-they want a piece of that success. They turn to fairy tales not necessarily out of love, but to make a profit. Now that's obviously not true in every case, but it's probably so hard just to keep up with every fairy tale inspiration it's getting harder and harder to have an original idea.

Going back to "Frozen". Again, haven't seen it, so can't speak to its overall quality, but if you have a Disney music Pandora station, the songs will come on fairly regularly. I had heard so much about "Let it Go" and how great it is, but I heard it and thought, that's it? Apologies to anyone who absolutely loves this song, but with all the hype my expectations were higher. The song just lacks the character of most hit Disney songs. It's a rock song, but one with predictable chord progressions and a very basic drum beat. No fantastic orchestrations that build to a really exciting climax.

And I noticed, at least on Pandora-generally when playing a Disney song, the artist would be the composer. The Sherman brothers, Alan Menkin-people known for creating a variety of fun and upbeat songs as well as beautiful romantic ballads. Yet for "Let it Go" the artist is the singer, Demi Lovato. Has Disney music become more about a beautiful and already popular singer (among the preteen Disney channel watching crowd) than creating quality music for them to sing?

Anyway, Ink Gyspy of Once Upon a Blog just sent me this cover of Let it Go. She says, "There are SO MANY covers of Let It go out there it's a bit like drowning but this one made me think: "Why on earth didn't they have an ice/glass/crystal toned music base for the song in the movie?" I remember being quite jarred by the piano starting out in the middle of nowhere - it was just bizarre."

Which demonstrates what I had been thinking just yesterday about this song. This cover has character that shows creativity and sets a unique mood that matches the movie, whereas the original was just kind of predictable.

What do you think? Am I being too critical? I know I can be very picky when it comes to fiction, and music. Especially when something is built up for so long, my expectations are really high and they're likely to be disappointed (the reverse is true too-if something is widely criticized I'm usually like "it wasn't that bad!" Case in point: Indiana Jones 4). So have you noticed that fairy tale fiction/movies in general are lacking in quality? Does the danger of reinforcing bad stereotypes of fairy tales outweigh the positives of keeping fairy tales alive, and potentially inspiring a few people to look into their history?


  1. I think that there will always be some books/fairy tale retellings that are lacking in quality. But. Some of the new retellings, even now, are getting better.
    Don't have too high expectations for Frozen. It was a good movie, and it shattered a few Disney stereotypes, but it's best to be surprised for the better than to be disappointed. Hopefully you don't know a lot about the storyline and will like it. I'm still looking forward to your review of it.
    At least they call it Frozen and not the Snow Queen. People who adapt books into movies get away with so much when they change the story a lot and call it the same thing the book was called. I'm just glad they didn't call Frozen the "Snow Queen, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale". By the way, it's funny because there's a little Easter egg in the movie. The character names, if put in a certain order, sound like Hans Christian Andersen. Hans, Kristoff, Anna, and Sven.

  2. What would you recommend as far as some of the newer retellings that are getting better? The issue starts with the fact that, with so many new books out there it's hard to even know where to start! I'd love your suggestions!

    Hidden Hans Christian Andersen in the characters' names? Love that! I don't know what to expect from the movie...I think I expect it to be an all around good family movie, although not anything significant in the realm of fairy tale retellings.

  3. I saw Frozen and thought it was . . . "meh". Not as impressive as everyone said. One of my problems with it was that they seemed to try and turn every Disney stereotype they could on its ear in one movie. Everything from "Love at first sight" to "talking animals" to "Prince Charming" and "True Love's Kiss" gets subverted in the film. That's what's popular now, though. Everyone's trying to do fairy tales where villains are just misunderstood and good guys aren't so good. Basically, everyone's trying to do Wicked now. Even Disney. Even the names sound like Wicked (Enchanted, Brave, Tangled, Frozen. I like to joke that the next one is "Hansel and Gretel" as a stoner comedy entitled Baked). But this is nothing new. Disney has always found ways of taking something that was popular and somehow claiming it as their own without anyone noticing.

  4. I find that, especially in Disney/other family friendly movies, whenever they attempt to turn a stereotype on its head they actually end up contradicting themselves. Like in Enchanted-the whole "moral" is that Giselle didn't actually fall in love with the Prince after their 2 seconds of acquaintance, she was actually a perfect match for the New York City dude. But then at the end, Idina Menzel and Prince Charming get married after no time at all. To be honest, it's pretty hard to cram an entire legit romance into the span of one movie, so that's a big part of the reason hollywood romances usually end up being ill-advised, and being a spoof you're not supposed to take it too seriously. But I saw it and was like, does no one else notice the huge contradiction here?

    When you list the titles like that it makes me think of Carol Higgins Clark mystery titles. I remember reading one about a violin and I think it was called "Twanged".

    But yeah it does seem like "twisted" fairy tales are so common they're not even twisted anymore, they're expected. But even if that's old news for us fairy tale addicts, it may still be a new concept for the general public.

    1. It's been so long since I've been part of the general public that it's hard to tell. Anyway, as far as "twisted" fairy tales, I still don't think anyone's really managed to do it better than Jay Ward and company did with "Fractured Fairy Tales" on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Someday, I must spotlight them on my blog.

      As for Enchanted (which I did enjoy), I should point out that Giselle and Robert didn't really know each other for a long time, either (I do hope they had an extended dating/courtship period). The thing with Enchanted was that it was a Disney Princess romantic comedy. Everywhere it ran away from Disney movie stereotypes, it pretty much ran headfirst into romcom stereotypes (which aren't that different). But, it was funny and I liked the songs, so I give it a pass as a cute, funny film.

    2. I loved Enchanted too, it was funny and clever. I just found it very ironic that they made fun of the whole love at first sight ideal, only to confirm it later with not one, but two storylines.

  5. No, you're not being too critical. I saw "Frozen" in the theatre, and then I heard that the "Let It Go" song was a huge hit, and I went "What song?" I didn't even remember it from the movie. What impressed me about the film were the visuals; the graphics are amazing. But all the rest of it is, like Adam says, "meh". *Very* loosely inspired by Andersen - if they didn't say so in big letters on the screen, I'd never have known it was connected.
    Now Enchanted, that I loved. I can buy the love-at-first-sight storyline with the Prince and Nancy, because they're basically sending Nancy into fairy tale land - reality need not apply (as shown by her ditching her cell phone at the end). She becomes the flat character that Giselle used to be, literally. I'm not sure they're making fun of love at first sight so much as of the cartoon conventions of just *how* it happens.

  6. So if Frozen isn't super high quality, why is there so much more of a reaction to it than the last several Disney musicals?

    That's a very chilling way to think of Nancy's storyline...in the movie there are several hints that she is more romantic than Robert and that's why she's a better fit for the Prince. Although their love is the most instantaneous, especially when she just got out of a very long relationship. I think they were just trying to give all around happy endings and not as concerned with consistency?

    1. I can't claim to be a judge of quality. I often like movies that are overlooked or considered "lesser" (A Goofy Movie, Treasure Planet and Hercules being notable examples from Disney). Usually, with this stuff, it helps if something makes me laugh. I didn't think the characters in Frozen were funny. However, I think maybe it's popular because it gave people what they wanted to see. Notably, stronger female characters and a love story that wasn't about the usual romantic love (on that last note, I think the book The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani did it better). Also, I should point out that we're not necessarily the "unwashed masses" here. You'll notice that it's Disney fans, movie buffs and regular folks who are going "Frozen is amazing! It's just as good as Lion King!" While we "read the book first", dyed in the wool folk and fairy tale fans are the ones going "Meh. It was okay." Most of us would probably have preferred an actual adaptation of "The Snow Queen" or if Disney had to do a sister story that they work from something that actually had sisters in it like "Snow White and Rose Red".

      As for Nancy and Prince Edward, I should point out that Nancy also has a stronger personality than Giselle. So, she might be able to keep his ego in check. It's still kind of a jump, though. Even if they're a good match.