AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE FROM MICHAEL: My wife Diane and I agree on nearly everything, but we split sharply on Halloween (which we debate every year on the air) and on the virtues of the new hit movie Frozen (which we’ll only debate here, very briefly). I liked the film a lot and recommended it with few reservations. The animation and the 3-D effects register as richly imaginative and spectacularly effective, while the musical numbers count as lively and slick though, as Diane rightly notes, hardly unforgettable. The songs don’t display the same enchanting, timeless quality as the Ashman-Mencken contributions to Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast but they certainly rise to current Broadway standards, and before long the always alert executives at Disney will no doubt transform Frozen into a hugely successful stage show. In terms of the movie’s values and messages, the two themes most powerfully conveyed count as undeniably wholesome, in my opinion: that sisterly love is precious, durable, and worth fighting to save and, second, that in matters of the heart, kindness and decency matter more than elegance and sophistication. Okay, it’s not exactly Dostoyevsky (or even Hans Christian Andersen, despite claiming the Great Dane as its inspiration) but Frozen works as a dazzling if somewhat daffy piece of Christmas-season entertainment. Diane is notoriously sensitive to any movie scenes with menace or tension, but kids who could handle Snow White or Bambi or Little Mermaid (with its frightening sea witch) should be fine with Frozen. Yes, Diane makes solid points about the convoluted, hard-to-follow plot, but if she’ll pardon the pun I would conclude by suggesting that as concerns Frozen, she ought to chill.
Disney’s Frozen: Scary with Bad Messages for Children
The new Disney seasonal animated movie, Frozen, kicked off big. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film broke the all-time record in its Thanksgiving debut, and earned $93 million over the long weekend (second only to Hunger Games’ sequel, Catching Fire, $110 million). The reviews are glowing as brightly as the ice castle Queen Elsa waves into existence with her mysteriously-endowed power to freeze whatever she touches.
Though generating profit is great for the economy, Frozen is too scary for kids, proffers bad messages, and follows a nonsensical, convoluted plot. I went to a preview screening of the film, and afterward, saw kids more dazed than excited.
Adults fuel the success of Frozen–Mom and Dad hear there’s a new Disney movie with princesses and a loveable, joking snowman, and, looking for something to share, grab the kids and go.
But parents, beware. In fact, anyone who doesn’t care for fright, beware.
That would include me, a mother whose youngest is 21, who covered my eyes and hummed as an amorphous abominable snowman-monster attempted to kill the sweet, if unwise younger princess, Anna.
That’s the hook for boys: scary monster and dumb-joking snowman. Upside for girls are the two personality-infused princesses. Then, there are significant downsides. Girls will recoil in fear as their heroic Princess Anna faces destruction (by an agent of her own sister, no less!), and boys will disdain the sisterly lovey-dovey/distancing-rejection theme, not to mention the musical number portraying Anna falling in love. I’m surprised no reviewer has mentioned the royal deaths that make the young princesses sudden orphans–after which the girls’ grief is oh-so-brief, the closing of a curtain on a portrait of their drowned parents. Wouldn’t watching this event distress any child who understands what transpired?
For parents, Frozen presents the challenge of resisting smart phones for 108 minutes; no adult would pay to see this movie if it weren’t for his kids. Sure, the Disney Animation visuals, especially in 3-D, are excellent, but while grown-ups may appreciate the artistry, that’s not enough to lure anyone over middle school to the theater.
Most importantly, parents should note the deleterious messages for kids embedded in the story. After the parents’ demise, Elsa, noticing her freezing effect increasing, locks herself in an empty room so she won’t harm anyone. The younger Anna is perplexed that her once-loving sister has, well, frozen her out, and won’t even answer her musical pleas for contact from behind her closed door. The lack of any other individuals in the girls’ world–to educate, play with, amuse or even feed them–receives its own musical number, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” in which a spurned Anna begs her sister for a response: “…I think some company is overdue, I’ve started talking to the pictures on the walls. It gets a little lonely, all these empty rooms, just watching the hours tick by…” And indeed, we see Anna doing absolutely nothing beside watching the clock, and the visuals accompanying the song imply her vacuous existence lasts about a decade.
Even Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, who had her aging father to tend, found time to read. We tell our kids not to waste time. We tell our kids to express themselves, sharing their feelings and discussing issues that separate them from others. These princesses model exactly the behavior we work to discourage in youngsters: withdrawing and sitting around, bored.
Aside from that, Frozen doesn’t hold together logically, but a cogent plot may be an unreasonable expectation for a princess movie. Certainly fantastical characters get a pass, even if the main one is a snowman Elsa unknowingly created and abandoned, but who remains unrelentingly upbeat and loquacious, even when his body is disassembled.
Elsa’s quick decision to renounce the crown she’d just accepted in a public coronation doesn’t make sense given her slavish devotion to duty expressed in the song “Let it Go:” “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always had to be.” When her freezing power becomes revealed, she dumps her kingdom–which incidentally she’d just turned from summer to perpetual winter–and runs off, finding fulfillment as the self-centered scion of her private ice palace.
With her empire facing hypothermia, the remaining sister Anna, now in control by default, makes a nonsensical executive decision to head into the snowy wilderness alone, sans supplies or escort, on the unfounded belief her sister can reset the season. She leaves the kingdom in the hands of a foreign prince she’s known for 24 hours, a poor choice.
In fact, she’d be toast, er, popsicle, if she didn’t coincidentally come across a trading post among the snow-drifts, and there bump into Kristof, a goofy reindeer-whisperer who sells ice and was raised by a family of rock-trolls. And, happy news: the trolls’ “Grand Pabbie” happens to know the antidote to Elsa’s freeze-inducing condition. While in search of Elsa, wolves attack Anna and Kristof in another too-scary-for-small-kids scene, but they luckily run into the snowman, out just chillin’, who directs them to the palace.
Am I a curmudgeon for noticing the difficulties in such plot points?
Also irritating are the final scenes with a reversal I won’t spoil, and an interminably trite running-breathlessly-to-make-it finale. Oh, and the music is pleasant but forgettable, even with the rash of charming articles about their husband-wife songwriting team, the Lopezes. You’re not going to leave the theater remembering, much less humming, a tune, because these sound too much like most other musicals. A case in point is Elsa’s anthem, “Let it Go,” which celebrates casting off restriction and unfettering her harmful proclivity: “no right or wrong, no rules for me…I’m never going back; the past is in the past.”
My objections about the film don’t blunt the lavish effort promoting Frozen. “…Disney fired up its vaunted cross-marketing engines,” notes the NY Times, calling on its Disney TV Channel, its several theme parks and resorts, and even a tie-in give-away of hash-browns, despite absence of potatoes in the story.
Resist the hype. If you’re the parent of little kids–any kids!–looking for some holiday entertainment, I suggest you ice skate, view lights displays, make cookies and play in the snow; don’t spend your precious time together in the Frozen dark, implanting scary images and dubious messages.
Diane’s Blog: http://www.brightlightsearch.blogspot.com/