That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. - Henry David Thoreau
Question #77051 posted on 04/04/2014 7:18 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Why do you think the movie Frozen is so popular? I liked it, but I'm surprised by how many people seemed to ABSOLUTELY LOVE it.

Hans Andersen

A:

Dear Hans,

To be honest, I'm a little baffled myself, especially when I heard that Frozen recently became the top grossing animated film of all time, and recently hopped into the list of top 10 highest grossing films ever. Money isn't everything (it wasn't nominated for Best Picture, unlike Beauty and the Beast, Up, or Toy Story 3), but yeah. It was a huge win for Disney.

Besides the above speculation, my only thought is that they really made an effort to seriously subvert the classic story of a princess having an adventure by . . . having two princesses? Seriously though, I think the film benefits from not making it all about falling in love with a prince, from having a legitimate twist (in regards to the villain), and having the stakes be legitimately high. I think it has more cross-gender appeal as well because Frozen compares favorably to the huge interest in superhero movies and one of the major characters has a superpower that she doesn't understand and can't control. So she's an X-man, basically. Stylistically, I think Frozen closely compares with Tangled, in terms of the animation, but as charming as that story was, it was hard for me to care about what happened to Rapunzel (who I guess needed to be a princess for marketing reasons? Or because we don't care about girls who aren't princesses?). In Tangled I knew it was going to all end up alright in the end. In Frozen, I knew it was going to end up alright in the end, but it was more fun to get to that point.

Again, though, I think I only described why this movie is pretty good, not why it deserves to be as praised and adored as it has been.

- Rating Pending (who would like to imagine the moment when people realize that Elsa's powers allow her to create life. Actual, autonomous life. And then have her kingdom be invaded and her have to create, and then live with the consequences of sending her snow-troops into battle, them winning, and then allowing them to die/melt afterward. Frozen II everybody! Also Anna gets married but who cares?)

A:

Dear Hans

I just want to throw it out there that the next person who uses the song "Let it Go" in a talk or other "uplifting" manner to try and make some spiritual or existential point will be subject to my wrath. Yeah, the song is great and fun to sing along to but I'm not sure you really grasp the whole point of the song. The whole "no right, no wrong, no rules for me?" bit? She's running away from her responsibilities and the mess she's made. What part of that makes you think that this is a moral code you want to compare your life to?  

-Concorde

A:

Dear Hans Andersen,

Frozen is popular because it's different than your typical princess love story, it has catchy music, it takes you through a whole spectrum of emotion, and you just can't help but imagine what it would be like to actually have ice powers and how awesome that would be.

Now, what is really amusing is the adults who are really just reading too much into this movie. My four-year-old daughter (who has a rather personal connection to this movie, I admit) is in love with this movie, as she has every right to be considering it is Disney and made for children. All of her friends are in love with this movie. She insists we listen to the soundtrack all the time. She recites lines of the movie to herself spontaneously throughout the day. She and her friends act out scenes from the movie when they play. Right now, this movie is a big deal to them and they are just enamored by it.

You know what's interesting? I remember feeling this same exact way about Disney movies when I was little. I loved the music, I loved acting out scenes with my friends and siblings, I wanted to name my pets after my favorite characters, I could recite every line of the movie perfectly, etc.

So, if I could sum up in one word why Frozen is so popular? Internet. Particularly, social media websites. It's never been so easy to share your absolute delight (or utter revulsion) towards something. Frozen is a well-made movie. It's definitely geared towards children, but I personally think they struck a nice balance by making it so that adults can easily enjoy it, too. People who have liked it have raved about it. People who didn't like it were quick to tear it to pieces. Either way, the movie gets more attention and publicity. More people hear about and they want to see it to find out what all the hype is about. And the cycle starts all over again.

This is my personal theory. As I already said, we are definite Frozen fans in our house, but mostly thanks to my daughter. I've never been much into name brands and movie franchising so we have the soundtrack and the movie itself, my mom got my daughter Elsa and Anna dolls for Christmas and she'll be getting a Frozen-themed birthday party this year complete with a homemade Elsa dress, but that's about the extent of our fan-hood. We're not much into the Frozen lunchboxes, backpacks, pencils, erasers, pencil cases, puzzles, wall decals, posters, bed sets, blankets, plush toys, T-shirts, shoes, plastic figurines, etc., but there are plenty of other families who are, and, again, the Internet has just made it so much easier to get your hands on all of this mass consumerism. 

-Sky Bones 

A:

Dear Hans Kristoff Anna-der-Sven,

Story time! A while ago I took my girls (ages 4/5 and 6/7) to see Monsters University in the theater. They enjoyed it. The End.

A while later I took my girls to see Frozen in the theater (it's my job in the relationship to suffer through the kids movies). They loved it. They "played Frozen" all the time together. I bought the mp3s and Blu-ray when they were available and the girls have been singing the songs and acting it out even more ever since. My wife made them Elsa and Anna capes. (Yes, she's awesome.)

I, on the other hand, came away thinking it was a very good movie, on par with Tangled (although Max > Sven), and the music seemed formulaic, but good. That would have been the end of it had it not been for my daughters. Now I've watched it several times and really like the music, even after (or because of?) hearing it a thousand times and I think it's safe to say I like it more than I did after my initial viewing.

I think what happened is that the movie was good enough for people to latch onto and there wasn't another worthy contender for kids' infatuation. The kids get obsessed, and the adults watch more and grow to like it and once that gets started it just snowballs into a phenomenon and pretty soon Adele Dazeem is winning an Oscar. Things don't have to actually be great for people to be infatuated with them (think indie music (don't kill me... I'm old)), just above a certain threshold and after that it's often just a matter of luck or circumstance. (There was an interesting segment on NPR about this, mentioned by Katya here on the board board.)

-=Optimus Prime=-

A:

Dear Hans,

I kind of wonder if the fact that winter seems to not want to end on the East Coast might have something to do with keeping Frozen in the zeitgeist. It snowed in my hometown three days before I wrote this.

That is all. Have Fun Storming the Ice Castle,

-Il Guanaco

A:

DearHans

Timing, timing, timing.

Frozen was in the box office charts for so long because it was released at a prime season for family films with little competition. It didn't really have any competition until The Lego Movie came out (I will not count The Nut Job as competition). Not only was this a time of year when kids have breaks from school and families look for activities, it was when most of the country was coated in ice and nobody could do anything outside. The movie theater was a very tempting alternative to another day cramped at home.

Besides being an atypical princess story, as Sky Bones mentioned, it was, for this period, an atypical family film. It avoided the cynical tone and overly-referential joke mix of many recent kids' movies. It was refreshing and, for an adult audience, nostalgic to see an animated movie that wasn't over-stuffed with quickly-dated references to pop culture and was sweetly innocent.

Also, it was good. Really good. Not perfect, but really good and the music was quite catchy.

-Humble Master

P.S. I agree with Concorde that the song "Let It Go" is not the most uplifting, but the movie itself is quite condemnatory of the attitude expressed in the song. "Let It Go" represents Elsa making a bad choice with far-reaching consequences, and she gets called out for it and has to rectify her mistake.

A:

Mr. Anderson,

I think there are a few things that went into its success.

First, our standards for Disney Animation Studios are REALLY low.  Ever since Pixar started stomping them into the floor by writing compelling STORIES that happened to be animated, Disney's main division has been putting out straight-to-DVD crap.  This is one advantage of a secret identity, because a close acquaintance of mine works there.  It's hard to look at them and say: Pixar ate your lunch, to the point where Disney HAD to buy them or risk extinction at what they used to be good at: creating characters.

So, really low standards yield easy success.

Second, lack of immediate competition.  Let's admit it, the animated category is pretty tame right now.  It was successful because there wasn't a lot of direct competition.

Third, little girls had a repressed power trip need that hadn't been fulfilled lately.  In all seriousness, this is a girl movie, and girls do drive a lot of box office and merchandising success.  Disney and Pixar have been focusing a lot on boy characters lately (Wreck-It Ralph, buying Marvel and Star Wars).  Frozen jumped back into the convenient princess genre, and started printing money.

Fourth, they did a pretty good job marketing.  Some recent movies (UP for example) were just wrongly marketed.  Frozen promised something and delivered.  I know it sounds simple, but lots of people drop that ball.

So, since I finally saw it a week ago, I agree that it isn't anything special.  I think the plot had some huge weaknesses and wasn't exactly explained correctly.  And, to agree with my esteemed colleagues, "Let it Go" is a really awkward message--not quite girl power, not quite forgiveness, not quite heroic, not quite villainous.  But, Elphaba still knows how to hit CRAZY notes, and thus we all stand and cheer.

Personally, I'm looking to buy Wall-E and share a more inspiring tale with my kid.

 

That is all.

Horatio.

A:

Dear Hans,

I love Frozen, despite being a grown man and not having young children. I thought the princess trope subversion was well done, the dialog/acting was sharp, the characters were real, and the plot was well formed and paced. I also loved the songs and the beautiful animation. I think it's the best Disney movie since the Lion King, for what it's worth.

I want to offer a slightly different interpretation for "Let It Go." I've seen several people (not just Concorde, HM, and Horatio) criticize the song as not uplifting because of the "no rules for me" line, and interpreting the song as abandoning her responsibilities. I just don't agree with this perspective. I think the song is a tremendously powerful and self-validating statement. Let's look at it in the context of the movie to this point.

The opening scene establishes the rules and the character backstories. Elsa was born with the power, and it's something her parents discouraged from an early age. Elsa and Anna, nevertheless, had a close relationship and were familiar enough with her gifts to feel nonchalant about using them for a playdate. After the accident, Elsa was traumatized by almost killing her sister, and with encouragement from her misguided parents developed a fear-based avoidance reaction. ("Conceal it, don't feel it, don't let it show.") This was... less than successful, and by adulthood she was dealing with intense social anxiety and guilt.

After Anna attempts to break through Elsa's emotional wall, Elsa accidentally reveals the painful secret of her powers, panics, and runs away. Look at her emotional state as "Let It Go" begins.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried

The first verse is about her feeling all the pain and guilt and shame of failing everything her parents asked her to do, to hide this aspect of herself that she was born with. She's not happy to be alone, not yet. She's disoriented and scared.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

Watch the video. On the line, "Well, now they know," she takes off the one glove left and tosses it into the wind, and smiles for the first time in the song. She's realizing that all the effort she put into projecting a false self to others doesn't matter anymore. She doesn't need the glove, because she doesn't have to hide any more. It's at once frightening and thrilling.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

This portion is the one that people seem to think means that she's abdicating responsibility. There's nothing in the movie or this song to suggest that! What rules is she talking about here? The only rules she could be referring to, the only ones that have been established by the narrative, are the commandment to "Conceal, Don't feel." The rule that governed her entire life after the accident was to suppress her power and not let anyone know it was a part of her life. She's realized that this rule doesn't have to govern her anymore, and it's no longer "wrong" to use it, to experience it, and to test her own limits. She's "free" not from the consequences of her mistakes, but from the fabricated constructs of her sequestered life.

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

In the final chorus, she tosses away her tiara and lets down her hair in a final, physical, symbolic rejection of all the restrictions of her past life in a beautiful self-affirmation. She decides how to live her life, now. For the first time in her life, she's letting herself live her life on her own terms. She's "forgiving" herself for the powers that she's felt guilt about ever since she accidentally hurt her sister. And she's committing to living her life transparently and not letting others dictate her worth anymore. That's why it's a triumphant song, and why it speaks to so many people on a fundamental level.

At this point of the story, Elsa isn't "whole" of course. She's not even aware that she's frozen the whole kingdom over. And she hasn't progressed through her social anxiety or repaired the rift with her sister, and she's not yet confident in her ability to fully control her power. She also needs to realize that her kingdom will accept her no matter what, and take her place as their leader. But that arc eventually happens over the course of the movie, and this song represents her first major step on her path to self-acceptance.

-Cognoscente

A:

Dear Hans,

Two words: Adele Dazeem.

- Beemer Boy

posted on 04/05/2014 4:46 p.m.
I love Cognoscente's response to the song "Let It Go." It definitely makes me rethink some of the meaning. However, it still represent Elsa abdicating all responsibility and ignoring how her decisions can/will affect others. So, I am all for a positive reading that represents Elsa removing crippling shackles of doubt and limiting controls on her life, but it is still a problematic moment in the film because of how she chooses to do without any regard for consequences.

-Humble Master, who wishes he'd seen Cognoscente's response before this posted