28 January 2014

Can't Let it Go

I did a good job holding this in until yesterday, when I unloaded it on some hapless students almost without provocation. Now, with even less provocation, I'm subjecting you to it, too. And before you tell me I'm over-analyzing, let me firstly agree, and secondly, point out that analyzing writing is sort of my job.

So Elsa. Elsa from that computer-animated musical Disney film called Frozen. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Voiced by Broadway actress Idina Menzel, who also appears in another Disney musical, Enchanted, but for some reason doesn't sing in it. Amy Adams does, and on screen boyfriend Patrick Dempsey does, but not the Broadway singer. She does sing for Elsa, though." Let it Go," now up for an Academy Award, is probably stuck in your head right now. Yes, that Elsa.

She bugs me.

No, I think she's a great character and all. Really, I do. In fact, I wish her role in the film was a bit more pronounced; that, after creating her ice castle, she had more to do than "sashay around 'cause I'm sexy now and then promptly chill out." (Get it?)

I know, creating that ice castle was pretty cool. In fact, Elsa's powers are undeniably awesome. Let's review:

  1. Create unlimited amounts of snow and ice at will.
  2. Freeze someone's heart until it's a ticking clock that results in their death. (!)
  3. Summon an eternal snow storm.
  4. Immune to cold. (Re: the song: "The cold never bothered me anyway!")
  5. Imbue a snowman with life, including dreams -- by accident, no less.
  6. Build a perfect ice castle in mere seconds.
  7. Create ice clothes that don't melt.
  8. Style hair. (Maybe more a trick of animation than a true power, but I thought it was pretty cool both times she did it: Anna's hair, then her own.)
  9. Imbue yet another snowman with life -- this one abominable and completely obedient. (Basically, she can create an army of subservient snow monsters if she wants.)
  10. Turn off the aforementioned snow storm even though she had no idea how because...love?
  11. By extension of 10, basically full control over powers now.
  12. Create a tiny personalized eternal snow storm for the aforementioned snow man so he won't melt.
Did I forget anything? I've only seen the movie once but I think that covers it. So what do we find? That Elsa is among the most powerful fantasy characters ever written, which is great if not for one little oversight, the very reason why she bugs me:

There's no explanation.

I don't need much. After all, the explanation for Rapunzel's powers in the opening monologue of Tangled isn't exactly realistic. (A drop of sun? Is the sun so hot, even it sweats?) Fantasy, by its very nature, doesn't have to be realistic. But a common misconception is that fantasy doesn't have to be believable. There's a big difference.

By believable I don't mean "That could so happen in real life!" All we need is "That is reasonable within the context of the world-building we've encountered." We accept the power of the One Ring because magic exists in Middle-earth (or whatever the Tolkien equivalent of magic is; sorry purists). We accept that Belle's love can transform the Beast because those were the parameters of the spell that was already explained to us. We accept that Magneto can control metal because the existence of mutant powers if a staple of his X-Men universe. You get the idea.

Frozen lacks that kind of context. To its credit, the writers make an attempt; they probably include the trolls for this reason. The trolls are, if nothing else (and they really are nothing else), evidence that mythological fantasy type stuff exists in this world. Also, Rapunzel and Eugene have an Easter Egg cameo, if that helps.

Still, doesn't it seem like Elsa should wonder where she got her powers? Her parents tell the trolls that she was born with them, like Rapunzel. So what was her magical flower? And throughout her sister's show of unexplained power, shouldn't Anna wonder why she is completely powerless? I get that she reverses that misconception by movie's end. She saves herself from Elsa's power even when Elsa can't. And I really like that twist. (Much more so than Hans's sudden, inconsistent-for-the-sake-of-shock-value switch in character.) But would that ending have less power if we understood the origins of Elsa's? In effect I'm asking, would Elsa's power have less power?

I say no, because part of that power is to transport and enchant the audience, and for me personally, that was less effective once I realized the power was more of a MacGuffin. Much of the tension I experienced was in waiting for an explanation that never came.

I haven't talked to anyone who felt similarly, so it's probably safe to say that I missed the point. I became distracted by an element of the film that was not meant to distract me. And I'm willing to take the blame for that instead of accusing the writers, because after all, the movie's combined music and message are quite the achievement.

But it still bugs me. Guess I should let it go.

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE: A Facebook friend shared the following article that offers a very interesting explanation for why Elsa and her powers come off negative. Its focus isn't origins of the powers, but rather how they are used. Good read (and shorter than mine)! http://collingarbarino.com/2013/12/19/exploring-dantes-inferno-in-disneys-frozen/