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‘Frozen’ and the decline of animation

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014

You’ve seen it; I’ve seen it; everyone you talk to raves about Disney’s “Frozen”, the latest release from Disney Animation Studios. Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures awarded the Oscar for Best Animated Film to “Frozen”, which only adds fuel to the raging fire of hype behind “Frozen”, which is ironic. But what is it that makes “Frozen” so popular? Is it the music?

Certainly the music was good too, since the Oscar for Best Original Song was also awarded to “Frozen”. Is it the love between the two sisters? Possibly, but that’s a hard argument to make since almost every Disney movie is centralized around the theme of love. In my opinion, it’s hard to analyze “Frozen” based on its content, since surprisingly, when it comes to meaningful content, it’s sufficiently lacking.

“Frozen” follows the story of two sisters who are separated at an early age, because the older sister, Elsa, has magical ice powers that are beautiful but also dangerous. Elsa then spends the majority of her young life alone, locked away in her room to prevent herself from revealing her powers to anyone.

In the end of this film, Elsa learns to let go of her inhibitions about her powers and is proclaimed as queen of her land and her sister spiritually sacrifices herself for Elsa, as a symbol of familial love. There’s a lot more to this film, but you know the story since you have probably seen this movie.

So let’s analyze this plot based on praise commonly associated with this movie. “‘Frozen’ teaches women they don’t need a man to save them.” Alright, this might be true for Elsa, but since she isn’t an object of a love plot line, this claim doesn’t really apply. Of course she doesn’t need a man to save her, it’s clear throughout the majority of the film that she doesn’t need to be saved at all, she lets go of all her inhibitions.

Her sister Anna, on the other hand, thinks she needs “true love’s kiss” to save her from her freezing heart, and instead, her love for her sister saves her, not a man. I’d like to interject that the film doesn’t suggest she doesn’t need a man, but rather the theme of familial love is more present, and is not gender exclusive.

Besides, the Disney film “Mulan” more than adequately shows the dignity and power of women, who “don’t need to be saved by a man.”

From what I’ve gathered then, “Frozen” is a film primarily trying to teach the viewer about familial love and loyalty. Yet, let’s take another look at the plot.

Elsa accidently hurts Anna while playing as a child, and Anna almost dies. After Elsa reveals her powers and flees from her city, she once again hurts her sister and almost kills her, which is the main problem for the remainder of the film.

If anything, “Frozen” fails to develop this theme on the pretense that Anna literally has no reason to love her sister, or even like her for that matter, since they were isolated from each other for years and Elsa does nothing for her sister but hurt her, although unintentionally.

Overall, “Frozen” is a decently entertaining movie. The music is great, the humor is funny and the animation is beautiful, but the meaning is absent.

With Frozen’s recent winning of the Academy Award, it is obvious to see the decline in animation and the Academy itself. When the Academy reviewed “Frozen” for the Oscar, what did they see? It’s clear to me “Frozen” is mostly a popcorn movie, a movie simply for entertainment rather than meaning.

Unfortunately, this shows animation is not taken seriously as a contender for meaningful themes and lessons, where perhaps it once was. Animation was once the pinnacle of filmmaking, giving artists a way to express themselves both creatively and wholly, bringing to life wonders and imagination that could never be fully realized using live action.

Animation greats such as Walt Disney himself, Pixar Animation or Hayao Miyazaki all realize this potential for animation and have created masterpieces of animation that surpass many great live action films.

Pixar’s “Up” had more heart and greater love than most films in the last two decades. Miyazaki, the legendary animator, who is admittedly a major source of inspiration for Disney animators, created his final film this past year called “The Wind Rises” and it was also nominated along-side “Frozen” for Best Animated feature.

This film, which shows the act of following dreams despite obstacles and adversity, is considered to be among the finest works of Miyazaki’s career (which is in fact saying a lot, since his films “Spirited Away” (2001) and “Princess Mononoke” (1999) are considered by many to be the best animated features of all time). It is disappointing to say the least, then, that an entertaining, yet somewhat hollow film such as “Frozen” would win an Academy Award over as meaningful a film as “The Wind Rises”.

For anyone who disagrees, do yourself and me a favor. Watch “Frozen” once more and really search for true themes and meaning. Then, go watch “Princess Mononoke”, “Spirited Away” or “The Wind Rises”, and tell me “Frozen” deserved an Oscar.  I think you’ll find (much like I have) that animation as a form of true filmmaking and story telling is perhaps a way of the past.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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