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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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  • edroger

    Frozen grosses 400M$, The Wind Rises …. 4M$ (according by BOM). Is a very good decline … for Miyazki and Ghibli Studio. The reason? The Wind Rises is simply ‘boring’.

    • Sparrow

      The Wind Rises is heart-warming and to say it’s boring is simply saying you prefer movies that are quick to the point and are full of action or exciting scenes every second. Also with that grosses millions is proofing that the Oscars only prefer the movies that make the most money

  • Melynda

    I’ve not seen Kaze Tachinu yet, as I’m waiting for the DVD so I don’t have to watch it in English, but I’ve heard that as far as Miyazaki films go, it isn’t really as great as some of his others. Still, I was surprised that Frozen won instead. Miyazaki films always tell a full, complete story with great characters and always seem to have a touch of magic to them. I agree that Frozen is a little hollow. I still loved it, but not as much as other Disney movies or my favorite animated movie: Majo no Takkyuubin (Kiki’s Delivery Service).

  • Vandroiy

    Drama++

    Mononoke Hime didn’t get an Oscar either, did it? What’s the big surprise? Yes, it might be the “best animated feature of all time”. That’s exactly why you can’t expect a movie like it to come around every other year.

    And… if you’ve seen Wreck it Ralph and think that’s a “decline”, I disapprove of your taste. 😛 That was awesome on so many levels.

    Yea, Ghibli fans have all right to dislike Disney and they still owe an apology for what they did to Nausicaä. But that was long ago and “the decline of animation” is rather melodramatic.

    • Francisco

      its stupid to say mononoke didnt get an Oscar, beacause the category was created in 2001

  • MOXCRunner1

    I disagree pretty strongly with this. I’d say that Frozen’s meaning is about accepting yourself for who you are, and not trying to fight it. It does advocate a family bond, but mostly the friendship side of it- Anna and Elsa don’t love each other because they have to by tradition of family, but because of actually liking each other(a theme shockingly absent in a lot of movies about families).
    In addition, there is never any kind of pretense that Anna dislikes Elsa in any way. On the contrary, everything in the film seems to point to Anna’s love for Elsa and her longing to reconnect with her. This desire manifests in Anna’s refusal to give up on Elsa and her steadfast love for her in spite of Elsa’s flaws. Just in case you were instead saying that Anna SHOULDN’T like Elsa(your writing was a bit unclear), then I would again disagree. Anna’s many memories of her friendship with Elsa would be more than enough to maintain her desire to bond with Elsa.
    I personally found a lot of meaning in Frozen, despite how ambiguous a word “meaning” is. The point is that it will mean something different to each individual person. Just because it didn’t impact you very deeply doesn’t mean it hasn’t done so for millions upon millions of others- I think the public reaction to the movie demonstrates that. Almost everything my friends(and the general public, from what I’ve seen) have praised about it has been about the story and the themes it is based around. While it may have been given awards for animation or music, that’s not what made it popular, and it’s not what gets someone to recommend it to their friends.
    In the end, I think that to call Frozen simply entertainment is absurd for two reasons. First, movies are meant to entertain. It’s their primary purpose. Second, to say that the meaning is absent is simply ridiculous considering that its meaning has been the basis of its incredible popularity.

    • Liz

      That is perfectly spot on. Ryne, you need to watch and reevaluate this movie.

    • Marco

      You’ve never seen a Hayao Miyazaki movie. All of his movies are funny, heart-warming, and show the main character’s impact on friends and/or family around them. Sure Frozen shows sisterly love between the two main characters and all of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies show and the love and respect the main characters have on everyone around them and how does friends have an impact on them. Also if you have a problem with this reply I say do yourself a favor and watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie and Frozen again and compare the two and if you still say Frozen is better then that means Disney brainwashed you.

      • MOXCRunner1

        Look, I’ve got no problem with you recommending movies, but I do have a problem with your last statement. I have actually seen a few of his movies(although it’s been a long while), but I still really like Frozen. That in no way means that I’ve been “brainwashed” by Disney, and to say that is incredibly close-minded. Maybe the movie just suits my tastes. Maybe I love the art style. You don’t know. Please take a minute before assuming you understand all of my reasons, and try to understand that just because you love something, it isn’t necessarily better than something loved by something else.

        • Marco

          Sorry about that comment it’s just I had to deal with people who said Hayao Miyazaki movies suck without seeing them and they refuse to see them because their anime.

          • Lithia

            Well, not everybody loves Miyazaki films. Is it that hard to believe?

          • MOXCRunner1

            Fair enough, no harm done.

    • Lithia

      Spot-on.

  • Ryne Quinlan

    Thank you all for the comments, regardless of whether or not you agree! I am glad my writing has resonated with some people, and glad that it has challenged others to retort. I’d like to clarify the end of my piece, that regardless of money, it is my opinion that ‘Frozen’ winning an oscar over ‘The Wind Rises’ signals that the academy isn’t truly taking the category of Animated Films seriously any longer. It is extremely rare these days to find an animated film that could not be classified as “funny” or “cute”, and while that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have meaning, it certainly makes the film less serious. Films such as ‘The Wind Rises’ take animation to a serious level, and bring forth a depper message. So when I say ‘the decline of animation’ what I mean is that the category is no longer a serious contender for profound filmmaking that could hold it’s own against a similar live-action film.

  • Anonymous

    Someone sounds a little butthurt that Frozen beat The Wind Rises…