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Ink & Pixel: Frozen

11.25.2015

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

Alas, the Halloween season has drawn to a close, and there's nothing left to do but watch the weather change, and lament at the notion of Old Man Winter crashing on your proverbial couch for the coming months. I suppose that Winter isn't all bad, though. It's during that time of year our beds are extra warm and cozy, the mint-flavored hot chocolate flows like wine, and the holiday dinners offer you a chance to re-connect with your nearest and dearest. Additionally, thanks to the folks over at Disney Animation, this is also the time of year when your children will force you to listen to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” far too many times (for any sane person) to endure. I'd tell you to Let it Go, but we all know that fighting it will only make it worse. It's all thanks to the movie FROZEN, which by no small coincidence, is also the subject of this week's article!

I'm fairly certain that we're all familiar with the 3d computer-animated musical fantasy film FROZEN. However, just in case you've been living in an ice cavern, chilling with the Abominable Snowman - all the while trying to discern why the yellow snow-cones he prepares always taste a little “off” - I'll enlighten you. Directed by Chris Beck (TARZAN, SURF'S UP) and Jennifer Lee (WRECK-IT RALPH, A WRINKLE IN TIME), FROZEN is the 53rd animated feature film in the Classic Disney library. Produced by Peter Del Vecho, the film celebrates themes of rebellion, individualism, and self-empowerment – each cooperating to create a powerful tale that captured the minds and hearts of audiences everywhere.

 

Like many other Disney Animated Classics, FROZEN was inspired by a world-famous fairy tale. Which one, you ask? Why it was “The Snow Queen” by Danish author and play-write Hans Christian Andersen. You totally know this dude. Yes, there times when it can be difficult to separate your Aesop's from Grimm's, but you've heard of “The Emperor's New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “The Ugly Duckling, right? Those were all Andersen's doing. Are we all oriented, now? Awesome, let's move on. Published in the year 1844, “The Snow Queen” appeared as part of an anthology entitled New Fairy Tales, First Volume, Second Collection. Hans Christian Andersen passed away on August 4th of 1875, but left behind a legacy of being one of the most sought-after and influential fairy tale writers ever known.

As far as I can tell, Disney's FROZEN appears to have borrowed very little from Andersen's fairy tale in terms of story details. Andersen's version features a race of trolls who possess a magical mirror that displays falsehoods about everything it reflects. In Andersen's tale, the trolls embark on a expedition to transport the mirror up to heaven - with the intention of teasing the angels and their God to look upon its warped glass. Along their journey, before reaching the immaculate cloud kingdom of God and his angels, the mirror slips from their grasp. With a deafening crash the mirror's glass shatters, causing billions of shards no larger than a grain of sand off into the world.

Later, a young boy named Kai is changed when pieces of the mirror become lodged inside of his heart and eyes. The enchanted splinters magically then force him to become aggressive and distant toward his friend, a little girl named Gerda. Shortly thereafter, Kai is abducted by The Snow Queen who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, leaving a broken-hearted Gerda to ponder the fate of her friend. Unable to accept the circumstances as they are, Gerda sets out in search of her friend, and after several intelligence-gathering adventures, learns that Kai has been taken captive by The Snow Queen. With warmth in her heart, Gerda sets out for the Queen's ice palace, hoping to reach her beloved Kai before it's too late.

That's a wee bit different than Disney's version, eh? Let's compare! Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Santino Fontana, FROZEN focuses on telling a tale of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, and the strong connection they share with one another. It breaks down like this: The kingdom of Arendelle has been placed under a terrible spell by the Snow Queen Elsa, trapping it within the dark days of an eternal winter. Together with a mountain man named Kristoff, his pet reindeer, Sven, and a magical snowman by the name of Olaf, Anna embarks on a journey that leads her to the Queen's palace. Hoping to reason with her sister, Anna will stop at nothing to prove once and for all, to everyone, that warmth exists even in the coldest of hearts.

Interestingly enough, despite FROZEN becoming the most successful Disney Animated Classic of all-time (we'll get deeper into that in just a bit), the House of Mouse was reluctant to dedicate themselves to its production for more than 70 years. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're saying, “Dude, that can't be right. You need to check your facts and figures, again.” I assure you, friend, it most certainly is true. Disney actually entertained the idea of making a film based off of Andersen's “The Snow Queen” back when they were making their first feature-animated-film, SNOW WHITE, then again when making THE LITTLE MERMAID. So why didn't they? Well, according to Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animation John Lasseter, “A lot of people felt that the world had grown too cynical for a sincere fairy tale.”

On another note, are you aware that the song “Let It Go” changed the entire landscape and script of the film? It's true. Before songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez re-positioned themselves on the song's “perspective”, “Let It Go” was meant to establish and showcase Elsa's darker, more villainous side. Originally, the song was meant to establish Elsa's negative feelings toward the kingdom that condemned her, giving her a more traditional Disney villain vibe. However, “Let It Go” was then re-worked, and served as more of an anthem about freedom and the banishment of self-perpetuating negativity. This paradigm shift then lead to the whole creative crew re-writing the entire script around the proclamations and powerful message of that particular song.

One of the things that I like most about writing these articles is discovering all of the preparation techniquesused by the effects staff during the making of the films. Considering that many of the animators working on FROZEN hailed from Southern California, many of them needed to re-familiarize themselves with the physics of snow before hunkering down on their tablets and desktops to create the world and weather of Arendelle. In an effort to get re-acquainted with the weather phenomenon that drives us Northerners crazy forsome 3 months out of the year, key members of the staff traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they were instructed to play in and study the snowfall. What's more astounding is that a handful of them even dressed in ball gowns to record and witness how individual snowflakes would react to the twirling, bounding motions of the fabric.

For those of you interested in the art design portion of FROZEN, here's a little tidbit for you. Have you ever heard of the art technique Rosemaling? It's a method of decorative styling that began appearing in folk art originating in areas of eastern Norway around the year 1750. Visually, rosemaling is most recognizable for its colorful, loopy, and swirl-like presentation. It made for a wonderful art method to use when drawing and or generating the millions of snowflakes seen throughout the film. For real, now that you're aware of rosemaling, look for it in the clothing, background art, and architecture of Arendelle.

Since its wide release on November 27th, 2013, FROZEN has become the highest grossing animated film of all-time! Whoa! That's quite the achievement! How much money did it make, you ask? A whopping $1,276,480,335 in world-wide box office receipts! Now, as impressive as that is, think of all of the products that have found their way onto shelves since the film's release. I'm talking about the princess costumes, the Olaf plushies, birthday party sets, backpacks, video games, etc! Honestly, if you can think of it, there's a chance that Disney has slapped a FROZEN sticker on it and marketed it toward today's youth. As Yogurt the All-Powerful would say, "Merchandising! Merchadising! Merchandising!"

For me, I think Disney's FROZEN is a wonderful film. It's been a while since an animated film has made this big of a splash, both in regard to its effect on young viewers as well as our modern-day pop culture. I've seen countless articles and editorials over the past year or so looking to take the film down a peg by dissecting its themes, looking to expose some form of villainous narrative, but mostly I've found these writings to be poorly masked attempts at ruining something that many have people have enjoyed. Heh, but Steve, that's the internet for you. Yeah, I know. That's why I'm more than happy to have this platform to express my opinions to the contrary.

In my experience, FROZEN is a beautifully executed film both in regard to its technical achievements, as well as its ability to teach today's youth a thing or two about standing on your own two feet – and yes, in the letting go of the judgmental ways of other people and our need for external validation. Additionally, and spoilers for those who've yet to see this film, that part at the end where Elsa and Anna use sisterly love to break the spell as opposed to the classic-but-archaic “prince restores order with a kiss” scenario? Brilliant, brilliant, I say! It's story beats like this one that will signal to other writers and studios that it's okay - nay, time! - to break the mold. Stay warm out there, folks, and be on the lookout for the annual Top 5 Animated Films of the Year list coming in just a few short weeks! Cheers!

Extra Tidbit: What fairy tale that has yet to become a major-motion-picture would you like to see get the Disney Animation treatment? Me? I'd like to see a proper Disney-style Red Riding Hood. The casting opportunities alone would make it worth while. Also, The Big Bad Wolf could make for an amazing addition to Disney's lengthy roster of larger-than-life villains.

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