Thoughts on “Frozen,” merchandising and princesses:
This weekend officially kicks off the 2013 holiday shopping season. Just in case you’ve been in a coma for the last couple of decades, I’ll clue you in to how it works.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is now known as Black Friday — an annual event in which all the major chain stores (e.g. Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, Best Buy etc.) offer up ridiculously low prices on all sorts of stuff. There’s deals on flat-screen televisions, video games, clothes, and, most of all, toys. Would-be shoppers hang out with family, eat some turkey, and proceed to hop in their car around midnight and head out to take advantage of these so-called deals. Basically, they lose their frickin’ minds, on a yearly basis, just to save a couple of bucks.
So, why am I telling you this and what does this possibly have to do with Disney’s newest animated movie “Frozen”?
Calm down, I’ll tell you.
Remember those “products” I mentioned earlier? Well, Disney and their mega-talented marketing team has cornered the market on little girls and their Christmas/ Hanukkah/ Kwanzaa lists. That’s because, from the time these young, jubilant kids can mutter their first words, they want merchandise associated with what’s called a “Disney Princess.” These are the female protagonists from the countless animated movies that the studio has cultivated since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released back in 1937.
The group includes such past favorites as Cinderella from “Cinderella,” “Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty,” Jasmine from “Aladdin,” Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” Rapunzel from “Tangled,” Mulan from “Mulan,” Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog,” and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” just to name a few. Merida, the ginger-haired, Scottish, warrior princess from last year’s Disney hit “Brave,” is also a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the group.
That brings us to “Frozen” and its accompanying PAIR of sisterly princesses — Elsa and Anna. In fact, while taking a leisurely stroll through Target a few days ago, I already noticed an Elsa “princess dress” on an endcap of one of the toy aisles. “It’s begun,” I thought to myself.
And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. For Walt’s sake, the movie hasn’t even hit theaters yet.
That’s what “Frozen” is all about — the merchandising. It’s not even really about selling movie tickets anymore, because the DVD/ Blu-ray sales are so strong. It’s about selling the dolls and the video games and the clothes and the bed sheets, the lunchboxes, the backpacks… even those crazy sneakers that light up every time a kid takes a step.
So, really, it doesn’t even matter if this movie’s good or not OR what I think of it OR even what anybody thinks of it. As long as there is a princess (or two — like in this film — more bang for the Disney buck) in it — an attractive, spunky, heroine of a princess — then everybody’s happy. Well, everybody except for the parents, who have to start all over again from scratch, every… single… holiday… season, that is. But, at least the kids are happy and they’re the ones that are telling their parents to drive them to the theaters to see this movie and demanding their Uncle Shawn to buy them the “Frozen” playset (which looks a great deal like the “Brave” playset from last year, minus a few subtle changes, but I digress).
Just keep telling yourself — it’s all about the kids, right?
However, a funny thing happened while the audience sat through an advanced screening of “Frozen.” Last year, when my young, four year-old niece (who’s five now) finished watching “Brave,” as well as the year before with “Tangled,” it was all about those princesses.
Holiday season 2012 — “I want a Merida doll AND a Merida coloring book AND a Merida dress AND a Merida lunchbox AND…” You get the point.
Holiday season 2011 — “I want a Rapunzel doll AND a Rapunzel coloring book AND a Rapunzel dress…” And so on and so on and so on…
This year, when the mass of youthful humanity filed out of “Frozen,” there was very little talk of sister princesses Anna and Elsa. I barely heard mention of any comments like, “I want an Elsa doll OR I want an Anna dress,” OR anything of that nature.
This year, a majority of the gleeful, giddy post-film conversations were regarding a charismatic, clueless, but lovable talking snowman named Olaf (hilariously voiced by Josh Gad.) From the way these kids were climbing all over each other like ants, just to get a picture with the Olaf lobby stand-up, I’d say that this character’s likeness is going to adorn quite a few lunchboxes very soon. Gads’ performance is in the same league as Eddie Murphy’s turn as Donkey in the “Shrek” series and Robin Williams as Genie in “Aladdin,” in terms of pure comic genius and for me it was the single most entertaining portion of “Frozen.”
The rest of the musical film is pretty standard fare as far as the story is concerned. Very loosely based on a classic Hans Christian Anderson tale called “The Snow Queen,” it tells the tale of two sisters who are daughters of the King and Queen of the fictional land of Arendelle. After their parents are tragically killed (in one of the most uneventful and unclear death scenes in movie history), the older sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is next in line to take over as Queen of Arendelle.
Hold up. I forgot to mention an important aspect of the story. Before the accident, when Elsa was little, she discovers that she has the power of cryokinesis, which basically means she can shoot frozen bolts of icy goodness out of her fingertips. Of course, she means well, using the power in a fun and entertaining way, but eventually an accident happens where she hits her younger sister Anna in the head with one of the icy blasts and her parents are forced to seek assistance from the magical trolls in the north. The trolls proceed to fix the situation by healing Anna, but Elsa, feeling shame and responsibility for the accident goes into a secluded state and never uses her power around others again — especially around her confused and saddened sister Anna.
Okay, let’s continue with an abridged version of the story and skip back to the present tense. The sisters are all grown up and it’s the big day of Princess Elsa’s coronation. Everybody’s excited, including Anna, but she’s missing something in her life: true love. During the celebration she happens to meet the dapper and charming Prince Hans from a kingdom in the Southern Isles and they share a day of whirlwind romance with each other.
In fact, Anna is so smitten she asks Hans to marry HER. Talk about an empowered female jumping the gun, Anna. During the ceremony, Anna tells her sister the exciting news, but Elsa refuses to give Anna her blessing, considering she just met the dude. A spat ensues and Elsa loses control of her cryokinetic powers — right in front of the whole kingdom!! With her icy secret now out in the open, she decides to flee and in a state of panic she hightails it up to the mountains… but not before she left the Kingdom of Arendelle in a state of perpetual winter. So that’s what happened in Cleveland.
Anna, feeling partly responsible for her sister running away, takes off after her and leaves her newfound fiancé Hans in charge of Arendelle’s affairs. Wow, this dude found the right girl, huh? On her journey, Anna conveniently comes across a friendly ice harvester (oh, the days before the refrigerator was invented…) named Kristoff and his reindeer buddy Sven and they set off to look for Elsa and stop the cold weather together. Let the romantic games ensue.
Along the way they meet Olaf, that enchanted snowman I was telling you guys about earlier, who happens to remind Anna of the snowman that Elsa created for her (using her magical powers) when they were kids — before the accident, that is.
Which brings me to the music. It’s interesting, I’ll give it that. It’s definitely a departure from the traditional music and structure from your average Disney animated musical. The lyrics have a more modern Broadway feel to them, which is funny because I remember telling the person I saw the film with that the songs reminded me of the recent Tony Award-winning, Broadway hit “Avenue Q.” When I researched who was responsible for writing the music for the film, I found out that husband and wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez also wrote the music and lyrics for “Avenue Q.” I guess I have a good ear.
Also, if you’ve ever been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando then you’ve probably seen “Finding Nemo – The Musical,” of which they’re responsible for as well. It’s the lyrics that gave it away for me, with untraditional rhyming patterns and bold lyrical choices. They’re not your typical, triumphant songs that Disney princesses are used to singing. Instead, it makes the characters seem a little more human and updated. That goes double for when Gad is singing his songs as Olaf, as he previously worked with Lopez on the other Tony Award-winning musical he helped create. You may have heard of it — “The Book of Mormon.” Oh, by the way, Gad picked up a Tony for his work in it as well.
The screenplay, which is penned by Jennifer Lee (who also co-wrote last season’s brilliant Disney “boy film” “Wreck-It-Ralph” with Phil Johnston), is smart and services the audience by making one major change from the original story by Hans Christian Anderson. In the original story, the character of Elsa is actually the antagonistic Snow Queen, while Anna’s character is drawn from a combination of two separate characters — Kai and Gerda. The switch that connects Elsa and Anna and turns them into sisters was a brilliant one, as we genuinely feel for them both and really root for Elsa, even thought she has accidentally created a winter wonderland for the people of Arrendelle.
As for who the REAL antagonists are in “Frozen,” I dare not tell you, as it’d be considered to be a major spoiler — and why would I want to ruin a movie for little children. That’s just mean. Nevertheless, this film does feature its share of villains, who turn out to be pretty dastardly. So, don’t worry. There are an equal number of characters to boo and to cheer for, which is always the mark of a successful Disney film.
The performances are top-notch, especially those of Elsa and Anna. Elsa is voiced by Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel (“Wicked,” “Rent,” and more recently, a spot on Glee), while Anna is played by non-Broadway star Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Heroes” and House of Lies), who displays a surprisingly strong singing voice that goes toe-to-toe with Menzel’s highly-developed chops.
As for the rest of the cast, it features stellar performances all around. I already told you about Gad and his scene-stealing role, but the rest of the cast is just as talented. Alan Tudyk (who’s fantastic vocal range was responsible for King Candy — the villain from “Wreck-It-Ralph”) plays the evil Duke. Okay, so he’s a bad guy, but that’s no big spoiler. Jonathan Groff (“Glee” and “The Conspirator”) and relative newcomer Santino Fontana supply the voices for heartthrobs Kristoff and Hans, respectively and Irish actor Ciaran Hinds (“The Woman in Black,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) makes a dual contribution as both Pabbie, the ruler of the trolls, and Grandpa.
I guess what anyone really needs to know when it comes to a Disney movie is: “Will my kids like it?” Well, the answer is not that complicated. If your child is of the female persuasion, then the answer is a resounding YES. However, if your child is of the male variety, I’m willing to bet that they may find themselves a little bit bored during the more “girly” parts of the film. You know, all the scenes involving family bonding between the two sisters AND the lovey-dovey moments that occur regarding the love triangle between Anna, Kristoff and Hans. But, have no fear. There are some action-filled sequences featuring a dangerous snow monster and the segments that involve Olaf are just as funny for boys as they are for girls. This means you won’t have to find a babysitter for your son when you take your daughter to see “Frozen,” which is probably a big relief.
As for whether or not YOU’LL like the film, it’s kind of the same theory. Mothers will enjoy it a lot more than fathers will, but, in the end, does it really matter? It’s all about the kids and it IS a Disney movie with princesses, cool (pun intended) fictional places, and tons of adventurous moments, so it’s sort of a no-brainer to go see it. No matter what the gender of your kids are, as long as they have a sense of imagination and the ability to laugh at humorous situations, then they’ll be enthralled — from start to finish… and that’s what Disney is best known for. Well, THAT and their aforementioned marketing skills.
Which reminds me… do yourself a favor. Don’t make any trips to or near any toy aisles for at least a week after seeing this film. That is, unless you want to shell out a couple bucks for some officially-licensed “Frozen” products OR have some pretty disappointed (and possibly crying) kids accompanying you on the way home. Because the Disney-related, holiday shopping campaign is in full effect.
You’ve officially been warned.