The Disney Princess Project: “Frozen”

I don't have a skull.Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave
Tangled
Mulan

There are certain elements expected in the standard Disney Princess movie. One can expect there to be a love story, usually involving a handsome man, where the woman presumably ends up with the man, as well as a menacing villain. This could be a jealous stepmother, an older woman or a conniving man. The menacing villain is usually made clear early in the film. “Brave” is the only film examined so far that throws these elements out, which might be the result of it being made by Pixar, rather than Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Frozen” is the first film made by Walt Disney Animation Studios to throw these elements out the window.

In the rather Norwegian and Scandinavian feeling kingdom of Arendelle, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel, Eva Bella and Spencer Lacey Ganus as her younger voices) possesses the ability to create ice and snow, which allows her and her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell, Livvy Stubenrauch as her younger voice), to enjoy winter fun inside of their castle. One night, while playing, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her powers, injuring her. The King (Maurice LaMarche) and Queen (Jennifer Lee) take Anna to trolls, who cure her, but also remove any memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna. The King and Queen then isolate Elsa from her sister and try to have her control her powers. The two daughters grow up, separated from each other. When Elsa is a teenager, their parents die in a shipwreck because it’s not a Disney movie unless at least one of the parents is killed. Three years later, Elsa comes of age and is crowned queen of Arendelle.

The coronation results in numerous nobles from across the region descending on Arendelle, including the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) and Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Anna, excited to be able to leave the castle, runs into Hans and they hit it off immediately. As the coronation celebration occurs, they spend more time together and Hans proposes to Anna. She accepts the proposal and rushes to get her sister’s blessing, but Elsa refuses to give it because Anna just met him. They argue and eventually Elsa’s powers are revealed, frightening everyone at the celebration. She flees Arendelle, in the process blanketing the area in an eternal winter. Anna decides to go after her sister and try to get her to thaw the region. On the way, she teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who was animated by Elsa’s powers.

“Frozen” is possibly the best film Disney has made since “Aladdin.” The animation is gorgeous and the film features very complex and interesting characters. All of the problems usually found in Disney films are absent in this movie. There is no annoying sassy sidekick as Olaf is mostly just dim, which seems to largely be the result of him being a snowman. Olaf provides quite a bit of the comic relief in the film, usually at moments when it’s really needed. (He does not appear in the first 30 minutes of the film, which I bawled through most of) “Frozen” could work if it didn’t have him in the film, but his presence actually makes the movie better because he provides a much needed laugh here and there.

The film also expands as to what love means. Love or romantic interest in someone fuels the plot in a lot of Disney Princess films, but Anna’s love of her sister is why she tries to reason with her sister. The film in fact celebrates sisterhood and shows the power of familial love.

Although there is the subplot of Anna being engaged to Hans, everyone surrounding her scoffs at the engagement and suggests she’s not really in love with him. As you might know if you’ve read my posts on Disney Princess films, I’m prone to kvetching about films where the female lead goes to great lengths for a man she just met and insists she’s in love with. For this movie to have multiple characters say, “You can’t marry a man you just met” is very refreshing.

Finally, the songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and recent EGOTer Robert Lopez–yes, the guy who worked on “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon” wrote the songs for a Disney movie–are magnificent and incredibly memorable. Each one is unique and works perfectly in the situation. As I remarked to my mother after seeing the film, I honestly want the duo to write all of the songs for Disney films now. The last Disney movie I can think of to have such great songs is “Mulan” and many of the songs tug at your heart strings even without having the visuals to accompany them. (And, yes, “Let it Go” really is that good of a song. I keep trying to tell myself to stop listening to it so often on my iPod.)

“Frozen” is the great Disney film everyone has been anticipating for years. If they can continue to create great films after this, then Disney films will once again become the must-see films they were in the ’90s.

But are Anna and Elsa Good Role Models for Children? Yes.

Elsa, although terrified of herself and her powers early in the film, does embrace them after she flees Arendelle. She also fears hurting her sister immensely because she still remembers the last time her powers hurt Anna. Elsa is the most complex female character in a Disney film. She can defend herself, she embraces her powers, but she also fears them at the same time. It easy to understand why she would lock herself away after her powers are discovered at her coronation–well, she is viewed as a monster by people for being different–because she does fear hurting her sister again.

Anna, meanwhile, cares very much for her sister and after finding out about the powers, she understands so much about her sister. She could have easily shunned her sister, but it seems that she loves her even more after finding out about Elsa’s powers. And while she does have Kristoff help her get to the mountain Elsa’s ice palace is located in, Anna mainly goes on the mission to unfreeze Arendelle on her own. When it comes to reasoning with Elsa, she does go in, alone, asking Olaf, Sven and Kristoff to sit outside. Anna is also a bit awkward at moments, but you would be too if you had been rather isolated in a castle for most of your life. Both her and Elsa are characters you can relate with, no matter what your age.

And if I were a mother, I would love to have a daughter who saw the love the sisters have for one another.

Advertisements

The Disney Princess Project: “Mulan”

You don't meet a girl like that every dynastyPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave
Tangled

I am not done writing about this movie.

“Mulan” is possibly the last great animated film Disney made during its “Renaissance.” The film features a unique visual design that works well for the story, like in “Hercules.” The film also features a terrific lead female character and several fascinating characters that enrich the film.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is the daughter of Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), who has previously served in the Imperial Army in China. Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) and the Huns have invaded China, meaning that the men in China’s families are being called to serve in the Imperial Army. Mulan, who earlier in the day was called a disgrace by a matchmaker, is horrified by the idea of her father serving in the army. During the night, she decides to disguise herself as a man and take her father’s place in the army. Gong-ringer Mushu (Eddie Murphy) goes to get Mulan in place of the Great Stone Dragon in hopes of becoming a family guardian. When he teams up Mulan, they go to the army camp and meet Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe) and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo). The troops, under the leadership of Captain Li Shang (BD Wong), prepare to be ready to defeat the Huns.

The most striking aspect of the film is how the characters grow throughout the movie. Yao, Ling and Chien-Po grow to be loyal and competent soldiers over the course of the film. Shang grows to being able to respect Mulan as a woman. Mushu is able to think of other people instead of himself. Mulan grows from a clumsy girl everyone views as a screw-up as the hero of China. In the end of the film, the main characters have grown since they’re introduced and none of them feel like they kill the feeling of the film.

“Mulan” also features great songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel. Each of the songs in the film are memorable and work well to reveal a bit of the characters and the world they lived in.

What’s also interesting about the film is how the characters are portrayed. The characters in this film that are human feel much more human than in other movies I’ve looked at in this series of blog posts. Unlike the John Smith or the princes in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” Li Shang seems human rather than a hunky, tough Ken doll. Unfortunately, this feels like a bit of progress in the film, although Belle and Jasmine reject the hunky and bland suitors in their films for more flawed love interests.

I really can’t think of anything more to say about “Mulan,” so let’s discuss Mulan the character.

But is Mulan a Good Role Model for Children? Hell yes.

Mulan proves to be a very smart person who by the end of the film is great at creating a plan and fighting. Unlike many of the other characters that are official Disney princesses, Mulan is not motivated to do things in the movie because of a man she just met that she is madly in love with. When she joins the army, it is to protect her father. In the end, her actions end up bringing quite a bit of honor to the Fa family.

What is also interesting is that Mulan and Merida are the two Disney princesses not given a big official love interest. Romantic interest that Mulan has in Shang is implied in “Mulan,” but only confirmed in “Mulan 2,” which we will not get into in this post. Many of Mulan’s actions in the film where she does something to help Shang could be read as her helping her commanding officer or saving the life of her commanding officer rather than someone she is in love with. In the end of the movie, she is only reunited with Shang because he seeks her out to return the Fa family helmet. At that point in the film, the person the most vocal about being interested in Shang is not Mulan, but her grandmother.

However, Mulan is not actually a princess which brings up the question of why she is an official Disney princess.

Mulan is not born into nobility, which means that by birth she is not a princess. She also does not get engaged to someone born into nobility, which is how some of the Disney princesses become princesses. What is also interesting is that there are two princesses in Disney films that are not official princesses. It’s very likely that due to how dark “The Black Cauldron” is and it’s failure at the box office that Princess Eilonwy is not included. As for Princess Kida in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” she was possibly not included because it would have been difficult to use her in merchandise.

The reason that seems most obvious to me as to why Mulan is an part of the Disney princess court is to defuse some criticism from feminists. This is a character who finally feels comfortable with herself after joining the army. She is never a damsel in distress and spends a good portion of the film not dressed as a woman. She can handle a sword, fire canons and has some great martial arts moves. She is the exact opposite of the characteristics most critics of Disney Princess assign to the princesses overall. It could even be easy to boil the message of the film’s sequel down to “Screw the constraints of a patriarchal society!”

However, Disney does not merchandise Mulan in a way that fits into the explanation I gave. The Mulan costume Disney stores sell is close to her outfit at the matchmaker and features pretty shoes and a fan. The costume is not like the one she wears when disguised as Ping or when she saves the emperor. And unlike with Merida where you can buy a bow and arrow set like the one Merida owns, there isn’t a toy version of the Fa family sword. It almost feels like Disney said “Look! We have a princess who is awesome! But we’re still going to make her really really girly.”

So while I’m conflicted and confused about Disney’s decision to include Mulan as a princess, I have to say she is the best role model in any of the movies so far. It also helps that she is possibly in the best of any of the Disney films I’ve watched for this series.

And now I’ll stop 1,000+ words on “Mulan.”

The Disney Princess Project: “Tangled”

Frying pans. Who knew, right?Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave

For the moment we end The Disney Princess Project with “Tangled,” the 50th animated feature released by Disney. “Tangled” is a retelling of the fairy tale of Rapunzel, but this time with a thief instead of a prince and some lovable rogues thrown in the story.

The film starts off with a prologue where we find out a magical flower was formed by a drop from the sun falling to the earth. An old woman named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) finds the flower and uses the properties to help her stay youthful forever. Hundreds of years later a king and queen are expecting a child when the queen falls ill. The citizens of the kingdom go searching for help and find the flower, taking it back to the kingdom. The powers of the flower help save the queen and she gives birth to a beautiful daughter with blonde hair. The princess, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), holds the flower’s power inside of her which means Mother Gothel breaks into the castle one night to steal the baby. Mother Gothel then takes the baby to a tall secluded tower in the middle of the forest and raises the princess as her own, never letting Rapunzel go outside.

At the time of Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, Rapunzel asks Mother Gothel if she can see the festival of lanterns that happens every year on her birthday. Unbeknownst to her the lanterns she sees every year are to bring her home, but she sees them every year and wishes to see them up close. Mother Gothel forbids her from doing so as the world is a dangerous place. Shortly after this happens, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) climbs up Rapunzel’s tower to escape his fellow thieves, the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman and John DiMaggio), and the palace guards. He is knocked unconscious by Rapunzel who questions Flynn before deciding to have him take her to the lanterns. The two leave the tower and head off on a journey through the forest where they grow closer while Mother Gothel schemes to keep the princess to herself.

After the release of “The Princess and the Frog” Disney changed the title of this film as it initially was going to be “Rapunzel.” According to the Los Angeles Times this was because a lot boys shockingly did not want to see a movie with the word “princess” in the title. Disney then decided to amp up the presence of Flynn Rider in the marketing campaign as part of the intention to get more young boys to see the film. Because of how Disney marketed the film, you might be tempted to initially approach the movie as having Flynn as the main character. I advise you to not do this because the film isn’t great if you approach it as him being the main character. If you approach the film as having Rapunzel as the main character, it is a fantastic film.

The main problem with viewing Flynn as the main character is in some parts he feels a bit underdeveloped. As the movie develops we learn more about him which does help give him depth, but for most of the movie he really doesn’t feel like a compelling character. This is also the chief problem with the film as there are numerous characters who steal the light when they’re in a scene with Flynn, including Rapunzel’s pet chameleon Pascal and a horse named Maximilian who is with the royal guard. But Flynn does manage to become an interesting character by the end of the film, which is more than some Disney movies have managed to do.

“Tangled” is the first and so far only non-Pixar film released by Disney that has managed to have realistic computer animation. Not only is it realistic, but it manages to look completely stunning. The film does retain a cartoonish quality to the look, mostly with how large the eyes are for many of the characters, but there’s a distinct feeling some things wouldn’t have looked as good in previous Disney films as they do in “Tangled.” In a traditionally animated film, Pascal blending in or changing color would have never elicited a response of a chuckle while it does in this movie. It manages to go beyond a character trait and become a cute thing to look for in the movie. I also think every minute of seeing Rapunzel’s hair has some of the best hair animation I’ve seen in any animated film.

“Tangled” also manages to use anachronistic humor to a charming degree, particularly in the number “I’ve Got a Dream.” In most animated movies, including “Brave,” these jokes come off as a joke to appeal to the kids. In “I’ve Got a Dream” we have a thug with a hook who sings about wanting to be known for his showtune medley, which comes off as a sweet thing in a toe-tapping number rather than a joke to keep kids awake during the film.

As for the score, by Glenn Slater and Alan Menken, it’s not among the best scores for a Disney film. Menken’s music is very memorable, but some of Slater’s lyrics are a bit lacking. I even find the big love duet in the film, “I See the Light,” to be a bit boring. There are great songs in the film, including “Mother Knows Best” and “I’ve Got a Dream.”

The puzzling aspect of the film is Mother Gothel, who manages to simultaneously be a great villain and a bit of a weaker villain. She is a great villain because of how she manipulates Rapunzel and others for maintaining her vanity and she’s clearly driven to obtain what she wants. At the same time, Mother Gothel feels like a less-menacing version of Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Both take a baby and raise it as their own, hiding it away from the world and telling the person the world outside is cruel and won’t understand them. But Mother Gothel doesn’t take Rapunzel to extract revenge on the king and queen, she only does everything she does because she is an incredibly vain person. Perhaps Mother Gothel shows us what happens when vanity is taken to an extreme as it ultimately results in her downfall.

But is Rapunzel a Good Role Model for Children? Yes.

Rapunzel is the most bad-ass princess in a Disney movie. Although Mother Gothel would like for Rapunzel to think she’s a helpless maiden in a tower, Rapunzel shows on multiple occasions she can fend for herself. Thanks to Rapunzel’s repeated use of a frying pan as a weapon it ends up being the weapon of choice for the entire kingdom as many characters realize it’s actually a great weapon. Rapunzel is the clear hero of the film as she has the smarts to take on numerous dangers facing her in the film. She is evidence the argument that Disney princesses will lead to girls becoming damsels in distress is very weak. If there’s anything parents should be afraid of children doing after seeing this movie it might be children whacking each other in the face with frying pans.

Although “Tangled” as a film isn’t among Disney’s finest it manages to be a great film to watch while having the best actual princess who is part of the Disney Princess line-up. Although “Brave” the biggest award, “Tangled” is a film that is the most enjoyable and worth multiple viewings.