Not bro-zen

Anna-and-Elsa-frozen-34118411-2046-2195Here are a few stray observations about Disney’s Frozen, in some particular order (“Alright, Whatever” to “Wow; That’s Vital”):

They’re sticking to the adjective-as-title thing.  Enchanted, Tangled, Frozen.  Oddly, these Titles for the Too Impatient to Read a Full Line generation represent the studio’s best films in a long, long – well, ever.

The just-for-humor sidekick characters are actually funny, particularly Josh Gad as Olaf, a snowman whose one true desire is to experience summer.  He gets dismembered a lot.  It’s always hilarious.  Having walked himself into several sharp tree branches, he looks upon his wounds, which would be unspeakably painful and deadly to anyone but a snowman, with childlike fascination:  “Huh.  Look at that.  I’ve been impaled.”

In a rare move for Disney, the bad guys do not die, which leaves a gaping, unsatisfied hole where the dual protagonists’ parents end up.  The villain is not the typical Evil Incarnate character, but he still has it coming after repeated attempts to murder both of our heroines.  I’m not one to pander for violence, but narrative payoff is something else entirely.

Finally, a Disney movie that is unabashedly feminine.  Both the protagonist and the deuteragonist are women.  The goofy love interest is a bit of an afterthought, and the princess’s naive dreams of true love are subverted when the handsome prince turns out to be a ruthless manipulator.  By the time Anna (Kristen Bell) meets someone she actually likes, she’s matured, and doesn’t allow the film’s epilogue to be a grandiose wedding with the supporting characters stupidly grinning in support.

Different is good.  Elsa (Idina Menzel), the elder sister and by far the most interesting character, is born with the uncontrollable ability to create ice and snow, with which she nearly kills Anna during a childhood game.  When she becomes Queen, she can no longer hide her powers, which cause her to be ostracized and exiled by the homogenized population of Arendelle.  But her reaction is not to wish that her condition could somehow be “fixed,” and not that the superstitious minds of her kingdom would welcome her back.  She realizes (during a soliloquy-style song, naturally) that the only person she needs to be good enough for is herself.  What a move for Disney, whose narratives about women mutilating themselves and otherwise conforming to suit the standards of other people will never live down the harm they’ve caused.  Thankfully, plenty of time is spent alone with Elsa, and what was undoubtedly originally planned as a one-dimensional Snow Queen antagonist turns out to be the most sympathetic, misunderstood underdog of the bunch.

There’s a lot of talk about “an act of true love” being the only thing that can heal a frozen heart. Barf, I know.  But wait – the final act of true love does not turn out to be the much-expected “true love’s kiss” between Anna and her chosen beau; it’s Anna’s decision to save Elsa’s life in spite of the entire kingdom wanting the latter dead, and Elsa’s subsequent weeping as she throws herself over her sister’s icy form.  The whole film rides on this moment.  What a relief.

My one regret about the above is that with a single miniscule adjustment (removing the sibling-hood and making Anna and Elsa friends), this could have been a story about two women who love each other.  Well, it is, but I mean romantically.  Anna’s relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is so shoehorned in that there’s no time for it and it feels synthetic.  Maybe Disney isn’t ready for a gay princess, but everyone else is.  With the studio’s first black princess a few years back, and the first truly women-centric story in their history, a gay Disney narrative could provide so much in the way of healing.  But Frozen is a positive step.  Most of all, it’s gently done.

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterFrozen (2013); based upon The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen; screenplay by Jennifer Lee; directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Josh Gad.

Wreck-It Ralph

Flattery don’t charge these batteries

Better than the numerous video game references, better than the oft-clever humor, and better than the wondrously varied color pallet, is the fact that two of the four core characters in Wreck-it Ralph are female.  A children’s movie that doesn’t throw the No Girls Allowed Clause around?  A boyish-themed film for young adolescents in which the very act of being female isn’t a bizarre quirk relegated to supporting-cast love interests?  Who knew?  Refreshingly, this film is for both boys and girls, as the deuteragonist, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is given as much personality, back-story, and aspiration as the title character, Ralph (John C. Reilly).  At heart, it’s a movie about outcasts, something I will always be attracted to.

The movie is directed by Rich Moore, who made a bunch of Simpsons episodes, and is just as adept at directing CG characters.  The story follows Ralph, an arcade villain who is left out of his game’s “cast parties,” if you will, because he’s big, clumsy, a bit of a dope, and prone to destroying anything he touches (whether on purpose or otherwise).  The title character of Fix-it Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer), is given all the credit, and despite feeling badly about leaving Ralph out, doesn’t quite understand what his fake nemesis is going through.

Finally, Ralph goes “Turbo,” a meta term for a game character that once left his game and invaded another one.  While trying to prove himself to the characters of his own game, he enters Sugar Rush, a generic character-based kart racer similar to Diddy Kong Racing or Mario Kart, and soon meets the quirky Vanellope, who seems to have a glitch in her programming.  As such, she is not allowed to race (and thus is never seen by players), a rule decreed by the corrupt King Candy (Alan Tudyk), whose name is conspicuously swiped from Candy Land.  Ralph and Vanellope decide to help each other out, and from there, the film hits all of the expected formulaic story points that a film of this type (let’s call it a Children’s Romantic Comedy) must.  The heroes have a falling out, get back together, save several days, etc.  The secondary story follows Felix’s quest to get Ralph back (for his own personal gain, because Ralph’s absence causes Fix-it Felix, Jr. to malfunction, threatening the game’s existence in the arcade), with the help of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the main character of Hero’s Duty, a Time Crisis knockoff wherein the player battles endless waves of bugs that share a hive-mind even in the game’s meta-world.

The world of Litwak’s Arcade is surprisingly charming and involving.  The film’s various video game references serve as in-jokes to people who get them (there’s everything from a misplaced Metal Gear Solid exclamation point to an expertly-placed portrait of Chun-Li), but there’s satisfactory accessible humor for everyone else.  Sarah Silverman’s prolific voice acting contributes multitudes to the hilarity and overall adorable nature of Vanellope.  Much of Calhoun’s charm is that she actually looks like Jane Lynch, and her prickly demeanor (said to be the result of her being programmed with “the most depressing back-story ever”) leads to some funny Odd Couple scenes with Felix, whose inherent goodness and naïvete don’t bode well for his survival outside of his own game.

Even the exposition is handled well.  Early on, a hologram of Sonic the Hedgehog reminds the citizens of the arcade world that they’re only allowed to die within their own games; if they die anywhere else, they’re kaput for good.  The supporting cast, bright and shiny and packed with characters like Taffyta and Candlehead (Mindy Kaling and Katie Lowes), is varied both in gender and personality, and the filmmakers wisely choose not to turn any beloved real-life game characters into main cast members (we all know how that turns out, don’t we, Uwe Boll?).

Not since Despicable Me has there been a CG-animated film with such heart.  Now, can we get a Candlehead spinoff?

Wreck-it Ralph (2012); written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston; directed by Rich Moore; starring John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer.