Monday, June 30, 2014

Frozen Revisited, With An Autism Twist

I got to see this movie a second time over the weekend, a natural hazard of having granddaughters.  Interestingly, after an enormous flurry of Frozen obsession, they haven't watched as much recently.  It will be interesting where this goes.

It has a repeated flaw which surprised me, as it is the sort of thing Disney has traditionally paid attention to.  When watching the first time, I was surprised when Hans suddenly turned and became cruel to Anna.  It was clear that he wasn't going to end up with her (the movie rule is whatever male the heroine is spending the most time with gets the girl, however unlikely that looks at various points in the story), but how it all played out seemed abrupt.  I just figured I had missed the clues, paying attention to other things. Surely, there were odd lines and facial expressions that revealed to the attentive viewer that Hans was really a rotter and would betray her in the end. Disney may have its faults, but we expect them to get this myth thing down pretty well.  They like to add modern lessons on to the old myths - rather drearily, I think at times - but they ride the waves of power from all those archetypes pretty well.

On second viewing, nope.  Not a whisker.  In fact, there were two places where there were subtle opposite clues that Hans was going to be a good sort in the end.  The change has no foreshadowings, even moments before.  This is literarily and mythically a bad thing.  Disney usually oversells these items, if anything, telegraphing character with costumes, eyebrows, music, and kitchen sink.  To observe it entirely absent is startling.  Wondering if they got anything else wrong, I immediately settled on Elsa's girl-to-woman change.  That is also abrupt, and the first images are not Snow Queen, but Babe Headed For A Club.  That settles down a bit, and the snow queen character asserts itself, but the message is mixed.  The Elsa artwork fits the song, not the story.

Well, maybe that's how the game is played now.  Myth takes a back seat to merchandise. But it seems a more superficial fantasy, and I wonder if it's going to have quite the staying power of earlier works.  I suppose if you make that much money the first time out, staying power doesn't matter much.

Continuing on with Frozen. Kristoff doesn't have anything that connects him with trolls.  They just seem brought on to illustrate some romance and do an American Musical Theater number. An excuse was needed, so they became Kristoff's family in the plot.  This is fine, and could have added some richness of either comic or serious troll-traits that he showed.  There are none.  He's a regular human, announces his family are trolls, does a song-and-dance with them, talks to their leader, and resumes being a normal human again.

Those are the main ones, no need to multiply examples.  As Tolkien said, it is permissible to have a world with a green sun.  But once established, that must fit consistently with the rest of the world.  It can't just be tacked on for no reason.

This got more interesting when my son forwarded the NYTimes article by Ron Suskind, Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney. I don't know if the story is well-known in the autism community, but it is fascinating, based on his book that came out this spring, Life, Animated. The autistic boy learns to weave an entire set of connections to the neurotypical world, thread by thread, through the characters and dialogue of Disney movies.  Part of the point is that the characters and dialogue are not some arbitrary corpus, but constitute a large range of actual human emotions, values, and experiences.  Disney is hardly perfect in that, having inserted fashionable values in every decade.  But they got a lot of this myth thing down pat, as I noted.

It makes me wonder - and I am entirely serious in this - how much of the enormous draw of Frozen comes from the big eyes.  The eyes of Disney Princesses have been growing bigger and spacing wider over the years, and these are the biggest yet.


james said...

Very interesting. Somewhat familiar, too.

BTW, My Little Pony seems to serve the same function.

Donna B. said...

I had the same reaction to the sudden "change" in Hans' character. A bit more foreshadowing would have helped.

What I think happened is that they tried to fit a large story into too small a time frame. It is a good enough story that 30 or more minutes to flesh out some of the relationships would have worked well.

I didn't have quite the same problem with Kristoff and the trolls, as I was quite willing to accept him as a "worthy" orphan adopted by them. Though I do see your point.

One thing I'd like to point out is the reaction of boys, say age 2-5, to the movie. And that of fathers of daughters.

There's a lot in Frozen for males to relate to which is missing in some (most?) of the other Disney movies, especially those about princesses of some sort.

It was my 3 year old grandson standing in front of the TV chanting "Frozen, Frozen, Frozen" and threatening all of us with an impending meltdown when his slightly older female cousins selected "Despicable Me" for the evening's entertainment that got me thinking about how my sons-in-law were treating this movie a bit differently.

The eyes... you are right. It's a Japanese inspired phenomenon, I think.

jaed said...

The eyes do remind me of Japanese anime... but now I'm wondering whether large eyes in Disney animations preceded the anime phenomenon (or at least its popularity in the US).

Large eyes is a broadly attractive feature. Neotenous, I think - babies (and baby animals) have eyes that are disproportionately large for their faces compared to adults.

Anonymous said...

Disney had large eyes, but they were exaggerations for animal characters. Put a mouse with rat eyes, and it's not Mickey.

Anime has always begun with the focus on human facial signals for animated characters.

Large eyes on humanoid characters that are clearly supposed to be humans giving off human signals, is a parallel construction from Disney's stand point. But it's not Japanese in culture or theme.

The Japanese have far better love triangle solutions than Disney or Hollywood movies can imagine.

My fav part of Frozen was the subdued color palette I saw, instead of the brighter purple and blue I saw used elsewhere. The older Princesses' Dwarf Fortress moment, was my favorite scene. Leave the village of human society, go do Minecraft and build your own Dwarf Fortress, safe from humanity and also safe to humanity.

Anonymous said...

Autism is part of the price for having savant level abilities but incredibly heavy weaknesses as well.

Thus autistics can only ever appear "normal" to society if they can somehow normalize their talents, using their genius level abilities to bridge, overcome, or bypass their weak points.

Since few humans have genius, let alone savant level abilities, people usually have no clue what is going on in the mind of the autistics and treat them as vegetables or village idiots. Which, in due time, they become, for a genius trapped in a body that cannot communicate or experiment, slowly degrades and becomes insane.

Train autistics have made superior martial artists as well as interrogators, since they can detect lies more accurately than a machine can. But it depends on the talent circle of the individuals involved. A math prodigy would do little good being trained to use his non existence talent at perceiving human facial signals or to improve his non existent motor control skills at martial arts or sports. A math prodigy would be better set using his mathematical calculations to improve his sports logick and human interface protocols.

Humans for the most part, aren't consciously aware of why society is the way it is, why the rules are the way it is. It just "is". To a genius, that kind of explanation is worse than no explanation.