Monday, December 02, 2019

Values in Frozen II

Remember as "Star Wars" was getting increasingly popular in the 80s, that there were Christian writers who were very angry that The Force was not the same thing as God, and it was dangerous for Christians to allow their children to be exposed to this?  Forty years later there are plenty of young Christians from that era who are also Star Wars geeks, and very few if any who seem to believe in The Force for their everyday theology, so I'm thinking there wasn't a strong faith-destroying aspect after all.

OTOH, there are fewer Christians in that generation than in the ones preceding, and defections come from somewhere.  The overall culture draws them away, and major cultural touchstones must certainly be part of that. While even the most major of these, though they suffuse the culture of a generation, do not drive all values before them like captives, they must have some effect. Call it 1%.  We did not teach our children about Santa Claus when they were young, even though this created social difficulty, largely because I had heard too many nonbelievers make the specific connection I stopped believing in God, just a little bit after I stopped believing in Santa. They themselves made the connection.  I took them at their word, but never thought it was more than a 1% influence.

Still, when it is your kid, a 1% influence can be a big deal. So I am going to give a mixed review of the values portrayed in Frozen II, but I don't want to paint it as a great destroyer of youth.  Disney does not create values and advocacy, it reflects what it believes parents and kids will like. It is not so much a teacher as a mirror. That is true of the Disney films, live and animation, from earlier eras as well.

The conscious and open values stressed are both good ones: Do the next right thing, and the praise of self-sacrifice, even unto death, for those you love.  Hard to argue with those.

Fantasy and myth are often vague and even contradictory in their morality at first.  The point is to tell a whopping good story, and the good guys are good, the bad guys bad.  Let's not complicate things.  But as the story, or especially a series goes on, more is required simply to tell a continuing good story.  The author then comes up against the question (sometimes unwitting) What do I think real goodness and real evil are? If the hero or heroine have to come up against temptation, ambiguity, or sacrifice what, exactly, are the issues here? I have written about this more than once over the years. Many other works are discussed at least in passing in the following.
Star Wars Villains
Game of Thrones

Frozen II follows the pattern.  In order to have a story at all, the writers need a conflict and a danger that flows from the earlier, simpler story. They mostly make a hash of it. In the first story, Elsa goes off in order to learn about her really identity and power, in true modern fashion.  At least the first time she left primarily because she was dangerous to everyone and wanted to protect them, achieving her girlish coming-of-age as a by-product.  Developing identity may have been the point of the movie and the story, but within the story it isn't noticed.  Her ability to freeze her friends accidentally is the problem.

But this time Arendelle is at peace and the only thing driving Elsa to go off on an adventure is a little song she keeps hearing.  The audience quickly senses that there is an important question to be answered, and of course is sympathetic to the girl going off and find out what it is.  That's what adventures are for, right?  Except...not when you're queen.  You go on adventures like that in your early career to prove yourself worthy of being queen, but once you are ruler of a people, their needs are more important than yours. It is the same as being a dad or a mom, a husband or a wife: you are no longer entirely your own.  Medieval kings or lesser nobility may have had secret desires to show their prowess when they went crusading, but the original point was that the Crusades were going to provide benefit for all the people, especially the Church.

Worse, we find out that this is what her mother and father did before her.  They lied and told everyone they were going to the South Seas, but they really went north in order to find out what Elsa's magic was really about. They died doing it, leaving their country in the hands of two young daughters who didn't have much in the way of advisors and experience. All this in service of the very modern idea off "finding out who you are really meant to be."  There is a Christian version of it, of finding your calling being of central importance to your spiritual growth and productivity, such as is found in Blackaby's books. I don't like it much. It imposes 20th C ideas on the Scriptures. The number of people God commanded to "Go to Nineveh" or whatever is very small. 

Elsa is special of course, as was Luke Skywalker (plus someone else in fantasy I am not remembering at present), and in our present era we sometimes teach that such are above the rules or responsibility.  In previous fantasy this was not so, even up to the 1970s (Taran Wanderer, Will Stanton, all the versions of Arthur and all of Tolkien's and Lewis's heroes), and characters who thought their magic and power put them above rules were the villains. We have progressed so that we are now not only not allowed to get between a man and and his destiny, but a woman as well.

I don't think gay rights and trans right could have thriven without such a strong  cultural belief in achieving a set destiny.

Next there are the nature spirits, supposedly super-powerful but actually not really running the show.  Some power or powers are behind them that put the forest in a mist of hiding. Something is sending a little song to Elsa, beckoning her to head north. In real mythologies, all of these have names and personalities, as Neptune does in "The Little Mermaid." There is a sense that they are like Norse Norns, though these are not given a name.  There are no Frey and Freya, Thor or Odin here, though this is clearly the sort of world you might expect them to show up in.  I don't think the lack of naming is because of an artistic consideration or desire to avoid controversy with Christians.  It is because the writers are as vague about this in their own minds as comes across in the script. If there are future episodes and they have to go deeper they are going to find contradictions and have to double back. The Northuldra are clearly the Sami people, with Norse ideas imposed on them.  If writers insist on keeping things vague with no Loki but not going into ancestor worship or animism, they are going to have a hard time find a point of good or evil to hook onto. A great adventure and short quest story kept the questions at bay this time.  I don't know what they'll do next time, trying to find a hook for good or evil.

They found an escape in modern popular villains this time, with the betrayal by the white, western, advanced colonialists of the innocent nature-loving indigenous peoples working out just fine for a current audience. But next time either Arendelle or Northuldra or both, or the whole world, is going to be in danger from something, and Elsa is going to have to stop just sitting around being the fifth spirit in pleasant circumstances and unite the peoples, the spirits, and likely the reindeer and the fish of the sea as well to push that enemy back. To do that, some mythology is going to have to get fleshed out, as it was in Star Wars with its midichlorians and shuffling back and forth between the dark and light sides of The Force, and it's likely to be just as ridiculous.  Not that anyone will care, so long as the adventures are good.

Disney may just go forward with various shorts, however.  The wedding of Anna and Kristoff has got to occur fairly soon in their time, and Sven has got to be Best Man, which gives ample enough opportunity for humor that the question of what to do for a ceremony may be papered over.  Arendelle is between 1400-1800 northern Europe in spirit.  While they don't have to, and probably shouldn't try to be historically accurate to anywhere in that time, they aren't going to have much success stepping out of that to a nature-worship gathering either.  I may be wrong on that.  The Disney Princess audience might now be just fine with having nothing that looks like a traditional wedding of the last 10 centuries of western culture. 

Overall, the values taught in Frozen II rest on a foundation that is vaguer and dumber than the first one, with mixed results.


james said...

If there's a character change with no ethical framework, it isn't very interesting. If there is an ethical framework, you never know what will come out of the deeps when you use it. As you noted, Anthony couldn't handle it when questions started getting serious. He isn't the only one I can think of either.

You can only do so much with Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner.

james said...

And my standard line "What you immerse yourself in effects you."

Grim said...

"Disney does not create values and advocacy, it reflects what it believes parents and kids will like."

I think that's changed to some degree, with the Star Wars movies being an indicator. Disney, like Hollywood, is willing to suffer some losses -- even many, repeated losses -- to push the values agenda of the writers/directors.

Grim said...

"The audience quickly senses that there is an important question to be answered, and of course is sympathetic to the girl going off and find out what it is. That's what adventures are for, right? Except...not when you're queen. You go on adventures like that in your early career to prove yourself worthy of being queen, but once you are ruler of a people, their needs are more important than yours."

Disney is on firm ground here, I would argue. Sir Thomas Malory, ending the part of the book in which Arthur gains Excalibur:

"So they came unto Carlion, whereof his knights were passing glad. And when they heard of his adventures, they marvelled that he would jeopard his person so, alone. But all men of worship said it was merry to be under such a chieftain, that would put his person in adventure as other poor knights did."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - Washington leading troops against the Whiskey Rebellion would be a further argument against me. Still, I would argue that this is rare, and many would have called it unwise even in his day. To go off on a personal adventure would have been right out.

Texan99 said...

I didn't find Game of Thrones to lack a moral core. A handful of characters were irremediable jerks, but most were mixed. A surprising number of characters faced harrowing moral challenges and found unexpected resources to meet them with, including courage, honesty, and generosity. It was all a great deal less cookie-cutter than I expected.