Tag Archives: animation

How Frozen Warmed My Heart

Frozen Castle

These days it seems like every time Disney comes out with a new “princess movie,” there’s some sort of brouhaha. For Tangled it was the title being changed from girl-centric Rapunzel. Then Frozen‘s turn came, and it was an animator’s comment about the difficulty in animating two female characters with a full range of emotions while still keeping them pretty. Citizens of the internet were understandably annoyed, pointing out that giving women unique emotional responses might be easier if all the female characters didn’t have strikingly similar facial features (huge eyes, delicate nose and mouth).

Disney claims that the comment was taken out of context from a discussion of CG animation and not meant to be taken as a generalization about animating male versus female characters. Okay, I can buy that. Not that I approve of the assumption that female characters always need to look pretty (hence the reason it’s so difficult to give them emotions!), but the brouhaha was not enough to keep me away from a new Disney/Pixar creation. That, and some of my favorite internet personalities freaking out over Frozen on Tumblr.

Frozen Elsa

From the opening moments of Frozen, I was sitting in the theater with a dopey smile on my face. Everything about it is visually pleasing. The color palette is beautiful cool tones, all blues and purples and greens. The setting is fantastically Nordic, a favorite aesthetic of mine, which is reflected in the costumes and architecture. Seriously, I don’t know when I have ever been more excited by a Disney castle, with its pointed rooftops and triangular windows that still manage to feel homey. The animators seem to understand snow and ice the way any good Midwesterner does: that it has the capacity to be both beautiful and dangerous.

Frozen has the hallmarks of a classic Disney film, but certain plot choices make it unique. The most important relationship is not romantic but sisterly. Princess Elsa was born with the ability to create ice and snow, but she is forced to hide her powers when an accident injures her younger sister Anna. Elsa’s transformation from royal recluse to sassy Ice Queen is a perfect musical theater moment. Princess Anna is our plucky heroine, voiced by Kristen Bell, she of the adorable comedic timing. I can’t think of a time when Disney has truly explored sibling relationships (Wicked Stepsisters don’t count), and it makes for a movie that you would be happy to let your daughter watch.

Frozen Olaf

Of course, there are secondary characters to amuse and delight. Every Disney movie needs at least one good sidekick, and Olaf the Snowman is just the right combination of sweet and hilariously oblivious. (“Hi, I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”) My other favorite is the rock trolls, who are so cute that I honestly wish they had more screen time. I haven’t revealed much about Frozen that can’t be deduced from the trailers, and I hope every animation lover gives it a chance.

So now I join the scores of adults obsessing over the latest Disney flick. No shame here. There’s certainly an element of nostalgia since Tangled and Frozen actually live up to the Disney movies of my childhood. But more importantly, I don’t believe that childhood wonder is just for kids.

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Tangled Up in Disney

Did anyone see the movie Tangled? If you didn’t, I can’t entirely blame you. I felt fairly ambivalent about it while it was in theaters. Then, after hearing some positive word-of-mouth, I decided to give it a chance on DVD. And I was very pleasantly surprised!

Why did I — a self-proclaimed animation nerd — skip this movie in the first place? It all started with hearing the words Disney and CGI in the same film. I grew up loving Disney, but their first attempts at computer animation have looked a little pathetic. (Yes, I know, Pixar is a part of Disney now, blah blah blah, but I still think of them as separate entities.) There is nothing worse than bad CGI, y’know?

Then there was the brouhaha over the title. Originally the project was called Rapunzel, in the tradition of other fairy tale films. When the title was changed to Tangled, there was speculation that the studio was trying to distance the project from other “princess films” in hopes of attracting more boys to the theater. This was followed by a trailer that featured Flynn Rider, the mischievous male lead, more than Rapunzel herself, clearly trying to sell the film as an adventure story. Entertainment Weekly did an interview with the directors in which they denied those reasons for changing the title. Still, I was skeptical of their motives. All my favorite Disney movies have strong heroines, and most of the films are (gasp!) named after their heroine. Plus the title Tangled just had sub-par Disney knockoff written all over it.

Okay, so obviously the debate over the title hit a feminist nerve that turned me off from seeing the movie. This was the pre-Netflix era, so I had to be picky. But now it’s a brand new day of movie open-mindedness. My mom also wanted to see it, so we popped it in on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I think both of us had only moderate expectations, so we were surprised by how much we enjoyed it. Having seen the movie, I understand the directors’ reasons for changing the title. The story really does hinge on the duo of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, rather than a hero who pops in and out at convenient times. And despite being computer animated, the quality felt comparable to the Disney films of my childhood.

This post should explain why I’m very excited for the next Pixar movie Brave. It features Pixar’s first female protagonist (squeal!), and it’s set in mythical Scotland (double squeal!). Pixar and girl power, a perfect blend of things I love. If you want to geek out with me about Brave, check out this article or this teaser trailer from the always informative folks at Entertainment Weekly. Where would I be without them?

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Moving Castles on My Mind

For my first book of the summer, I decided to read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. At some point during spring term, my friend Hillary and I were discussing our favorite books as kids, and she mentioned this book with much nostalgic enthusiasm. Since I had never read it, it seemed like the ideal way to ease into summer reading.

There were two factors working against me. The first is that Howl’s is a children’s book, and I — alas! — am no longer a child. When I’ve read children’s or young adult books in recent years, I often find myself wondering how I would have felt about the book ten years ago. My adolescent mind isn’t too hard to access, but childhood is more of a challenge. I sometimes wished that I was reading the book with a child so that I could catch some residual sense of wonder. I can still enjoy children’s books and movies, but not necessarily with the same single-minded obsession that I used to have.

The second and perhaps more significant obstacle is that I saw the Miyazaki animated film version before reading the book. Call me an English snob, but I find that to almost always be a mistake. A particularly bad plan is to read the book while your memory of the film is still fresh (or vice versa). Hillary had warned me that there were drastic changes between the two, but it was still jarring to go from one to the other. Plus if there’s one thing that’s made me feel that childlike sense of wonder in recent years, it’s the films of Hayao Miyazaki. There was nothing fair about this match-up.

In short, I enjoyed the book, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would have enjoyed it more under different conditions. So Howl’s, I’m sorry. I hope we meet again at a more opportune time.

And if you want to really geek out, here are some pretty pictures from the movie!

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Regression is the New Black

Yesterday marked two important summer firsts:  my first trip to the library and my first Netflix movie.

I’ve been going to the Fargo Public Library for my entire life. At this point, it feels nothing short of ritual. When they rebuilt the library from scratch a few years ago, I was afraid that the new building would dampen that feeling, but it actually made me enjoy the trips even more. The drive downtown and the quest for a parking spot are the same. The building is even oriented similarly, with the children’s section to the left as you walk in, except now the rest of the collection is housed on the beautiful second floor. Browsing through the stacks surrounded by windows larger than those found in a Medieval castle — what luxury!

I have several books waiting to be read at home, but that was beside the point. The library is all about a sense of possibility. I went in with a list of four books, despite the improbability of finishing them all in three weeks. The trip included a real moment of regression because two of my targets were children’s books recommended by Carleton friends. Luckily the shelving in the children’s section is designed for people only slightly below my height, so I didn’t feel too creepy. Maybe it’s the imminence of adulthood or the prospect of working with children, but a little regression just felt right.

Before bed I watched my first Netflix DVD of the summer. Not my first ever, mind you. I subscribed back in January when another winter term stretched before me and I felt in need of a bright spot. I kid you not when I say that it’s the best decision I’ve made in a while. In high school I loved going to the movie theater, but the tiny Northfield theater became a Culver’s during my sophomore year. (Very exciting news for certain Wisconsinites.) So Netflix finally gave me a chance to catch up on all the movies I had missed in the past few years.

Hopefully that explains why the movie I watched last night was Persepolis. I’m only four years behind, right? I’m a closet animation nerd, and this film is visually ah-maze-ing. For anyone who missed it back in 2007, it tells the story of a girl growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Not for kids, obviously, but very compelling for adults. You wouldn’t think that simple black-and-white animation could be emotionally affecting, but it truly is.

Okay, enough of this kid stuff. I have to go read Howl’s Moving Castle now.

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