Sunday, December 29, 2013

Disney's "Frozen"

The day before I saw “Frozen”, it was eighty degrees outside. My roommate and went for a long drive and had to turn on the air conditioning. 

The day after I saw “Frozen”, Texas was hit by an ice storm. As I chipped away chunks of ice and snow from my car, I mused that I’d moved to Texas from Colorado because I was tired of winter.

For a week we were sequestered in our house as north Texas had essentially been.... frozen.

I’m not saying that Disney’s new animated feature is responsible... but I could definitely relate to the good people of Arendelle. Within moments, their summer turns into eternal winter, and that is when “Frozen” really takes off.

In my previous review of “Fullmetal Alchemist” I lamented that family stories- especially stories about siblings, are  largely ignored by poplar entertainment.

“Frozen” was in production long before I wrote that, but I can’t help but feel like my plea was heard.

This story revolves around two sisters, and I love it! Obviously the screenwriters know how siblings act, and the result is touching. As usual, I identify with the oldest, Elsa. She is in fact the “ice queen”, having been born with magical abilities that allow her to control wintery elements.

In typical first-born fashion, she feels pressure to tow the line, be the perfect child and protect her little sister, Anna, at all cost.

After a magical mishap, Elsa is kept isolated and away from Anna- for years. All Anna wants is to have her big sister back, and you might say that this is the backbone of the story.

I think Disney is finding a new foot in 3D animation. “Frozen” has a very similar feel as “Tangled”. This time though, instead of pop, the songs have a Broadway Musical quality. My favorite song, “Let it Go”, reminds me a lot of the “Wicked” soundtrack.

I really loved “Tangled” so I don’t mind the similarities. They take a few unexpected and refreshing detours from the typical fairytale plot-line, all the while keeping a good sense of magical awe.

The script isn’t as tight as “Tangled” though, and I felt like it wandered a bit. There were also bits of dialogue that seemed too modern for me and sometimes felt at odds with the magical setting.

If I had to choose one bone to pick, it would be that I wished Elsa’s character had been given more development.

I’ve never really been a “princess” girl, but if I were a kid, I would totally be Elsa for Halloween! (And by the way, she’s not a princess, she’s a queen!) She’s a complex character, and at the end, I wanted to go back and find out more about her. Maybe giving her more screen-time would have made the picture too long, or too complicated. 

I understand the decision, but I still think it’s a loss.

To end my review, I will make a confession: I did not think I was going to like this film. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, I made that assumption based off the snowman character in the trailer.

I was afraid that the presence of the goofy wisecracking sidekick would annoy me to death. I’m not sure if I’m pleased or embarrassed that I’m wrong...

Sometimes he is the typical comic relief, and sometimes he borders on annoying. However, in general, Olaf is just so clueless and happy about being alive that I found myself warming up to the little guy.

After exiting the theater, I mentioned Olaf the snowman to my roommate and voiced that I’d been worried he’d ruin the movie for me. She laughed and we both admitted that he was one of our favorite characters.

“Frozen” is a fun adventure, with some stunning visuals and a decent soundtrack. I’m enjoying Disney’s return to the classic fairy-tale piece and looking forward to more. You may enjoy it too! Just don’t forget to bring your ice scraper.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Four Loves"- Les Miserables (again)

“Les Miserables”

I hate to reveal just how big a Les Mis geek I really am- but I have to refer back to my previous set of reviews for the example of Agape love.

Les Mis was the story that got me thinking about the Epic Storytelling formula in the first place, and that impression stands strong to this day.

It has great examples of all four, but it tends to highlight the greatest love- Agape.

I’ve already spent quite a few words gushing over “Les Mis”, but forgive me just a few more in relation to Agape.

After I started sharing my “Four Love Epic Movie Theory” with friends, I was able to start some wonderful discussions about each love. One idea that has been constantly brought up is the question of whether or not “Agape” can be corrupted.

I’m still on the fence about that, but I do know for a fact that “Agape” can be rejected.

For this particular “Les Mis” piece, I shall pull from the musical version (which has been filmed- so it kinda sorta counts as a movie).

The music composition is masterful, and having been geeky enough to listen to all three and a half hours of it repeatedly, I can say I know it quite well.

I was struck by a very interesting comparison between two particular songs.

At the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean is set free and given a set of silver candlesticks- a gift undeserved since he tried to steal them in the first place. He sings about the incident, expressing confusion at having been shown this random act of kindness.

It ends with these lines:
I am reaching, but I fall...
And the night is closing in,
As I stare into the void,
To the whirlpool of my sin,
I’ll escape now from that world,
From the world of Jean Valjean,
Jean Valjean is nothing now,
Another story must begin 

In essence, he feels that by being given another chance at freedom, he must change himself. He renounces his old self, and pledges to become a better man.

Much later in the film, Jean Valjean shows his arch nemesis, Javert, an even bigger kindness. Having the opportunity to kill Javert- who has been relentlessly chasing Valjean for many years, Valjean decides to let him live.

Javert begins to sing- and it’s the same tune that Valjean used earlier!

Compare Valjean’s lyrics to these:

I am reaching but I fall...
And the stars are black and cold. 
As I stare into the void 
Of a world that cannot hold 
I'll escape now from the world 
From the world of Jean Valjean 
There is nowhere I can turn 
There is no way to go on.....

It seems here that Javert is now facing the same decision that Valjean struggled with earlier.

They were both shown grace, Agape, unconditional love. What are they going to do it?

In all the books I’ve read about screenplay writing, they all say that the only difference between the villain and the hero are the choices they make. Compelling villains aren’t evil simply because they are evil. In Les Miserables, the hero and villain mirror each other with exactly the same situation. Even the music and some of the lyrics are the same! 

Both have very strong convictions. Jean Valjean assumes that since he’d been branded a thief, he has to stay one the rest of his life.

Javert’s ultimate goal is to serve the law, which to him means tracking down afore mentioned thief and locking Valjean away for good.

One is presented with the idea that he might be able to make an honest living. The other grapples with the concept that a convict might actually be a good person.

After Javert utters that last line “there is no way to go on”, he commits suicide. 

I take that to mean Javert decides he cannot live in a world that challenges his core belief.

On the other side, Valjean decides “another story must begin”.

The Bible talks about one sin that God cannot forgive. Often young Christians freak out over this, sure that they’ve done that ultimate horrible transgression.

It was kindly pointed out to me that God can forgive every sin- if we ask for forgiveness.

God has oceans of grace ready to spill all over us, but we have to ask Him. We have to accept His love.

Valjean accepted Agape and became a new man.

Javert could not accept, and became a dead man.

We all need Agape and so do our stories.