A Study in Contrasts: Elsa and Regina on Once Upon a Time

10301601_710917885630375_897088975289582442_nby Aaron Einhorn
I’m a Disney fanboy. I make no excuses for it. I love Disney, always have. And I jumped on the Frozen bandwagon early (thanks to a sneak peek screening). So, last night, Christina and I sat down to watch as Frozen invaded Storybrooke in Once Upon a Time. Overall, we quite liked the episode, and the casting (even if we found Kristoff a bit too scrawny.) But what I found really interesting to think about were the similarities and differences between Regina and Elsa.

Similarity wise, they’re both queens – not Princesses, but Queens. And that’s a distinction that matters. They aren’t just “of noble birth” (which Regina isn’t, really) or just used to having wealth and power, but they’re both accustomed to ruling – something that Princesses aren’t.

They’re two of the only outright magically powered characters on the show. The only others are mostly inhuman (Rumple, Red, the Fairies) – even if they were human once – and the third is Emma, who is her own unique thing.

But where their similarities end, their differences are all the more interesting, because they’re such opposites. Visually, Elsa is taller, fairer of skin, light-haired, and wears light blues and whites. Regina is shorter, dark-haired (and wears it short), and favors dark colored clothing.

10685582_710780718977425_5943111331391290055_nIn terms of their magic, there is the obvious contrast. Regina’s favored magic is fire, while Elsa is all snow and ice (although they both have a curious penchant for affecting hearts).

But their personalities are where they are most strikingly different. Regina’s single biggest flaw has always been her inability to accept personal responsibility. Everything – everything – is someone else’s fault. And she’s not wholly wrong – Regina has certainly been the victim of master manipulators and tricksters, along with the most wretched set of circumstances. Regina isn’t a monster in her mind – she’s the victim looking for justice, and whenever someone else calls her a monster, she lashes out, looking for revenge.

Elsa on the other hand internalizes her fears and doubts, and sees herself as a monster when others don’t. While Anna tells her that she loves her, and that the things she’s done aren’t her fault, Elsa is the one to say “I’m a monster, I should be left alone.” Elsa can’t give herself the slightest allowance that, maybe, someone else is to blame for the circumstances.

They’re both wrong, of course, being at opposite ends of the spectrum instead of finding a healthy middle.

And of course, they come from the entire range of Disney’s animated films, with Snow White being the first animated feature film from Disney, and the first Princess movie, and Frozen being the latest (at least until Big Hero 6 arrives in a few months.)

Still, it has me really looking forward to seeing what this season will bring. And that doesn’t even touch on the other elements that I hope to see developed this year. I want more of Emma and Hook. I want more of Gold and Belle (and yeah, I am exactly fanboy enough to have appreciated his outfit, her gown, and the song). I want to see where Regina’s scheme goes (and I’m happy to see Sidney Glass back). And the hat… oh, the hat. Yeah, I’m sold.

I don't expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat... but I'm sure it's the same one.

I don’t expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat… but I’m sure it’s the same one.

Bring on more episodes!

Disney’s Frozen: Review

I’m resurrecting this post in honor of Frozen being released to home video yesterday. Enjoy!

frozen_posterby Aaron Einhorn
I try to be a fair and unbiased reviewer when doing my film reviews on this site. I’m aware that I have personal preferences that have nothing to do with the actual quality of the media I’m consuming – I will always prefer a superhero comic to a non-superhero tale, but I can still acknowledge that Maus is a fantastic example of the genre.

So, with that said, let’s get it out up front that I am a Disney fanboy. I adore the animation, the music, and the joy that we get as a family when we share their films. Our family trip to Walt Disney World last February was one of my most treasured memories, and although my daughters don’t know it yet, we’re going back this March.

In other words, yeah, I was pre-disposed to Frozen before walking in to the advance screening. But I was predisposed to like Thor: The Dark World, which I walked away from somewhat indifferently. And we were dealing with similar circumstances – a crowded preview screening, heading over after work, and I was tired before we got there, and hungry from skipping dinner.

So, how did I feel about Frozen? Read on.

Synopsis

There are two Princesses of Arendelle: Elsa (Idina Menzel), the soon-to-be Queen, and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa has the ability to create snow and ice, yet has been suppressing these powers after a traumatic childhood incident involving her sister. After letting her cryokinetic powers get out of hand during her official July coronation, she goes into hiding, only for her emotions to trigger a magical, eternal winter that freezes the entire kingdom.

Anna, a fearless and daring optimist, must journey with extreme mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and reindeer sidekick Sven in an epic journey, encountering mystical trolls, a comical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn in a race to find Elsa (now known as the Snow Queen), save their kingdom from eternal winter, and make things right before it’s too late.

The Feature

So, the first thing to get out is that Frozen bears about as much resemblance to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Snow Queen as The Little Mermaid does to its source tale. So, if you’re a big fan of the classic fairy tale, please put it out of your mind in advance, because otherwise you will be sorely disappointed.

olaf

“I love warm hugs.”

The other thing that absolutely must be touched upon is Olaf. Olaf, the enchanted magical snowman who wants to experience all things warm. Olaf, who has been featured almost exclusively in the previews for the film to the point that you might be surprised to discover that there are two Princesses in the movie. Olaf, who really is the Jar Jar Binks of Frozen.

As I had feared, there is entirely too much of Olaf in this movie, which is entirely unnecessary. The film already had “cute creatures” a-plenty in the form of Sven, the reindeer, and the trolls who provide exposition and an additional source of magic and fun to the movie.

Fortunately, even though there is too much Olaf, there is also a lot less of him than I had feared there would be, and he even manages to add some to the plot. Not a lot, but some.

Frozen also suffers from the lack of a strong villain, a la Urusula, Jafar, the Shadowman or Mother Gothelle. The story is more about struggles within yourself, and the sisters being able to connect to one another, and the external threats aren’t all that terribly significant.

The other negative strike against Frozen is the fairly weak romance. Disney has a very hit-and-miss record with making the romances of their leads believable and/or necessary, with Tangled and Princess and the Frog nailing it, and Brave showing us that you don’t really need it. The romance in this film is a bit contrived, and ultimately not all that important. What it does do, however, is gives us an excuse to include a couple of male characters in the film that were probably essential to convince young boys to come see it, and it allowed directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (screenplay, Wreck It-Ralph) to really play with the standard Disney tropes of in True Love’s Kiss in a way that I found really surprising and gratifying.

Now, with the negatives out of the way, let’s discuss some of the things that make Frozen worth watching – and there are plenty.

ice_palaceFirst of all, the visuals of the film are absolutely breathtaking. Although I have heard some complaints that the new CGI-style of Disney animation means that Anna and Elsa bear a little too strong of a resemblance to Rapunzel from Tangled, I was able to look past any initial similarity to the point that the sisters quickly became distinct. Elsa has a cold reserve to her that you can see on her face, and the way she never quite smiles but often smirks captures the facial tics of her voice actress, Idina Menzel quite wonderfully.

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from "Tangled", Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from "Frozen")

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from “Tangled”, Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from “Frozen”)

Similarly, Anna’s slightly crossed eyes and freckles give her a wonderful humanity that we haven’t always seen in the Disney Princesses. Even the tomboys and outsiders and misfits are beautiful – and there’s no doubt that both Anna and Elsa are – but seeing some imperfections makes them a little bit more real.

Of course, visually, the real star of Frozen are the ice and snow effects, and those are simply amazing. There were real gasps in the audience when Elsa creates her Ice Palace, and the way that the snow swirls, and the ice grows and cracks is just amazing.

As characters, it’s hard not to love both sisters. Anna is outgoing, energetic, clumsy and forthright, while Elsa is cold, reserved and restrained – but still clearly empathetic and compassionate. On a personal note, it was hard not to see my two daughters in the sisters, and there was a long discussion about that similarity on the drive home from the theatre.

Anna’s quest to save her sister, and in turn, the kingdom, resonates strongly because at its core, it is more about Elsa than it is about Arrendale – which makes it something easily relatable. Saving a kingdom is more than most kids can understand, but wanting to be with your sister is something that most kids will easily relate to.

In any case, for all that one of them is technically a Queen, I think both Anna and Elsa will become a welcome addition to Disney’s Princess line.

sisters

The Music

When it comes to Disney features, the music can make or break the movie. Many fans turned away entirely from Hercules because of the unexpected musical choices with the Gospel-style songs (although I am personally a fan), and to this day, I think that if Disney had made the music integrated into Tarzan the way they did the Broadway version, it would have ended up being a much bigger hit.

Well, Frozen is an absolute win in the musical category, and if you’re a fan of Broadway, then you will be very, very pleased.

The orchestral score from Christophe Beck is quite, quite lovely, and pulls you strongly in to the film right from the beginning. But as solid as the score is, the actual songs are where Frozen soars.

“Frozen Heart” starts the film off strong with a solid, sea-chanty-esque rhthym, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” establishes the relationship between the sisters and is heart-breakingly sweet and sad at the same time. “Reindeers Are Better Than People” is a cute little ditty featuring Jonathan Groff, and “Fixer Upper” is fun and energetic and will make great background music when walking through the Disney parks.

But there are three songs that everyone will be talking about.

“For the First Time in Forever” (and its reprise) is the adult counter-point to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and is absolutely essential to understanding who both Anna and Elsa are. It has a great build throughout, catchy lyrics, and really fun visuals. Think of it in the same vein as other Disney “I Want” Songs, and you won’t be far off at all.

“Love is an Open Door” is a really lovely love-song duet, and in a different film, could easily be the one that everyone will remember at the movie’s end. The opening and closing of doors is a recurring theme in Frozen, and when the song plays, it is easy to see how Anna can be swept away by her handsome prince.

Incidentally, although we’re past the point where this should be surprising, Kristin Bell has quite a lovely singing voice, and she’s really fun to listen to throughout.

But the breakout hit song of Frozen is, without question, “Let it Go.”

Anyone familiar with Idina Menzel’s career knows this, but that woman has an amazing voice, with a tone very unlike many others. She isn’t always technically perfect, but she is incredibly talented, and the imperfections in her voice are what allow it to bring so much emotion to what she sings. If you only know her from watching Glee, than this may surprise you. If you’re familiar with her from Rent, then you know she has the pipes, but you may not be prepared for her ability to reach in to your heart and twist. If you know Menzel from listening to Wicked, then you know what I’m talking about.

I was introduced to Idina Menzel’s singing when she performed “Defying Gravity” at the 2004 Tony Awards, and fell in love, rushing out to purchase the soundtrack. Although I love the entire show, “Defying Gravity” was my favorite feminine power ballad of all time, and remains a regular on my iPod.

“Let It Go” is better.

The song is already listed on Disney’s “For Your Consideration” website for Best Original Song, and if there is any justice, it will be nominated, and Idina Menzel will sing it at the Oscars. But just as fortunate, that means that Disney has put the song up on the site for you to listen to. I implore you to do so. Here’s a link.

frozen_svenThe Good

Really strong story, great characters, beautiful visuals and incredible music. The additional short “Get A Horse” is also a really nice tribute to the history and the future of Disney animation, although I’m unsure if it will work in 2D.

The Bad

Disney may be marketing this film entirely wrong, and there will be plenty of fans of the classic fairytale who are disappointed with the changes (but aren’t there always? I’m pretty sure that “Princess and the Frog” didn’t involve New Orleans or jazz music or a talking alligator or a princess who becomes an amphibian either.)

The Ugly

Even though I didn’t end up hating him as much as I expected to, I’d be entirely satisfied to see a cut of this film that didn’t involve Olaf.

Final Thoughts

Assuming that people come to see it despite less-than-adequate marketing, Disney has another hit on their hands with Frozen. It is easy to see the last four Princess films from Disney as marking a new Renaissance. Princess and the Frog started it off strong, Tangled has been about as perfect a modern fairy tale as I could have imagined, and Brave gave us the first Disney Princess from an original tale who doesn’t do it all for love.

Frozen is as strong a film as any of them, and one that I cannot wait to go see again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Let It Go” again.