Sunday, February 17, 2013

Disney's Next Film: Taking a Disappointing Turn?

After many, many years in production, Disney is finally planning to release their adaptation of The Snow Queen this November. Well, ....sort of. The was film originally set to be released as early as 2002 and was meant to follow the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale fairly loyally (by Disney standards anyway). It seemed like an excellent choice, especially considering that The Little Mermaid was also a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The Snow Queen's plot is about a young girl, Gerda, who must brave dangers to save her friend, Kai, from the elusive and cold-hearted Snow Queen. The story has been adapted several times, most famously by the Russian animated feature which was released in 1957. (More can be read about that version here.)

Illustrations from the original tale by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. 

The Disney version of The Snow Queen has had such a troubled history likely due to the fact that the film entered production right after The Disney Renaissance had ended. Michael Eisner was very harsh and likely thought that this sort of fairytale film would not be successful. Many of the lackluster films produced when he was CEO were attempts to be more 'modern', but lacked the warmth and appeal of earlier Disney films (i.e. Dinosaur, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Chicken Little).

Eisner was eventually replaced by Bob Igner and production on The Snow Queen began again. However, the project was drastically altered. Following the new popular trend of Hollywood films, the film was given an unimaginative and cliche one-word title, Frozen. Is Hollywood implying that American audiences are so dense that that they can remember movies with names such as Hop (2011), Wanted (2008), Taken (2008), and Epic (2013)? Heck, if the executives are that lazy, they should just pitch their next film as 'Careless'. This trend has affected Disney's adaptation of Rapunzel was well. Since The Princess and the Frog 'underperformed', Disney figured that they should rename their Rupunzel movie Tangled, so that it would be a 'catchy' and 'easier to remember'.

But renaming the film Frozen is the least of the concerns. The film's plot has been changed so much that it is not even The Snow Queen anymore. Disney should try to experiment with new ideas and storylines (in fact it would be good for the company to do it more often!), but when they take a classic tale and turn it into something so generic, it only hurts the company's reputation. Here is the official press release of the plot: 

"Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction."

Frozen sounds exactly like Tangled. So much, in fact Disney might as well rename it 'Tangled on Ice'. The plot is far too familiar and lacks the character development and heart in Anderson's original tale and the 1957 version. Renaming Gerda Anna and making her a princess just seems like a cash-grab to sell little girls more makeup and Barbie dolls. The proposed character designs for the film also seem very uninspired and look a lot like those from Tangled. Disney just seems to be playing it safe and not being innovative at all. This is particularly disappointing since Disney's recent efforts seem to have been  trying to renew the spirit found in their Renaissance Era films.  

Some lovely character designs for Gerda and Kai by the late and great Herald Seipermann.

And these....are the designs for Anna and Kristoff Disney chose.

Frozen looks just like Tangled.

Here is how Gerda and The Snow Queen looked in the original 1957 film.

Here are some sketches by Seipermann of The Snow Queen.

This is what Disney choose in the end. Not intimidating.... at all!