So, this friday we had family friday (fredagsmys) and saw Frozen. Being swedish, ie. scandinavian, this movie was extra interesting to me. I couldn’t see it unprejudiced since I follow a few animators on tumblrs who’s not infatuated with it, but I’d decided to give it an honest chance.
So? What’s the verdict?
Well, this was one of those movies where discrepancies hits you in the eye like the whip from a rubberband and overshadows the adaptation. On the other hand my son loves it, and have seen it two more times this weekend. So I’m going to start with the snark and then add some annotations for nuance.
Here’s what I learned:
- When Disney says ”scandinavian” they mean Norway with some swedish and danish seasoning.
- Snow is a fluffy decoration that’s not particularly cold.
- You can speedread runes.
- There’s no problem at all in asking trolls for advice in magical matters.
- If a sudden snowfall strikes in the summer noone in scandinavia have access to winter clothes or the wit to find a warm place. Instead they relay on strangers to hand them blankets.
- The royal family prefers farm horses.
- When someone goes out in the snow in a ballgown and a cape this person doesn’t freeze at all unless she falls into a river and her clothes freezes on her body.
- Becoming ”bergtagen”, ie. kidnapped by the trolls, is a cute and cuddly event that gives you a whole new family with friendly trolls, and doesn’t at all affect your mental health.
- Oh look! She’s buying winter clothes! … Where did she get the money? Apparently a princess who spent most of her time locked in a castle with minimal staff carries a purse with money to a coronation feast. Did they have a pay-for-your-drinks bar there?
- My God! That was spot on! Honestly spot on! Disney actually nailed something!!!
- Oh well… I’m willing to give Elsa a free pass in this one, since she’s got ice powers, but isn’t a glittery barsinging dress a bit cold for an ice castle, on top of a mountain, in a snowstorm?
- Reindeers eat carrots and are sturdy enough to pull a farmsled.
- A young man from the sami people look like a norwegian farmer ready to sing an ode to lutefisk.
- I need to look up where the animation studios of Disney are situated. It’s clearly somewhere far away from snow.
- If you have the bare bones of a story, and are in the middle of reworking the source material, you don’t need to do anything more. Just rush through the process and get an Oscar anyway. Works if you’re Disney.
Point 1. Say Norway, please. The country is well worth it, and that’s what you’re after. Let me give you a handy mini chart
Norway: Mountains, fiords, elaborate decorative paintings on the houses and fantastic embroideries on the clothes. Trolls are mountain dwellers.
Sweden: Vast forests, cuddly archipelagoes, red wooden cottages and striped clothes. Trolls are forest dwellers.
Denmark: Flatland and vast farming lands, white houses with brown beams and straw roofs (pass on the clothes and the trolls – I have no idea…)
Point 2, 5, 7, 11 and 14. I know I’m harping on it, but the winter cold in Norway and Sweden is nothing to be toyed with. Anna spends several hours out in a temperature where she would’ve frozen to death within one hour, and wades through snow banks that would’ve made her exhausted in half an hour (that’s when people people are tempted to sit down and makes things worse since they are wet from sweat and gets colder, and they’re not getting anywhere before the colds stiffen the limbs). Even if the cloak she’s wearing is made of wool it’s far too thin to provide enough protection. Anyone who have grown up in this climate learns to dress accordingly from the start and knows where the winter clothes are in case of a sudden backlash (yes, we’ve had snowstorms in May). Most of us also know that if you stay cold long enough your senses flips; you start to feel hot and undress, speeding up the cooling of the body – the cold here is nasty and dangerous.
Point 3. Runes are one of the few sorts of letters that is harder to read than to write. I used to pass notes in runes during lectures, and even when I was most fluent I had to take a moment to decode the text. But runes was used, at least in Sweden, up untill the nineteenth century, so the document is not entirely improbable – if the right kind of runes are used (the runic alphabet have changed several times).
Point 4 and 8. I read H.C. Andersen’s the Snow Queen when I was a kid and didn’t like it much. I have a dim recollection of a girl wading through oodles of snow and hardships for a boy that clearly didn’t deserve it. A pity now, since I have no idea if trolls played any crucial role in the original story. The thing with trolls is that they have only been percieved of as benevolent nature creatures the last hundred years. Before that they where perpetual outsiders and dangerous monsters. A person who became kidnapped by trolls came back mentally changed to the worse, and the trolls were known to eat children (among other things). Even if the relation between trolls and humans were multifaced, with intermarriages and mutual help, the endline was that trolls were ugly and dangerous. That a scandinavian king, in the timeframe Frozen is set, would ask the trolls for help is as probable as George W Bush asking al Qaeda for medical advice.
Point 6 and 9. Royalty bows heavily to noblesse oblige, even in Sweden and Norway where the royals are relatively easygoing. A crucial part of this is to be luxuriously stylish. Anna wouldn’t need to carry money on the coronation feast, since this is an event where this is demonstrated to a tee. At least the main guests would be given everything for free, including every drink wished for – anything else would be tacky. The jewellery Anna wears during the occasion is, if she is royal, family heirloom of a magnitude that she doesn’t pawn them away – they may even be state owned.
The horses Anna and other royals a riding are fjord horses, a sturdy norwegian breed used for farming. Today, and perhaps even in the timeframe for Frozen (a time of budding nationalism), the norwegian royal family could own a few. One of the royal roles is to guard nation heirloom, be it horse breeds or christmas wurst making. But, since people expect luxury, they’d more likely use flashy horses in their normal life, like arabs or lipizzans (the swedish crown princess was given two lipizzans at her birth) – and especially so at the crucial event of a coronation. Having the royals riding fjord horses is a bit like composing an US presidential cortege with only John Deere tractors.
Point 10. So, what was it Disney nailed? Well, it was the fact that Kristoff thought the merchandiser was a ”bloodsucker” (I saw the version dubbed to swedish). The sami memory of the travelling tradesmen who bought their stuff is still putrid. I don’t know if a norwegian would say the same, but I felt the other details put in the movie to give local colour were slightly off – ”close but no cigarr” if you like. I can’t decide if this is because of artistic license, or if the making of the movie was so rushed the team had to relay on Hollywood stereotypes. Food for thought, though, that the only thing completely nailed is in a sidenote.
Point 12. I can’t say for sure that reindeers don’t eat carrots, because their dietary habits are close to the horses’. But the reindeer Sven acts like horse the entire movie, as if the team put antlers on him in the last minute, and he pulls a heavy sled as if it was nothing. Real raindeers are small and slenderbuilt. They do pull things for humans, but the sami geres (swedish: ackja) are a boatshaped tobogan only big enough to hold one man or the same weight in stuff – that’s the maximum.
Point 13. The generic perception of a sami is a slenderbuilt person with black hair, pale skin, thin nose and almondshaped, dark eyes. There are individual variations, and I’m quite sure there are blond samis as well as heavy built ones (Börje Salming, a famous swedish hockey player, is sami). But if you want to portray a sami you can’t just dress anyone in sami clothes and blame the rest on variation, you have to hit at least a few of the points above. Kristoff hits none of them; he’s blond, heavybuilt, have round eyes and a thick nose. I’m not even sure the team bothered to look up any samis for reference. Looks more like a character who was norwegian from the start got sami clothes at the same time Sven got his antlers.
Point 15. My son loves this movie, and for my own part I can say I don’t think it’s that bad either. But it’s not the Disney standard I’m used to, and definately not the standard I expect from a movie that’s won an Oscar. The entire movie feels like a scribble.
The animators have recieved a lot of critique over this, and I can’t add something along those lines (there are far better voices who do). So here’s my subjective and somewhat unfounded theory on what happened: the trolls of the economical department (this is a Dilbert reference btw), panicking over the bad results of ”the Princess and the Frog” bursts into the offices of the animation team
Trolls: We need a blockbuster! We need a blockbuster! We need a blockbuster NOW! Start animating!
Team: But… we’re in the middle of storyboarding. There are so many issues we haven’t worked out yet…
Trolls: Irrellevant! Just use what you got!
Team: But… we haven’t decided on the bad guy yet. It’s kind of a tie between the king, the prince, the trolls or the farmer boy.
Trolls: Pick one and get over with it! We need cash! And put in some people of colour! The critics love people of colour!
Team: If you want us to speed up we have to edit out some characters.
Trolls: Mash some together then! It’s computers, right! It’s not that hard; put some clothes here, cut and paste there… DO WE NEED TO TELL YOU HOW TO DO YOUR JOB TOO?
Trolls: Well then; GIVE US OUR BLOCKBUSTER!!!
Team: Yes, yes! Sheeesh, there’s no need to shout…
Trolls: You said trolls were the bad guys!
Team: No, we said it was a tie between…
Trolls: Make the trolls cute and cuddly. Can’t have trolls as the bad guys!
Team (muttering): Gee, wonder why you say that…