Disclaimer: This is an argument against Frozen in favor of Tangled. Yes, I enjoyed both films. Yes, I liked Frozen. Is everything I’m saying going to apply to everyone? Of course not, but I think some people will agree with me, which is why I brought these points to life.
The first time I saw Frozen I was deeply disappointed and walked out of the theater embarrassed I had made my date sit through it. My friends and I spent quite a while passionately discussing its many short-comings, particularly in the emotion department.
Then the reviews came out…. Wow, did we miss something!?
I waited a while before seeing it again, and I will admit I liked it much better the second time, but it in no way pushed its way into my top 5, nor even my top 10. So, why do I think Tangled is such a superior film? Allow me to explain my thought process. No one has to agree with me, but I have a feeling some might…
Let’s begin at the beginning:
I am not ashamed to admit that I much prefer Frozen’s beautiful opening ice cutting sequence to Tangled’s overplayed “Once Upon a Time” intro, but here’s the issue: That glorious opening scene had me bouncing in my seat in anticipation of a film that was equally as visually stunning and culturally significant. Buuut, I never got this. Not even close. I got a cute little story filled with weak characters that I never really came to care about, particularly Elsa. (More on this later).
Cartoons though they may be, audiences can only suspend their beliefs so much in this day and age. Compare Tim Burton’s Batman films to Christopher Nolan’s. Yes it’s a superhero in a cape, but Nolan makes it seem like Batman could actually exist in the real world.
What’s my point? Tangled illustrates to us immediately why Rapunzel has special powers, showing us how her mother drank a brew made from a magic, golden, life-giving flower. Disney felt it was important to divulge this information to viewers, so why didn’t they feel the same way about Elsa’s powers? Why do they exist? Why does no one else in the family or on the earth suffer from this and why do these trolls know so much about it? These questions still haunt me.
In Tangled, We know Rapunzel and Mother Gothel have had a fairly pleasant life in the tower for 18 years. Other than being bored, Rapunzel is bubbly, healthy and very much in love with her mother. We also know that Rapunzel’s parents are devastated by her loss, so much so that they lead the entire kingdom in a floating lantern ceremony every year on her birthday in hopes that she will return to them. When the story actually begins, they have been doing this same thing for 18 years.
What do we know about Anna and Elsa’s parents? We know they are alive, they are royalty, they have two daughters, and they have knowledge of trolls. We know their idea of being supportive of Elsa is to ask her to conceal and not feel for the rest of her life. We know they seem to have said nothing to poor Anna explaining why Elsa can’t build a snowman, not even a white lie. We know that they leave the kingdom one day for an unknown reason and die on a sinking ship. That’s about it. We really can’t even be sure they were particularly good people or parents.
Look at Rapunzel’s father in the opening scene of Tangled when his wife is dying. The expression of sheer terror in his eyes in tangible. Watch the scene when they lift the lantern into the sky on Rapunzel’s 18th birthday. Again, her father’s face is utterly devastated. The mother, her eyes so sympathetic and sad, sees this look as she straightens his medallion and gingerly touches his face. So much is said in this 10 second wordless exchange it’s simply incredible. In fact, Rapunzel’s parents do not utter a single word in the entire film and yet they manage to leave a lasting impression.
When Elsa and Anna’s parents died I didn’t feel so much as a flutter in my stomach. There was certainly no Bambi or Lion King moment there. Perhaps, to many people, this was a relief, but I am a believer that those heartbreaking scenes exist for a reason and that reason is to emotionally involve viewers in the story. Empathy is a powerful tool for a film to work with, and one that helps them stay in people hearts forever. (Up, anyone?)
Another emotional wordless encounter in Tangled occurs when Rapunzel finally returns to her parents. Her mother examines her, not quite ready to believe the impossible had actually happened, and then tearfully embraces her, joined soon after by her father. Naturally Anna and Elsa cannot be reunited with their parents, but there is no equivalent scene to match this. Anna and Elsa hugging after Anna’s selfless act is the resolution we’re looking for as an audience, but it does not give off an emotional impact. It doesn’t really do anything for the viewer except wrap things up.
Let’s talk about sidekicks for a moment. Everybody knows that Anna and Elsa are practically twins of Rapunzel (don’t even get me started) but what about Maximus and Sven? They may not look exactly alike, but aside from the fact that Maximus is more driven and intelligent, you’ve got to admit they share very similar personalities. I love that Kristoff provides a funny human voice for Sven. This was a definite check plus for Frozen in my book. However, on the same token, I love how Maximus has an equal amount of personality to a speaking character without any kind of voice at all. He begins as a villain (or rather a good guy that we are meant to view as a villain since the thief is our hero) chasing Flynn Rider through various near-death experiences. His loyalty to his job never falters until the sweet, innocent Rapunzel bargains with him for a day off. Maximus’ impact on the film is so great that he could potentially have ended the entire movie in the first scene by capturing Flynn and sending him to prison. Though lovable, I don’t think Sven could have altered the plot much at all.
Frozen does have Olaf, an equivalent of which Tangled lacks. When I saw the previews for Frozen I expected to hate Olaf, but instead he became one of my favorite characters. His song, “In Summer” is a comical masterpiece and I am happy to give him credit as a great comic-relief sidekick. So, why am I including him in this argument if this is supposed to be pro-Tangled? Because Tangled stands proud and tall without an extra “Olaf” character. In other words: Tangled didn’t need him the way Frozen desperately did.
And now let’s move on to villains. Did Frozen have any? Oh yeah, the hot guy that Anna almost married. How could I forget? Easily. I remember watching the movie the second time around with my roommate. Three quarters of the way through the film when Kristoff and Anna are racing to get her kiss from whatshisname (I honestly don’t recall at the moment) she said, ”Oh, now I remember.” It took her that long to even remember that Hans was the villain! (I seriously just Googled his name because it was lost to me. He’s just not memorable…) When you find out he’s actually a bad man you gasp and you think, well-played Disney. But he doesn’t just go “bad”. He goes slimy, black-hearted evil. (I’d like to as you to pardon this run-on sentence in advance:) We’re talking about a character who goes from flouncing around in “Love is an Open Door” and handing out blankets to freezing people to a character who delivers a greedy speech and a sinister laugh while pouring water on the fire in front of a freezing, dying Anna without so much as a blink! What? Huh? What? How is anyone supposed to buy this? We need more! There’s not enough! I am left so unsatisfied with this plot twist. What’s his motivation? He has a zillion brothers and will never get to sit on a throne? So what!— Is this enough to make you a cold-blooded murderer?
Enter Mother Gothel. She’s genius. Like Hans, she’s fairly attractive, especially for a villain. Rapunzel loves her mother and has no idea she is a bad woman. This much is akin to Frozen, but that’s where the similarities end. One might argue that Frozen’s bait-and-switch was a clever idea, but the beauty of Tangled’s villain is the constant question of our loyalties. Unlike Frozen, the audience knows Mother Gothel is evil from the moment the film starts, and yet we can clearly see that she has raised Rapunzel well. As I mentioned earlier, Rapunzel is healthy, happy, plucky, educated, loyal and loving to her mother. Mother Gothel, aside from the obvious, has been a good parent to Rapunzel, and there are moments when you actually believe she loves her. (Softly: “I love you most”.) Every once in a while, for some twisted reason, you might even think “Oh, Gothel actually has a point.” THIS is the real clever idea. A villain you are aware of, but feel for regardless; a villain who you almost start to like until, “YOU ARE NOT LEAVING THIS TOWER EVER!” And pow! You are reminded of what you’re dealing with. That little moment after Mother Gothel shouts this when you see Rapunzel’s fingers lift from the closet handle is just amazing. In such a tiny gesture you witness a major plot turn; you witness a decision being made that will change everyone’s life forever.
Tangled is filled with tiny moments like this that steal the show, but of course it also has one big moment that everyone remembers. The lanterns. Breathtaking imagery, enchanting orchestral accompaniment (that Spanish guitar intro when the King and Queen step onto the balcony that melts into a burst of orchestra, gasp!). Then comes the moment when Rapunzel, who has been quietly dropping flowers in the water with Flynn, sees the lanterns for the first time. She panics and trips over herself to get a better view and then sinks into her glory. You can see that for one shining moment nothing else in the world matters but those lanterns… And then suddenly Flynn matters.
Frozen has only one comparably visual stunning scene and that is during Elsa’s “Let it Go” song in which she creates a palace of ice. Is the imagery beautiful? Yes. Is the song good? Yes. Do I feel emotionally moved when the scene is over? Mm, not really. I mean, I may have a sudden rush of “girl power” feelings come over me, but honestly, I don’t care about Elsa. Not only does the film not mold her as particularly likable, but it doesn’t even make me feel sorry for her. I have no emotional attachment to her whatsoever, and this all stems from the points I previously discussed. The explanation of her problem is so vague and her role in the film is actually quite small. We see Anna’s side of the years of loneliness but we never really see Elsa’s. Where is Elsa’s “Part of Your World” moment? Where is Elsa’s “When Will My Life Begin”? Aside from a few flaccid incidents, we, the viewer, don’t experience the struggle with her. We aren’t given many opportunities to feel her pain and loneliness. So when Elsa decides to break free and live alone and sing a powerful song and build a beautiful ice palace all I can think is: Good for you, Elsa. I’m happy for you.
And finally we get to the music. Both films have great music. We are at a draw here. At first I hated Tangled’s opening song, feeling like it was fresh out of an episode of Hannah Montana, but I soon realized it was a perfect fit. Rapunzel is 17. She’s innocent, naïve and inexperienced with a culture-less life that consists of mainly arts and crafts. What other kind of a song should she be singing? Mother Gothel’s Broadwayesque diva tune is hilarious and adds heaps to her character, plus is gets a reprise which I’m always a big fan of. “I’ve Got a Dream” may be a bit kitchy, but what Frozen fan could possibly judge it while “Fixer-Upper” exists. “The Kingdom Dance” has no words, but if you’ve seen the film once or twice I bet you know the tune. That montage, with its exciting crescendo build is one of my favorite parts of the film and it acts as the perfect setup to the following scene (lanterns). And finally, “At Last I See the Light” is a beautiful lover’s duet that illustrates the mood perfectly while being cloaked in breathtaking animation. Not much more needs to be said because no one can deny how good it is. As for the music from Frozen is almost all great, and quite frankly, very fresh in people’s minds, so I don’t see the need to lay it out here. The main problem I have with the music is how hard it tries to be a Broadway score. I found the drama of the music to be a bit over the top and I squirmed at how seriously it took itself. There is a distinct reason why I couldn’t join in in taking the music serious… My lack of emotional attachment. Don’t know what I mean? Think of the difference between Aladdin and Jasmine singing with each other in Aladdin and then put Popeye and Olive Oil in their place. Nothing else changes. Same song, same orchestra, same passion. The difference: you don’t really care what happens to Popeye, and therefore the song becomes comical, not romantic. This film didn’t really make me care about Elsa, so her passionate musical exchanges with her sister seemed almost laughable to me.
Emotions take movies from good to great. They give movies the power to move people and power to be remembered forever. They can influence a plot so much that even the most mundane and overdone story can seem fresh. They turn fictional characters into people that you wish you actually knew and people that you carry with you in your heart when you leave the theater and return to reality. They make music more memorable and visuals more stunning. They make you laugh and cry and sing along and dance. Tangled is littered with emotions. Every moment that isn’t making you laugh is making you think or feel. With Frozen, this simply isn’t the case, and I know I can’t be the only person who feel this way…