The Dreamworks-ification of Disney

My girlfriend is addicted to Frozen right now. Tumblr is ablaze with Olaf gifs. The Blogosphere is blorgasming over how progressive and feminist this movie is. It has more gold statues than the lovechild of Donald Trump and Scrooge McDuck. This seems like exactly my kind of movie.

I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen it. Because Disney’s marketing department has done its best to convince me I’ll be watching Shrek on Ice.

Wacky!

Let’s pretend I’ve never seen a movie before. What assumptions can I draw from this poster? Well, the film seems to take place on a frosted-over car windshield. It has at least five characters, all of whom are having just the best time. The guy on the far left looks like the face I always picked in Guess Who? because it was the most nondescript. The snowman thing looks punchably adorable, holding his head up to better get a view at the unimpressive logo that only he seems able to see. The closest thing we have to conflict in this poster is that one girl’s raised eyebrow, something Dreamworks has done its best to associate with “sassy” in our minds.

Sassy!

Hell, I can’t even see the character models in that Frozen poster (Frozter?). For all I know this movie could be about severed heads. I’m unimpressed is my point.

Oh well, so the poster’s lazy and crap. Maybe the trailer could offer us something better.

Hmm. Ruthlessly upbeat music, near absence of conflict, emphasis on slapstick non-human comic relief. Are they trying to keep me away from this film?

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for the Disney formula same as the next guy. But this doesn’t feel like a Disney film. Hell, it doesn’t even feel like a film. It feels like a snow-based sitcom involving a princess discovering talking snow people. This trailer feels like a cartoon, and I absolutely mean that in a bad way.

There’s a technique studios use in trailers aimed for families, I call it a “record scratch moment”. It’s where the music cuts out for a second and everything pauses so a character can deliver a wacky line. There’s nine of them in this trailer. Nine record scratch moments in two and a half minutes. Extrapolating from that, I have to conclude this film is at least 60% snow jokes, and I got enough of those from Batman & Robin to last me til the heat death of the universe, thank you very much.

Let’s take a moment to compare the previous trailer to this one for Miazaki’s The Wind Rises. See if you can spot the differences. They’re subtle but they’re there.

brb. crying.

That trailer isn’t a trailer. That trailer is an event. And Disney’s ultra-progressive new millenium hyper-empowered love song to women has to focus on a structurally unstable talking snowman to keep anyone interested.

Why is this happening? Well, in 2000, the newly minted Dreamworks Animation hit upon a formula so perfect they haven’t deviated one iota from the recipe since. Just take a well-rendered fantasy setting, add a schlubby, ineffectual everyman protagonist, sprinkle liberally with anachronisms and garnish with sass. Bam! How to Train Your Kung Fu Shrek in Madagascar was born.

The Disney formula is, well, formulaic, but historically it’s involved at least a passing resemblance to depth. The Lion King had us watch a young child desperately try to snuggle his father’s corpse back to life. Heavy shit can happen in Disneyland. Dreamworks, on the other hand, will usually have a few crying scenes in between the fart jokes and references to American Idol. In Dreamworksville, everything is okay for everyone ever because nothing matters enough to actually hurt anyone. If the narrative demands that someone die, they’ll cleanse our palette with a good record scratch moment so the kids don’t cry too hard.

And now Disney wants to suckle at the Shrek teat (apologies for the visual). It’s the same problem I saw in Tangled. The very first line of the movie is “This is the story of how I died…but it’s not all bad!” Oh good. I was worried I’d have to give two shits about you for a second. Thank goodness I can focus on the whiskey I snuck into the theater instead.

Oh look, he’s RAISING HIS FUCKING EYEBROW.

This is especially insulting when we realize that it really is just here in America that Disney decided to market Frozen  as a piece of fluff. Look at these French posters.

Based on these, I can conclude this film is about some sort of magical snow queen who may or may not be benign, living in an impossible ice fortress in a gorgeously drawn Paramount logo. I can’t see her face, I don’t know her intentions, I don’t know if that snowflake Hadouken in the air is going to illuminate the heavens or lay waste to God’s green earth. But now I’m eager to find out.

Disney, please, you build beautiful worlds full of diverse characters. We want to live there for a bit. If I wanted to watch Shrek I’d watch Shrek.

– John Keefe

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