Frozen Mentors

So, this post is a little late, but I work in a mall where a particular song plays six million times a day, and six year old girls, and high school students of both sexes sing along at the top of their lungs. You know what I’m talking about. I guess I’m slow. But I’m still thinking about it.

After a frenzy of giddy, hyperbolic approval from critics and viewers, articles digging a little deeper into Frozen started appearing in my news feed. They tended to be a bit reactionary in tone; hyperbole still reigned. Many of them had good points, under the exaggeration. The discussion went back and forth: BEST MOVIE EVER! vs. DECEPTIVELY PROGRESSIVE DRIVEL! It has been very interesting to watch our culture digest this latest offering from our family entertainment giant. I’d like to add my own little observation about what Frozen means to our culture, and especially to my generation.

I was born in the late eighties, and I remember going to see The Little Mermaid for the first time (and several times after that, and then getting my parents to buy a VCR just so I could have the VHS and watch it whenever I wanted). My early childhood was studded with Disney movies that make up something of a second golden age for the studio. They are classics; unparalleled until Pixar. Many of them are fairy tales.

Much has been written on what a fairy tale is and its purpose in the development of our imaginations and our moral sense. See Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, and pretty much any of my other favorite authors. These tales are full of archetypes and metaphors that form the way we see the world.

Frozen breaks some of these conventions in very important ways. There is lots of talk about whether or not Frozen is a convention breaker, and whether or not that’s a good thing. But I want to point out one convention that was broken as representative of a pattern that is relevant to people who grew up with the more classic fairy tales of the early nineties.

Arial has Sebastian, the crab composer who is initially a loyal servant of her father, but eventually makes the choice to support and guide Arial, instead of serving her bigoted father.
The Beast has Belle to guide and help him become the person he was meant to be.
Simba has Rafiki. Even Aladdin has the Genie telling him to be himself.

A mentor is a very important archetype. They might walk with the protagonist every step of the way and have their own moral dilemmas and conflicts (like Sebastian). Their visible struggle is a good example to the protagonist and strengthens them for their own battles. Or they might say a few words at a crucial moment that change the course of the story (like Rafiki). They are often older and wiser and we are cued to trust their wisdom. When a character ignores them, we are anxious; when they follow a mentor’s advice, we are at peace.

Frozen has two sets of mentor characters: the parents of Elsa and Anna, and the trolls. It is clear that their parents love the two girls, and we are given all the right cues to trust the mystic wisdom of the trolls. They represent both the Sebastian and the Rafiki types. They both fail utterly. Elsa’s life is set on a path to destruction by the advice of the trolls, and she is psychologically damaged by her parents constant “help” in following the trolls advice.

I am personally ticked off at both of them because if they hadn’t messed Elsa’s life up, she wouldn’t have had to sing that vapid song.

The trolls advice was bad. The parents were completely motivated by fear, and their arrogance blinded them to their perfect incompetence to help their children. They didn’t deal with their own fears, but transferred them to their elder daughter. This video made me feel much better about it. That was the mentor Elsa needed.

A further word about the trolls. They are jerks. The song where they completely ignore the agency of Anna, and all conventional wisdom on which they were supposed to be experts, destroys all the mystery that built up their claim, and cued us in to their status as mystic mentor characters. Kristoff says they taught him that you shouldn’t get engaged to someone you just met. And then they try to marry him to someone he just met without consent from either Anna or Kristoff. Clearly they have issues with the practical vs the theoretical. They are hypocrites and borderline evil. Their one redeeming character is that they weren’t completely lying about the cure to the curse being an act of true love. They merely led Anna to believe that true loves kiss is the only qualified candidate for that act. Good thing she tries something else (which is, in my opinion, the redeeming moment for the whole movie. It would have been terrible if true loves kiss was what broke the spell).

I think us millennials feel a little betrayed by our mentors. A lot of the advice we were given was bad (see this post from last week) and then we were blamed for following it. Our mentors seemed wise and loving, but they ended up being hypocrites, unwilling to solve their own problems so that they could help us properly. Now we have to figure out what to do with our lives in the mess that is left around us and inside us.

It turns out that Elsa and Anna have to figure out their lives for themselves. They end up knowing better then their mentors. So do lots of young protagonists in stories lately. Harry Potter easily has better moral judgement than Sirius Black, or even Dumbledore sometimes. Percy Jackson has to teach the gods how to be decent parents. This is undeniably a travesty in the story. It echos the voices of lots of people my age asking “Why weren’t we prepared to live in this world? Why were so many of the things we were taught about life lies? Why do we have to figure out so many things for ourselves, and teach them to our parents?”

Luckily for Anna, Elsa, and my generation, there is one mentor in this story who is true to his role. He follows the old tradition notable in Shakespeare: He is the fool. I am referring, of course, to Olaf the snowman. He is the comic character. I thought that I would be annoyed by him. He is cute, and kind of dumb, and quite charming, in a silly sort of way. But he saves the story. He has the definition of love that sets Anna and Elsa free. He is no hypocrite like the trolls. He lives that definition of love by melting to keep Anna warm while he gives her this crucial piece of advice that sets her life back on a safe course. The wisdom of the fool saves the story.

My generation needs to find Olaf. And those of us who have found him need to point him out to our friends. He is walking beside us. He is a fool that the world laughs at and hates (they find him annoying at best). He is carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns.

Karen Mannino can’t think of facts about herself that are both true and interesting. She needs to let it go.

Advertisements

Legolas is a Sissy

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, February 26

I’m not exactly what you would call a fan of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. While the movie is a technological marvel, bringing to life the scenes of my favorite children’s story in unprecedented CGI glory, I found it wanting. In fact, I was nearly as disappointed with the second Hobbit film as I was with The Last Airbender in 2010, a movie so terrible that even the stones cry out against it.

Shamalan

The second Hobbit movie departs drastically from the book upon which it is based. Such liberties could be justified except that they made the story worse, not better. As a result, the movie fails even to stand on its own even when not compared to Tolkien’s original fairy tale. Despite big names, big money, and big special effects the movie was just . . . bad. I won’t bother analyzing every scene but for a more in-depth look at the sheer stupidity plaguing this movie, John C. Wright offers a more thorough and comedic review (though still far from comprehensive, trust me).

Perhaps The Hobbit’s greatest failure was its disregard for the characters whom the movie was supposedly about. Instead, this movie was not about the characters involved but about cool action scenes and pretty CGI light shows. The characters were filler. This was made very clear by the fact that the characters did not behave like unique individuals with personal motivations, weaknesses, histories, or personalities. Instead their actions were erratic, nonsensical and sometimes even blatantly undermining of their own goals. These actions were meant to advance the plot. Instead of using the challenges presented in the story to develop the characters, the characters were used to develop outlandishly over the top action scenes.

“The Hobbit” has a name but we forgot it . . . and we forgot to put him on our poster.

Almost any character from the book (and many not from the book) can be used as an example. The elf king Thranduil kills a cooperative hostage after promising him freedom. Gandalf the wise mentor enters Dol Guldur, alone, despite knowing beforehand that its a trap. Thorin gives up on his quest moments after sunset despite having spent his entire life trying to reach this point. The dragon Smaug , despite being able to massacre an entire dwarf army with tremendous ease, fails to harm even a single dwarf in a lengthy chase through the mountain; then, after he has been sufficiently harassed he learns an important lesson about sharing and decides to spare the burglar and his entourage.

And then there’s Legolas. I couldn’t help but feel especially disappointed in his character because, unlike the dwarves, Bilbo, or even Gandalf himself, Legolas is depicted as a superhero who fails at nothing. The dwarves get the crap beaten out of them, Bilbo is scared as heck and Gandalf gets overpowered by the Necromancer. Legolas, however, is of such impossible skill and precision as to put his future Lord of the Rings self to shame. Maybe the immortal elf just lost his edge in his old age.

Legolas sees a lot of action, sniping orcs with machine gun speeds while simultaneously doing gymnastics on dwarves’ heads as they careen down white rapids. I am not embellishing. In fact, if you’ve seen the movie then you know that, if anything, I understate the scene in question. There is no doubt about it, Legolas is a badass.

Which only serves to make his actions later on all the more baffling. In Laketown, Legolas and Kate from Lost save Kili, Fili, and Bofur from assassin orcs after they had been left behind by Thorin (don’t ask). After an intense close combat scene between Legolas and Bolg, the orc lieutenant, Bolg flees. The only escape route is a long, exposed boardwalk over the lake to the shore. Legolas, the legendary elvish archer, measures the shot and, with the precision of a sniper, shoots him down with ease. Just kidding, he does nothing. After previously establishing that Legolas is Hawkeye except awesome, we now learn that apparently the reason Legolas never misses is because he never takes a shot he thinks he might not make. The sad truth is that Jackson’s Legolas is a sissy. He doesn’t even try to shoot his new orc nemesis despite already establishing himself earlier in the film as an archery god. He would rather give up than try and fail. Which is unfortunate because characters who don’t fail are boring – but characters who possess superpowers and don’t use them because the prospect of failure makes them pee their pants are downright pathetic.

I may be an add-in involved in a ham-fisted love triangle concocted by numbskull writers but at least I would have taken the shot.

Of course, no review of The Desolation of Smaug would be complete without mentioning my wife’s favorite scene in which Thorin body surfs a molten river of gold in a wheelbarrow. He is not incinerated by flash burns from the molten metal, his cart does not sink, melt or even get uncomfortably warm and he doesn’t even seem to break a sweat. I take no issue with suspension of belief but some things are too much to bear. The Desolation of Smaug offers slop dressed with expensive eye candy when I would have settled for meat and potatoes. Now excuse me while I go re-watch The Hobbit, and I mean the good one.

Apparently dwarves are impervious to fire but somehow they forgot that so are dragons.

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.

Movie Review: Gravity

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, October 16

At its peak, going to the movies should be a spiritual experience because Drama is meant to pierce us, evoke our deepest human emotions, and reveal Truth. Such achievement in cinema today is rare but Gravity is one such cinematic experience that meets the mark.

Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, who is a medical engineer on her first trip to space to equip the Hubble Telescope with some new gadgets. However, things quickly go wrong and the space mission’s crew is thrown into chaos as a Marvin the Martian figurine helplessly watches.

Gravity is a masterwork of film economy; in many ways it is defined by what is absent. It lacks the excess of explosions, CGI effects and sex scenes used as filler by other movies for cheap thrills. That’s not to say that the movie lacks CGI, which is used in abundance, but every shot is so purposeful and so artfully portrayed that the movie’s constant special effects possess an air of precious scarcity. In the silence of space events seem subdued as the seemingly infinite emptiness presses in.

[Warning: spoilers]

That sense of infinity does not go unnoticed by Gravity’s characters. Dr. Ryan is overwhelmed by the infinite emptiness that surrounds her as she tries to survive and, naturally, when forced to look the infinite universe and the prospect of her own death in the face her mind ultimately turns to God. After her own unwitting prayer of sorts, Dr. Ryan surrenders herself to the infinite space around her and the inevitability of her own death – only to be rescued by a guardian angel who’s already saved her once before. Surrender quickly grows into hope for salvation. Resolved to the prospect of her own death but wanting to live, Dr. Ryan fights to survive as an icon of St. Christopher and a smiling Buddha watch over her.

Gravity beautifully employs the stark poverty of space to turn our minds towards what is important in life. Stripped of things and schedules and surrounded by the constant real danger posed by the infinite, the value of every human life becomes abundantly clear and its loss quite real. This reorientation towards what really matters culminates when Sandra Bullock’s character, back on Earth and surrounded by what seems an overabundance of life in contrast with the dead emptiness we just left, grasps of a handful of mud in her hand and whispers “thank you” to God.

Director Alfonso Cuarón, when talking about the movie, speaks of Gravity’s imagery of finding new knowledge of oneself, rebirth, and the evolution of Man. However, despite these more secular meanings the movie cannot seem to help but display an implicit yet constant religious message. Hope, grace, providence, prayer, life after death, self-sacrifice, and thanksgiving to God are just some of the elements present in Gravity. More profound is the movie’s portrayal of all of these aspects as innately human. Far from being arbitrary beliefs of an antiquated order, Gravity makes it clear that religion is ingrained deep into the core of the human spirit, hiding, and all we have to do is strip away the superficialities in life to find it.

Visually stunning, thrilling throughout, and possessing deeper symbolism and meaning, Gravity is a cinematic achievement and a must-see.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.