Friday, January 24, 2020

Green Phoenix - Building Better Backstories III

Frozen (2013 film) poster.jpgLast week I took a long look at Frozen 2 and throughout that review, I felt myself inherently comparing it to its predecessor. This is perfectly natural, as any sequel will be held to the standard set by the previous entries in any series (sometimes to its determent).

But while I was watching Frozen 2 in theaters, that unavoidable comparison brought an interesting thought to my mind. The story of the original Frozen is a fairly strong one, possessing only a single element that I feel is fairly weak and could be improved upon.

With that in mind, I was sitting in the Frozen 2 showing thinking about just how one minor change to the overall film could change the narrative direction of the film, and even improve its thematic and dramatic elements.

Which naturally left me realizing that that would make an excellent article for Building Better Backstories. So let's take another quick look at the Frozen franchise and change one story beat and see whether or not the "new" film is better or worse than the original?

THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS TO THE ORIGINAL FROZEN.

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The Twist of Prince Hans

The plot of Frozen was very well-received when it came out. The attention to true love in terms of familial love was surprisingly unique for a Disney Princess film. But one element which was more neutral in its reception at the time, and only became more of an issue, was the revelation behind the film's villain.

Early in the first act, the audience is introduced to Prince Hans of the Southern Isles. He is a generally likable, if somewhat forgettable, individual who Anna quickly becomes smitten with. He has slightly more personality than your classic Disney prince from the 1940s and 1950s. Hans quickly establishes himself as fairly capable in running the kingdom as Anna deals with Elsa's self-imposed exile, which then puts a deal of conflict for Anna when she also acquires feelings for Kristoff, a local woodsman who helps her find Elsa.

The film builds up to what would seem to be a love triangle between Anna, Kristoff, and Hans; only to, early in the 3rd act, reveal that Hans was actually the bad guy all along. He was manipulating Anna's feelings for him in an effort to usurp the throne. He justifies his actions by explaining that he had no chance of obtaining his own kingdom's throne.

Following this reveal, a character who had spent most of the film being pleasant and kind, even when he wasn't being observed, suddenly makes a complete heel-turn. And this sudden villain reveal has had a massive impact on recent Disney villain as well, as explored by Schaffrillas Productions.
And it was actually this video that really made me consider just how ineffective and unnecessary Hans' turn really was to the overall film and, in several major ways, might actually limit how effective and strong the subversive elements of the film could truly be.

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Hans - The Unnecessary Villain

Frozen was a surprisingly subversive Disney film, especially at the time of its release. I also think that it was this subversive nature that drew so much attention to the film from so many audiences. The film seemed to spend a great deal of its time openly criticizing past Disney archetypes and tropes, to truly hilarious and emotional results.
Image result for hans smiling frozen
Does that look like a villain to you?


But with Hans, it seems like Hans becoming a villain was a sudden and last minute addition to the film. Disney is notorious for their high-quality and fun villains (especially in the 1980s and 1990s), but Hans always gave off a different feel. At one level, I think this is because the core theme and narrative of Frozen doesn't actually require a villain at all, so the addition of one in the third act is rather last minute.

Secondly, this last minute addition robs a villainous Hans of something that is vital to a good Disney villain. The opportunity to relish in their villainy. When you think of the best Disney villains, I'm willing to bet that Hades from Hercules, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective (among many, many others) probably come to mind. And all of these villains just have fun being villains. They sing villain songs, do evil things with a smile on their face, and just exude so much charismatic energy. And Hans just doesn't have the time to do this, which ultimately removes much of the potential impact that a villainous Hans could have.

And while I did state earlier that the core narrative of Frozen doesn't need a villain, as the relationship between Anna and Elsa and Elsa's internal conflict lie at the center of the story, Frozen does actually set up a form of outside antagonist in the Duke of Weselton. The Duke isn't a major threat, but could easily represent a force which magnifies the running time-limit of saving Anna without distracting the narrative like a villainous Hans would do.

Finally, Hans remaining a good guy might actually assist in the overall subversion of Disney cliches, by introducing us to a major male character who started as a romantic interest, but allows them to politely become friends with the main character. At the heart of Anna's story is a discussion of the nature of true love, and while a villainous Hans shows Anna that love can be manipulated, a heroic Hans who questions "true love" with someone he's known for a day might hit that theme even harder.

Which brings us to our new Frozen, with a heroic Hans.

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What if Hans was a Good Guy?

The majority of our new Frozen is going to play out exactly as it did in universe. Anna and Hans have there sing-along, although Hans is more honest in their intentions, as there are several subtle clues to his treachery in the song that will now come off as innocuous. The interactions between Anna and Elsa are all exactly the same and we will even have Elsa getting captured by Hans and the Duke of Weselton's men, although Hans will now object to her being kept in chains until it is reasoned that they have no idea how to stop winter.

The major change will occur when Kristoff brings Anna to the castle in order for Hans to break the spell with "true love's kiss". Rather than having Hans betray Anna and reveal that he was in fact a villain, we will have the two kiss...only for nothing to happen.

Naturally, Anna will be confused and ask if Hans loves her. At which point, Hans can state that he likes her but that he has only really known her for a few days (Fitting into the joke earlier in the film with Kristoff).

Actually, there could even be some fun dialog between the two, making fun of the role of Princes and Princesses as well as "true love".

"Well! Why did you propose to me?"

"Why do you think my family sent a Prince here, to try and marry one of you two?"

We could have fun banter like that, ensuring that Hans is actually likeable and his position is understood. We could have Hans counter Anna's frustration with him asking whether or not she actually loved him. Anna can stammer out whether or not she understands what love his. Hans can reply that she loves her sister.

And then Olaf shows up. We can have some fun with Hans reacting to a living snowman, Olaf's part will remain largely the same. Hans is told about the frozen heart and thinks that maybe Elsa can help with that since both sisters love each other, he then goes to get her.

Olaf and Anna's parts in the film will remain the same, as will Kristoff and Sven's.

Where things change is that while Hans is trying to reach Elsa, the Duke of Weselton's men will move against Elsa, who will have to escape (perhaps alongside Hans).

From there the film will play out almost exactly as it did in the original, now with Hans helping Elsa to escape and Anna and Olaf racing to reach Kristoff. the Duke of Weselton's men can catch up to Elsa and Hans and just as they are about to attack, Anna gets in the way (turning fully to ice and halting the attack).

Then we have Elsa and Anna hug, powers restore, everything work out. Have Kristoff and Hans meet and "pass the torch" as it were.

The film then ends the same, now with Hans leaving as a good friend of the Kingdom of Arendelle. Maybe even give him a love-interest implication towards the end of the film?

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Conclusion

The revelation of Hans villainy was an incredible twist when Frozen first came out. While twist villains were a common occurrence in Pixar films, Disney tended to keep to the traditional moustache-twirlers that relished in the evilness. Hans was in many ways a game-changer, but that change also had some negative consequences, as Schfrillas Productions described.

What's more, a villainous Hans also hurt the overall theme and subversive nature of the film, at least more so than a heroic Hans would have. It is with this in mind that I built our alternative Frozen movie.

If you guys enjoyed this hypothetical film, please feel free to contact me on Twitter @TheBronyCritic with other suggestions for Building Better Backstories.

Next week, we take a trip away from movies to explore yet another alternate history story, though this one is not read by book; but by blog.

Next Friday, we will take a peek at A More Perfect Union.

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