All of this PC quibbling about the design of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa is absurd before the movie’s release on Nov. 27. But I’ll chime in: They are not Rapunzel clones and are not preoccupied with being pretty.
Certainly Anna and Elsa are pretty and were technically more difficult to animate as siblings, which Disney animation head Lino DiSalvo explained last week, and has been taken out of context as a condescending statement about gender inequality:
“And historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but… you have to keep them pretty and… you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”
And here’s the response from Disney: ”Animation is an intricate and complex art form. These comments were recklessly taken out of context. As part of a roundtable discussion, the animator was describing some technical aspects of CG animation and not making a general comment on animating females versus males or other characters.”
But Frozen is actually a more progressive feminist approach to the princess fairy tale about the conflict between two sisters built around love vs. fear. It’s a lot fresher than pursuing traditional romantic love (co-directed, incidentally, by the studio’s first female, Jennifer Lee, while Anna was supervised by Rebecca Wilson Bresee).
And the performances are much more nuanced and emotionally complex than ever before in the Disney canon. There’s a “cohesiveness and continuity,” thanks to the new “truth in acting” approach instituted by DiSalvo, and, of course, the animation itself, which is superior to Tangled’s. He brought in acting coach Warner Loughlin very early on to help them discover the emotional truth of every character, conducting detailed exercises in technique, singing, and especially breathing, given the frozen environment.
As for the design, the Glen Keane influence is definitely present, as is the emphasis of hand-drawn warmth and expressiveness that he brought to CG. His look has obviously become iconic at Disney and is being taken to the next level.
But look at the different personalities exhibited in the two model sheets and Anna’s funny face in the above still. It’s all about exploring a more realistic range of expressions.
But the real issue should be: Does Frozen advance the role of female characters in animation through craft and storytelling? Let’s continue that conversation after the movie opens.