Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Art of Frozen" Review by Artist/Illustrator Chris King (alt book title "This Could Have Been Frozen")

Note: Chris King's review is posted here in full by permission.

I asked Mr. King to repost this review here as it articulates a lot of how I feel about the movie and the concept art (which I had the privilege of seeing a little of, during one of the phases of it's lengthy on-again, off-again development). It's a book I'm very much looking forward to reading, to see the (mostly unsuccessful) journey in adapting the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale for the Disney animation "machine" as well as how and why they changed it from being a fairy tale into a fantasy adventure film (albeit a beautiful and fun looking one).
Now that I've seen the 3rd trailer, I do think there is more going for this film than any of the previous marketing had indicated, including a positive spin on female leads in feature animation, but I still believe it would have been revolutionary (especially for the current Princess Culture criticisms) had they managed to translate the essence of the fairy tale into a Disney film.

Happily, it seems as though the "tackling a fairy tale" aspect of the development and concept art is included (and discussed) in this book so I will add it to my library as soon as possible.
Here's the review from Christopher King, posted Thursday, November 7, 2013:
As a life-long animation fan, I fear that the Disney studio is currently stuck in some kind of creative lull. With each new feature I find myself less and less engaged, and have come to the conclusion that it’s all the fault of the homogenizing effect of CGI. While films like Brave and Wreck It Ralph are certainly technical feats (nor without any visual merit) to my old-fashioned 2D sensibilities they are lacking a sense of independence in their design that made 
Disney’s early output so beautiful and ultimately timeless. 
Which is why, when I first saw the impressive concept art contained within The Art of Frozen, I was encouraged to see the return to some of that magic. A return to traditional storytelling routes with a fairy tale based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and a design ethos that (to me anyway) clearly references the incredible work of Eyvind Earle in Sleeping Beauty. It’s colour theory, folk art references, bold geometric landscapes and fantastic character designs from Bill Schwab all give promise of a particularly good-looking film to come. Michael Giaimo and Brittney Lee also feature with stand out with work that shares my taste for classic Disney. But as the shots from the finished film reveal, much of the charm is lost in their computer equivalent, leaving characters and ultimately a film without a visual language of its own. 
I have faith that Disney will return to more experimental visuals once the current trend changes (you can see something brewing in the great Paperman short) and viewing the brilliant work in The Art of Frozen only encourages me further. For what ever might be lost in the film I’m glad this book exists to allow a chance for this otherwise unseen work to shine. 
The Art of Disney’s Frozen by Charles Solomon 
Chronicle Books 
Hardback 168 pages
Thanks for the repost permission Mr. King!

You can find Christopher King's personal website and (seriously amazing!) work HERE. He's also posted a great review of Taschen's Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen book, complete with some great pics, HERE.

I very much agree with the comment regarding "the homogenizing effect of CGI". Despite all this incredible work coming to the big screen, everything still ends up looking and feeling rather the same. Disney's "female leads have to always look pretty" clause, has led to something rather like a formula for beauty, especially with regard to CGI, and still they pushed the design of the two sisters even further to make sure they stayed in the pretty zone. Apparently it's made them stand out - in a "not good" way - from the rest of the film. One of the criticisms of the film by media reps who have been treated to a full preview is that, despite liking the movie and appreciating the more feminist take than expected, the two female leads appear even more "plastic-y" than the rest of the characters and take quite a bit of getting used to as a result. :/
How beautiful are these pencil drawings?! Unfortunately, much of the subtlety is lost in the final film.

This speaks to one of my main beefs regarding Princess Culture: while playing make-believe is fun and princesses can  - and should - be part of that, the current Disney emphasis doesn't allow for any other type of strong heroine other than a (Disney version of a) princess. And there's been more than a little discussion around the interwebs about why Disney felt the need to push the characters into the royal zone to start with. For a country that prides itself on not being accountable to royalty, the obsession is a little bizarre, especially considering all the truly powerful female heroes the US has in their history to date.

Have you seen the parody one artist attempted by turning real female heroines into Disney princesses? It was his reaction to the "princessification" (apparently that's a word now) of Merida of Disney's marketing department, post movie-success. Unfortunately, the result of "princessifying"(also a new word) real life heroines was... not altogether successful. It's supposed to point out the absurdity of making all female leads fall within the Princess Culture model. In the artist's own words:
"I wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold, to give them all the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile. My experience of female role models both in culture and in life has shown me that there is no mold for what makes someone a role model, and the whole point of Merida was that she was a step in the right direction, providing girls with an alternative kind of princess. Then they took two steps back, and painted her with the same glossy brush as the rest. So I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line. The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?"
While it's an excellent point, unfortunately the images began touring the interwebs WITHOUT the statement and the context got completely lost. Many people got confused and others began making disturbing statements talking about how cool it would be to have a line a dolls... Just bizarre. There's a good discussion on the whole subject - which is directly relevant to the heroines of Frozen - over at Jezebel. The comments below the article especially, show how confused people got over this. (Note to the artist: We love what you were trying to do, however, next time, please make sure the context can travel with the image.)

Why I bother bringing this up in a fairy tale news blog is because 1) the princess culture has a HUGE effect on how society views fairy tales and 2) to remind everyone that fairy tales have so many heroines who are not princesses - and Anna used to be one of them. Then she was put through the princess machine because, apparently, little girls wouldn't be as interested in dressing up (read buying "all the stuff") unless she could wear a crown. :(

In the meantime, despite the disappointingly plastic results and the loss-in-translation of the initial design work inspired by HCA's fairy tale, hopefully, as Mr. King says, this book will bear witness to the truly beautiful bones behind the film*, reminding us that there's more to this tale - even this movie - than will ultimately meet the eye in theaters.
If you're looking for the book in the store, the cover looks like this (see below). Pre-orders are available via Amazon (as usual) but you won't find it in stores until after December 3. Still, it would make for a very nice Christmahanakwanzikule present! ;)
*Does make me want to title it "This Could Have Been Frozen", though. O.o

1 comment:

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