Back in 2013 there was no indication that the most successful animated movie of all time would be released that year. Frozen caught people off guard as it took the world on an icy adventure for the holidays, a winter that persisted well into the next year. The movie and its music became a cultural zeitgeist that became inescapable as their staying power lasted for months. There was no where you could hide to get away from kids singing “Let it Go” and asking if you wanted to build snowmen. But for anyone that knows of the behind the scenes last minute changes, Frozen was an even bigger surprise for its creators than it was for audiences.
The infamous story of how Frozen was changed at the last second to switch Elsa from being the villain to a good guy should be well known. This only happened after “Let it Go” was completed and was too positive for someone with bad intentions. The change was followed by unprecedented success which speaks to the versatility of the crew over at Disney Animation. It tells the story of a team that was able to pivot into something stronger than what they had originally. The lesson gleaned from the situation seemed to be that everyone should be open to change.
It seems that this lesson was was put to liberal use for the creation of Frozen’s sequel. In an interview with Variety, Jonathan Groff, who voices Kristoff, explained that he went into the studio many times to record lines for the movie. “You go into the studio, they rewrite the movie a million times; I don’t even know what the movie is about really until I see it, because they’ve changed it so much”. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction as building the plot without a clear goal in mind is not just embracing change. The only other studio to operate this way was DreamWorks before it was bought by Universal Studios. The man in charge at the time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was notorious for rewriting stories at the end of production cycles and being flippant when making decisions. This cost the studio a lot of money and time which only added pressure on the employees. This is a road that has been traveled before and does not bode well for the future of the creatives at Disney.
The aftermath of this process is on full display as Frozen II is a mess. It lacks the confidence of its predecessor and is much more inferior when it comes to its storytelling capabilities; the characters lack motivation, arcs, and direction in meaningful ways. In the first film, Kristoff had a similar arc to the one Han Solo has in A New Hope. He seems to be this rogue that is revealed to actually be a good person and ends up caring for Ana. Elsa not only has a personal arc to embrace who she is, but also learns to open up to other people. Ana is on a quest for reconnection with her sister, fighting tooth and nail to try and understand what is happening with her. She also falls in love with two different guys on the same day she met them, but I never said the movie was perfect. Finally, Olaf is comedic relief and has no arc other than to try and make the audience laugh. When you compare this to how Frozen II handles the cast, it seems like a master storyteller at work.
The only character with any real direction is Elsa. She longs for something different, a feeling personified as a mysterious call beckoning her. This direction is ruined though as it just ends up being another self discovery moment about embracing one’s self—which she already did in the last film. Kristoff wants to marry Ana, that is his whole purpose for the entire runtime, and she just wants to be with her sister. Some might consider these aspects as good character traits and while this might work for a minor character, this is the main cast. The only one who is consistent is Olaf as he is the main joke delivery method.
It’s obvious that the dip in quality is huge and that the approach for the second movie didn’t work out. While the financial success proves that audiences don’t care about the intricacies of stories, the rest of the industry has taken notice. With the film sitting at a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is no chance this will win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars in 2020. Remember how I said Frozen is the highest performing animated movie of all time? While this is technically true in a traditional sense, The Lion King (2019) is actually considered to be an animated movie by The Academy and has made more money than Frozen at the box office. So I guess it isn’t the highest grossing animated movie of all time, just adding onto the pile of missteps that the brand has taken. The only hope for Frozen II to gross more than $1.6 billion dollars, and that might be just out of its reach.
American Vandal Season 2 does a really good job crafting its narrative. Structurally, it varies from the first season by removing the documentarians as a major element from the story. This allows for the completely new cast to make the show their own. The show becomes a narrative about brand new characters that you get to know more about throughout the season. It was this slow reveal of information that really kept me interested in the show.
Other stories have characters go through arcs. The character goes through a change in the story and is able to accomplish what they need to because of that change. American Vandal Season 2 has its characters stay mostly static, the only thing that changes is how much we know about them. It helps that the documentarians are removed as characters and act more as the filter the audience receives information through. It makes the show really engaging to watch since it can easily keep you invested.
By controlling what we know about characters and how the audience receives that information, the show is allowed to do whatever it wants to keep you invested. Minor details can be expanded upon to great lengths just to misdirect the audience, and it works.
For some, the show might feel a little less personal. The outro to the final episode doesn't help in that regard either. But I would argue that I was more invested in the new cast of characters because their lives were filled out. A lot of the characters are built upon cliches but the show does a lot of work to make them more real. It blurs the line between pure fiction and believability.
Season 2 of American Vandal was a worthy successor to the breakout hit that was the first season. In a lot of ways I actually liked this season more than the first one, it dragged less in the middle and always kept the viewer engaged.
If you haven't seen Mission: Impossible - Fallout, skim my review for context, it's over 800 words long so don't take too long.
There is a distinct lack of story in the latest Mission: Impossible entry. Unlike its predecessor Rogue Nation, it seems like the characters' journeys were an afterthought. Rogue Nation introduced amazing characters, Ilsa and Solomon Lane. Fallout does nothing significant with those characters and decides to add another villain. But what really gives away the fact that this movie is weak in the story department? The answer is kind of shocking.
Principle Photography, or the actual shooting of the movie in layman's terms, started without a script. There was no story when the movie started shooting. The director, Christopher McQuarrie, only had a rough outline of what the movie was going to be and some stunts planned. He even said in an interview, that for Fallout he was focusing on stunts dictating the story. Lack of a story structure is evident throughout the movie, opening the movie up to many questions.
Not only do the trailers show all of the big stunts in the movie, but they actually spoil the entire movie. There is nothing in the movie you did not already see in the trailer, no stunt or story point is left to discover. What's even worse, is the fact that the trailer actually shows more than the movie ever could. This is due to the trailers having entire sequences that were cut from the film. Some looked very intriguing and I noticed their absence while watching the movie.
In Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie said that he wanted to do the movie right. He did this by writing a compelling story and filming it as best as he could. The stunts might not have been as visually high stakes and cinematic as the ones in Fallout, but the story work shows. Even though there is no crazy set piece, the movie feels more high stakes because of all the character work that is done in the movie. I really wish that the story could have been as good as some of the rest of the stuff in Fallout.
Spoilers for Incredibles 2 and The Incredibles
Let's Be Honest
It is no secret that I liked this movie. If you haven't read my review yet, I would suggest skimming it as a starting point for this deep dive. I had so many things I wanted to say about "Incredibles 2" after I saw it that it was hard to contain myself. At first, I believed that this movie's greatness was self-contained but realized it did a lot to harken back to the first movie. I'm not talking about Mr. Incredible's car or other shallow throwback elements. The things that made sense from a story perspective like themes, character, and tone. The accomplishments that this movie achieves outweighs the problems the movie does have.
Let's start with some pretty obvious points. Syndrome is a way better villain than the Screenslaver. From a character motivation standpoint, Syndrome has a much more empathetic backstory which is easier to understand. You feel for him even though you still side with Mr. Incredible. Syndrome killed the villain monologue, which I miss, and was probably the most successful entrepreneur inventor to have ever lived. Wanting to first play the hero before selling his inventions, Syndrome's message and goals were enlightening and childish at the same time. The juxtaposition of his actions is due to him still holding a grudge from when he was a kid. He wanted to be a hero but if he couldn't then no one could be.
The Screenslaver, on the other hand, does not have the strong backstory to make them more than a mustache-twirling villain. They do have a message that is much more modern and rings true. The idea of society needing to have experiences neatly packaged for them to minimize risk. Since the ideal was not fleshed out, the villain suffered for it. Another thing about the Screenslaver that didn't work was their plan to get rid of heroes. Making heroes legal again to make them seem bad doesn't make sense. They were already illegal and if left alone would dig a bigger hole for themselves. The Screenslaver not only had a smaller presence than Syndrome but was also not as effective.
Another character that seemed to have problems was Dash. In the first installment, Dash had to learn to use his powers for the right reasons. Limited by his environment, he expressed his frustrations by using his powers for mischievous purposes. The whole situation worked because he was a kid that didn't understand what it meant to be a hero in hiding. For Incredibles 2, Dash liked to press buttons on remotes; this was his whole shtick for the entire movie. He didn't do anything other than help set up jokes for other characters to execute. He doesn't even use his powers in a meaningful way.
As self-contained movies, The Incredibles has more in common with James Bond than any comic book movie today. It relies on sneaking around, evil plots, and secret islands. The characters have powers but that doesn't make it a superhero movie. It had more to say about stereotypes from the early 2000's than it did about what it meant to be super. The middle-aged man chasing dreams for the good old days, a family united by the trials put in front of them, and a wife chasing after her husband. It's tropey enough to be an anime nowadays but it holds its own.
Incredibles 2 is a very different kind of movie. Instead of having montages of Mr. Incredible working out it has action set pieces. Instead of spending quiet time developing character relationships it has Jack-Jack fight a raccoon. This movie is a product of its time, deciding to up the anty while still having family undertones. It's like the first movie was remade with the focus on making it bigger and easier to watch.