Will 'Frozen' and Female Director Jennifer Lee Beat the Boys This Awards Season?
Disney/Pixar's 2012 hit Brave won a lot of praise for its feminist message and strong leading lady. This year, Disney tried to recreate that magic with its solo project, Frozen, a Tangled-esque take on The Snow Queen. While it might be rare for a Disney Animation Studios movie to outdo a Pixar flick, Frozen beats Brave in one pretty amazing way: It kept its female director.
Before Brave made waves for tomboy anti-princess Merida, it made headlines for its leading lady behind-the-scenes. Brenda Chapman conceived of the original princess story and was set to make two firsts. Not only would Brave be the first Pixar project to feature someone with a vagina in the leading role, it would also be the first project helmed by a female writer/director. Work began on the project in 2008, but unfortunately for Chapman and her supporters, by 2010 the project was handed off to Mark Andrews following "creative differences" (the details of which remain mostly a mystery) between Chapman the studio. Considering the project was inspired by her relationship with her own daughter, Chapman was understandably bummed by the news and wasn't shy about saying so in the press. It was no doubt devastating on a personal level, but on a larger scale, it was a blow for women in animation, which, like so much of Hollywood, is traditionally a boys' club.
Cut to 2013 and Frozen's sudden (and somewhat surprising) mega-success, shared by its co-director, Jennifer Lee. Lee has the distinction of being the first women to direct a feature for Disney Animation Studios. She came into the project later in development than her co-director, Chris Buck, but that's kind of fitting considering Disney has been trying to find a workable adaptation of The Snow Queen since the 1940s. Ultimately, what made the movie work was exactly thing its been praised so much for – the relationship between Elsa and Anna.
So what does this mean as we go into Awards Season 2014? It means that Frozen, whether it's fair or not, has a lot of weight on its metaphorical shoulders. Its already proven to major studios that movies for women (or girls) made by women are commercially viable (which is an understatement: Frozen has earned more than $640 million to date). Now, it has the chance to prove that they're able to garner coveted awards for their studios as well. Is it a lot of pressure? Of course. Is it fair? Not even remotely. It's not fair that it's 2014 and we're just now having this discussion. But it is and we are and I, for one, am Team Frozen going into Sunday's Golden Globes. Let's take a look at the competition.
The Croods, DreamWorks Animation. Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders.
Strengths: DreamWorks has been a rising star in the animation game for years, but it really made a splash with 2010's How to Train Your Dragon, which proved the studio could rival Pixar in terms of both storytelling and artistry. The Croods certainly has artistry – it features a jaw-droppingly beautiful depiction of the pre-historic world. What's more, it features a strong, spunky female lead and an all-star voice cast.
Weaknesses: The film relies on more childish humor than the Globes' winners usually do. This is fine, since it is a children's film, but winners in this relatively-new category (it was first awarded in 2007) tend to go for a higher brow sense of humor. They also tend to be Pixar films; the studio has won the award every year except for one: 2011, when Cars 2 left room for an upset.
Despicable Me 2, Illumination Entertainment. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.
Strengths: The movies are wildly-popular, feature the voice talent of Steve Carell and… okay, the biggest strength is the minions. Who doesn't love the minions. In terms of actual merits, however, the movies are clever and appeal to kids and adults alike, a definite crowd-pleaser at the Globes.
Weaknesses: It's a sequel, and not one staring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and the end of your childhood (Toy Story 3 is the only sequel to date to win the category).
Really, not to jinx it or anything, but Frozen is the clear favorite to win the category. It has everything going for it: Huge box-office success, amazing songs, laughs for all ages, and strong, well-rounded characters (two of whom happen to be role-model-ready women).