Today’s article is a complimentary piece to the recent post at Rotoscopers.com on the topic of Tangled vs. Frozen. The films are easy to compare, so let’s take a look at how they stack up against one another and finally put to rest the debate!
If you’re not a visitor of Rotoscopers.com, it’s a great animation fan site that covers a lot of animation news and reviews from a very fan-centered perspective. Where as over here at Animator Island we analyze things from the perspective of animators (sometimes perhaps more severely than we should!) the crew at Rotoscopers goes into the industry with a wider-arm approach based on a passion for the entertainment of it all. And their positive presence is a great addition to the Web, where things can tend towards the negative side much too often.
Their conclusion (spoiler alert!) is that it’s a draw when Tangled and Frozen go toe to toe. They break things down into four categories- Animation and Visuals, Story and Writing, Characters, and Music- and then hand out awards to either film at the conclusion of each section. While I commend the effort, I think it’s in our best interest as filmmakers specifically that we take an even closer look, once again with that Animator Island Animator’s Eye, and really pull things apart to see if we can’t come to a clear winner for “which is the better movie.” Mr. Wright at Rotoscopers claims it wouldn’t be fair to award the top prize to one over the other, but films can (and should) be judged from a detailed objective standpoint and then, based on that full set of observations, the final outcome is perfectly fair. And that judgement is important, because we can gain insight into what makes a great film by doing such a comparison.
Of course, keep in mind that just because one may be objectively better, personal admiration of either of the two films can’t ever be wrong. Your opinion of any film is your own, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Where as the Rotoscoper team combined Animation with Visuals, I think the two are so important to we as animators that it would be a disservice to combine the categories. Instead let’s take a look first at just the animation of the two.
Tangled, as you may know, took an interesting approach to 3D animation. Scenes were roughly animated in 3D and then legendary animator Glen Keane did draw-overs using the principals first established in traditional 2D animation for the 3D animators to expand to. You can see an example of it right here. The end result is a quality of animation rarely (if ever) seen using 3D models: Full breaking and manipulation of characters to take advantage of the medium.
It was also a lengthy and exhausting process, which is likely why it was done less with Frozen. Frozen stuck much more strictly to its three dimensional foundation, and as a result the animation- while in no way bad- lacked the same charm and flow that Tangled contained. It’s something that audiences wouldn’t be likely to notice, consciously, but really makes all the difference in the world. The attention to detail of movement in Tangled has yet to be equaled in a 3D film. Frozen also suffered from some strange staging and composition choices that left some of the animation flat in some very important moments of the film.
Winner: Tangled by a landslide
If there’s going to be an “unfair” category, it would be here. But we’re not pulling punches, so we have to apologize to Tangled for the simple fact that technology advances and Frozen had the benefit of coming out later, still giving credit where it is due. The visuals in Frozen are fantastic. In their comparison, the Rotoscopers state “Snow and ice are the stars of the movie” which I think is a spot on observation. The technical feats they crafted even outweigh the hair effects in Tangled. The scene of Elsa creating her ice palace from thin air rivals that of feature film effects, let alone those of previous animated films. It’s extremely clear that where Tangled focused incredible attention on character movement, Frozen poured their top energy into the brilliant effects of the world of Arendelle. The lantern scene of Tangled was dazzling and beautiful, but it simply can’t compare to the effects of Frozen.
Story and Writing
Both Tangled and Frozen have a decidedly “fairy tale” approach to story and writing, and both do a great job of getting the audience to invest in the world and characters they introduce. Frozen certainly feels more “epic” as the fate of an entire kingdom- if not even farther- is at stake, where as Tangled keeps things a bit closer to home and the stakes revolve around a few characters. The kingdom Rapunzel is from is clearly still functioning without her, so the danger is less to the masses and more to the royal family, Flynn, and Mother Gothel.
And it’s really this focus on the few that I think gives Tangled the edge here. Frozen introduced a large cast, continually adding more throughout the film, and as a result few of the characters developed in as meaningful a way as in Tangled. Certainly lessons were learned by all, but it wasn’t felt as much because there was so much to do before the credits rolled. Not to mention Tangled was clear when it came to heroes vs. villains. Without spoiling Frozen, the antagonist was dropped out of nowhere and given no time to evolve in any way. Tangled told a complete story in just the right amount of time. Frozen tried to tell too many stories and as a result the whole film suffered from a lot of pacing issues. That’s without taking into account the numerous plot holes and logical missteps of Frozen. Because the scope of Tangled was smaller, it likely allowed the writers and creators to hone the story in a way Frozen just wasn’t able to.
Judging characters as objectively as possible is likely the toughest challenge we’ve yet to face in this debate. How does one analyze this? Is it by very subjective aspects such as the ability to relate to their plights? Character growth throughout the film? Connection to one another? Connection to the audience? We are wading through murky waters here, so it is going to be much harder to declare a victor in this category.
For many, the characters of Frozen were likely preferred, as the theme of “Expectations vs. Who I Want To Be” is something many people at this period of history can associate with. We live in such a prosperous time that who we want to be is an option for us, where as throughout history duty was far more important than individualism. Yet there’s an underlying selfishness that should really be more in the spotlight. Elsa is treated in a very poor way by her parents early in the film, no one will deny that. “Conceal don’t feel” is a horrific lesson passed on by her family. However the stark opposite is hardly any better. When Elsa flees to the mountaintop and sings her ballad of “Let it go” it is just as extreme in the mirrored perspective. She literally speaks of not caring how her actions affect anyone else because “the cold doesn’t bother HER” specifically. The song, which has become a battle cry to many young teenagers who want to hear exactly what is being preached, is extremely self centered and just as negative as the advice of her parents just in the opposite way.
The other lead of Frozen, Anna, is much more upbeat, however there are some serious issues in the way she acts as well. I can’t possibly say it any better than esteemed Animation Acting teacher Ed Hooks already has right here. It’s a terrific look at just why there’s a lack of truth to the actions of the characters in Frozen, and truth is where the best in characters can be found.
With Tangled it’s much harder for most to relate to the characters. Rapunzel has spent her life locked in a tower, which few people have experienced. Flynn is a bit more relatable, but only after his back story comes out far into the film. Still, the characters have an air of truth about them. Their actions make sense, and because of that become much more believable.
It’s also important to note character from a design standpoint, specifically in relation to voices. The characters of Tangled fit their voices well, yet the same can’t quite be said of the whole crew of Frozen. Elsa simply did not fit the voice provided by Idina Menzel, as lovely as the singing was. It was a case where the character clearly had been designed, instead of fitting with the voice attached to her. Consider some characters that really took advantage of their voice actors from a design perspective: Phil in Hercules, Genie in Aladdin, and Scar in The Lion King. Here the design of the character fit the voice to perfection. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the cast of Frozen.
Winner: The hardest category to judge, but the nod has to go to Tangled because of the grave missteps of the actions/performance of the cast of Frozen.
From the hardest category to judge to the easiest. I’m no musician, so anyone with a better grasp of this should definitely chime in below, however in my eyes Frozen walks away with this category without question. The songs in Frozen are memorable, epic, and fit into the film well. Though there’s nothing wrong with the songs of Tangled, they can’t compare to the music of Frozen. The songs of Frozen feel pulled from a classic stage play, and a good one at that.
The nice thing about having an odd number of categories is you’ll never have a tie at the end. However I think it’s vital that when we are analyzing and discussing films we remember than not all categories are created equal. Animation (as much as we as animators adore it) simply does not pull the same weight as Story. Story is absolutely essential, as are a cast of compelling characters. Without these key foundations, no beautiful animation, visuals, or music will ever produce a great film.
It’s because of the story and characters, coupled with the fantastic animation that bring those things to life, that Tangled IS the better film of the two. Though the box office may disagree, Tangled is more complete from a film-making standpoint. That, of course, brings up the question “Why if Tangled is better was Frozen so much more of a financial success?” That will be a question for another time, and one that will certainly be extremely interesting to dive into.
Do you agree with the analysis above? What about which film you like more, whether it’s “better” from a technical standpoint or not? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear what you think!
Big thanks to the Rotoscopers for sparking this intriguing topic!