So, Disney’s new movie Frozen has a girl as a main character, a girl named Anna voiced by Kristen Bell. And it’s got another significant character, Anna’s sister, the Snow Queen, who has apparently cast a spell on the country they both live in, to keep it permanently winter. That’s not a lot to go on, but it’s an interesting update to Disney’s tradition of female protagonists, making those kinds of characters active rather than passive, a queen with her own agenda rather than a princess or princess figure who gets pushed into action as a response to external events, and setting up the story as an interaction between two women, rather than a woman and a man.
But would you be able to tell any of this from the first trailer?
I recognize there’s more to come, but I’d be curious if parents in the audience are as irritated as I am by the idea that the best way to sell children on a movie is with the most disposable parts of it, the relatively non-narrative, slapstick comedic relief provided by the less-intelligent sidekick characters?
By contrast, the initial trailer for The Little Mermaid in 1989 lead with Ariel’s voice, and with the plot–the fact that you’d heard her singing meant that when the movie got to a key plot point, the fine print of her deal with Ursula, we were invested in getting her voice back because we’d heard how fine it was. And Disney wasn’t afraid to lead with the music, which won an Academy Award, a Grammy, and the soundtrack as a whole went triple platinum.
Ditto with Beauty and the Beast:
Both of these trailers have problems of their own–Ariel and Belle have qualities other than being beautiful and young, something both previews emphasize the first time we see them on screen. But they both trust that parents and children might be interested in a single film, and that children can handle and be drawn in by actual narrative and characterization. If a “family film” is to be something other than ninety minutes of animation parents can use to narcotize their children, it would be nice if those movies were sold with some respect for children, and some expectation that they have something to offer that parents and children can talk about together.