Today I have something a little different, I just really wanted to discuss these two movies and talk about why I don't think they work very well, but unlike a lot of my other animated movie reviews I am not really talking about the animation. Anyways, if this isn't your thing, don't worry, i'll be back to art posts soon enough!
For a while now I've been wanting to talk about the two most recent Disney Sequels; Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2. I've talked a small bit about them before in my 2019 Animated Movie Review, where I mentioned lots of different pros and cons to these two movies. But today I want to talk about one specific thing that really strongly effects both of these movies, and the one reason I think both of them inherently feel "not right".
The key to almost any movie, especially an animated one, is a moral. Some kind of message that the film is trying to convey to its viewers, most likely that one thing is good and something else is bad. If you think about it, I guarantee almost any animated movie you can think of has a moral, whether the movie is meant to teach that moral or just meant to entertain. You're probably reading this and guessing where I'm going. And you're right. Both Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2 do have a moral, the same one in fact, that you are important and deserve to take care of yourself. Inherently there is nothing specifically wrong with that idea.
I'm not here to say I completely disagree with the statement made by these films that it's okay to sometimes do what's best for you, to put yourself first occasionally. In fact, if these were any other films, I would have no issue. That's not my point. My point is consistency. The fact that this moral, the one that says look after yourself, directly contradicts the moral taught in the original films of both of these franchises. So what was the moral? Toy Story and Frozen are very different franchises trying to say very different things. One is at its core about the struggle of caregivers no longer feeling needed, and the other about two sisters torn apart. Not to mention that Toy Story had 3 separate films all with varying characters, locals, and themes. Can all 4 of these movies really be boiled down to ONE singular moral?
Well, yes. Unselfishness.
The 3 original toy story films, along with Frozen, can all be described as movies that teach children about the need to display love and unselfishness towards their friends and family, even when it would be easier to just look out for yourself. Again, there's nothing totally wrong with the message shown in Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4. But they do not teach this idea of unselfishness, in some moments almost letting their protagonists get away with selfish actions. This matters to me, not because I dislike the message, but because it is inconsistent with the previous films. It immediately creates a feeling of wrongness when watching, a feeling that Something is off, that these characters are not acting in the ways you would expect them to because you already know them to be a certain way. These are sequels after all.
Before I really delve into why this simple word can capture the message of both of these franchises (prior to 2019), I want to discuss consistency itself and it's place in sequels. Is it really that important that sequels stay consistent? Should multiple films in the same franchise really have to provide the same moral lesson?
Let's look at two sequels to popular animated movies and see how they square off.
Consistency VS Inconsistency
Monsters University and Shrek 2. One is barely talked about and the other is considered better than the first. Why? Because one fits in consistently with our expectations after watching the first movie, and the other one does not.
The original Monsters Inc has a message. It's message, at its core, is about the importance of family love over the importance of work. You might also say it's about the importance of teamwork, which it is, but much more than that it is about showing love. Which is why Monsters University falls flat in a lot of ways. We've grown to love these characters who are putting themselves out there to protect a small child. Now the films big deal is whether or not Mike and Sully can best the school bullies. Compared to the previous films it feels unimportant, the stakes are too low, the heartwarming fatherly relationship the last movie was built on is gone. (There's also the fact that the entire movie rests on whether or not Mike is a good scarer, which we already know he is not because we've seen the first film, completely evaporating any stakes it could have had in the first place and demonstrating why prequels are almost always a bad idea, but I digress.)
There is nothing wrong with low stakes movies about two guys in college learning to work together. In fact I think Monsters University would be a much more popular film if it existed on its own, without Monsters Inc ever existing. But because it does, you watch the whole movie feeling that Something is off. You may not even be conscious of why, but I think I've figured it out.
It is not consistent.
Now Shrek 2. Let's make it clear that while I'll be arguing that Shrek and Shrek 2 are the consistent ones compared to Monsters Inc and Monsters U, these two movies are not identical. There are plenty of differences between Shrek and it's sequel. But it's key idea, it's message, reminds the same. Shrek is about excepting yourself for who you are. Shrek 2 follows suit on this idea. Now think about this. There is nothing wrong with movies where characters have big transformation scenes, where their appearance is suddenly greatly improved.
Beauty and the Beast is an incredible film. But the beast is transformed at the end. This is because Beauty and the Beast's message is NOT that you're fine being yourself. It's that we should strive to improve. Where Shrek is already supposed to be his best self and no one else sees it, the Beast is not a good person to begin with and slowly becomes better. So again, nothing wrong with a character transforming in this way if it matches up with the message the story is trying to convey. But what if in Shrek 2 when Shrek and Fiona become humans, they stay that way? How WRONG would that feel? It would feel like it's going completely against what the first movie was trying to say, and it would be. It's not the transformation that is wrong. It's the inconsistency with the established moral.
Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2 both, essentially, disregard the original established moral for a new one. And while that moral is not necessarily wrong, it creates a feeling that the film is off. It's just not like the original.
So WHY is unselfishness the moral of Toy Story and Frozen? How can a moral truly stay consistent throughout multiple films without becoming boring? How are Toy Story and Frozen different and the same?
I think Frozen is easiest to talk about first because with only one film, there's a lot less to say. For the purpose of Elsa being the definitive protagonist of Frozen 2, I'm going to act like she was for Frozen, though I'd say it was much more evenly split in the original. But due to Elsa's overwhelming importance in the sequel, and how Anna stays more true to herself, I wanna talk about Elsa. Like Woody, the other protagonist we'll discuss, Elsa is a naturally unselfish person. But the events of the film will cause her to take a selfish action which she will then have to fix and learn a lesson from.
I can hear you saying that you wouldn't think of Elsa as selfish. I can understand that, but hear me out. Elsa has spent years in isolation, locked away in her room, aware of how this effects her sister Anna. This is not her fault, she's scared, she following her parents direction, she's trying to keep her sibling safe. In a lot of ways she, at this point in the film, represents unselfishness.
But then things take a turn. Elsa runs away, creates her ice castle, and decides she's done dealing with other people at all. She's just going to live alone and only have to worry about herself and her amazing power. Even when Anna directly tells Elsa she has created a never-ending winter, Elsa does not immediately react by wanting to save Arendelle. She just wants Anna to leave her alone so she can go back to not having to worry about how she effects other people. This might not seem selfish at first, but as someone who can actually react very similarly, it really is. It's indulging in your own feelings of disappointment in yourself instead of taking action to fix what you caused. It's paying attention to yourself instead of others.
Elsa takes the selfish action, the action the film warns against, here. It's not fixed until the end of the film when Elsa finally learns the importance of relying on other people that the lesson is learned and Elsa is once again unselfish. Many people think of Elsa's let it go scene as a moment they wish they were strong enough to have, and obviously that's how Frozen 2 wants you to treat it as well. But that's not what it is. Her decision to leave her kingdom creates the problem the film needs to fix. It's obviously, then, not the "right" thing to do.
Woody is the same sort of character, one who starts off as unselfish, but is tested by the events of the film and has to overcome the temptation to give into selfishness. He begins as someone who deeply cares about Andy and spends all his time trying to make him happy, trying to make someone else happy, which in turn makes him happy. But then Buzz arrives.
He wants to keep Andy all to himself, the selfish temptation which Woody eventually has to overcome. By his eventually allowing Buzz to be the new favorite, he does the unselfish thing. He's once again looking out for Andy.
In toy story 2, Woody is left behind by Andy, causing him to fear that he is no longer wanted and deciding he wants to be in a museum where children will look at him forever, instead of staying with Andy, who does in fact still need him. He has to realize the selfishness in that action to resolve the movie.
Then Toy Story 3, Woody is still constantly looking to keep Andy for himself, who is really now ready to let him go. Woody is willing to create stress for the rest of the toys, who are all ready to move onto a new child who does need them, because of his need to be wanted by Andy and only Andy. Toy Story 3 really pushes the selfishness moral by having the villain basically just be a version of Woody gone wrong. Lotso is just another toy desperate for validation, who instead of letting their child go for their better interest, holds on to the bitterness of being forgotten. Lotso is what Woody could become.
And yes, I'm talking that deeply about Toy Story. It's a kids movie yeah, but it's just not a movie. These are themes and ideas I've thought about since I left the movie theater as a kid, reasons why I loved these movies so much. Toy Story was my favorite franchise growing up and it's message is something that I understood and effected me. I knew exactly what it was trying to tell me. It's a message like this that makes a film memorable, heart touching, popular. Taking away an animated films message is to take away it's heart. So much time is spent to entertain, with jokes, with songs, with action. An animated movie without some over arching message it's trying to convey is just a cartoon.
What went wrong.
We talked about Frozen first, so let's delve into Frozen 2. Why is Elsa selfish here? For starters, she basically unlearns everything the original taught her, that she needs help and love from others to be successful and that even if it's difficult she needs to stay with them to. She spends most of Frozen 2 directly following her own whims despite any other events going on in the movie. She repeatedly rejects help from others and takes it upon herself to do everything. She risks everything, and everyone, for self discovery. So that she can know who she really is. She basically says that knowing about herself and her powers is more important than her entire kingdom, her family, and especially Anna, who is forced to spend the whole movie defending Elsa's bad decisions and watching as things go wrong around her without Elsa's help. Anna watches Olaf die because Elsa is too preoccupied following her own desire.
And yet, she doesn't pay for this at all. Instead the movie rewards her behavior by her selfish action, trying to discover herself over saving her kingdom, just so happens to do so simultaneously. Hip hip hooray! Elsa saves everyone - by accident! The movie ends with Elsa, as the ice queen, ruling in isolation.
The exact thing the original movie said she shouldn't be.
I feel like I have to keep saying this, but again, I'm not saying that doing something for yourself is wrong. Wanting to discover herself isn't wrong, wanting to learn about her mom isn't wrong, wanting to figure out her powers isn't wrong, wanting to be and work alone isn't wrong. But it's directly against what the original was trying to say. Where Frozen shows Elsa that she cannot be happy just being alone and doing things her way, Frozen 2 says that's exactly what will make her happy.
I think Toy Story 4 is the best and easiest way to convey the inconsistency issue. I've established the importance of Toy Story's message, that of unselfishness, and how it is consistent throughout the first 3 movies.
While watching Toy Story 4 for the first time in 2019, the Toy Story fan I am, as I saw Woody meet Bo again after so long, and as she explained her new way of living as a lost toy who always gets to be played with to her own gain, my immediate thought was "wow, I didn't think from the trailers that Bo Peep was going to be the bad guy." It even didn't cross my mind at that point that Bo could not be the antagonist after what she had described as her lifestyle. I then created an expectation in my head, that Bo would try to use Woody's selfish temptation to leave Bonnie, who no longer played with him, as a way to pull him to take a selfish action to stay with her. And that he would then have to overcome his desire to stay with Bo and his understanding that it is wrong based on the morals established in the first 3 movies.
Well I was wrong.
Woody stays with Bo. And yes, his life with her is not entirely based on personal gain, he uses his time to help other toys find new homes. But it does go against what we know about Woody, what we know about Toy Story. That Woody, despite temptation, does the unselfish thing and stays with the kid he belongs to until they are done with him. Sure it could be argued that Bonnie was. Then shouldn't he look for another child? It retcons the importance (and perfect ending) of toy story 3.
If Woody can be perfectly content and also unselfish without being a child's toy, then why was it so meaningful for Andy to give him to Bonnie? Why didn't that movie end with Woody on a beach somewhere, completely sufficient being alone? Because it's not what an unselfish person does. They stick around for someone even when they don't need to. They are always there for you. I mean come on Pixar, just go listen to "You've got a friend in me" a few times gosh darn it, it's not that difficult to understand what the franchise was trying to say.
Toy Story 4 is entirely inconsistent with the franchise. Bo essentially offers Woody the same thing Jessie and the Prospector once did in Toy Story 2, but instead of rejecting it, he welcomes it with open arms. He abandoneds his friends and his duty for his own selfish desire to stay with Bo and always be played with by kids who won't care about him and he won't care about either. It's really weird to watch play out. It feels wrong. It feels off.
I will say I'm much more inclined to say the message shown in the first 3 films are morally correct while Toy Story 4's is not, I'm also not here to say that someone doing something for themselves for once is wrong. But in the scheme of Toy Story as a franchise it is. I just remember I couldn't stop thinking "but Woody wouldn't do that."
Why it matters.
So, they're inconsistent. Okay. That doesn't directly correlate with a movie being good, does it? Well, I kind of think it does. Maybe it doesn't effect how good a movie is in REALITY. But it definitely does effect your opinion of it. Like I mentioned with Monsters University, I believe the movie would have been much more successful if it was not a sequel. I think the same thing applies to Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2. Both are fun. Both are funny. Both have good music. Both otherwise feel like Disney movies. If they were original works, there would be no problem. But because of their inconsistency with the originals, the perception of them is much lower. The Inconsistency directly effects how we view and feel about the movie.
Inconsistency in a sequel can completely ruin it for you, even if the rest of the film is on point. There are even other aspects of these movies, like Buzz's personalities in Toy Story 4 for example, that is inconsistent, not even just the message. If this was how we were introduced to these characters, there would be no problem. But because we already have expectations of who they are and what they will learn, when the movie does not follow suit, it feels like the movie just wasn't good. We think that it felt off. We say something just didn't work. A piece of the puzzle was missing. It just wasn't the same.
And that's exactly what walking out of Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4 felt like. It just wasn't the same. Because it really wasn't the same. The one thing, the consistent factor in the previous films, or even just the consistent theme in one film, was missing, making it feel like this new entry does not belong. That it isn't bad in nature, but objectively does not belong with the others, making it bad in our eyes. The real reason why you didn't like Frozen 2, why you didn't like Toy Story 4, and probably why you didn't like some other sequel you can think of is the Inconsistency issue. It needs to be consistent. That's what makes a series of movies a series. That's what makes them related. It's not enough to just use the same voice actors, the same basic idea, the same 3d models. Those things alone do not make a movie a movie. What makes a movie, is what it's trying to say to you. And when the sequel and the original are both trying to say something to you that is, not only not the same, but the direct opposite of each other, it's difficult to see them as something that clicks together.
Something. Feels. Off.
I hope you enjoyed this even though it is a tad different! If you want to see more from me, subscribe down below! And to view my artwork, follow me on my instagram @raineydaydoodles, and check out all my accounts at https://linktr.ee/raineydaydoodles