Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Parallels and Unnecessary Villainy Between StarKid's "Twisted" and Disney's "Frozen"

I am once again inspired to compare a StarKid production to a Disney one.

Back around Thanksgiving, Team StarKid released their latest musical, Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier, on YouTube. It tells the story of Disney's Aladdin from Jafar's point of view with satire and it is brilliantly done.

I actually watched it for the first time last week today around this time, and the more I think about it, the more it bears a resemblance to Disney's Frozen, and that's not just because they were both released Thanksgiving 2013 weekend.

Unlike my Starship versus The Little Mermaid piece, this won't be a compare and contrast to see which is better considering one is an actual Disney film and the other is a parody of an actual Disney film and also of Wicked. These will just be some observations I have made.

Before I proceed, I will warn you that this will be spoiler heavy for both musicals, so read at your own risk. If you would like to watch Twisted before reading, check out the video I provided for you below. Normally they upload their musicals by scenes, but for this one they decided to upload the entire show in one video as well. Also, if you are a diehard Aladdin fan, be wary when you watch this. It made me look at the cartoon in a totally different way and I don't want to ruin the Disney magic for you. So once again, proceed with caution.

Twisted contains strong adult language.

You ready?

The Poor, Misunderstood, Isolated Main Characters: Jafar and Elsa

Jafar, played by Dylan Saunders, and Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel

Both Jafar and Elsa are misunderstood individuals with tragic pasts. Even though they both have ties to the highest hierarchy of the kingdom, Elsa a queen and Jafar an adviser to the Sultan, they are also isolated by the commoners that they are so eager to protect.

Elsa actually isn't isolated by the kingdom as much as she isolates herself from them per advice from the magic expert Trolls and her parents. It isn't until she reveals her ice powers and runs away herself that the kingdom starts to fear her and her lack of control.

As for Jafar, there is no clear reason why the kingdom hates him so much. He doesn't do anything bad but rather think realistically about the state of the kingdom and wanting reform. Everyone else is too idealistic and believe that wishing and dreaming is the only step you need to take to succeed, whereas Jafar does not. The only thing he is truly guilty of is disagreeing with everyone else.

There are actually articles I have read briefly that try to argue the claim that Frozen is an allegory for Christianity and that Anna, Elsa's younger sister, represents Jesus Christ. Well, I see this more with Twisted. Not that Jafar represents Jesus necessarily, but more so any other biblical figure, like Noah, Jonah, or Moses. Twisted actually reminds me a lot of a Sight and Sound Theatres production. I've seen shows at their Lancaster, Pennsylvania location and Twisted's characters, costumes, and makeup greatly resemble theirs, especially during the "Golden Rule (Reprise)". The whole Middle Eastern setting and time period concept is similar and Jafar is similar to biblical figures in the way that he tries to help others change for good, but there are certain people who just want none of it and brush away his pleas.

The Innocent Disney Princess Eager to Make Change: The Princess and Anna

The Princess, played by Rachael Soglin, and Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell

Ah, the naivety of Disney Princesses. Isn't it cute?

The Princess (who is never referred to as Jasmine for some odd reason but let's be honest she looks exactly like her) and Anna are two innocent yet determined young girls who think that they have it all figured out but in reality they know nothing. They believe they understand the ways of the world and that they have what it takes to make informed decisions and make change, but they are both just too sheltered up until the musical begins to fully comprehend things.

Something else the two have in common is the rocky relationships they have with the main characters that become more heartwarming and close as the musicals draw to a close.

Both princesses break out of their constraints, and after their respected adventures mature them, are eventually taken seriously. Like with Elsa's queenship and Anna's leadership in Frozen, nobody in Twisted objects to being governed by a woman when The Princess takes over. One of her decrees is that everyone is from then on a princess and even when she doesn't refer to Jafar's main henchman as one, he replies with a "Don't you mean, 'princess?'"

However, during the course of their stories, it is because of their innocence and naivety that they end up falling for the manipulations of...

The Hot Guy that Turns Out to be the Villain Through an Elaborate Reveal: Aladdin and Hans

Aladdin, played by Jeff Blim, and Hans, voiced by Santino Fontana

Hear that? Aladdin is a villain now.

I wanted to write a whole post about the unanswered questions Frozen posed, but decided that this was a better place to acknowledge my opinion...

I absolutely HATE what the writers did with the Hans character. Everybody else is all like, "What a great twist!" or "I saw that coming. Cool."

No. Stop it. It's too cliche and you know it. The writers totally messed him up.

Okay, so what happens is that since Elsa accidentally struck her heart with her powers, Anna needs a "true love's kiss" to save her from being completely "frozen." So naturally, she runs to her fiance Hans for help. But then, *GASP* Hans reveals to her that he never loved her and just wanted to marry her to become King of Arendelle. He then goes into this whole cliche speech. You know, the one where the bad guy has the hero (or in this case, heroine) vulnerable in his evil clutches as he details his most evil plan. Mwahahahaha!

See, the whole time we think that The Duke of Weselton is the bad guy, and although this guy isn't altogether good, sending his men to kill Elsa because he thinks she is dangerous, it was really Hans all along! Unless they were trying to play with the idea of how the Prince is always the expected hero and now a prince is the bad guy...

Frozen already has a conflict and it consists of Elsa controlling her lifelong struggles to end the eternal winter she had struck on Arendelle and Anna trying to bring her sister back home and forge a relationship with her. Hans is such a great character at the beginning. He develops this goofy friendship with Anna, trusts her, takes orders from her, and runs Arendelle in her absence. Making him this guy with bad intentions and have him try to put both sisters to death in order to gain the crown doesn't add anything at all. And the intention of him wanting to take over the kingdom is literally the OLDEST been there, done that story!

At least StarKid has the decency to be original. In their version, Aladdin is a psychopath murderer with a split personality that killed his parents. Also, he's 33 years old. Seriously. They dedicated a whole song to this.

Holy crap.

Unlike Hans, Aladdin is pretty much a jerk throughout the whole thing based on his selfishness and how he likes to screw with Jafar. Like the original Aladdin, he's a sweet talking, lying, immature street rat thief, but in Twisted his main goal is to ultimately have sex with Jasmine. 

Oh, sorry. I mean, "The Princess."

So already he is a decent antagonist. During the climax, The Princess puts up a front after a whole musical two hours worth of ignoring his advances and Aladdin's patience reaches a breaking point. He tries to kidnap her as Jafar intervenes, which brings us to the great reveal.

This is pretty much the best scene of the whole thing for me. Everything about it is just so perfect. Jeff Blim's facial expressions and portrayal of two different people having a psychotic conversation, the audience's reactions, the timing, the lighting, the creepy background music, the closeups, Dylan Saunders's perfectly timed Jafar reaction at the end, and what transpires thereafter. The only criticism I have about it is at times Blim bounces out of the frame, but to me it's one of the best scenes StarKid has ever done. Matt and Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale perfectly wrote it and Brian Holden excellently directed it.

Too bad it wasn't needed.

Much like how the villainy of Hans wasn't necessary, neither was this. Like in Frozen, Twisted already has its conflicts for Jafar to solve. Aladdin is already a problem without showing this weird side to him. This musical is full of twists as well as references to twists, the title being appropriate, but the greatest twist of all is that it turns out that The Princess is Jafar's daughter

So therefore, Aladdin is this 33-year-old promiscuous lowlife trying to bang Jafar's 16-year-old only little girl. For a father, that's enough motivation right there!

But it's just so entertaining and it brings out StarKid's creativity to put their own spin on a classic story that I can't say that it shouldn't be in there at all.

The Need for People to Take Off Their Clothes

In Twisted there are times where Aladdin constantly indirectly says to the The Princess, "Take off your clothes," which to me is an homage to the apparent very subliminal message in Disney's Aladdin. Clever. 

Another thing I wanted to point out in my questioning Frozen post is the scene where Kristoff takes Anna, Olaf, and Sven to see his Troll family. I feel like I'm the only one who noticed this part, because my friend Abby, who saw the film with me, didn't stir. At one point, one of the Trolls tells Kristoff to take off his clothes as she tries to undress him...

Nobody else seems to have noticed this line or the oddness of this request for one family member to command of another! It happens so quickly, so maybe that's why. Kristoff himself even shrugs it off. Why are they so eager for Kristoff to take his clothes off? More importantly, why is DISNEY? Why was this one line included anyway? Is not wearing clothes a normal thing for the Troll family or is it the same as a mother telling her kid to take off his or her coat and shoes upon entering the house? Or, is this a play on Aladdin's supposed subliminal message? Either way, it is something both Disney films have in common and StarKid has its own fun with it.

Anyway, enough of Disney's desire for nudity. Let's get back to the stories...

The Conflicts of Everyday Life

This section is actually what inspired this whole blog post.

Not every tale needs that one singular villain that the heroes need to defeat. Sometimes the villain is life itself, which is something to which everybody can relate.

In my heart Hans and Aladdin aren't bad guys. A part of me wants to ignore the fact that Hans's revelation scene is even in the film. If anything, they could've done something different with him to spice up the story's conclusion. And as for Aladdin, apart from his evil personality, he's just a lazy grown man that just wants to get laid. I mean, I'm willing to bet that there are some men out there like that, meaning that he's kind of normal. In that respect, anyway.

Jafar and Elsa are both a "victim of circumstance," as quoted by The Princess in reference to Aladdin. Their lives and struggles in themselves are what they have to overcome and throwing a villain into that is just adding a random extra annoyance to an already severe problem. They are placed into these situations and sometimes cannot help their circumstances right away because they must deal with the uncooperative people and problems around them. 

But then again a lot of stories involve the protagonist suffering from some kind of everyday troubles and then must deal with a villain antagonist on top of that. It makes the story more complex and interesting I guess, and normally without that villain causing conflict you wouldn't have a story. But just because that kind of plot exists it doesn't mean that every story needs it. Sometimes the archetype is overdone.

I like how Twisted came out right when Aladdin is the most recent Disney production to come to Broadway. Also, Frozen is coming to Broadway as well! It's just another thing they all have in common.

One thing I wish StarKid acknowledged is those scenes in Aladdin where, you know, Jasmine is held prisoner by Jafar as his slave and is dressed in chains and this sexy red outfit and then starts flirting and making out with him to distract him from Aladdin. According to them, she's his daughter, remember? 

We're not going to talk about that? You're not going to explain that one?