‘Frozen,’ not ‘Tangled,’ breaks the ice in Korea

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‘Frozen,’ not ‘Tangled,’ breaks the ice in Korea

Has an animated film ever caused a sensation this big in Korea? Yes, I am talking about Disney’s “Frozen.” Countless parody videos and covers of its theme song “Let It Go,” have already gone viral among Internet and social media users. Recently, we even spotted its trot version!

Experts say the main causes of the movie’s success are its catchy music, exquisite images generated by cutting-edge computer technology and independent female protagonists who aren’t waiting for a Prince Charming. That would be true. But, wait.

We have already seem these factors in another Disney film, “Tangled” (2010), which many say is better organized at least in terms of the plot than “Frozen.” However, “Tangled” got a lukewarm response here. On the other hand, Korea has now become the biggest overseas market for “Frozen,” with $67 million in ticket sales as of Sunday.

So where is the difference coming from? What is behind the movie’s unprecedented success as an animated film in Korea? Here are several reasons.

1. Koreans’ musical preferences

Most of Walt Disney’s animated features have had a musical format. In the past, that wasn’t a big plus for the Korean audience as the country’s musical theater industry wasn’t flourishing as it is today. The market has had explosive growth since the early 2000s, leading the public to be familiar with songs in musical theater style.

Then, why did “Tangled,” which also had a musical format, fail to become a hit here, despite its lovely songs? I think it was because of the styles and ambience of its music. Songs in “Tangled” are roughly divided into cheerful, humorous ones and calm, lyrical ones. Neither style is much preferred by Korean musical fans, who favor dramatic and emotion-stirring sounds, which explode at the climax to give a catharsis. Some of those examples include “This is the Moment,” from the musical theater “Jekyll and Hyde,” many songs from “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” which are favorites of Korean audiences.

“Let It Go,” a song which Elsa sings when she runs away to an isolated snow mountain after her magical abilities are revealed, fits the taste perfectly. All the more, its lyrics are very poetic. When Elsa sings, “Let it go. Can’t hold it back any more. … I am free. I am one with the wind and sky,” it brings to mind the 19th-century English poet Emily Bronte, who sang of infinite freedom of the solitary soul in a stormy heath. I heard several adult viewers say that this scene brought back the memory of their own oppressed reality and they cried.

2. Favorable reviews about the Korean dubbed version

Generally, foreign animations are released here in two versions - a Korean subtitled version for adult viewers and a Korean dubbed version for children. However, as for “Frozen,” a few adult audiences have seen both versions, as the Korean-dubbed version has gotten favorable reviews. Because they regard “Frozen” as a musical theater piece, they watch it several times, both in the original and Korean-dubbed versions, as musical theater fans tend to watch the same musical piece in several performances by different casts.

3. A grown-up queen

In the center of the “Frozen” sensation stands Elsa, the snow queen of Arendelle. Unlike her sister, Anna, or Rapunzel from “Tangled” and princesses in other animations, Elsa becomes a grown-up queen, giving off an elegant and somewhat nubile vibe. She played a pivotal role in overturning Korean audiences’ deep-rooted prejudice that animated films, especially ones from Disney, are only for kids.

4. Disney’s princesses evolve

In past years, female characters, especially princesses, have taken the lead roles in most of Disney’s films, and they were meticulously ahead of the general norm of womanhood at the time. Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) showed a little bit of independence, but ultimately reached a limit when she “lived happily ever after” with her prince.

However, in “Mulan” (1998), Disney pushed the limit too far when a girl who disguised herself as a boy took over the screen. Then the baton was handed to Rapunzel, who, in her pink dress, boasted about her long golden hair and acted on her own.

Finally in “Frozen,” instead of focusing on the cliche of the relationship between a man and a woman, Disney decided to depict the heartwarming bond of sisterhood.

By Moon So-young [symoon@joongang.co.kr]

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