I recently stumbled across an Internet argument that has become fairly common nowadays. It was a discussion on whether Frozen was overrated. Now, ignoring the fact that this is an argument taking place half a year after the film already made hundreds of millions of dollars and won two Oscars, it represents a deeper issue in the way we perceive movies. The discussion, rather than debating the merits of the film itself, largely focused on its reception by audiences. Those claiming Frozen was indeed overrated (let’s call them hipsters, not to insult them but just for concision) said they were “over-hyped” by the mindless audience. “But they aren’t hipsters just for going against the norm! Can’t they have their own opinions?”
Mainstream Movies And Our Ridiculous Expectations
Well thank you for interrupting random stranger, because I would like to start my tirade by saying that you are free to openly despise Frozen if you so choose. You can find it entertaining but bland, melodramatic but heartfelt, funny but not too funny, or anything in between. Where the arguments become problematic is when the mainstream becomes the antagonist.
When Frozen first came out, the internet leaped at it because it was a return to many of the Disney Princess tropes of the 90s but with a slightly feminist twist that made it more potable for the more mature but nostalgic teen demographic. The Internet, being comprised largely of nostalgic teens looking to go against the norm wanted more movies like Frozen. The songs were catchy and easy to parody, the story was familiar but engaging, and the characters were ripe for cosplay. The backlash for the film was in reaction to this sub-cultural Internet fandom coinciding with the mainstream intended audience.
In other words, when a movie is successful in the mainstream but hated by the Internet, as with the Transformers series, there is no backlash. When a movie is missed by the mainstream but loved by the Internet, as with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, there is no backlash. But when the Internet supports a movie and it becomes successful with mainstream audiences as well, as with Frozen, the hipsters wield their “Overrated” Sabers and strike back with wild abandon. They will say that anyone who liked the movie for any reason is just a part of that mainstream herd. My fear for this sentiment is that it ignores the process of making the movie itself.
This idea isn’t new, as it was used in the music industry whenever an indie band hit a major label. What is new is that the Internet wants everything it consumes to be as “indie” as possible, but movies cannot succeed that way. Movies, and especially blockbusters like Frozen are extremely expensive and marketing driven. If they succeed and make a profit it is only by the power of good marketing and market segmentation. As a consumer, you want the things you like to do well, because that means the studio will want to make more things like it.
In this way the mainstream is our friend. Even if you didn’t love Frozen, if you like Disney musicals with strong female leads based on obscure children’s stories, Frozen’s success is good for you. If you like traditionally animated stuffed animals prancing in the woods, it’s less good that Winnie the Pooh was only a minor success. Looking to Disney for something that goes against the mainstream is like looking to Justin Bieber for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” You will never find what you’re looking for, and if you do find an underrated gem, Disney will not make another like it for fear of making the same mistakes.
Frozen used the same marketing tactics as Tangled, with two comic relief characters as the focus for the ads, virtually identical titles, and similarly marketed female leads. Whereas Tangled spent $260 million and made $590 million worldwide, Frozen spent $150 million and made over a billion worldwide. Disney now knows that in order to make the big bucks, it needs to make something that isn’t just marketable, but critically acclaimed and heartfelt. They now know that the power of the Internet and catchy songs can be profitable.
Instead of dismissing a movie for being “overrated,” why not accept that your opinion is different and that the effects of a popular movie are much stronger than an “underrated” one.