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Alissa Wilkinson on Disney’s Nostalgia Problem

This is why she’s one of my favorite movie critics.

Alissa Wilkinson’s review of Frozen 2 discusses the movie, sure, but she also uses it to explore Disney’s massive influence on our pop culture and entertainment, and the trap that the company seems to be falling into with its endless reboots, remakes, and sequels.

By my lights, Frozen 2 is still a plenty enjoyable film, even if it lacks its predecessor’s subversive spark. But for me, watching generative and derivative nostalgia spar within it prompted a different sense of the familiar: bleakness about the future of mouse-eared entertainment. Disney, whatever its faults, has often been a pioneer in storytelling; now it’s resting firmly on its laurels, too often electing to spin the wheel again rather than try to reinvent it.

Nostalgia has its place. Remembering the feeling of homesickness reminds us where we came from, that we come from somewhere. But too much yearning for the past without a concomitant attempt to live in the present and push toward the future is a dangerous trap for a culture to fall into, both because it risks becoming stagnant in its art and because it may begin to to worship the past as the only place worth living in. Too much yearning for the past makes us incurious about the world. And if, as Proust wrote, the past we remember is not necessarily the one that existed, remaining stubbornly beholden to it can render us altogether incapable of dealing with the present.

The bigger Disney gets, the more it controls what most Americans — and people around the world — will see at the movies and on their TV screens, and thus it bears enormous responsibility for seeing into the future. Looking backward too much, recycling old content and relying on old formulas endlessly, becomes a snake eating its own tail.

This is why she’s one of my favorite movie critics.


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