Little known fact about Disney’s “Frozen” franchise that kicks back into high gear Friday with the much-anticipated release of “Frozen II.”
The original movie, beloved by millions of kids under 10, shares a title with an earlier, critically acclaimed play about a child killer that came under scrutiny in 2004 not for its stark content but for plagiarism allegations leveled against the author.
“Frozen,” by Bryony Lavery, had its world premiere in the UK in 1998 before a Broadway run in 2004 that garnered a Tony award for actor Brian O’Byrne and Tony nominations for actress Swoosie Kurtz and director Doug Hughes, as well as a Tony nomination for best play.
It’s also been mounted at numerous regional theaters, including New Repertory Theatre in Watertown in 2006.
Here’s what Ed Siegel, then a theater critic for the Globe, wrote about the Watertown production:
“‘Frozen’ is a play that speaks about the unspeakable. There is the unspeakable grief of a mother whose 10-year-old daughter has been murdered. There is the unspeakable horror of the murder itself, combined with the sexual abuse that most likely preceded it, along with the unspeakable terror of what the girl must have been going through.
“Bryony Lavery gives voice to all these anguishes in her play, which doesn’t make for easy listening on the audience’s part. But what sets ‘’Frozen” apart from less ambitious dramatic forays into this dark territory is that she also gives voice to the inarticulate mumblings and musings of Ralph Wantage, the killer, not so much to garner sympathy for him as to gather information about the mind of a murderer. ...
“All three of these people are souls on ice. The mother and the murderer are stuck in a frozen mind-set of grief or rage that keeps them from moving forward. The psychiatrist’s self-doubt has a numbing effect on her as well.”
But Lavery’s lustre dimmed a bit in 2004, when she got hit with plagiarism allegations.
The Associated Press reported at the time that Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker said they spotted at least 12 instances of plagiarism in “Frozen.”
Details had also been taken from a New Yorker profile Gladwell wrote about Lewis in 1997 and from Lewis’ 1998 book “Guilty by Reason of Insanity,’’ the pair alleged, according to the wire service. “Had she asked for material we would have given it to her, but what she has done is a theft,’’ Lewis’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, told the AP at the time.
Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker in 2004 after the allegations surfaced, took a nuanced view of the matter, noting that Lavery previously credited the writing of a third person as inspiration for the script.
In addition, Gladwell wrote, Lavery spoke to him for his article, and for the psychiatrist character, she drew on a reprint of an earlier piece by Gladwell that she saw in a British publication. “I wanted a scientist who would understand,” Lavery told Gladwell. “I wanted it to be accurate.”
Gladwell wrote that “Lavery wasn’t indifferent to other people’s intellectual property” but “was just indifferent to my intellectual property. That’s because, in her eyes, what she took from me was different. It was, as she put it, ‘news.’ She copied my description of Dorothy Lewis’s collaborator, Jonathan Pincus, conducting a neurological examination. She copied the description of the disruptive neurological effects of prolonged periods of high stress. ... She reproduced a quote that I had taken from a study of abused children, and she copied a quotation from Lewis on the nature of evil. She didn’t copy my musings, or conclusions, or structure.”
But hey — if all this talk about theatrical noir and plagiarism is a little disquieting heading into Disney’s animated “Frozen II,” there’s a simple solution: let it go.