I had no idea Disney’s Frozen would deliver as much as it did. With Disney’s latest Princess films (The Princess in the Frog and Tangled) doing well in some areas but fudging others, I did not expect a whole lot given that the brunt of Frozen’s advertising was focused around the gag character, Olaf. What I experienced was something akin to a “defrosting.” As the film went on I slowly grew more and more in love with it, and after thinking about it for several days, I finally understand why I walked out of Frozen feeling so happy.
Disney’s Frozen is the most involving piece of classic Disney Animation (which should spark a nostalgic burst of happiness in anyone who remembers classic 2D Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin) in recent memory. Frozen somehow tows the line between current and classic Disney. The use of new avenues of animation while still invoking the nostalgic musical overtones of 2D Disney definitely help cement Frozen as a film you will remember fondly alongside the likes of Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and every other Disney classic you can think of.
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Release Date: November 27, 2013
Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” Frozen takes place in the Nordic kingdom of Arendelle (complete with amazing details like books and graves that don’t need to pander to the audience by using legible English) where sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) have to cope with the death of their parents (another trope of classic Disney!). While they were close as children, as Elsa slowly loses control of her ice powers, she begins to shut her self in her room (at the wish of her father) for fear that she might hurt her sister again after a freak accident causes the loss of Anna’s memory. On the day of her coronation as Queen, Elsa loses control of her ice powers, locks Arendelle in an eternal winter, and it’s up to Princess Anna and her new pals to help Elsa not feel so alone.
Just by the summary you should realize that like the better half of Disney animated films, there are strong adult thematic elements while the film remains deceptively simple for younger audiences. On the surface, Frozen is a hero’s journey in which by traveling to save her sister from herself, Anna grows as a person. And if you look deeper, you realize both Anna’s longing for companionship and Elsa’s want for isolation both represent a deeper need to accept themselves and their troubled past. For the children watching who may not catch the darker tones presented here (again, one of Classic Disney’s greatest attributes is the ability to tell a dark story while managing to be suitable and entertaining for children), there’s plenty to latch on to as the film’s comedy is spot on.
For those like myself who were worried that Frozen was going the way of Tangled (too cute for its own good) thanks to the Olaf focused advertising, you should know that Olaf isn’t that bad. Josh Gadd makes Olaf bearable, and even enjoyable. Although he is the goofy sidekick, he’s given a pretty hilarious defining character trait: his unstoppable optimism. It’s hard to not like the guy when given the imagery of a snowman singing about the heat of Summer while completely oblivious to the laws of physics. And he doesn’t particularly get in the way. While his inclusion in the film is a Classic Disney staple, he helps the plot along, saves the day in a few ways, and manages to become the physical manifestation of Anna and Elsa’s lost childhood wonder.
As for Anna and Elsa, they’re some of the best Disney characters, female or otherwise. In recent years, the move toward a stronger feminist presence among the Princesses resulted in better films overall (Brave was fabulous in this regard). And that presence is delivered in spades with Frozen‘s two main women. Anna is officially my new favorite Disney Princess. Kristen Bell portrays the surprisingly well written character’s dialogue with a charming awkwardness that makes Anna so lovable, it’s hard not to root for her. And while Elsa is technically a queen, it’s very much her and Idina Menzel’s movie.
Like most Classic Disney films, Frozen is a musical, so most of its narrative is portrayed through song (rather that exist for existence’s sake like in Tangled). If that scares you away (I hope it doesn’t), you’ll be missing out on some Disney tunes that will most likely stand the test of time. Idina Menzel’s stand out single, “Let it Go” is such a gorgeous sequence (blending sassiness, stunning animation of her ice powers, and character development physically represented with an outfit change) that the song will most likely join many fans “Top Ten Disney Songs” lists for many years to come. The other songs in the soundtrack are great as well with only one notable clunker in the bunch. It’s the animated sequences that help elevate the material.
Let me remedy the fact I keep throwing around the phrase “Classic Disney” without fully explaining myself. The films of my childhood were steeped in many dense subjects like death and acceptance (The Lion King), vanity and jealousy (Cinderella), isolation and longing (Beauty and the Beast) and even the perils of false manhood (Hercules). Thing is, I had no idea any of those subjects were being discussed at the time. All I knew was some good songs were playing, funny things happened, and it looked good to the eye. Frozen somehow makes me feel like a kid again. The complete dissolve into the film as I just sat and enjoyed the movie is something I haven’t experienced as a critic in a long time. But unfortunately while I enjoyed the experience, Frozen has a few faults which bear mentioning.
The third act tends to drag on (tighter editing could have saved it), the ending is predictable, and while Olaf is enjoyable most of the time he does grate in some instances. In the same breath, it’s hard to blame Frozen for its faults. While warming itself in the nostalgic sweater of Classic Disney, it falls into some of the same pitfalls. Anna has to fall in love with someone, there has to be a harshly cut to happy ending, there has to be one-joke one-note caricatures, there has to be some character decisions that don’t make sense. Thankfully, Frozen (thanks to its tighter, than usual for Disney, script) gives us plenty of delightful twists and turns before its predictable end. You will know where the film is leading, but you won’t know how it’s going to get there.
There’s so much more I wanted to talk about. Jonathan Groff plays a love interest that isn’t a Prince and is all the better for it, there isn’t a clear cut villain until the last third of the film (which shows growth in Disney’s part), Frozen might not be so great for little boys (but in my screening, a little boy was singing “Let it Go” after it was over!), political intrigue is notably in the forefront of the film’s events, the film’s new definition of “true love” sets a new standard for Princess films going forward, the Mickey Mouse short, “Get a Horse,” that plays beforehand is amazing and I could honestly keep going on all day.
But I’m stopping here. If you like the Disney Princess films of the past (and want to finally see one that isn’t all about finding a man or proving she’s as good as a man) and understand why they’re so popular, then go see Frozen. See it before it’s spoiled for you. See it before listening to the soundtrack. See it after watching a few of Disney’s 2D animated films. Above all else, see it knowing full well you’ll be happier after.