Oh, boy. Where to start with Frozen. It’s not like Disney finally listened to complaints about the lack of diversity in its princess movies. Or stopped making stupid comments about how female characters are harder to animate because they have too many emotions. But at least they’re making a slight step in the right direction (and when I say slight step, I mean slight step. This is still a very formulaic, sell-the-merchandise-hard Disney princess movie). More on that below.
Frozen is the story of Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) of Arendelle. Elsa was born with the power to create snow and ice, but after an accident that nearly kills her younger sister Anna, she’s hidden behind closed doors and told to never show her power to anyone, including her sister. After a stormy voyage claims the lives of their parents, Elsa is crowned before the whole kingdom, which excites Anna, who hasn’t seen other people since they were little. When Anna meets Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), who proposes to her almost instantly, she asks for Elsa’s blessing, which sets off Elsa’s emotions and powers. Realizing what she’s done, Elsa flees to the North Mountain, leaving an icy Arendelle behind. Anna then teams up with mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), reindeer Sven, and talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) to head up the mountain and rescue Elsa.
Disney originally said that Frozen would be based on The Snow Queen by well-known fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen, which really excited me. I read the Danish story when I was little, and I always loved it. In The Snow Queen, a young girl named Gerda rescues her friend Kai after he’s enchanted and taken to the snowy mountains by the evil Snow Queen. Obviously, if you read the plot above, you’ve realized by now that Frozen is absolutely nothing like The Snow Queen, other than the fact that it has a queen with the ability to enchant snow.
Truly, Frozen is just another Disney princess formula. Beautiful princesses with issues. Handsome men to sweep them off their feet. Dysfunctional family life. Plucky, non-human sidekicks. Oh, Disney, you’re so creative.
While it’s a proven formula that works for kids (and I don’t begrudge them that since this is a movie targeted at kids), it’s extremely predictable for the adults who have to watch it with them. I mean, you can almost predict down to the minute when certain things will happen and how the story will go. For example, when Elsa and Anna’s parents left on a boat and said they’ll be back soon, I was like, “Yeah, they’re dead.” Oh, and then there was Prince Hans, who Anna had only known for a day (if that) when she fell in love. When she agreed to marry him, I knew that dude was up to something, especially since he mentioned he had 12 older brothers (If you know anything about primogeniture, then you get it). Things only got more suspicious when Anna left Arendelle in Hans’ hands, and he seemed way too trustworthy (Hint: Bad guy). Basically, what I’m saying is, if you’ve ever seen a Disney movie (Hell…seen any movie), then you’ll be able to figure it out in a heartbeat.
While the predictability gets annoying, I actually appreciate Disney mixing it up with the princess story. This time, rather than having the story be strictly about the princesses falling in love (though Anna and Kristoff still do), it was about Elsa and Anna’s bond as sisters, which was much more heartwarming. And the fact that Anna not only trekked up the mountain to rescue Elsa but also jumped in front of Hans’ sword to save her leaves viewers of Frozen with a good message that the truest love is family love (I’m not being cheesy. This is a plot point).
I would like to see more movies from Disney with characters like Elsa. Where the Snow Queen in The Snow Queen was a villain, Elsa was just misunderstood. The first part of the movie shows Elsa as dutiful, fearful, and lonely as she hides her powers from the people of Arendelle and Anna. By the time she flees to the mountain, we suddenly see a different side of her, one that’s powerful, beautiful, and confident. Also, I was very pleased that the writers stuck to Elsa’s story of personal growth and didn’t feel the need to give her a love interest. It was, by far, the best character development I’ve seen from a Disney princess.
For the most part, I liked Anna. She was sweet, awkward, and naive, and even though she ended up doing the whole love interest thing, she was the one who helped Elsa learn to control her powers (through love, awwww). But the thing that irritated me about her was that I thought she was going to end up being a way for the writers to poke fun at Disney’s past princesses. When Elsa and Kristoff pointed out how ridiculous it was that Anna got engaged to a man she only knew for a day, it was like, finally, Disney understands complaints about this love-at-first-sight bullshit they’ve been feeding us from day one. And it would’ve been really effective…had Anna not turned around and fallen for Kristoff after, what, two or three days? Oh, sure. She got to know him a little better because he helped her find her sister. But you can’t poke fun of that typical role only to go and repeat it.
Also, let me make something clear before we get into a debate about how I’m a love-hating feminazi or whatever. I’m not saying female characters can’t ever have love interests. In fact, part of human life is exploring relationships, and many great female characters (like Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have had love interests. The problem that we’ve seen with Disney, however, is that the love interest is the character’s entire reason for doing anything, which isn’t a good message, nor is it realistic. That’s why I’m saying Frozen is a slight step in the right direction. Elsa focused on herself and her sister, and even Anna (despite singing a song about how she wanted to meet “the one”) didn’t do everything for the love of Hans or Kristoff.
Let’s see…what else is there? Well, the movie is beautifully designed, but you already expected that. Oh, and Josh Gad’s snowman, Olaf, was unsurprisingly the best part of Frozen. And then there’s the trolls. Why in the hell did we need the trolls? The only purpose they served was to tell Anna she had ice in her heart after singing some ridiculously stupid number about Kristoff being a “fixer-upper” (Ouch, bro). Which reminds me…
Everyone keeps talking up Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez’s music for Frozen, saying it’s the best thing since Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. I’m not sure I agree. Frozen‘s soundtrack was catchy and very Disney, sure, but it’s not nearly as good as Beauty and the Beast. That being said, Elsa’s self-affirming, powerful “Let It Go” ballad was amazing, thanks to Idina Menzel (who you might recognize as Elphaba from Wicked). I’ve already downloaded this song and listened to it more times than I’d care to admit. But that really was the only song that I thought was worth mentioning. Everything else was just kind of okay.
Overall, Frozen gives me some seriously mixed feelings. I’m impressed that Disney gave us a movie with two female leads (though they eliminated almost all of the supporting female roles, which kind of misses the point). Idina Menzel’s Elsa is the type of complex, non-Kate Middleton princess we’ve been waiting for. Kristen Bell’s Anna dives head first into any relationship with a man she doesn’t know, yet she’s slightly better developed than her princess predecessors. Quite frankly, I’ll take these two over the others any day because they’re signs that Disney is getting there (albeit slowly).
On the other hand, the music wasn’t as good (with the exception of Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go”), the plot formula is tired, and the movie would be almost devoid of humor if it weren’t for Josh Gad’s Olaf the Snowman. I don’t know if I’d say this movie will “melt your heart,” as all of the other critics are putting it, but it will definitely give it a lukewarm feeling that makes you want to be nicer to your little sister.
For my radio review of Frozen on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 17:45 mark).