I’ve been wanting to talk about “Frozen” for a while now. Like “The Little Mermaid“, the movie that kicked off the Disney renaissance, “Frozen” is a film based on a work of Hans Christian Anderson, adapted into a theatrical Disney princess musical. In my opinion, “Frozen” is easily one of the strongest Disney films from the 21st century, as well as one of their better Disney princess films. I mentioned a few reviews back that a lot of the films from the post-Renaissance era and the early Disney revival felt lacking. Very few of them were actually terrible, but many of them felt content to be average. Films like “Bolt” and “Winnie the Pooh” hardly did anything especially charming, unique, innovative or memorable; they played it far too safe and wound up feeling bland and forgettable as a result. “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen” were the first Disney films in about a decade to regain Disney’s sense of ambition, to really go that extra mile and be something special, and “Moana” and “Zootopia” were the point where I officially agreed with the general consensus that Disney had gotten it’s groove back.
However, since 2013, “Frozen” has suffered from some hype backlash. “Frozen” was not only a critical and commercial success, but it managed to break “The Lion King’s” records as one of Disney’s most successful and profitable franchises; bringing home numerous awards, including a few Oscars. There was plenty of “Frozen” merchandise everywhere, and songs from “Frozen’s” soundtrack got plenty of airtime on the radio. A growing sentiment around the internet (especially YouTube) since 2014 is that “Frozen” is overrated, over-hyped trash that’s undeserving of it’s popularity and acclaim, which eventually reached obsessive, vitriolic levels, and honestly, I find the large amount of pettiness directed towards “Frozen” to be pretty hypocritical. There’s this double standard that a Disney movie being insanely, ubiquitously popular is an inherently terrible thing that should never happen, unless it’s your own nostalgic favorite from the 90’s renaissance like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King“. “Frozen” has a high reputation, but it’s a reputation that the movie earned, as much as the Disney renaissance films earned theirs. So I’m here today to offer my opinions on the film, it’s flaws and merits.
“Frozen” respectfully deals with some pretty hefty subjects and some surprisingly dark themes for a family film, like fractured family ties, crippling anxiety, and the consequences that extreme isolation has on children as they grow into adults. Basically, the royal family of Arendelle teaches us all how not to deal with childhood trauma. After their young daughters have a near-fatal magical accident, the king and queen of Arendelle instruct their eldest daughter to control her abilities with the Bambi method of closing herself off and suppressing her emotions as a proper royal should, which does nothing for her over the years except stunt her mental development. Elsa finds herself locked in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her obsessive fear of her powers, which haunts her everyday, only makes them more difficult to control, and her frequent attempts to push her sister away for her own good still only wind up hurting her sister, in more ways than one. All of this happens while the king and queen keep the girls sealed away from the outside world – preventing them from having any friends growing up or gaining any real life experience – and they keep Anna locked out of the loop, keeping them from being friends with each other as well, which is terrible parenting.
By the time Anna comes of age, there’s really no reason to continue keeping the royal secret from her, but by this point Elsa has fully succumbed to her fears, become depressed and given up on herself, even after her parents are killed and she and Anna are the only members of the royal family who are still alive. By the time Anna and Elsa are physically adult women, neither of them are anywhere near mentally prepared to take on the outside world – Elsa is a nervous wreck who can barely handle being around other people for long without losing control of her powers (which are basically an extension of herself, a sixth sense) and falling apart; while Anna is so starved of love, affection and human contact from the people around her, and so lonely that she’s willing to rush into a relationship with someone she just met to try and fill the void. So naturally, everything goes to hell in a handbasket on their real first day interacting with the kingdom. Basically, the sisters both hit rock bottom by the end of the first act, and Anna and Elsa’s respective character arcs in the film are all about them healing and finding their way back from this poor state. The girls have to face their childhood trauma and conquer their respective issues so they can grow into the best versions of themselves and finally be ready to transition into adulthood.
Disney’s version of the Snow Queen is a benevolent yet dangerous mage. Elsa is one of the more powerful characters in the Disney multiverse. She can freeze entire rooms without trying to, create jagged spikes out of nothing, kill someone from the inside out by freezing their hearts, plunge entire regions into endless winters, and create sentient life. She’s seriously overpowered. Under ordinary circumstances, having powers that are tied to your emotions would already be unpleasant, given how volatile human emotions are, but dealing with anxiety in a time period where people were a lot less knowledgeable about mental disorders and how to handle them in a healthy way would only make things so much worse. Elsa finds herself grappling for control over her unstable abilities several times throughout the film. She’s haunted by the night she almost killed her younger sister – with all the fear, guilt and self-loathing that come with that – and she doesn’t trust herself. So partly as a consequence, she’s spent a lifetime putting other people’s needs before her own. Her signature song, “Let It Go”, can so easily be taken out of context as an empowering power ballad about being true to yourself that it’s easy to forget that in the film itself it actually serves a similar purpose as “Hakuna Matata”. A lost protagonist at her lowest point, fooling herself into thinking that running away from her past and secluding herself in the wilderness forever is a good, permanent solution to her problems (even if Anna hadn’t come looking for her, sooner or later Elsa was going to get hungry in her empty ice palace).
But with that much having been said, “Let It Go” is still a pivotal turning point in Elsa’s character arc; it’s the first time since she was a girl that she embraces her powers, starts to see the value of them as something fierce and wild and potentially beautiful, and she simply lets herself be. She even starts to nurture her long neglected creative side, carving many exquisite things out of ice. In one song, we see her build herself up from one of her lowest points in the movie to a moment of personal triumph for her. It’s a good first step, but it’s not enough, since no man is an island. Elsa loses her newfound confidence not long after this, when she realizes she’s way out of her depth with no way back, and it’s Anna’s love, trust and support in her sister that pushes her the rest of the way to being free to express herself wholeheartedly, giving her some much-needed inspiration. Over the course of the film, Elsa’s cautious, reserved and demure surface personality melts away to reveal her inner warmth and compassion, allowing her to be a good queen for her kingdom. I do love the implication in both “Let It Go” and the siege on her fortress (where she tries to straight-up murder the Duke’s men with her powers) that Elsa has a lot of repressed anger about how consistently cruel her life has been, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Jennifer Lee and company flesh out her personality further in “Frozen 2”, now that she no longer has to fear killing anyone she talks to and she has to actually socialize with people (something they’ve already begun to do in the “Frozen” shorts).
Elsa’s sister, Anna, may not be the Snow Queen with dazzling magical powers, but she is, in many ways, the beating heart of “Frozen”. While Elsa is a great character, Anna is just as layered and thoroughly fleshed-out as she is, and I think it’s really Anna who gets the lion’s share of attention and character development in “Frozen”. A fun-loving, spirited and impulsive young woman with wanderlust, Princess Anna doesn’t always make the best decisions (in fact, some of them are really foolish), but she has as good a heart as any and has been burned many times over the last thirteen years by her family’s magical secret. Truthfully, Elsa isn’t the only who’s spent years now concealing – Anna’s perkiness and optimism mask a few scars she’s gained from years of loneliness and heartbreak, and it’s implied she might feel a bit self-conscious about being the ‘spare’ sister compared to the future queen. Ever since she was a girl, Anna has always been very impulsive, rarely thinking big decisions through before she makes them, and because of her sheltered upbringing, she can also be rather naive. She’s very much a believer in carving out your own destiny, and she is nothing if not proactive about everything she does. After a harsh fight with Elsa where she accidentally outs her sister to the kingdom, Anna embarks on a perilous quest through the mountains, facing all kinds of beasts with some boys she found along the way – her boys – to bring her sister home, safe and sound.
Anna’s fierce loyalty, her sense of responsibility, her undeniable emotional strength, and her warm heart are her four most admirable traits. Despite Elsa appearing to be an incredibly selfish person for at least the last couple of years (when she left her to grieve their parents on her own), from the moment Anna discovers her true nature and realizes there is still a chance she can reach out to the true Elsa within, she wastes no time pursuing her old childhood friend through the unknown and she never gives up on her throughout the film, despite there being some times I know she wanted to (like after “The First Time In Forever (Reprise)”). Anna learns her own lessons during the trip, like the importance of not rushing into things (because her first love might not be her true love and it might set her up for heartbreak) and how to be patient, thoughtful and supportive for Elsa. After years of her family giving things up for the girls, what Anna wants, more than anything, is to have a happy, fulfilling life and be the one who gets to take care of Elsa for once. By the climax, it actually hurts watching her die, horrifically petrifying from the inside out from her own sister’s out-of-control magic, so like Elsa I would consider Anna to be a rousing success as a protagonist (though I do wonder why her first reaction to finding a talking snowman is to kick it’s head off). It’s very heartwarming to see the sisters get their happy ending, because like “The Lion King”, “Frozen” sends out the message that the past can hurt, and it can hold you back for years, but it’s never too late to overcome it and have a good life.
While “Frozen” is fairly humorous in the first act, the comedy factor doubles once Anna has someone else to play off of, namely Kristoff. The snarky, blonde-haired Kristoff is a gruff ice harvester who lives and works alone in the mountains with only a reindeer as his best buddy. Needless to say, spending all that time in the forest by himself with only a few other ice harvesters and a caribou for company has made him a bit strange, much like the sisters (in his case, he often ‘speaks’ for his mute but affable reindeer friend, Sven). The surly, knowledgeable mountain-man serves as the rugged straight man in a gang of oddballs, the one who tries to stay grounded and cynical amidst impulsive insanity. Which makes it all the more endearing once Kristoff begins to soften up and lower his defenses, growing accustomed to his newfound company, and we learn he has quite a few quirks of his own (having been raised by trolls with little to no sense of personal space). On the surface, Anna and Kristoff’s growing spark seems like an opposites-attract type of deal, but like Ariel and Eric, the two actually have a lot of in common. They’re both loyal, courageous, open-minded individuals who feel a good deal of responsibility for the people around them – the people in their care – and they wind up bonding a lot during their adventure. Things start to spark between them right around the time things start to go south with Hans, and Anna (who had previously been more in love with the idea of being in love than she had with Hans) realizes what sort of qualities she would really like in a potential boyfriend. Naturally, they have a relationship upgrade from friends to lovers by the conclusion, and I’d say both Anna and Kristoff wound up with quite the catch by the movie’s end.
Considering his childish personality, Olaf (the film’s mascot) could easily have been an overdone, annoying sidekick character, but instead he makes for a nice addition to the cast: a quirky, optimistic snowman who provides the film with some silly comic relief and gives the sisters a very much appreciated helping hand. The kindhearted Olaf has some history with Anna and Elsa, since he’s a living relic of their childhood as well as the living embodiment of their former relationship, waiting to be renewed. Olaf’s goal in the film is pretty weird though and kind of a stretch: this snowman somehow knows all these intimate details about summer and the summer sun, but he somehow doesn’t know that he’ll fucking die if he ever experiences it (mind you, considering that ‘happy snowman’ gag in “In Summer” he could just be deep in denial). His unlikely friendship with Sven, an excitable, carrot-loving reindeer steed (and Kristoff’s best friend), is so precious though and provides some adorable, understated bromance moments as they goof off and play with each other throughout the background of the movie. As a snowman who’s only just recently been brought to life, Olaf has a childlike innocence to him, he has little to no filters when it comes to saying what’s on his mind, and despite his more irritating traits, he ultimately proves to be himself to be deeply selfless, loyal, and pure of heart. During the climax, he risks melting to death to save Anna’s life and reaffirms the fact that she deserves to be loved when she’s at her lowest, most vulnerable point.
I think the thing I like the most about the gang of five in “Frozen” is that they’re all unusual in different ways. Elsa is a woman with ice magic who’s living with anxiety in a period where people barely understood that condition. Anna is a woman with very little life experience due to her parents sheltering her way too much, so her social skills aren’t the best, and she seems to think she’s living in a romantic comedy. Kristoff is a misanthropic loner who was raised by trolls and prefers the company of animals over people. Sven is a reindeer who acts more like a golden retriever than a caribou, and Olaf is literally a magic talking snowman who has the innocent mindset of a child from being freshly born. And that’s okay. So long as their respective quirks aren’t hurting anyone (like Elsa’s magic before she got it under control), it’s okay that they don’t quite fit in with the rest of society. In fact, the “Frozen” shorts make it clear that Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven and Olaf have only grown closer and started to form their own family together after the movie, which is really sweet.
When it comes to the Duke of Weselton, a power-hungry politician, I feel like it’s a good thing he’s not the actual baddie of this movie, or he would be a really lame villain. As a secondary antagonist and a red herring, he’s pretty good though. He’s a scheming little weasel with bigger muscle to back him up, looking for any and every opportunity to cause unrest in Arendelle and usurp the sisters. It’s also a nice touch that Prince Hans is basically a far more crafty and successful version of the Duke, showing that while the outside world can be every bit as wonderful and exciting as Anna always dreamed, it can also be dangerous. One of the major themes of this movie is that people and things are often more than what they seem at first glance, with a few positive examples. People see Elsa as a witch and a monster because she has magic, and Elsa hiding her powers for twenty years didn’t really help her case, but in person, she’s a decent woman. Kristoff seems rude and grouchy on the surface, but he’s a sweetheart at his core. Hans is the first negative example. He seems like your typical, earnest, lovesick Disney prince, but he’s actually a total bastard (there are two types of royalty in fiction: dashing, romantic royalty and unscrupulous, bastard royalty. Dear old Hans is the latter). The message here is a bit reminiscent of “Beauty And The Beast’s” aesop about not judging a book by it’s cover.
Upon rewatch, that seemingly innocuous shot of Hans catching Anna by her wrist becomes a lot more unsettling once you know he’s playing her and he’s making his move while she’s at her most emotionally vulnerable (ala Flotsam and Jetsom). In fact, the animation for Hans’ expressions becomes subtly and progressively creepier – and perhaps falser – throughout the film, the closer we get to the reveal. Hans being a wolf in sheep’s clothing who’s hungry for power is a great twist, but I think he’s also one of the most underdeveloped characters in this movie. We barely know anything about him, and most of what we do get is built around the twist, so while he serves his narrative purpose well and he’s a good villain for the kind of story “Frozen” is telling, I wouldn’t ever say he’s one of Disney’s best antagonists. Hans’ true personality is icy, ruthless, selfish, and the complete antithesis of everything “Frozen” symbolizes. According to Jennifer Lee, the sob story Hans gave Anna is his real backstory, and he grew up in an abusive family without ever knowing love. He cast off his human inhibitions a long time ago, like Elsa claimed she was going to do in “Let It Go”, and he has an inferiority complex compared to his siblings, like Anna, that eventually grew into a lust for power and status. Hans is a glimpse at what Anna and Elsa could have become as a result of their dysfunctional upbringing, if the two of them were a lot less kind at their core, and he’s able to fake being a good person by mirroring other people’s desires and pretending to be whatever they want him to be – whether it’s a noble prince or a good boyfriend. He’s quite the bastard, that Hans.
Something I really enjoy about “Frozen” is that it has a nice, long leisurely runtime, reminiscent of the slower pace Disney movies had during Walt’s time. Disney films started to become a lot more fast-paced and ambitious during the 1980’s, 1990’s and the 2000’s, and there were definitely some films from that period that I felt could have used an extra ten to fifteen minutes to breathe, so it’s nice to see some of the more recent films in the canon like “Frozen” and “Zootopia” slow it down some and drop what I suspect was a fear that children would lose interest if a film exceeded eighty-five minutes. “Frozen’s” slow burn pays off masterfully in the third act, when the threat level ramps up from all sides: Elsa’s increasingly unstable powers, treacherous men in the mood for assassinating, and Anna’s impending curse. The 3-D animation is rendered impressively as well. Like “Monsters University” from the same year, there are times when the graphics, visuals and direction in “Frozen” are simply divine: such as the Broadway-eqsue joy coursing through every shot in “The First Time In Forever”, the runaway romanticism of “Love It Is Open Door”, the ice trailing behind Elsa as she makes her escape across the fjord, Elsa’s sleek, shimmering flurries blowing through the night in “Let It Go”, that long overhead shot of Kristoff racing through Elsa’s blizzard towards Anna, and the violent attack on Elsa’s vibrant, reflective castle.
In regards to the soundtrack, I feel like one of the best choices made during the film’s production was hiring Kristin Bell and Indina Menzel as Anna and Elsa, because whenever they get to sing they provide “Frozen” with some of the best, most resplendent vocal talent Disney has had since the Renaissance. Their songs (“The First Time In Forever”, “Love Is An Open Door”, “Let It Go”) are quite rightly seen as the highlights of the film, and their harmonious duet in “The First Time In Forever (Reprise)” is aurally sublime. Elsewhere, the hearty and strong ice-harvesting song “Frozen Heart” gets the movie off to a surprisingly foreboding start, with an ominous warning issued to the audience to “beware the frozen heart” – a lyric that proves to have more than one meaning and refers to more than just one character. “Vuelie” joins a growing list of harmonious, intriguing native chants in the Disney canon (like “Transformation” from “Brother Bear“), and the sleighter songs, “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper”, manage to be completely ridiculous and yet somehow simultaneously sweet, with the latter containing a nice message about loving people in spite of their flaws. Like several of Disney’s hits from the 90’s, “Let It Go” is given a poppy end credits cover by Demi Lavato that manages to be strong and resplendent in a different way than the original, while still maintaining the same spirit. While the songs in general are pretty consistent, Christophe Beck’s superb score deserves a mention as well, with tender, languishing strings for the film’s softer moments, pulse-pounding percussion for the action sequences and at times, haunting vocals for Elsa’s out of control abilities, like the climatic tracks “Summit Siege” and “Whiteout”.
The most commonly asked question about “Frozen” is whether it deserves to be regarded as one of Disney’s top classics, and honestly I’d say that it does. The plot is fresh, the animation is stellar, the characters are adorable, and the main message of acceptance is very heartwarming. It’s one of the highlights of 21st century Disney and one of their best Disney princess films.
* You can tell “Frozen” is going to be quite a ride when you’re already being emotionally jerked around in the first five minutes. One minute, you’re enjoying the ice harvesting sequence and watching adorable little kids play with ice magic, and the next you’re watching a six year old girl almost die.
* If Anna and Elsa had been a bit more knowledgeable about Disney movie formulas (and the mortality rate for family members), they would never have let their parents walk out that door.
* “I know it ends tomorrow, so it has to be today! Cause for the first time in forever, for the first time in forever, nothing in my waaayyyyy!!!”
* I find it ironic that the villain is the character who’s named after “The Snow Queen’s” author, Hans Christian Anderson.
* “I love crazy” Boy, you should.
* “Elsa, please, I can’t live like this anymore!” “Then leave” Not gonna lie, if my sister stopped talking to me for over a decade, even after our parents died, and she said that to me I’d verbally rip her to shreds in front of dozens of strangers, queen or not. Anna and Elsa’s public meltdown could have been much worse than it was.
* “My power flurries through the air into the ground! My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around! And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast! I’m never going back, THE PAST IS IN THE PAST!!! Let it go, let it go, and I’ll rise like the break of dawn! Let it go, let it go, that perfect girl is gone! Here I stand in the light of day! LET THE STORM RAGE ON!!! The cold never bothered me anyway“. Hot damn, Indina.
* Kristoff claims his ‘love expert’ relatives wouldn’t approve of Anna rushing to marry someone she just met. You sure about that, honey?
* “Who marries a man she just met?” “IT”S TRUE LOVE!!!“.
* “Christopher!” “It’s Kristoff-OW!!”
* “Oh, but I just paid it off”.
* “But she’ll die on her own!” “I can live with that” “But you won’t get your new sled if she’s dead”.
* “Oh, I am going to talk to my sister”.
* “Knock. Just knock. Why isn’t she knocking? Do you think she knows how to knock?”.
* “We can fix this thing together, we can end this winter weather, and everything will be-” “I CAN’T!!!”
* Funny little detail: Elsa is very confused when Kristoff shows up to help Anna, because the last time she saw her sister she was all about Hans (to the point where she wanted to marry him), and now it looks like she’s dumped him already.
* “Does it look bad?” “…No” “You hesitated”.
* “He’s crazy. I’ll distract him while you run. Hey, Sven’s family, it’s nice to meet you! Anna, because I love you, I insist you run. I understand you’re love experts. Why aren’t you running?!” Girl almost ran too.
* “We’re not saying you can change him, because people don’t really change!” Then why did you spend the last three minutes implying she could change him, troll lady?
* Those trolls want to get Kristoff married off so badly that they not only suggest he bump off Hans, but they actually try to trick Anna into marrying him. Dudes, calm down. Also, why is blondness unmanly?
* I know Elsa regretted making herself some ice heels when she had to haul ass up all those stairs.
* Hans sees one of the Duke’s goons trying to kill Elsa and he immediately thinks ‘NO! I’m the villain of this movie, Elsa is MY kill!’.
* “Oh Anna, if only there was someone who loved you” The irony being that the climax is comprised of literally everyone worrying about Anna.
* “Love is… putting someone else’s needs before yours, like how Kristoff brought you back here to Hans and left you forever”.
* Anna stops Kristoff from jumping Hans so she can deck him herself. I wholeheartedly approve, especially since she hits him so hard she sends him flying off the boat.
* After some trepidation, Queen Elsa’s subjects come to accept her, mutant abilities and all. That is a really fortunate outcome, considering the worst case scenario was that “Kill The Beast” song from “Beauty and the Beast”.
* Sven got swag. So much swag.
* I actually do recommend checking out “Frozen Fever”, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”, and the “Lego Frozen: Northern Lights” special at some point. Not because they’re anything great – they’re pure fluff that gives Anna and Elsa’s sister bond more time to shine – but because its nice to see Disney loosen up and have fun poking fun at this franchise. At one point, drunk Elsa even shows up.
* “Up here in the cold thin air, I finally can breathe! I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve!” Nice lyric change.
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- Anna Lets Go by Robert3A-SN.
- Frozen: The Snow Queen by Halm-Vendrella.
- The Sky Is Awake by SimpleSnowflake.
- Daughters Of Arendelle by Onora.
- Lost Snowflake by AlphaGirl404.
- Childish by RawrRoarRawr.
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- Making Up by Katherine Elizabeth Beckett.
- The Ice Harvester’s Hat by Hathor Aroha.
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