I’ve been wanting to talk about “Frozen” for a while now. “Frozen”, to me, is easily one of Disney’s strongest films from the 21st century. 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 felt content to be average. Films like “Bolt”, “Winnie the Pooh” and “Tangled” hardly did anything especially charming, unique, innovative or memorable; they played it too safe. “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 “Zootopia” was 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” success records and bring home numerous awards, including a few Oscars. A growing sentiment around the internet (especially YouTube) since 2014 is that “Frozen” is overrated trash and undeserving of it’s popularity and acclaim, and honestly, I find the intense hype backlash and occasional pettiness towards “Frozen” to be pretty hypocritical. The film is often dismissed, thrown under the bus and undersold as a movie by people who apparently can’t handle an insanely popular Disney movie unless it’s an insanely popular Disney movie they like, or one they have 90’s nostalgia for like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King“. “Frozen” has a high reputation, but it’s a reputation 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 like fractured family ties, crippling anxiety, and the consequences of isolation. Basically, the royal family of Arendelle teaches us all how not to deal with childhood trauma. After their daughters have a near-fatal magical accident, the king and queen 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 development (Elsa finds herself locked in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her obsessive fear of her powers only makes them harder to control, and her frequent attempts to push her sister away still only winds up hurting her sister); all while keeping the girls sealed away from the outside world and Anna locked out of the loop. By the time Anna comes of age, there’s really no reason to continue keeping the secret from her, but by this point Elsa has succumbed to her fears, become depressed and given up on herself, even after she and Anna are the only members of the royal family who are still alive. By the time Anna and Elsa are women, neither of them are anywhere near prepared to take on the outside world – Elsa is a nervous wreck who can barely handle being around other people without losing control, while Anna is so starved of love, affection and company from her family that she rushes into a relationship to try and fill the void – so everything goes to hell in a handbasket on their real first day interacting with the kingdom. Basically, they both hit rock bottom, and Anna and Elsa’s respective character arcs in the film are all about healing and finding their way back from this poor state.
Disney’s version of the Snow Queen is a benevolent Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Elsa is one of the more powerful characters in the Disney multiverse. She can freeze entire rooms without trying, create jagged spikes out of nothing, kill someone from the inside out by freezing their hearts, plunge entire regions into endless winters, create sentient life. She’s seriously OP. Elsa’s powers are tied to her emotions and as stated above, she has a tenuous grip on them, so she finds herself scrambling for control many times throughout the film. She’s haunted by the night she almost killed her younger sister, and she doesn’t trust herself. She’s also 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 yourself that it’s easy to forget that in the film itself it actually serves a similar purpose to “Hakuna Matata” (but done better): a lost protagonist at their lowest point, fooling themselves into thinking running away from their past and secluding themselves in the wilderness forever is a good, permanent solution to their problems (even if Anna hadn’t come looking for her, sooner or later Elsa was going to get hungry). But with that much having been said, “Let It Go” is still a pivotal 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 and simply lets herself be. She even starts to nurture her creative side. It’s a good first step, but it’s not enough. Elsa loses her newfound confidence not long after this, when she realizes she’s out of her depth, and it’s Anna’s love and devotion that pushes her the rest of the way to being free to express herself wholeheartedly. 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 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 has to actually socialize (something they’ve already begun to do in “Frozen Fever”).
Elsa’s sister, Anna, may not be the Snow Queen, but she is, in many ways, the beating heart of “Frozen”. While Elsa is a great character, I think it’s really Anna who gets the lion’s share of character development in “Frozen”. A fun-loving, spirited, 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). After 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. Anna’s fierce loyalty, her sense of responsibility, and her undeniable emotional strength are her three most admirable traits. Despite Elsa appearing to be an incredibly selfish person for at least the last few years, from the moment Anna discovers her true nature she wastes no time pursuing her old childhood friend through the unknown and never gives up on her throughout the film, despite there being some times I know she wanted to. Anna learns her own lessons during the trip, like the importance of not rushing into things, for her first love might not be her true love, 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 life and be the one who takes care of Elsa for once. By the climax, it actually hurts watching her die, petrifying from the inside out, so like Elsa I’d consider Anna a success as a protagonist (though I do wonder why her first reaction to finding a talking snowman is to kick it’s head off).
If “Brother Bear” was a testament to what brothers will do for each other, “Frozen” is the same for sisters.
While “Frozen” is fairly humorous in the first act, the comedy factor doubles once Anna has someone else to play off of, namely Kristoff. Snarky Kristoff. The surly, knowledgeable mountain man with a reindeer for a buddy serves as the rugged straight man in a gang of oddballs, which makes it all the more endearing once Kristoff begins to soften and we learn he has quite a few quirks of his own (besides speaking for his reindeer friend), 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 realizes what sort of qualities she would really like in a boyfriend (she’d previously been more in love with the idea of being in love than she had with Hans). I’d say both Anna and Kristoff wound up with quite the catch by the movie’s end. Olaf, who I think has actually surpassed Elsa as the film’s mascot, could easily have been an annoying, overdone sidekick character, but instead 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 (who he has some history with as a living relic of their childhood) a very appreciated helping hand. 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 but doesn’t know he’ll fucking die if he ever experiences it (mind you, considering that ‘happy snowman’ gag he could just be deep in denial). His friendship with Sven, the excitable, carrot-loving reindeer steed, is so precious though.
My thoughts on the Duke of Weselton is that 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. A scheming little weasel with muscle to back him up, looking for any and every opportunity to cause unrest in Arrendelle. It’s also a nice touch that Prince Hans is basically a far more crafty and successful echo of the Duke, showing that while the world can be every bit as wonderful and exciting as Anna always dreamed, it can also be dangerous. Upon rewatch, that seemingly innocuous shot of Hans catching Anna by the wrist becomes a lot more unsettling once you know he’s playing her and making his move while she’s at her most emotionally vulnerable (ala Flotsam and Jetsom). In fact, the animation for Hans’ expressions becomes subtly, progressively creepier – and perhaps falser – throughout the film, the closer we get to the reveal. I really like the twist of Hans being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, hungry for power, but what I don’t like is Hans turning into an evil villain cliche as soon as he drops the act, monologuing his plot to Anna and leaving the room before she’s even dead yet. Scar playing a long con for power and making rookie mistakes right when he was at his endgame was every bit as stupid, but at least that felt like his envy and vindictive streak catching up to him. Here, it’s pretty clear that the only reason Hans does this is because the plot would stop dead if he didn’t get cocky and/or sloppy. It’s just a bit too contrived, but all in all, Hans is still a great villain for the type of movie “Frozen” is. Kristoff’s secret troll family is nice. It’s weird that they affect the story so much when they’re really only in two scenes, and you can certainly argue that most of the plot could have been avoided if they weren’t so terrible at communicating what they mean, but they’re nice.
Something I 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, 90’s and 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 “Zootopa” slow it down 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, Anna’s curse. The 3-D animation is rendered impressively as well. Like “Monsters University” from the same year, there are times when the graphics and direction in “Frozen” are simply divine: the Broadway-eqsue joy coursing through every shot in “The First Time In Forever”, the runaway romanticism of “Love It Is Open Door”, ice trailing behind Elsa as she runs across the fjord and her sleek, shimmering flurries blowing through the night in “Let It Go”, the attack on her vibrant castle. In regards to the soundtrack, I feel like one of the best choices made during 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 vocal talent Disney has had since the Renaissance. Their songs are quite rightly seen as the highlights of the film, and their duet in “The First Time In Forever (Reprise)” is aurally sublime. Elsewhere, “Frozen Heart” gets the movie off to a surprisingly foreboding start, with a warning to “beware the frozen heart” that might have more than one meaning and refer to more than one character; “Vuelie” joins a growing list of harmonious native chants in the Disney canon; and songs like “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper” manage to be completely ridiculous but somehow simultaneously pretty sweet. Christophe Beck’s score is superb, with tender, languishing strings, pulse-pounding percussion and at times, haunting vocals.
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 there are plenty of feels to be had here. It’s one of the highlights of 21st century Disney and one of their best Disney princess films.
* If Anna and Elsa had been a bit more knowledgeable about Disney movie formulas, 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 love crazy“.
* “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 butt 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” ends on something of a sinister note (“The cold never bothered me anyway”), so when I first saw this film I immediately wondered ‘is she gonna descend into evil now? Is that where this film is going?’. Obviously, that wasn’t the case but it does feel like a bit of remnant from when “Let It Go” was intended as a villain song for Elsa.
* On their way up the North Mountain, Anna and Kristoff are accosted by wolves (“IT”S TRUE LOVE!”; “Christopher!” “It’s Kristoff-OW!”). I feel like this scene is a “Beauty and the Beast” parody.
* “But I just paid it off”.
* “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!!!”
* “Wait, who’s this?” When Elsa last saw Anna she was all about Hans, to the point of wanting to marry him, and now she’s with a completely different dude. You can see a brief second of Elsa wondering if Anna dropped Hans already before she remembers getting Anna out is her top priority.
* “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 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 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.
* After some trepidation, Queen Elsa’s subjects come to accept her, 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” 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 having 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.