Two conflicting thoughts: “Frozen is a kids’ story” and “Nobody told me Disney was writing a musical!”
Frozen is a fairy tale with really good songs. It’s a mix of the classic Disney fairy tale animations with the company’s recent independent heroines (cf. Tangled), directed by Jennifer Lee (who was a writer for Wreck-It Ralph1) and produced by John Lasseter (of Pixar fame). It’s supposedly loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, but reading through the synopsis of that shows that what’s left is more “cultural references” than actual basis for the film. Which is fine.
Story-wise, Frozen sets up a pretty good premise: Princess Elsa, the heir to the throne, has some kind of cold magic (Wikipedia enjoys calling it “cryokinetic”), and has to hide it from the people of Arendelle and from her younger sister Anna. Anna, by contrast, has been isolated in the castle because of Elsa, and she doesn’t really know why her sister won’t talk to her any more. She’s also the protagonist, and the character we’re intended to relate to. When the inevitable crisis comes, we have a clear issue at hand, an obvious lurking evil, a love triangle, and a secret plot hidden from even the audience.
I was surprised to find that I enjoyed Kristin Bell’s (Anna’s) songs more than Idina Menzel’s (Elsa’s). I have a lot of respect for Menzel: she’s the original Elphaba from Wicked, among many, many other credits. It turns out Bell is a great singer as well. (Also, maybe I should watch Veronica Mars some day?) The songs were written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who also wrote the music for The Book of Mormon. So, no surprise that it’s good.
Bell pointed out another thing about Frozen that’s nicely different than classic fairy tale movies:
“I’m really excited to show it to people. I became a part of the kind of movie I wanted to see as a kid,” she said. “I always loved Disney animation, but there was something about the females that was unattainable to me. Their posture was too good and they were too well-spoken, and I feel like I really made this girl much more relatable and weirder and scrappier and more excitable and awkward. I’m really proud of that.”
On top of that, the Prince Charming trope gets thoroughly beaten up here. It’s a bit too bad that fairy tales don’t allow for the possibility of love just not happening right now, but I think it’s a net smug feeling to get this reversal, especially without destroying the credibility of all men. Bonus points for the “true love” not being romantic love.
Though, hm…there aren’t any other female characters, besides the cameo by Kristoff’s foster mom.
I can’t say I was entirely happy, though. Once the story all set up, the next portion of the movie is actually fairly light (save the aforementioned secret plot), and the actual resolution is a bit deus ex machina. Also, pretty much all the good songs are in the first half of the movie, so the glow of musical had left and I was just watching it as kids’ movie, at which point I realized that nothing exactly had happened. The potential bittersweet struggle over Olaf’s eventual fate was completely skipped. And what about Kristoff’s original family, the other ice harvesters?
But then we got the closing music (a reprise of the a cappella opening), a photo finish for each of the main characters, and the film’s star track “Let It Go” over the credits, and I left feeling good about the movie.
In retrospect (and as my roommate Young pointed out) this is exactly Disney’s winning formula: animated fairy tale with good songs. There’s a reason so many people enjoy “Disney movies” and Disney songs: the stories are the good-and-evil / growing up / true love stories that make you feel grown-up as a kid and feel like a kid again as a grown-up, and the songs are the quality you’d find in a Broadway musical…except more catchy.
(A moment on me: I didn’t grow up with most Disney movies, and didn’t want to. I had a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales—the originals, where Cinderella’s evil stepsisters get their eyes pecked out—and saw the Disney fairy tale movies as saccharine and watered-down even as a kid. But I still liked The Lion King and Mulan, not to mention the non-fairy-tale movies like 101 Dalmatians and The Fox and the Hound, maybe because I didn’t know the source material as well. Hm, I should read the original Mulan story some day.)
If you like Disney fairy tales, you’ll enjoy Frozen. If you think Disney fairy tales are saccharine…well, Frozen’s pretty palatable in comparison with some, but it won’t change your mind. If you like musicals, you’ll really enjoy…the first half of the movie, where all the good songs are.
Okay, it’s not perfect. It’s not The Lion King, and it’s probably not even Mulan. But it does have a great soundtrack and a perfectly good story and message. I hope it sticks around in the Disney canon.
Favorite song: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”
Favorite line: “We finish each other’s” “__________!”
I guess I liked it.
Oh, and someone looks familiar now…