Recently Disney has been going in a wonderfully different direction with their fairy tale classics, moving the focus from romantic tales to stories that encompass all aspects of life lessons. Frozen is the latest of these new model movies.
In Pixar’s Brave we were given Merida, a warrior princess more interested in shooting arrows than finding a prince, much to her mother’s dismay. Her story illustrated the dynamic many daughters and mothers face when they can’t seem to understand one another. Many have been where Merida was, wishing their parent to change. Through Brave, we saw the consequences of making such a wish when Merida’s mother is transformed into a bear. Merida’s journey to change her back is what helped them discover that despite their differences they did love each other.
And that’s what Disney fairy tales come down to:
Love comes in different forms and that idea is the heart of Disney’s Frozen.
When young Princess Elsa of the kingdom of Arendelle discovers her ability to make ice (think ice bending), her little sister Anna excitedly encourages her to use her powers for fun and to build snowmen. One night their activities take an unexpected turn when Elsa accidentally hits Anna with her ice powers and knocks her out. When the King and Queen find them, they rush to a tribe of mystical trolls who tell them that Elsa’s powers do pose a great danger if not managed properly. However, the royals take this to mean that in order to protect their daughters, their family would have to be isolated from their kingdom and from each other. When the troll leader awakens Anna, she no longer recalls anything about Elsa’s powers and doesn’t understand why her sister doesn’t want to come out and play anymore. The film’s first number “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is bittersweet as it shows the girls growing apart as time goes on and not even the death of their parents can bring Elsa out of her room.
Frightened but stoic, Elsa (Idina Menzel) only emerges for her coronation to greet her kingdom while, on the other hand, Anna (Kristen Bell) is bonkers excited to see the world outside the walls she has lived in and dreams of finding where she belongs. In true Disney fashion, she happens to meet Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and falls madly in love. Their duet “Love Is an Open Door” is a hilarious exploration of the insanity of love at first sight and really catchy. When Prince Hans and Anna decide to marry, they go to Queen Elsa to ask for permission. Surprised, Elsa does not allow her sister to marry a guy she just met (Who does that?). Naturally, this leads to an argument that’s more about Anna being tired of feeling like a prisoner and wants a life outside the walls which pushes Elsa to lose her composure and reveal her powers in front of everyone. As some neighboring royals are quick to deem her a sorceress, Elsa gives into the powers she has suppressed and accepts that she is some kind of monster.
Before her sister can stop her, the Queen retreats into the mountains leaving an eternal winter in her wake. However, a determined Anna resolves to follow after her and attempt to convince her to stop her frozen hold on the kingdom.
Disney’s Frozen is a return to the sweeping feature that brings back the best elements of other classics such as beautifully animated landscapes, showstopping music, romance, laughs, and heartfelt moments.
What’s impressive to note is the level of improvement from Tangled to Frozen. From the architecture of the kingdom and Elsa’s castle to the textures of the environment, The CGI landscaping in Frozen is lush and on the level of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. This is paramount in the CGI game as it proves the artistry many only wished to see in classically animated fairy tale films can be done in a new medium. Disney Princess purists can rest easy! Although we’d still like to see a fairy tale done in the animation style of “Paperman”.
What’s so great about Frozen is that we get two strong heroines, both complex and flawed whose journeys are incredibly identifiable. Anna is plucky and socially awkward and that’s great because many girls will identify with a girl who isn’t necessarily naturally poised like some of the original princesses. This is a girl who hasn’t had much human contact and when she does just explodes into unfiltered extroversion and naiveté.
Anna is definitely going to be the spirit animal of the Tumblr girl generation. Elsa is more of the serious older sister whose isolation has taught her a lot about responsibility and in order to maintain control of her impulses she had to learn to suppress them. So naturally when she is out in the world for the first time all the other factors she has kept away from break her walls, she gives in to what she has been fighting to hide for so long. Elsa’s “Let it Go” is truly the epitome of the “I Am” numbers of Disney’s musical catalog and that’s only reinforced by the powerful vocals of Broadway’s Idina Menzel. Writers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck have crafted two very real girls who come into their own and also come together in this amazing tale.
On her journey to get through to her sister Anna, discovers a lot about herself and the world around her. Accompanying her on her quest is a roguish mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who despite his better judgement is roped into helping Anna by his reindeer, Sven. Kristoff is a great contrast to Prince Hans because while Hans is the gentleman and says all the right things, Kristoff is abrasively honest and a bit of a loner (His only friend is a reindeer, guys) but is somehow also that roguish guy who means well. Groff does have a hilarious little diddy about reindeer being better than people that will endear guys who feel like they roped into seeing Frozen to Kristoff who really does serve as the dude guys will root for and identify with. He totally calls Anna out on the absurdity of her engagement with Prince Hans. Both Groff and Fontana have these great characters but are kinda underused both story-wise and musically but that’s okay because the story isn’t about who gets the girl.
Really, though, the romantic story in Frozen works as more of a subplot to Anna and Elsa being brought back together and reconciling. They really have their own love story and that is what makes Frozen so different. It breaks the conventions that the act of true love in a fairy tale is only connected to the ‘save the princess’ trope. No, these are two women who discover they’d do everything and go through anything for their family. You have Elsa who wants to stay away from Anna in order to protect her from her powers but you have Anna who believes that showing Elsa she doesn’t have to be alone in her struggle will help them find a way to fix things together.
This movie does not center around a cold cut evil villain versus the admirable hero. It’s a daring story about the dynamic of family. Surprisingly, the sidekick character of Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) serves as a sliver of hope that the Queen’s powers aren’t all that bad as he is something good she created who unbeknownst to her is a subtle sign of her power’s other possibilities. Elsa may accept her fate as a ‘bad guy’ but Anna knows there could be another way and the whole conflict of this movie is about family getting through to each other.
That’s what makes Frozen work.
It reiterates that fairy tales still are relevant and are more than romantic love stories, though its okay for those to be there too. Not only that but that it has a place in the new world of CG animation and is a delightful addition of Disney’s musical collection. The music by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez really combines what we know and love from Disney with their grasp of this generation’s desires and sense of humor. Menzel and Bell did a fantastic job in giving girls new heroines to love. Everything really comes together in this picture and its exciting to see Disney go in new directions while still crafting enduring classics.