Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving! But instead of gushing about how much I have to be thankful for (which, at the moment, is a lot), I thought I’d post a review of Frozen that I wrote last December since today marks a year since its cinematic release! But be warned: I had a ton to say about this movie. Like close-to-3000-words, 6-pages-single-spaced a ton. Read on at your own discretion.
My thoughts on ‘Frozen’
Frozen might just be my new favorite Disney movie. While it’s traditional in many aspects, it’s also groundbreaking in terms of characterization, animation, and music. Sure, it may not match the classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King, but I don’t think it’s even fair to compare them! Frozen is thoroughly modern — it’s in a completely different ballpark. Instead of dishing out a conventional princess tale, Disney defied everybody’s expectations (which were pretty bad given the less-than-stellar marketing) and created something spectacularly, unabashedly modern that still appeals to staunch Disney purists like myself. While it’s too early to determine whether or not Frozen signifies the start of another Disney Renaissance, it’s definitely a contemporary standout that can hold its own.
And here’s why…
How to describe the animation… Hmm… Breathtaking? Spellbinding? Enchanting? All of the above. People were skeptical about animating snow because it could’ve turned out looking like a big sheet of white, but now the egg’s on their face. Disney proved that CG is here to stay, and that they’re going to continue to set the precedents pretty darn high!
The scenery is indescribably gorgeous and the characters’ faces are emotive and expressive. The most impressive single shot, in my opinion, opens the scene during which Anna and Kristoff first meet Olaf. A landscape featuring what appears to be leaf-less weeping willows with ice crystals hanging off the ends of the branches and lavish snow-draped mountains: the view gets its own still shot for a second or two because it’s that marvelous. The most remarkable sequence is undoubtedly “Let it Go,” when Elsa unleashes her power in all its glory. Snowflakes and glitter burst out of her hands and she builds a stunning castle that is both strong and delicate. In general, Frozen’s color scheme is much more subdued than that of most CG (computer generated) animated films these days. The colors are vivid but they’re not over-saturated, lending a much more classical feel to the setting. Since it’s a relatively darker film to begin with, it wouldn’t make sense for it to be overloaded with bright, loud colors. Instead, the clarity of the cool colors creates a much better backdrop and makes it reminiscent of the Disney Renaissance era classics.
While I was very wary about the seemingly inevitable switch to CG animation, I’ve come to accept it — largely thanks to the pleasant surprise, Tangled. Even though CG can easily remind me of other, more snarky animated films of the 21st century (Shrek), I found that Frozen’s traditional roots pretty much wipe away my negative bias. Plus, the costumes are just SO gorgeous that it automatically feels more authentic (I want Elsa’s coronation dress, and why can’t we wear capes like Anna’s anymore?). Because I don’t want to live in a world devoid of genuine and heartfelt animated Disney films, I’m extremely relieved to see that Disney’s found a way to blend today’s animation techniques with nostalgia to make truly fantastic films for the new generation of kids.
The entire movie has a Broadway feel to it due to the songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote music for The Book of Mormon and many other works. This aspect is also thanks, in large part, to the cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Santino Fontana, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad have all been in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Everybody’s voice is phenomenal, and the songs really showcase their talent; one of the only regrets here is that Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) didn’t get to sing for longer than 50 seconds!
I’ll admit that at first, I wasn’t crazy about the music. Some of the lyrics felt pretty stilted and unnatural — one line in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” bugs me every time — but now I’m listening to the soundtrack on repeat, both on my phone and in my mind. Though the music might’ve been prettier and more “classic Disney” had it been written by the likes of Alan Menken, it fits with the movie. While Frozen is a princess story at heart, it isn’t meant to be syrupy sweet and romanticized, and the music perfectly embodies the spirit of the movie. I wasn’t a huge fan of the infamous “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy” line, but the other songs such as “Let It Go,” the rest of “For the First Time in Forever” plus its reprise, and “Do You Want to Build A Snowman?” outweighed my slight discomfort there. The score, written by Christophe Beck, is wonderful as well, and the opening song (what sounds like the beginning of The Lion King but is actually a Norwegian chorale) really draws you back in time and builds up the ethereal setting.
The characterization is easily my favorite part of Frozen. There are some fantastic characters from older Disney films, but Elsa has become my new favorite, trumping even Belle! I could easily write an entire essay about her, and in fact, I am probably about to do so. Right off the bat, I could identify with her. As an older sister myself, I related to her constant fear that she would hurt her sister and her never-ending guilt over her failure to be the warm (puns!), loving sister she wanted to be. The first sequence in the movie, where Anna sings “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” had me in tears nearly the entire time because I could feel Elsa’s yearning to be her sister’s friend again, even though she hardly got any screen-time at all during the montage. Then during the party, when Anna lashes out at Elsa in frustration for her reclusive and aloof nature, Elsa tells her to leave. Maybe younger kids just think she’s being cold and mean, but when Elsa suggests that Anna goes, it’s clear that it was very painful for her to say.
The main reason that she essentially agrees to live in solitary confinement for years is that she’s scared to death of hurting the person she loves most — Anna. It’s because of her fierce love that she severed their relationship, and that was arguably more painful for Elsa than it was for Anna. Sibling relations are complicated, no doubt. While the younger sister (Anna) admires the elder and just aspires to be her friend, the older sister (Elsa) often has a deep, deep, deep, deep (more puns) love that compels her to protect her younger sister. This relationship is particularly and painfully evident in the reprise of “For the First Time In Forever,” and it was definitely one of my favorite moments. By telling Anna to leave, she’s attempting to sacrifice her own happiness to ensure that her younger sister can live a life safe from her dangerous powers. It’s Elsa’s powerful relationship with Anna that, though dormant for years, drives all of her actions, whether it’s secluding herself in her room or her ice castle.
Elsa is clearly different from the rest of the princesses in the franchise; first, she’s actually a queen, and she’s the only one who possesses magical powers. Unlike the other Disney girls, she’s poised, reserved, regal, and distant. She has a deeper voice and the mannerisms of a full-grown woman from “Let It Go” onwards, representing a huge divergence from the average blissfully ignorant, painfully innocent princess. Though she hasn’t seen much daylight in her life, Elsa has a much greater awareness of the world than Anna does. She, especially during the party scene, appears wise and even skeptical. Her refusal to bless Anna and Hans’s marriage brought forth a collective sigh of relief and set the non-romantic tone for the rest of the film. Finally, a Disney girl who doesn’t buy love at first sight!
Yet there’s something even more notable about Elsa: her total and complete fear of herself and her constant internal conflict. The rest of her princess peers, save for a few, lack the complexity that makes her unique. She’s torn apart by the possibility that she could hurt, even kill, her sister and others. But her complexity isn’t always blatant — this is where the animation kicks in. Her facial expressions, though fleeting (since “conceal, don’t feel” is her mantra), are very detailed and nuanced; they betray her inner emotions to those who look closely. It’s very impressive that the animators were able to combine all of the aspects of characterization and develop such a distinct heroine or, to be exact, deuteragonist, instead of taking the easy route and making her a misunderstood villain. Though she eventually embraces her powers, she spends almost her entire life utterly terrified by herself, and that’s what distinguishes her from the pack. Even the best of the princesses could be considered flat characters, but Elsa turned out to be exceptionally dynamic and believable.
Though Elsa was my favorite by far, everybody else was just as strong. Anna, who was voiced to perfection by Kristen Bell, seems to epitomize the “manic pixie dream girl” at first: she’s feisty, spirited, and very naïve. However, Anna was unique in that she was, more than a good deal, awkward and klutzy. It’s been said that Kristen Bell pushed to make her a more relatable princess, and it sure paid off. Instead of just sitting around batting her eyelashes, Anna is constantly bumping into things or other people, and speaks before passing her words through a filter. Who knows whether or not such a quirky princess would’ve succeeded two decades ago, but she does today. Behind all her dorky exterior, though, is an attention-starved girl who misses her sister and the company of others in general. While she may not be as tragic and torn as Elsa, she has her fair share of flaws and grievances, and that makes her believable as well.
Kristoff came as a pleasant surprise. Instead of being a swoon inducing smooth-talker (i.e. Flynn Rider, Naveen, Aladdin), he’s a rugged, backwoodsy loner, and he’s also stockier than all of the other Disney guys, including the prototypical Hans. Not only is he physically different, but he doesn’t swoop in to save the day either. He does nothing remarkable for Anna — in fact, she probably saves his life more times than he does hers. At one point in the movie, it seems obvious that Kristoff’s kiss will thaw Anna’s frozen heart, but PLOT TWIST that’s not it. However, his lack of action makes his character all the more endearing and special in a movie where females reign supreme.
Last but not least is Olaf, who I and the rest of the world was convinced was going to A) be unbearably annoying, and B) have a greater role in the movie. He actually serves as an emotional anchor of sorts, tying in the girls’ prior childhood friendship. Since Olaf is the name of the snowman Elsa built in the beginning of the movie and even says “I like warm hugs” like she did, he takes Anna back to the time when she and Elsa were closest, reminding her that it isn’t too late to reconcile. Josh Gad’s voice is adorable, and his yearning for the summer time is an interesting turn for the character. All in all, Olaf is an amusing sidekick who provides laughs and a few touching moments while gracefully stepping aside when he isn’t needed.
The contrast between Elsa and Anna is fantastic. To put it simply, Elsa is dark, introverted, and full of self-doubt while Anna is lighthearted, outgoing, and 110% optimistic. They complemented each other down to a T; even their voices couldn’t be more different! In fact, the songs were the most evident instances of their contrast: Bell’s sweet, lighthearted voice and Menzel’s rich, powerful one blended just as well as their disparate lyrics. During “For the First Time In Forever” and its reprise, Anna expresses her happy-go-lucky outlook and complete faith in her sister while Elsa tells herself to “put on a show,” or sings, “I’m such a fool, I can’t be free.” The stark contrast makes the music and plot so much more compelling and draws attention to the fact that Frozen is the first Disney princess movie with two girls headlining.
Frozen’s biggest weakness wasn’t even part of the film. The biggest pitfall was the abysmal marketing. With pop music and a huge proportion of the trailer featuring Olaf, I was convinced that Frozen was going to be a terrible princess knock-off, only I wasn’t even sure it was about a princess at all. Thanks to the incredibly low bar set by the advertising, I came out of the theatre thoroughly shocked and pleasantly surprised by everything about the movie. I walked in with just a few notions of what the movie was even about: 1. Elsa is the villain, 2. The redheaded girl is the protagonist, 3. There’s an obnoxious snowman. The trailers conveyed absolutely nothing about the plot, but maybe that was intentional, because it made Frozen seem like a breakout hit.
More than any other film Disney has put out, Frozen defies expectations and conventional archetypes. I was hooked from the moment the two young sisters showed up; it was clear that Disney had taken a thematic route less traveled by. They set up the huge stereotype attributed to Disney movies: love at first sight. It started out looking just like all the others: the princesses’ parents die and the naïve heroine meets a dashing young prince. However, by the end it was clear that true love shouldn’t be considered purely romantic. While Anna did have a love interest, it was not the love that ended up saving the day (yeah feminism!). Their choice to focus on sisterhood did a few major things — it showcased a positive relationship between two Disney women, which is more than hard to come by, and emphasized a theme that is often pushed aside in their movies: the importance of family.
Though I could see the plot twists in the moments directly preceding them, the surprise registered in a comprehensive sense. Going into the movie, I never would’ve guessed that Hans would be the villain, and that the “act of true love” would be Anna sacrificing her own life to save Elsa. I realized at the very beginning of the movie that Frozen was going to be special because I’d have never predicted that the whole movie would center on their sisterhood. The way Disney created a sibling-centered film that was just as (if not more) satisfying than the typical romantic love story truly astounded me in the best way possible. They acknowledged the absurdity of “love at first sight” and proved that romance is not the only kind of love, effectively smacking down the most common themes found in Disney films. What resulted is truly great and groundbreaking for the company: an unconventional, modern, and memorable movie that features TWO strong female leads and their blind, pure devotion to each other.
In conclusion, Frozen is the first movie that really surprised me in a long time. How else could I explain the fact that in its first week, I’ve already seen it three times? The magnificent animation sets a new standard for animated films and the characters are some of the most relatable yet. If it doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Film, I’ll never trust those award shows again. Pretty much everything about the movie is phenomenal, and if this is the new Disney, bring it on!
Since first writing this, Frozen has completely blown up. I think it’s the first major film to induce widespread memes, sing-alongs, and puns both on the Internet and in everyday life. For a long time after its release, it was unavoidable. References were everywhere and, in fact, still are. While this is a great thing because it means it’ll probably be appreciated for generations to come, the hype has undoubtedly turned a lot of people off of the movie, or prompted reactions like “What’s all the fuss about?” My advice to these people would be to read this because I stand behind everything I’ve said in this article/research paper/gush-fest. I find it as annoying as the next person when someone bursts into song and asks semi-maniacally if you want to build a snowman, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love the movie.
Yes, Frozen has been WAY overhyped and while I don’t like it, I think it’s justified. It’s now my favorite movie of all time because of the way it breaks the Disney mold, and I think even the staunchest of critics should be able to admit that Disney has at least attempted to bring something different and non-stereotypical to the table — whether they were successful or not is up for debate, but the effort signifies change for the better. Frozen isn’t flawless, but it indicates that Disney will continue to innovate and bring us films suited to modern values.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my crazy fangirling if you’ve made it this far! Thanks for sticking with me.