When one thinks of Disney classics, one may recall Snow White (1937), Fantasia (1940), Cinderella (1950), and more recently The Lion King (1994) and Toy Story (1995), to name a few. Now, to that list of innovative and memorable Disney animated films, one can add Frozen (2013). Of course, plenty of other magical tales fall between Disney’s first animated feature film and their most recent, including numerous damsels and animal kingdoms in distress, but certain stories, vocal performances and soundtracks will naturally stand out among the rest. Frozen definitely stands out among its fantastical peers.
The story itself may not be inherently more interesting than the cherished fairytale adaptions of previous Disney films, but that does not in any way deter from the enticing qualities of Frozen. In the Nordic kingdom of Arendelle, two young princesses live in the grand castle, obviously alone since Disney refuses to keep at least one parent alive, where the elder sister never leaves her room and the younger sister, lonely and eager for human interaction, wanders the empty halls and occasionally talks to paintings. The elder sister, Elsa, possesses the ability to control ice and snow. After a traumatic event in childhood, Elsa hides from the world in complete fear of her own power. Anna never understands why they can no longer play together until years later when Elsa’s hidden secret reveals itself. Understandably misunderstood, Elsa runs to the mountains to be alone in order to protect those she cares for most. The film tells the story of how Anna attempts to bring back Elsa, now the Queen of Arendelle. Along the way, Anna meets a charming young ice deliverer, his Reindeer, and an enchanted snowman. The plot, focusing heavily on the importance of family and less on Prince Charming, offers numerous good morals to audiences without seeming overly cheesy. The best part; however, comes not from the main plot points, but from the character of Elsa, the voice behind her, and the music.
After Elsa isolates herself in the snowy mountains, she can finally unleash her icy powers; an act that personifies her comfortably with herself. Never before could she be totally free with not only her mystifying abilities, but with herself. This sets the stage for one of the most beautiful scenes of character development since Simba returned to the Pride Lands. The song featured in the scene “Let it Go” comes from writers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her Tony Award winning husband Robert Lopez, known for his brilliant work for Broadway sensations Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. The ballad embodies Elsa’s transformation. In the song, she accepts her new life as a hermit in the mountains and for the first time in forever, she celebrates her unique talents. After years of subduing her power, after years of fearing what people would think, and after years of wondering whether or not a flick of her wrist could hurt those around her, her body now erupts with icy wonder as she finally relaxes. Most notably, and impressive even for those unaware of her resume, Idina Menzel plays the voice of Elsa. Menzel has a beautiful way of portraying misunderstood yet powerful characters who have an endearing vulnerability that makes the character who could be dark, relatable and empathetic. Elsa discovers the extent of her power during “Let it Go,” and the beautifully animated snowy scene combined with Menzel’s incredible voice leaves audiences with chills… no pun intended.
Frozen also has aspects that many Disney films share, like the funny side kick, the broken home, and a damsel in distress. The funny sidekick, many times an animal or some other sort of inhuman little creature, always brings comic relief to the film and, in many cases, represents something bigger than a jester. Like in Pocahontas (1995), Meeko and Percy, Pocahontas’ raccoon friend and the English Governor’s pampered dog, bring about many laughs; however, the two act as a microcosm of the misunderstanding between the Native Americans and the invading English. In Frozen, the loveable and slightly aloof snowman Olaf arguably has the funniest lines in the film. He, however, represents the goodness inside of Elsa. Although people think her powers come from a place of darkness, Olaf’s very existence proves that her powers, not inherently evil, can create beauty. He also symbolizes the bond between Elsa and Anna, illustrating that events in childhood can have lasting effects on people, even if those effects stay hidden until one bursts out into song. Speaking of childhood trauma, Frozen can be added to the never ending list of Disney movies that, in an increasingly casual manner, separate parent and child. The broken home certainly may not be one of Disney’s most beloved themes, but it has definitely proven to be one of its most prevalent. In any case, at a young age the two girls must find inner strength. Frozen reinforces the importance of family and independence throughout the film, giving young audiences two wonderful role models.
The aspect of Frozen that completely separates it from the other Disney tales comes at the end. The girls do not need a Prince Charming in order to overcome the most trying obstacles presented in the film. Every young girl can look up to both Anna and Elsa for inspiration to be a strong, caring and independent woman. Yes, a love triangle emerges and yes, a couple may live happily ever after in the end, but that kind of love does not help with the resolution. The resolution comes from a kind of a love that teaches audiences that sometimes love involves sacrifice, and that at first, those sacrifices can be misunderstood. The lessons learned from Frozen make it worth watching, and the music and characters make it enjoyable. After this film, one simply can never deny building a snowman ever again.
Review by Alice Carson