Born of cold and winter air
And mountain rain combining
This icy force, both foul and fair
Has a frozen heart worth mining
Cut through the heart, cold and clear
Strike for love and strike for fear
There’s beauty and there’s danger here
Split the ice apart
Beware the frozen heart. . .
I didn’t really register those lyrics in the opening of Disney’s Frozen the first time I saw it. I enjoyed the music of it – I do recall being impressed by the use of a men’s choir and the overall sound of this song as their opening number. After getting the soundtrack, however, and listening to the lyrics themselves, it really struck me how smart this song is; in and of itself, the lyrics are well written and the musicality of the piece is quite pleasing, but setting it at the top of the film frames the story and tells us, the audience, right up front, that there is a certain sense of understanding between the people of Arendale and their harsh, winter climate. What’s more, it essentially explains the theme and story that the movie is about to show.
And that, overall, is the thing that I notice most favorably about Frozen. It’s smart. It is every bit the classic kind of Disney film we all remember from growing up, while also starting something new. Elsa and Anna are familiar-feeling and reminiscent of the Princesses we know and love from the Disney classics and 90’s Renaissance. BUT they are also distinct and the film takes strides further forward. Elsa becomes Queen without having to get married; she simply comes of age. That’s a first for a Disney heroine. The film is shared by the two female protagonists—sisters—and their relationship is the centerpiece for the story, rather than a romantic one; another first for Disney. There are romantic subplots, hints at a love story that may come after the credits roll, but it isn’t the primary focus and the film even laughs at the preposterous setup of getting married “to someone you just met,” which has happened repeatedly in other Disney movies.
These changes are really rather progressive for a company that has created a trademark style out of such a specific structure that has continued to sell and remain persistently popular across multiple generations. And that, too, is what impresses me about Frozen; it manages to make these changes to its usual formula and yet it doesn’t lose any of the “Disney magic” that we all know and love.
Overall? Frozen is good. It’s engaging, fun, witty, sweet, humorous and deep. Does it take liberties from the original Hans Christian Anderson story? Of course; very little at all remains from the original book. I remember very little of it myself, apart from knowing that the siblings were brother and sister and that the Snow Queen was an out-and-out villain, rather than a victim of circumstance like Elsa. Still, this film, for what it is—and what it is is a Disney movie—is great and wonderfully done. The soundtrack, as I mentioned, was one I had to own. I’m sure that these songs are due to become staples in the Disney songbook. I remember being frustrated that Idina Menzel was cast in Enchanted, but didn’t sing; what a waste of an opportunity, right? Not the case this time around; she is both the speaking and singing voice for Elsa and it’s marvelous.
There is a lot of comparison of Elsa to Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West, which Menzel so famously portrayed on Broadway. While I can see the similarities (heck, even the names sound eerily similar), but I don’t find those things distracting while I’m watching the film or listening to the song “Let it Go.” I just get caught up in the moment; mostly because the song is so beautifully done from all sides.
I was also thoroughly impressed with Kristen Bell. I’ve been a big fan of hers since I discovered one Veronica Mars and I my interest in Frozen really began when I found out she was cast to provide the voice—again, speaking and singing—for Anna.
If I had seen this movie as a youngster, Anna would have become my idol. She’s essentially everything you want from a Disney heroine and Bell clearly had a lot of fun with the part.
My only real gripe with the film had to do with the character of Hans. While, structurally, the film works on the whole, I find myself disappointed with the reveal of his being the ultimate villain. It’s almost a case of the story’s own deception working too well and ultimately playing to its disadvantage. I’m not one of those out there who wanted to see Elsa become the villain; I think that would have been way too easy, actually. Keeping Elsa a more complex character was preferable to me; it’s more believable that she isn’t acting out of spite and pure-evil and the only way to achieve a proper sense of villainy from her would probably only have worked had they gone in the direction of a Magneto-and-Xavier, former-friendship type of setup, and that could get pretty messy.
As it is, Hans is the bad guy, making a complete turnaround at the crux of what would otherwise be the height of the movie; it’s ultimately necessary to get us to the real peak of action, but it just feels…almost unbelievable. He reveals to Anna that he not only doesn’t love her, but will leave her to freeze to death so he can go kill Elsa and take Arendale for his own. The characterization and action from this point on makes sense; motive and reasoning back him up, but it’s the preceding action that doesn’t work. I don’t just mean that he’s been “too nice” up to now, either. He didn’t have to come and talk to Elsa in the dungeon, nor did he have to present himself as a quality leader while both the Queen and Princess were gone; handing out blankets and coats and making sure that the citizens of Arendale were kept warm and fed, opening up the great hall in the palace.
Maybe it’s all just a façade but it’s fairly thorough. I would have rather seen Hans be convinced that Elsa really was evil and that he has to kill her. Furthermore, we could have seen him be legitimately concerned about some other political leader in his family having power that doesn’t deserve it and that it is vital for him to marry into Arendale’s royalty for the sake of the common good. A simpler approach, though, might have been for more of his arrogance to have shown through earlier, rather than showing up abruptly and having gone for the twist-style ending, but as it is, it just seems like a bit of a letdown.
Otherwise, though, I have no complaints. I really enjoyed this movie from start to finish and I strongly recommend it, especially for a theatre viewing, too. The animation is stunning, both in 2D and 3D. After such a great step forward, I really am curious to see where the Disney Animation Studios go from here.
The word going around seems to be, “Disney’s back…” and I’m starting to think that maybe that’s true. Here’s hoping!