Frozen: The Happiest Surprise of 2013
by Rebecca Pahle | 12:30 pm, December 4th, 2013
I was skeptical about Frozen. I think most people were. Disney didn’t market it much at all, which made me suspicious of secret suckitude. That weird quote about animating women didn’t help, nor did controversy over the visual similarity between Anna and Tangled‘s Rapunzel.
Then, a few weeks ago, something weird happened. I started seeing reviews about how great Frozen is. Not “better than you think it is” or “pretty good, considering.” Just great. And then Thanksgiving weekend hit. You know the film’s going to make bank, because it’s a kid’s movie on a holiday weekend. But it smashed Disney Animation’s opening weekend record, and the comments on that post were filled with you, our readers, saying how wonderful it is.
So I decided to see it. And I was not disappointed.
(This review is spoiler-free. There are vague references to plot events, but nothing specific. I welcome any and all spoilery discussion in the comments, so if you’ve not seen the film yet just don’t scroll down that far.)
Frozen is something new for Disney: A movie about sisterhood. (Well, newish. Let’s not forget Lilo & Stitch). The two main characters are Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), the former a delightfully weird princess (“We finish each other’s sandwiches!”), the latter a Queen who’s suffered isolation her whole life because it’s thought—first by her parents, then by her—that being around other people will make it impossible to control her icebending. Watching the trailer it’s easy to assume that Elsa is the villain of the story, a sorcerer-gone-bad who has to be convinced by her pure-hearted sister to return to the light side of the Force.
But that’s not how it is at all. Elsa is the protagonist of her own story, one in which well-meaning parents taught her to rein in emotion for her own good. Frozen got on my good side by doing several things I didn’t expect (there was a plot twist about three-quarters of the way through that made everyone in the theater gasp), and the way it portrays family is one of them: Elsa and Anna’s parents aren’t evil. They’re not the stepmother from Snow White. They genuinely think they’re doing what’s best for both their children, and yet they screw things up (forgive the pun) royally. It’s an unusual (but welcome) message to put in a Disney film: Sometimes your parents mean well, but each person has to take charge of their own life and decide what’s best for them. It’s similar to what we saw in Brave, but it takes it further. Merida eventually brings her parents around, but the legacy that Anna and Elsa’s parents leave in their daughters’ lives is physical and emotional isolation. For a Disney movie, it’s pretty dark.
The biggest moment when I thought Disney was going to go the generic “I’ve seen this a thousand times before (usually in Disney movies)” route was near the end of the film, and I don’t want to spoil what happens, but I will say this: Frozen is all about sisterhood. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is the most important one in the film. And yeah, there is a romance, but it’s almost an afterthought.
Honestly, my biggest problem with the film—and it’s more an annoyance than a major point of ARRRGH—is that the romance seemed really tacked on. There’s a point in the middle of the film where things kind of veer away from the sister plotline, and you have your Disney Romance Song and your Disney Cute Glances. And the whole time it felt like the movie had swerved off its path. I was counting down the minutes ’til we got back to Elsa.
It’s like we can have a movie about sisterhood, but there still has to be a romance. We can have a movie that does things we don’t expect a Disney movie to do (see: That plot twist. Damn.), but there still has to be cute talking sidekicks. Frozen is absolutely a step in the right direction, but I hope the studio will one day reach a point where they regularly make movies where the Princess doesn’t end up with her One True Love by the time the credits roll. Pixar is boss at it, and I know you can do it too, Disney. I’ve seen Mulan.
The lack of racial diversity was also a problem. I know Frozen is set in a fictional land based on Scandinavia, but darn, Disney, did you have to make everyone white? There were POC in Scandinavia in that time period, first off, and one of the female leads makes magic ice castles, so don’t give me that “But history! Realism!” excuse.
So I do have a few beefs with Frozen based on what it isn’t, but that’s because it was generally an excellent film and I feel like it deserved to be even more excellent. I wouldn’t be quite so adamant if it was, say, The Little Mermaid 3. Because that’s a bad movie (I assume), and while racial diversity is a wonderful, essential (and underused) part of media, it doesn’t stop a story or dialogue from sucking. But Frozen is a good film, and diversity and/or a lack of “Protagonist finds the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with!!!!” would’ve given it that boost to “Frozen is a gift to humanity, let me snuggle it to my bosom and love it forever.”
But what we got was still great. It was funny, they did a really interesting thing with the villain (though this review is spoiler-free, if someone wants to talk about it in the comments I have feels), Alan Tudyk was there, and while the songs were the the most part unmemorable I think my playcount for “Let It Go” is in the double digits, and the movie only got out like 14 hours ago.
I even laughed my butt off at the stupid snowman.