Frozen (2013)

This review contains spoilers! You have been warned!

Frozen is the 53rd animated feature from Disney’s in-house animation studio… and it has princess characters. I honestly can’t say anything bad about the concept of princesses or princess movies. Especially since the best animated Disney movies tend to have princesses in them, from the studio’s first feature film, to the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture.

Frozen also happens to be another Disney adaptation of the work of Hans Christian Andersen, based on his story “The Snow Queen”. Disney has actually been on the fence about adapting this story for years, dating all the way back to the 1940s. One version was proposed as an animated segment in a biography of the author’s life. Another version was proposed as a traditionally animated film, with cartoon legend Glen Keane on board. There was also a version pitched by Harvey Firestein, but chances are the execs probably had their backs up from the moment someone said “Harvey Firestein wants to pitch an animated movie.”

Caption contributed by Joey

I would imagine that film having more drag.

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The project finally found traction after the success of 2010’s Tangled. When I first heard the film had been greenlighted, I was somewhat confused. Earlier in 2010, Disney exec John Lasseter admitted that there were no plans to make more princess movies. Contributing to this decision was the fact that Tangled was Disney’s most expensive animated film ever, and making another princess movie would have probably bankrupted the studio. Also, they were moving away from traditional hand-drawn animation, a change that I still found myself unwilling to accept. As much as I liked Tangled, and even though some still frames seemed to hark back to well-rendered paintings of Disney princesses, the film in motion didn’t capture the same feeling as a hand-drawn movie. But nevertheless, it was something I was going to have to get used to. Because here we are, three years later, for the computer-generated Frozen.

First of all, I can’t start this review without mentioning the short at the beginning of the film. “Get a Horse” is a tribute to the Mickey Mouse cartoons animated primarily by Ub Iwerks, as well as cut scenes from Epic Mickey. I enjoyed it a lot, but Mickey Mouse is one of my favorite cartoon characters, so I may be biased. However, I believe this is something I’d like to discuss in a future Cartoon Palooza Shorty, so I’ll keep my comments brief:

Caption contributed by Joey

Rubber Hose animation. It’s awesome, and I want to see it come back.

As for the feature presentation, the tone is perfectly set right from the opening moments. A long time ago, two sisters live in a far-off kingdom in a Nordic region. One sister named Elsa has the power to conjure snow and ice. For the sake of a Disney allusion, she’s like a sprite from that Nutcracker segment in Fantasia. Elsa accidentally hurts her sister Anna with her magic. This prompts Elsa’s parents to take her to see some trolls for a magical remedy (roll with it… that’s the trolls’ mantra, anyways). Anna’s memories of her sister’s powers are purged, but her contact with Elsa is also limited, as her parents spend more time trying to keep her under control… kind of like the Code of Harry.

Caption contributed by Joey

I’ll stop with the comparisons soon, I promise.

Eventually, the girls’ parents die in a storm at sea, which leads to Elsa becoming the next queen. Upon her coronation, the kingdom finally opens its gates, and now Elsa finds herself living with people again. I will give credit to both the animators and voice actress Idina Menzel, because Elsa’s animation and performance is perfect. You really get the feeling that she’s a confused person who doesn’t know how to control her emotions. It’s kind of appropriate that Disney now owns Marvel, because her character reminds me of one of the morally conflicted X-Men.

Caption contributed by Joey

I’m terrible at keeping promises.

Elsa’s emotions go haywire when her sister Anna, who she’s just seen in person for the first time in years (which is alluded to in the song “Let’s Build a Snowman”) wants to marry the prince she just met the day of the coronation. This frustrates Elsa, causing her to go all Jean Grey on the place, and she runs off into the mountains while leaving the kingdom frozen in ice.

Disney movies really run the gamut when it comes to darker elements. There’s everything from Snow White, with just a few dark scenes, to something like The Black Cauldron which centers around a cooking pot that can bring forward an undead army. People forget that Disney has always had its share of dark moments, which can be mostly attributed to the source material they choose to adapt. It’s a no-brainer that a lot of the earlier Grimm tales were morality anecdotes that used grisly consequences to teach a lesson. Ex-Disney animator Don Bluth had a similar philosophy: as long as you have a happy ending, the story can get as dark as you like. It just so happens that one of the big reasons Disney had a hard time adapting “The Snow Queen” was that this was one of Hans Christian Andersen’s “darker” stories. I use quotations, because the story that The Little Mermaid is based on features the titular character turning into sea-foam while not marrying prince charming.

Caption contributed by Joey

Seriously… go to Wikipedia, and bring some Prozac with you.

I’d like to say that Frozen is a lighthearted Disney tale, but the movie opens with a young princess who has to cope with her natural ability to conjure snow and ice. The parents that keep her from seeing the outside world out of fear eventually die, leaving her without any guidance for years. You know, as the Disney mantra goes:

Caption contributed by Joey

When you wish upon a star… your parents die!! There is no hope!!

Within the first ten minutes of the film, there was a lot to cope with, as far as traditional Disney movies go. This was veering into Hunchback of Notre Dame territory. Even the idea of snow is depressing. Snow is cold, bitter, and desolate. These are qualities attributed to one of our protagonists, who’s forced away from the outside world. Great. Ten minutes in, and I’m already teary-eyed.

Part of the irony is that most of the sad stuff happens during the song “Let’s Build a Snowman”. There’s a montage where the sisters are growing older, and growing farther apart. The moment when the parents die… well, just think back to the first ten minutes of Up. Though, as Papa Bluth mentioned, there will be a happy ending, folks!

Anna goes on a quest to find her sister, along with an ice-delivery man named Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and a self-aware snowman Elsa creates named Olaf. They’re your traditional stock sidekicks/male counterparts, with a slight twist. In Olaf’s case, the creators managed to find something really funny and heartwarming about this character. Olaf was the name of the snowman Elsa built with Anna when they were kids, so essentially, Olaf is Elsa’s subconscious apology to Anna for growing apart. There’s a scene where Elsa doesn’t even realize that she created a talking snowman, and yet he looks identical to the one they built as kids.

Frozen (2013)

Another interesting quality about this character is the humor. I always felt that some of the best comedy comes from two things that are complete opposites coming together. In this case, Olaf is a snowman who wants to enjoy the summer. Just reading that sentence makes me giggle, as I can imagine a Charles Addams comic panel highlighting this joke. Though, it isn’t a just a throwaway gag—The songwriters give Olaf a musical tune that takes this joke to town. Put simply, there were lines in this song that made me laugh hard.

And then there’s Kristoff. Here’s a character that was raised by the trolls from earlier, which I can only assume is Disney’s way of trying to capitalize on Laika’s upcoming movie The Boxtrolls. However, there’s an interesting dynamic between him and Anna, both of whom come from similar walks of life, but manage to have different outlooks. On top of that, Kristoff isn’t designed like your traditional prince charming. And then we get to Anna’s earlier love interest, and this is where those major spoilers come in. I warned you…

The twist is that the villain is the man Anna thought would be her future husband, a guy named Hans. This… may have been predictable. Let me explain. Hans is the 13th child in his family, making him the farthest from assuming his kingdom’s throne, which is why he wanted to marry a princess from another kingdom. It gives him a motive, hinted at by subtle gestures and lines throughout the film. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing if you didn’t catch it early on. With the way the script was handled, it could have caught some people by surprise. For me, you never knew his angle; and when an opportunity presented itself to him, like taking over the kingdom in the sisters’ absence, it seemed likely that Hans had his own prerogative.

Frozen (2013)

The movie also made it clear that Hans shouldn’t be trusted when they would reinforce the notion of “true love at first sight.” I especially like how the concept played out during the film, because it feels like Disney admitting defeat. In some ways, it’s like the movie is telling you, “Yeah… it was cute in Snow White, but if you ever think you instantly want to marry someone you met for 12 minutes, chances are you need professional help.”

It also reminded me of another earlier Disney film that took the prince charming stereotype and turned it on its head: Beauty and the Beast. Gaston was the muscle-bound hero who wanted to win Belle’s heart, but his arrogance only drove her away. The final reveal that Hans is not the man Anna thought he was seems to hark back to that same reversal from years ago, but for different reasons.

This is part of the problem I had with the movie. It took the qualities of Disney’s best films, and added some new twists in hopes that this would be as big as Beauty and the Beast. Sometimes it works well, but other times it feels over-calculated. For example, the movie begins with a song that seems like it was taken straight from Dumbo. Actually, as I watch that scene again, it almost seems like they ripped off “The Song of the Roustabouts”, right down to the imagery and animation. Though to be fair, while that song had racist overtones, this was significantly… whiter.

Caption contributed by Joey

Both in snow and people.

My biggest annoyance was with the Anna character. I understand she’s sheltered, and her parents didn’t have a lot of time to spend with her. Especially since they wanted to make sure Elsa wouldn’t freeze the fjords by sneezing. However, I couldn’t help but think about the other sheltered but wacky Disney princess voiced by Mandy Moore in Tangled. What sets apart Rapunzel from Anna is that you actually feel like she’s been living alone, far away from the truth. So once Rapunzel steps out of the castle to go back to the kingdom, you can’t help but root for her. I wanted to see Rapunzel take back the throne, dammit!

Anna, on the other hand, just seems dumb. The choices she makes throughout the film make no sense, and oftentimes it’s hard to root for her. And when she does make the right choice, it doesn’t feel gratifying. It feels more like a calculated effort to have a character make a sacrifice or a hard choice in order to generate empathy. Which is not to say Kristen Bell did a bad job. If anything, her singing voice really brought me back to Belle from Beauty and the Beast… which may be part of the whole thing with the studio trying to mathematically reconstruct the success of that film.

I wouldn’t say that Frozen is as dark as The Black Cauldron or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I will say that it’s hard to know if I like it more than Tangled or not. They come pretty close, but in the end, it makes me feel good that Disney’s trying something new while still following tradition. It’s too early to say if this marks the beginning of a new Disney Renaissance, but since The Princess and the Frog, I feel the studio has at least been on a roll…

Caption contributed by Joey

…That is, if you forget Planes exists. Which is no easy task.

The voice acting in Frozen is spot-on, the animation is beyond gorgeous, and it manages to hit the right chords even though it’s guilty of skating through the motions. I highly recommend the film for animation fans, because if you’ve been dealing with the crap that came out this year, this is most likely going to be a breath of fresh air.

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  • StevePotter

    I object to anyone who calls Snow White one of Disney’s “best” films.

    • The_Stig

      Best? No, but it’s probably their most important. Disney as we know it would not exist without Snow White.

      • tedzey71

        That’s really what I was referring to. It’s always ranked high in the AFIs’ lists of movies, as well as one of two movies that are animated on their top 100 (the second is Toy Story). Not to mention that disregarding inflated ticket prices, the movie has sold more tickets at the time. This isn’t even including the theatrical re-releases it would have prior to home video.

        It’s objective to say it’s their “best” movie, but by going off of it’s significance to pop culture and media, it’s definitely a significant movie in the history of film (you can quote me on that).

        I just find it hilarious that the first few comments have commented on my thoughts on Snow White… and not the 2000 word article I wrote on Frozen!

        Maybe I should look at Snow White instead…

        • StevePotter

          Ah, I get you. I appreciate Snow White’s significance and all, I just really can’t stand it as a movie. “Pinocchio” is a far better movie than Snow White, but because Snow White came first, it gets all the love. But that might just be me.

          As for your review on Frozen, it seems that I should actually see this film. (I didn’t read the whole thing, because of the spoilers). It’s gotten a surprisingly good reception, which I didn’t expect from the obnoxious-looking commercials.

          • Muthsarah

            The commercials were aimed straight at children. Probably the dumber ones. The dangly-key-watching, paste-eating ones. Granted, I don’t watch the same kinds of shows that kids watch, so maybe they weren’t all so bad, but of the spots I’ve unfortunately caught, and the posters, and the stupid moving electronic ad poster stupid 3D thing in my local theatre’s lobby (which shows the snowman and NOTHING ELSE about the movie), I almost couldn’t possibly have been less interested, so I totally get where you’re coming from. It seems the marketers didn’t attempt to reach adults, or even teens, AT ALL. Which makes me almost a little disappointed that it’s doing so well now, since part of me wants it to fail.

            But the movie’s fantastic; it’s funny, the songs are perfect (except one, but another one is so good it makes up for it), and it works really well as a fairy tale, and not just as a set-up to a marketable stupid cartoon snowman stupid thing. The snowman wasn’t even annoying, he’s just…there, quick bits, in-and-out of a scene. Comic relief as it should be. Seriously, he doesn’t ruin the movie or anything. You just assume he will because that’s what these films do with the cute animal/abomination sidekick characters.

            Trust in the reviews and the word-of-mouth: Frozen is fantastic, my favorite movie of the year, and my favorite Disney since forever. And I won’t spoil a thing about it. Other than that it doesn’t have a stupid talking animal or a stupid snowman.

  • Timothy Byrne

    Snow White can’t really be divorced from the context. Movies like Star Wars, Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane have states as movied which ‘changed’ cinema, and its difficulty to judge them objectively simply as ‘movies’.

  • MichaelANovelli

    “Let’s Build A Snowman?” Do they make him their best friend? They could name him Bob or they could name him Beowulf!

    • naomi_washburn

      They could make him tall, or they could make him not so tall. Snowman!

      • MichaelANovelli

        He’ll have a happy face, a happy smile, a happy point of view! If you build me a snowman, then I’ll build one for you!

  • Sardu

    There’s one think that needs to be mentioned here- the music sucks. HARD. The attempts at bringing in a tweener Disney Channel vibe while still trying to sound Broadway in the mode of Little Mermaid and BatB results in garbage and the lyrics… Howard Ashman is puking in his grave while he spins. Tangled just went modern pop and had far better results.

    • Muthsarah

      Pistols at dawn, dear Sardu. The style isn’t reminiscent of Disney at all (unless you only hear the Demi Lovato cover of “Let it Go”, from which I was fleeing the theatre); if anything, it’s ripped straight from Wicked. Except that I like Frozen’s songs better. Tangled’s songs were disposable, C-grade pop that left zero impression. Like Disney Channel songs. And everything else Disney Channel.

      • Sardu

        “Tangled’s songs were disposable, C-grade pop that left zero impression.”

        Exactly. That’s a step up at least from the aggressive wretchedness of Frozen’s songs. :D Eh- musicals haven’t fared well at Disney for a long time. Other than that the movie was pretty outstanding, for the most part.

  • The Horror Guru

    Personally I thought the music in Frozen was fantastic.

    • tedzey71

      I never said the songs were bad. I think because of the word limit I had to keep it to, I didn’t spend too much time criticizing them. That, and I tend to be biased when it comes to Disney Soundtracks. Disregarding the quality of the movie, I love all their soundtracks irregardless.

      Now that you bring it up though, here are my thoughts on the tracks:

      Frozen Heart- Good.
      Let’s build a Snowman- Great
      Let it Go- Loved it… a shoe-in for best original song at the Oscars
      In Summer and Fixer-Upper- Hilarious!

      Everything else was… fine. I think my least favorite was “First Time in Forever” only because it seemed WAAY too much like “When Will My Life Begin”

      • The Horror Guru

        Haha, actually this post was meant to be a response to the person below. But for some reason Disqus posted it as it’s own comment. Oh well. =P

      • Jennifer Schillig

        Saw this last night and liked it. I liked most of the songs, but…
        My only real complaint with the movie is that after a certain point…it seemed to forget it was a musical.

        I’ve loved musicals (animated and live-action) nearly all my life, and to me, a Disney movie is made by its songs. (Which was the only flaw in Tangled…its songs were rather blah to me, although the background score was exquisite.) After the trolls’ song (which was the only one that really fell flat for me)…not one more song in the thing. Not even the Triumphant Reprise at the very end, which nearly always seems to happen in a musical Disney movie. (Come to think of it, I don’t think Tangled had one at the end either.) It was almost as if Disney was afraid to make it too much of a musical.
        It’s an odd sort of inversion, isn’t it? When Disney had its first major rebirth with The Little Mermaid, animated musicals were blockbusters and live-action ones were in a slump. Now, with live-action musicals doing better onscreen than they have in a long time…animators seem reluctant to do animated musicals.

        • Muthsarah

          They already had a reprise at the halfway point, and another one over the end credits, which I hope was a decision made by soulless corporate and not the filmmakers themselves. I agree that the ending could have used one more song (though the last 30 minutes had no room at all for them, given what was happening), but I don’t know what would have fit, unless they did the romantic song again. Which would have been a lil’ weird. Certainly no room for anything new. The troll song was already the weakest, maybe they had no more left?

          Really, Disney films of yore usually let off on the songs as they approach the denouement. Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, they all stopped with the songs during the last 30 minutes. Aladdin had a brief reprise from Jafar, but that’s the only true exception I can think of. Oh, and Snow White had some swelling background vocals as the dwarves were mourning her, and then the Prince showed up singing, so that probably counts. I guess Alice had some later songs too, but that was a pretty short, fast-paced movie.

          Overall, Frozen was less about the songs than it was about the characters and the humor (and the pretty). As a musical, it did feel a little light, but I didn’t mind overall, as it got everything else right. And some of the songs they did have were really, really good. I’m plenty happy for how it turned out; even saw it for the second time this week. It’s in my Top Five Plot-Based Animated Films of All Time. It’s certainly far better than anything they’ve done in years. They’re going in the right direction.

      • Michael Young

        I liked “For the First TIme in Forever” because I really liked the contrast between Anna’s excitement and Elsa’s fear.

  • iwentthere

    Disney? Never heard of it. Currently watching Kimba the White Lion.

  • jbwarner86

    I really enjoyed this movie. Disney is really on a roll when it comes to solid emotional cores in their animated films. Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph both had protagonists and deuteragonists who you cared deeply about and wanted to see succeed, and this film continues handsomely in that vein. The rift between Anna and Elsa is beautifully done, as is the bantering between Anna and Kristoff. Olaf is an adorable bundle of comic relief (“I don’t have a skull!……Or bones!”) And in regards to Hans, I didn’t see the twist coming, yet it didn’t feel forced. At first, I thought the plot point of him wanting to marry Anna immediately was just there for the sake of lampshading how often that happens in older Disney movies, and that he’d kiss her to cure her but it simply wouldn’t work, to show that true love isn’t about marrying someone you just met…and instead they totally yanked the rug out from under me in a much more creative way. But it’s one of those twists where if you look back at the story, all the pieces suddenly fit together. (Again, Disney’s getting really good at this: see also the reveal of King Candy’s true intentions in Wreck-It Ralph.)

    The only real stumbling block Disney seems to have with their recent movies is the songs. Now, don’t get me wrong, the songs in this one were great, but they could have placed them better. They crammed about three or four of them into the first 20 minutes or so (there’s only, what, about a minute and a half of screen time between “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “For the First Time in Forever”?) And the wild and upbeat “Fixer-Upper” makes for some really awkward mood whiplash when Anna faints and everything turns deadly serious as soon as the song ends – I think they were going for the same effect that they had in Mulan right after “A Girl Worth Fighting For”, but it doesn’t work nearly as well here. Still, at least this film doesn’t suffer from Tangled’s problem where about half the musical numbers were reprises…or anything like Wreck-It Ralph’s inexplicable use of a Rihanna song for a training montage.

    All in all, despite its flaws, it’s definitely one of Disney’s finer recent productions, and a great engaging story. And it should be mentioned that I also adored “Get a Horse” – that’s got to be one of the cleverest, most creative things Disney has done in the last ten or fifteen years. All I knew going into it was that it was in the style of the older 1930s Mickey Mouse shorts and it used archival audio of Walt Disney’s voice. I was totally not expecting the twist that happened about two minutes in (which I will not spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet), but I loved every fourth-wall-destroying minute of what happened after. :D

  • Oualawouzou

    Being the father of a 8 years old girl, I’ve watched (or at least heard) this movie on loop for the better part of the last few months. I liked it well enough in theaters, though I found the dialogue to be sometimes a little weak, but through repeated viewings/listening, I find that this movie has grown on me. The musical numbers in particular, who left me cold for the most part, seem to get better as time goes by (including “Let it go”, though you’d think it’d get grating by the 50th time).

    I take a little issue with you calling Anna’s actions dumb though. Well, yes… she does dumb things, I agree, but that’s fully justified. Despite her age, she’s still a kid who wants to solve problems that she can’t imagine being too complex for her. Her decisions lack subtelty, but that’s because she has never had to actually solve a complex problem before. (My sister is mad ; to talk helps to defuse the situation when someone is mad ; therefore I must go talk to my sister!) She reminds me a lot of my daughter, actually. That’s endearing, not off-putting (though a little weird since she’s a young adult, but I chalk this up to having lived a sheltered life).

    (And Get a Horse was the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen in a theater.)

    • Joseph Patrick

      It’s pretty understandable to have a personal attachment to a character that reminds you of somebody you know. It makes the characters the more relatable and endearing. In some ways, Elsa was very much a character I could relate to as an introvert who has a hard time dealing with her emotions and social situations. That’s why on the opposite side of the spectrum, Anna was definitely more of an extravert. She made rash decisions without fully thinking through them. I think that’s where most of my frustration comes from. Anna has a completely different personality I could understand, but not wholly empathize with.