I will admit to being rather late to the Frozen party. When the film came out in 2013 there was so much hype that I was worried about raising my hopes, and thought I would end up hating it. A year rolled by and Christmas of 2014 brought with it the sight of my local Disney shop asking customers to please only buy one Frozen product each. I realised that this was not going to die down soon, so maybe I should just sit down and watch it.
My initial verdict? It’s ok. It certainly has the modern day Disney charm that can be seen in Tangled (2010) and The Princess and the Frog (2009). The animation is nothing short of fantastic with an abundance of detail in both the characters and landscapes. The characters themselves have the princesses quality in looks with back-stories and feelings that are easily understandable. The overall plot is successful, with some surprise twists at the end for good measure.
The story of Frozen is an animated musical loosely based off Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. It follows two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who loved to play together as children. One night while experimenting with Elsa’s power to create ice and snow, Anna gets hurt. Their parents take them to some trolls who take away Anna’s memories of Elsa’s power while warning that fear of her powers could lead to a terrible reality. With concern for their daughters, the parents isolate the children from each other and Elsa slowly loses control over her magic. The parents die, and when Elsa turns 18 she has to take the throne, but Anna mucks things up and Elsa’s power is revealed to everyone forcing her to run away and turn the land to ice. Wanting to make things right Anna goes after her.
The basics of the plot is certainly intriguing, as long as we overlook some bad parenting choices. The rest of the story is mainly a combination of Elsa deciding whether or not to fear her powers and Anna repeatedly trying to help but making things worse. This makes the themes of Frozen; insecurity, isolation and fear combined with finding personal strength and acceptance, which all feel like adult messages. Indeed, the biggest question I was struck with after watching the film was, ‘Who is this Frozen for?’ and was quick to come to the conclusion of ‘teenagers and students’. Not only were the themes perfect for the struggles of adolescence but the characters themselves felt older and more mature. Disney must be aware of how many of their fans loved their films growing up, a rather large number of which are now young adults.
Frozen is still for children, however, they cleverly use the comic relief character of Olaf the snowman to bring humor (although this is often dark) to the sad moments and point out what’s happening in the story, for those who have not kept up. The use of friendly magic trolls and the relationship between Kristoff and his reindeer are also both kept very light-hearted.
My main problem came with the characters themselves, mainly our two protagonists Elsa and Anna.
Most conflicts within the film are Anna’s fault and she never really accepts or learns from her mistakes. If she had listened to her sister at the beginning she would not have got hurt, meaning Elsa would never had been afraid of her powers and they would have happily grown up together. Indeed Anna makes the same mistake about three or four times in the course the film – she doesn’t listen and is so determined to fix everything that she destroys it. Wanting to make amends isn’t a bad character trait, but repeatedly trying to make amends by forcing people to do what she wants, despite seeing that it doesn’t work, is stupidity and it feels frustrating.
The other major Anna characteristic is her love life. The first time love between Anna and Hans felt over-done – she is told so many times to be more careful, that spending an hour with someone is not cause for marriage. Looking back on this however, I did find it rather refreshing for Disney. It is certainly about time that films showed young girls and boys that you have to truly know someone before falling in love, etc. Yet the film also disappointed me in the way that it dealt with this later on. When Anna finds herself wondering over which of the two male protagonists she prefers, her choice is made for her. I understand why this was done. Disney is ultimately for children and watching her struggle over ‘who to choose’ would have felt confusing and boring to younger viewers.
Elsa’s story line is one of fear and acceptance. She accepts her powers as a child then fears them. She has an empowering moment where she accepts her powers then fears them again until she accepts them at the end. While a bit samey, many audience members will relate to this push and pull relationship with how they feel about themselves. Elsa is powerful and strong when she accepts herself, while being pitiful and winy when she doesn’t. It’s a nice message, but repeated too much through-out the film and there is little else to say about the character. It could have been nice to see something a bit darker during the middle state of empowerment especially after ‘Let It Go’ was such a strong song of acceptance, only to be crushed by uncertainly 10 minutes later, which rather negates the message of the song.
I think the main problem I had with Frozen is that it didn’t live up to expectations. No matter how I tried not to be influenced by friends and critics, as soon as someone tells you ‘this is a brilliant film’ you expect that to be the case. It is very much an enjoyable and heartfelt film that combines deep and personal themes in a way that provides entertainment for a wide age range in the audience. Watching it in order to criticise it will inevitably throw up some story problems and queries within the worlds logic, but it is a Disney film. It is meant to be something colourful and fun with messages that help children to learn and grow. The fact that it manages to hit themes very relevant for teenagers and students of today is an extra bonus. At the end of the day it’s still Disney.
Directed By: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Screenplay By: Jennifer Lee (inspired by The Snow Queen by) Hans Christian Andersen
Starting: Kristen Bell, Indina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and Santino Fontana