Disney’s “Frozen” Almost Reaches Its Potential

January 22, 2014 5:00 PM4 commentsViews: 254
Disney's "Frozen" appeals to audiences of all ages.

Disney’s “Frozen” appeals to audiences of all ages.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

Disney’s new animated film Frozen is an enjoyable, somewhat groundbreaking movie with one major flaw. The story is about the tumultuous relationship between two sisters, a relationship that Disney does not flesh out enough to make the movie the best it could have been. The older sister Elsa is born with powers over various forms of frozen water; her inability to control her magic drives the plot of the movie once Elsa accidentally freezes the entire kingdom of Arendelle and runs away in fear. Her younger, optimistic, romantic, bubbly sister Anna teams up with wilderness sweet guy Kristoff and Olaf—a snowman included purely for comedic relief—to convince Elsa to reverse the eternal winter. Anna and Elsa must battle their own demons and fight external forces to save the kingdom.

The Bad
The main issue with Frozen is the reluctance of Disney to actually focus on the two sisters. The story’s backbone is Elsa and Anna’s relationship — yet most of the scenes focus on comedy and the perils of adventuring, along with a little romance for Anna. Once Elsa flees the kingdom and has her victorious solo, the middle 80 minutes of Frozen is entirely about Anna and Kristoff to the point where some may even forget that another sister exists. Disney probably emphasized the adventuring scenes in an effort to attract more boys into the audience, because Frozen holds less of an appeal to boys if it centers around an emotional drama. Despite societal advances in this department, kids are still bred to believe that emotional drama is for girls and physical tussles are for boys.

Disney is scared to declare that Frozen centers around two female protagonists — one of whom doesn’t even have a love interest — despite putting in loads of effort to make the chemistry between the two sisters authentic and relatable. Disney’s trepidation is a shame, because a further fleshing out of Anna and Elsa’s relationship would have given the story even more power. The movie does not even resolve a vital plot point—Anna figuring out why Elsa hid from her for thirteen years—a loose thread that shows Disney’s carelessness to fully develop the sisters’ relationship.

The cowardice of Disney to not advertise female-female relationships as making up the central plot also appears in Brave, where the trailer focuses more on archery and changing fate in Scottish accents than on the actual story: a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship. What’s up, Disney? Are you scared to declare that a story can center around two females?

Due to Disney’s reluctance to focus on the sisters, the first and last thirds of Frozen move quickly along because they contain actual plot. Actually, those parts may move too quickly; the few scenes between Anna and Elsa, although emotionally jarring and relatable, seem rushed. The middle third lags behind by comparison, and its comedic relief seems almost forced compared to the overall dark themes of the story itself.

A smaller issue is the lack of explanation with regards to Elsa’s powers.  Are her powers hereditary or is Elsa a genetic pioneer? Why is the kingdom afraid of Elsa’s magic? It is shown in Frozen that sorcery is feared, but at the movie’s end the townspeople seem too quick to accept Elsa’s powers. Was their fear just superstition and ignorance? An explanation of this pivotal element of the story would have gone a long way to make the story seem more believable. Perhaps such a clarification is too much for Disney.

The Good
So to cover up its yellow belly, Disney takes praiseworthy steps to make Frozen remarkably realistic and reflective of modern-day society in terms of the values and attitudes the movie displays.
Complex Characters
The days of one- or two-dimensional Disney characters are hopefully gone forever, because the people of Frozen are lovable, relatable and satisfyingly complicated. Elsa is a very complex, multifaceted character who is written so well that she seems as puzzling as an actual flesh-and-blood human. Perhaps the most special characteristic of Elsa is her ice powers because her magic serves as a metaphor or a means of projection for the viewer’s own struggles for individual and societal acceptance. Disney did a great job making a very relatable, sympathetic character.

Girls and Food

To combat accusations of always producing girls with skinny, barbie-like bodies, Disney has Anna stuff her face with chocolate; her appreciation for food continues the trend of Belle sipping breakfast with the Beast, Mulan downing porridge, and Merida devouring an apple. Apparently, a healthy princess-food relationship helps young girls not become anorexic, or so worried mothers claim. Still, however, Disney seems wary of deviating from its standard body molds both for its men and its women.

Animation and Voicing
The CGI animation of Frozen is stunning: the hair and frosty elements are beautiful and realistic; facial expressions, dynamic; scenery, breathtaking. Computer-generated animation is certainly taking a turn for the better as it becomes more detailed. The voice acting and singing is incredible, with Frozen‘s song numbers reminiscent of a Broadway production in execution, style, scale, and talent.
Feminism
Frozen reflects the notion that women and men can be equally influential and powerful. Elsa is crowned regent very matter-of-factly without any talk of boys and heirs, which is rather unusual for Disney. For her part, Anna finds love of her own volition – rather than because she is forced to by society. Anna later punches Hans off a boat, and Kristoff asks if he can kiss Anna instead of just going for it. Hans’s ambition in life is not limited by the fact that he has twelve older brothers.
Notions of True Love
The most revolutionary part of Frozen is its treatment and portrayal of love. Disney seems to be going the Ariel route when Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with a curse to be lifted only via an act of true love. Kristoff’s family is convinced that a kiss between Anna and Kristoff is the only way to lift the curse, a sentiment the audience mainly agrees with since everyone is so used to the Prince Charming/kiss of true love trope. So Anna seeks out Hans, the man she thinks is her true love, to kiss him. Yet Hans turns out to be a selfish, greedy man who wants to kill Elsa, marry Anna, and rule the kingdom himself. Hans’ betrayal is a nice play on the traditional fairytale story since it wags a finger at the notion of a Prince Charming/love at first sight, although the sudden betrayal may be shocking for little kids.
During the climax of the movie, Kristoff and Anna run towards each other to kiss and break the curse while Elsa nearby collapses from grief as Hans informs her that Anna has died from the curse. As Hans prepares to kill Elsa, Anna runs from Kristoff and sacrifices herself for Elsa. Anna’s act of true love breaks the curse. This move is revolutionary for three reasons. First, the true love is (meant to be) sororal instead of romantic. Second, Anna removes her curse of her own volition and thus breaks the damsel in distress mold. Lastly, the implication that Kristoff could have saved Anna with a kiss confirms the validity of numerous types of love; that is, having Anna kiss Kristoff (thus perhaps confirming the existence of a Prince Charming) would be just as valid a curse-breaker as Anna dying for Elsa. The climax of Frozen says that multiple types of love can be true love.
 Clearly in all these ways, Disney is trying hard to be more than just a peddler of traditional tales and values.
But in the End
Overall, Frozen is a beautifully executed drama and coming-of-age story. Clearly the makers were meticulous with regards to animation, casting, and positive messages. Disney’s cowardice to focus on the two sisters both slows the plot down for the sake of somewhat forced comedic relief and reflects badly upon the company itself; yet, somehow even this vital flaw does not destroy the value of Frozen as a nontraditional, enjoyable tale whose values at last reflect modern Western society. The movie is definitely worth seeing.

4 Comments

  • Um. A couple of problems:

    Disney didn’t make Brave. Pixar made Brave.

    Frozen did show Anna’s realization of why Elsa had separated herself for so long.

    Otherwise, good article.

  • Pixar under Disney made Brave, that’s true. I don’t know how much each creative team influenced the movie (or if the teams have merged or some other such setup.)

    Frozen showed Anna that Elsa had powers, but it never explicitly told Anna why Elsa hid her powers from her, other than Elsa’s vague comments about not wanting to hurt Anna. That is, Elsa never told Anna about the accident/the white streak in Anna’s hair. If you have proof that Anna knows about the accident, I’ll concede you this second point.

    Thank you!

  • Drummer boy

    Overall I think it is a great article you did a fantastic job on it

  • Drummer boy

    But what I do not get is when Anna was unfrozen the white streak in her hair was not there where did it go

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