Frozen is one of those Disney movies that from the outside looks like just another archetypical Disney adventure cash cow with enough playful humor to sate the kids, but little more for anyone else. And I wouldn’t blame anyone who wrote it off given the boring trailers and terrible marketing. Until now.
Boy was I wrong about this one. You’re getting this review a little late because I missed my shot at an early screening and now I hate myself for it. Frozen is wonderful. It is, without exaggeration, the best family film of 2013, an easy number in my best of the year list, and one of the best Disney movies ever made.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the above probably has you a little skeptical. It’s one thing to stand out as a breath of fresh air, but what in God’s name does this movie do to earn THAT kind of praise?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer that in full if I want to keep this review spoiler-free. Frozen is laden with one interesting twist after another that altogether tear the entire Disney Princess story formula asunder. It’s a perfectly conventional story with all the cutesy charm of a typical old school Disney classic… and then it isn’t.
Our story (loosely adapted from The Snow Queen) takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle and stars the two daughters of the King and Queen. They are Elsa [left] (Idina Menzel) and Anna [right] (Kristen Bell). Only Elsa, the elder one, is blessed/cursed with the magical power to create and manipulate the cold. As little children, the two are very close until Elsa nearly kills Anna by accident with her powers. Anna is healed by trolls in the forest who, by necessity, erase Anna’s memory of the fact that Elsa has said powers. She does not, however, forget the fun. Their parents lock down the castle and keep the now utterly terrified Elsa and her powers concealed from Anna and the rest of Arendelle.
This kind of Finding Nemo event drives a wedge into the two leads right into the beginning, which is compounded by the King and Queen being (almost literally) removed from the movie. Elsa remains a recluse of an older sister and Anna is confused for her entire lonely upbringing, wondering why she’s always facing her sister’s cold shoulder & yearning for a return to the days that they would play together again.
Then comes Coronation Day. A now of age Elsa is to be crowned Queen of Arendelle. That same day, Anna meets Prince-Charming-in-the-flesh Hans (Santino Fortana) and it’s Love at First Song. When Elsa refuses to marry them, things get heated, Elsa’s uncontrollable powers go haywire, and she flees the kingdom, unwittingly casting an immediate and permanent winter on the entire Kingdom. Anna goes after her to set things right, and acquires the help of an ice gatherer/love cynic named Christoph (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer, Sven.
It sounds like I’ve just spoiled half the movie, but we’re barely getting our feet off the ground. The simplicity of the narrative despite bombarding the audience with so much so fast is never lost. The film is packed with metaphors about pubescence, maturity, and the idea of knowing thyself, including a musical number for Elsa that is almost sure to win Best Original Song. The movie uses trolls, wolves, and one ginormous shopkeeper to have a little fun with itself, but none of it comes at the expense of the story. And once we meet Olaf the living Snowman, it gets even funnier.
The information overload in the beginning might have been a criticism leveled against the movie if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a couple of stunning twists ahead that turn the movie and the entire Disney Princess fantasy formula upside down.
I’m not going to even hint at what or when they are, but the difference lies entirely in execution. Frozen is never hiding anything from you. It doesn’t leave any critical bits of information out, and it follows the logic of its own story with bald faced sincerity. It even uses Christoph to make fun of its own childish notions of love and romance while it proceeds.
That’s because Frozen isn’t that kind of love story. Nor is it even using the love stories it has as tools for audience indulgence. It’s about the estrangement and reconciliation of two lovelorn sisters, with a much different idea of what true love is and what it actually means.
The magic of its success is measured in how real the characters become to us and where their actions take their story. Whether you’re watching a scene where the actually quite lovable Hans is trying to keep the castle and the rest of Arendelle warm and sheltered, a monologue from Christoph about why love is for suckers, or a song by trolls that will remind you of that time your parents played matchmaker, everything is there to make you feel like you actually have a sense of where you are, who everyone is, and what’s going on. The movie makes itself real to you…so that it can turn around and teach you one of the realest and most hard-hitting lessons any Disney movie has ever taught. Don’t confuse it with preaching. It’s more of a revelatory awakening.
Frozen is a movie for everyone, whether you’re young and still starved for some Disney fun, a parent taking those kids, someone older than the age of 12 and tired of the business as usual machinations of fantasy love stories, a feminist (don’t read too much into this one), or just a movie lover in general. I had a great time with it and I urge you to set aside any reservations you might have before seeing it. Frozen really is that awesome for everything it does differently. And after writing this review entirely on my phone, I only want to see it again.
See it in 3D too. There’s a short little Disney animated show prior to the movie that features some of the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen.
The Good: The characters, the story, the premise, the music, the animation, the humor, the twist(s), the ending, and the fact that it’s different.
The Bad: Some of the magic isn’t completely explained, which occasionally makes what’s happening with Elsa’s powers seem a little bizarre; and the action scene in the fifth (final) act could have stood to be a little more exciting.
The Ugly: I wish Hans and Christoph’s voices were a little more distinctive. They don’t have any scenes together, but when chaos is erupting, you often look to the voices to get a sense of direction and it probably could have been done better here.