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Film Review: Disney's Frozen
Introduction to This Review
There has been nothing but a veritable avalanche of hype surrounding this movie. Many progressive, liberal critics are praising the film for its progressive portrayal of women and for having original twists on old Disney tropes.
So I went into Frozen expecting it to be good, but I really don't think it's the most progressive Disney movie to date, and I think reviewers like this one are seriously undermining the examples of strong female characters from previous Disney movies by saying that it's "the most progressive", but it certainly is in many ways.
However, it is a movie that, as a story, sparkles with innovation and subversion. However, unlike Shrek or Enchanted, the whole movie doesn't focus on this subversion of classic Disney/fairy tale tropes, but plays with them more subtly and sometimes unexpectedly.
So, first of all, Spoiler Alert, everything that follows may and probably will contain spoilers, so I'd recommend watching the film before reading the rest of this.
Elsa and Anna are two sister princesses in a kingdom called Arendelle. As children, Elsa, the older one, develops an ability to make ice and snow appear and to manipulate them. However, she can't control these powers well because they seem to be influenced strongly by her emotions. When she makes snow and plays with Anna in the palace one night, Anna gets hurt by accident. The girls' parents consult a mystical troll elder who tells them that he can heal Anna, but that the only way to protect her and the kingdom in the future is for Elsa to shut herself away from all human contact, inside a room in the castle. They also erase all of Anna's memories of the power that Elsa possesses so that she can hide her powers. Unfortunately though, she can never tell her younger sister why she has to hide herself away from people.
Then mom and dad die, which makes Elsa queen. For Elsa's coronation, the castle is opened for a ball, Elsa controlling her powers by a combination of glove-wearing and stoicism, and Anna is thrilled to finally be allowed to make real social connections for the first time in her life. At this ball, she meets a prince, and it seems like love at first sight/song. However, she asks Elsa for her blessing to marry said prince and she refuses, telling Anna that she's being too reckless to ask to marry someone she's just met.
So, of course, things don't go so well with this ball, and Elsa ends up using her powers, publicly revealing her long-hidden secret, and creating a huge snowstorm in summer. She flees the castle and the city, going deep into the wilderness. Anna's prince fiancé is reluctant to let her go alone, but Anna insists on riding by herself to go seek Elsa out and try to reason with her.
On the way, she meets Kristoff, a hardworking but sometimes sarcastic young lad who sells ice, his reindeer, a shopkeeper, and... a talking snowman named Olaf, created by Elsa who perhaps made him while remembering all the times as a kid when Anna would ask her to make her a snowman. Since Olaf has never known anything but winter in his short life, he sings about wanting to experience heat and summer, almost seeming to not know that doing so will kill him.
So Anna and Kristoff and reindeer and snowman go off looking for Elsa and find a huge, magnificent ice palace she's created using her powers. Anna decides to go talk to her alone, but things don't end well.
Flash back to the castle back in the city, and it turns out Anna's "prince charming" isn't who the audience thought he was either. He was simply an ambitious man looking to marry Anna, arrange accidents for the sisters, and become king, because he was 13th in line behind 12 brothers and knew he had no chance of inheriting his kingdom back home (I guess he would simply rather murder fewer than 12 people for a kingship).
So, this prince, Hans, decides to ride out with some men to try to kill Elsa, after convincing the public that she's an evil sorceress who needs to be stopped. However, all they succeed in doing is imprisoning her. Anna was injured by Elsa's powers, and goes to see some of the same trolls her parents consulted in the opening scenes of the movie, being led to them by Kristoff because her memory loss prevents her from remembering them.
What the troll elder says is that only "an act of true love" can heal Anna. So, naturally she assumes this means she needs True Love's Kiss from her prince back home. Nope. In her weakened state, she is left by the fire when her prince confesses to her his ambitions and the fact that he never truly loved her. While it becomes obvious by this point that this means Kristoff is her real true love, the shocking thing is that it's not actually a kiss that the "act of true love" turns out to be, nor is it even referring to romantic love.
It comes instead when Anna sees that a prison-breaking Elsa is about to be killed by Hans, and, despite her weakness, she runs up and blocks his sword while the ice powers finally take over and turn her completely into ice. However, since self-sacrifice for Elsa was an act of true love, magic thingies happen and Anna comes back to life.
Elsa then realizes what she couldn't earlier, that if negative emotions caused her powers to become dangerous, positive ones, namely love, can cause her to stop them from doing harm and to use them for good. Elsa goes back to ruling her kingdom with the confidence that she can control her powers and Anna and Kristoff are left with the satisfaction that they helped make it happen and found each other along the way. And though summer is restored, Elsa uses her powers to keep the cute little snowman alive. Everyone wins.
I have very mixed feelings about this one. Let's start with what I think the movie did well:
- Interesting and likable protagonists, in Elsa and Anna
- Good music
- Interesting and impressive visuals, the movie is stunningly animated
However, other than that, the plot of the movie makes very little sense even for Disney, and the movie seems to try too hard to be feminist and to make its point about how love at first sight doesn't really happen in real life to always feel like a good story. Plus, I felt like the movie was very much about contemporary values, and it doesn't feel connected to any sort of historical time period, even though the costumes are vaguely 19th century. They also drive home the message that Anna shouldn't have agreed to marry someone she just met, but then the movie still wants to have its Happily Ever After ending. The truth is, this movie is pretending that all previous Disney movies were Sleeping Beauty, and I hated how the whole movie felt like Disney was disparaging its own past, as well as not articulating the values expressed by their past truthfully.
Is it enjoyable to watch, maybe even multiple times? Sure. Is it deep and progressive and all that? Not really. Just watch it because it looks pretty, sounds pretty, and is entertaining.