The snow has fallen, the air is chilled, the earth is… frozen, there’s cheer in the faces of those you pass by unless they’re students, and radio stations are bursting with horrible pop covers of Christmas carols. Christembermas has arrived. Merbl, that one doesn’t work as well as Octoberween. Oh well, I tried. The point remains that Christmas is looming, but if you’re a student… or professor, I guess… it means that you must first wade through finals. Yuck. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you want to take a break from all the work that’s dragging you down. Maybe you want to catch a movie. What will you go see? 12 Years a Slave? Maybe Catching Fire or Captain Phillips. Then again, it could be that you just want to feel good, so you want to watch a feel good movie.
The Plot: Wee lil’ sprogs Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are happy tots and princesses of a great wide kingdom. Elsa, however, harbors a dark secret and one day is forbidden from human contact. Well, eventually their parents die and in montage set to a cute song, both sisters grow up. Classic Disney. Anyway, before you know it, Elsa’s come of age for coronation and she has to make public appearances, etc. It goes… really badly and she…sort of… I guess, freezes the world in an eternal winter and exiles herself to an ice castle on a mountaintop. So… yeah. Anna, desperate in part to save her kingdom but mainly to make a real emotional connection with her estranged sister, joins forces with lowly peasant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), and she sets out to put an end to her sister’s evil works.
Did y’all see Tangled when that came out a few years ago? I enjoyed Tangled. I thought it was pretty cute, it featured my favorite animated horse to date, and, oh yeah, RON PERLMAN. Most importantly, it was just pure fun, despite its sizable plot holes. Well, when I saw the trailer for Frozen I basically thought, “Oh, Tangled with snow. Nice.” Fortunately, though, Frozen really improves upon Tangled’s shortcomings. One of the major issues with Tangled, for example, was the lack of romantic chemistry between the two leads. Their romance felt forced. It felt fine in Frozen. The magic in Tangled was ill-defined and a bit spontaneous, but it sort of makes some sense in Frozen. The songs were better in this new movie, too.
Now, a side-by-side comparison of these two films may not be all that necessary. One is not a sequel to another; they do not belong to a series; they are not connected in any way but by studio. If it is prudent to compare Frozen to Tangled, then it could make sense to compare it to all Disney princess movies. I’m more than happy to do that, because I think the filmmakers want you to make those comparisons. They invite it, in fact, with their methods of handling the various tropes of the sub-sub-genre. What are these tropes, you ask? There are a whole bunch, but for this review I’ll be focusing on 1) The Romance, 2) The Anthropomorphism, 3) The Villain, and 4) The True Love. Please note that items one and four are different.
1) The Romance – Traditionally, the princesses in these films fall in love with exactly who you expect: the princes. Usually fate has something to do with it. Disney’s not too interested in actually telling love stories; they’re more into fairy tales. Look at Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty; you know, the classics. Princess meets prince; princess falls in love with prince; they get married. Frozen, however, does not have fairy tale roots. Disney’s been marketing it as an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” but it actually has less in common with that story than Troy does with The Iliad. Since the romance isn’t dependent on the fairy tale, it’s fleshed out and more realistic, developed between two likable human characters. What’s more (spoiler), the film baits you with a standard fairy tale romance and then turns it on its head in a refreshing, if somewhat predictable way. The point is they’re trying.
2) The Anthropomorphism – Every Disney princess needs a cute, anthropomorphized companion. In Pocahontas it’s her raccoon; in Tangled it’s the chameleon; in Beauty and the Beast it’s the dishware, for some reason. In Frozen it’s the snowman. If you’ve watched any of the trailers you may have gotten the impression, as I did, that this snowman is obnoxious. Its cuteness is wholly artificial and its voice is so annoying. Surprisingly, Olaf is a good character. His voice is, indeed, a bit annoying, and much of his humor is derived from him failing to understand very simple things. They’re easy jokes, and many of them feel a bit contrived, but on the whole, he’s very endearing. Amid the jokes of ignorance are some genuinely funny, clever, often quite sweet lines. Also, thanks to him, this is the only time we’ll ever hear the entirely nonchalant line, “Oh, I’ve been impaled,” in a Disney movie. Probably.
3) The Villain – It’s the Snow Queen, right? Elsa? Yeah, sort of. She’s definitely responsible for the main conflict and she hurts a lot of people, but for the most part she doesn’t intentionally use her magic powers for evil; in fact, they usually use her. More than anything, these powers are a severe curse that she can’t overcome, and she spends most of her life living in constant fear of harming the people she genuinely loves. When things go wrong, her subjects label her a witch and attack her automatically. Only Anna is interested in trying to set anything straight. This offers a main antagonist who’s not really evil, and as you may have gotten if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written about Universal Monster movies, I sort of dig that. I’m especially impressed to see it in an animated Disney movie for children.
4) The True Love – So, at one point the heroes realize that the only way to break a terrible curse is with an act of true love, the True Love’s Kiss. This is a super common trope in princess movies and just fairy tales in general. I should clarify. The exact instruction they receive refers to “an act of true love.” They assume that means the fabled True Love’s Kiss. BEWARE, THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU CARE AT ALL ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE AND HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, PLEASE SKIP THIS BIT. NICOLE, I AM SPECIFICALLY REFERRING TO YOU. It doesn’t necessarily mean the fabled True Love’s Kiss. This was decidedly Frozen’s greatest strength. There’s more than one kind of true love in the world, and no one ever said that true love has to be romantic; it just has to be true. What’s the truest kind of love there is? Try the unconditional, genuine, undying love between siblings. It’s not a kiss that breaks the terrible curse, it’s a sister willingly sacrificing herself to save a sister.
IT’S OKAY TO READ HERE AGAIN.
At its heart, Frozen is really a fairy tale about the love between two sisters. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is developed across decades, through estrangement, strife, violence, and death. In the end, that is why the film is so successful. Screenwriter Jennifer Lee uses the fairy tale standards with which we’re all familiar and plays around with them to create a movie that both honors the Disney princess tradition and improves it. Plus, the songs are really good. I offered a lot of, like, real-ish criticism here, but I don’t think I stressed enough how cute Frozen is. It’s really cute.