Over a year and a half later, Disney’s Frozen seems unstoppable. It played a big role in the first half of Season 4 of Once Upon A Time, which is basically Live Action Disney Crossover RPG/Fanfiction at this point (not that I mind, it’s an immensely enjoyable nonsense show); a new short called Frozen Fever played in front of their live-action Cinderella remake; a sequel and a Broadway show are on the way; and the merchandise presumably still sells like its going out of style. And yet to me it seems like yesterday that people were rolling their eyes at it in the pre-release stage: too familiar in its design sensibilities, too liberal with its inspiration Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen (imagine if The Little Mermaid came out today), etc. Some people still ended up not caring for the film (which is fine), but overall it became a downright phenomenon, the likes of which we haven’t seen from Disney in quite some time. Other recent films of theirs, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, have been successes, but none have quite caught on in the same way. But does the film itself still hold up? I would say quite so, with a few caveats.
Said caveats, so we can get them out of the way: yes, I suppose Anna and Elsa’s designs fall into a lot of the same design sensibilities as past Disney princesses, and it would be really nice to see some non-waist-thin princesses (though I feel the actual character animation for them is still quite excellent). Kristoff and Hans are fun, well-realized characters on their own, but strictly speaking they might not be totally necessary for this story (much of Kristoff’s role is a glorified taxi service). And speaking of Prince Hans, his heel turn is a wonderful shock (“Prince Charmless” is a familiar trope but not one that Disney often pulls, and not at all with such relish), but the build-up is perhaps a bit too subtle to catch on first viewing. Though it’s helped a bit by the Duke of Wesleton (Alan Tudyk in his second of three Disney roles in the past few years) being a giant, memorable red herring. And finally, some parts of the film feel a bit rushed, like Anna and Kristoff’s relationship (though I still think it’s a fun one) or the “Fixer Upper” song, which is fine on its own, and thematically relevant, but comes at a bizarre place in the film pacing-wise. These can be perhaps chalked up to the film’s release date getting bumped up a few months, and perhaps a bit more time would have ironed out these roadblocks.
And yet, in the grand scheme of things, these flaws don’t really matter to me. The film just works even through the bumpiness. I think the main reason for this is that our two heroines, Elsa and Anna, are such wonderfully written, animated and voiced characters, easily amongst the best of the Disney princess bunch (though technically Elsa is a queen). Yes, at first glance, Idina Menzel’s casting as Elsa seems like the world’s biggest musical in-joke; a young woman with magical powers who hides them out of fear for what the world sees her as? Where have I seen that before? Joking aside, Menzel makes Elsa into her own, distinct character, one that’s trapped inside her own head by fear and trauma (Elphaba for all her neuroses had a confidence and acidic sense of humor that Elsa mostly lacks), and she rocks the songs like nobody’s business, especially the now-iconic “Let It Go”.
Yet I feel like Anna is distinctly underappreciated. Yes she’s another “spunky princess”, but they don’t really make a big deal out of that. There are no “wow you’re strong/active for a girl” lines/moments, she just leaps into action without a second thought, like jumping off a mountain, bashing a wolf’s head in with a borrowed lute, or her climactic decision. Kristen Bell brings her wonderfully to life in terms of vocals, with a boundless yet nervous energy and generous spirit, and arguably kicks just as much ass on the singing end of things as Menzel. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is the heart of the film, and I remain deeply moved by the climax that turns the idea of “true love” on its head. (Sidenote: Lilo & Stitch serves as a fascinating contrast to this film in terms of sister relationships. As with Frozen, the arguments and the deep love side by side feel achingly real, but there it’s more of a subplot to the burgeoning friendship between the title characters, and Nani has to handle being a surrogate parent due to being so much older. I may do another essay on this topic at some point).
As noted the other characters are well-done, from Kristoff’s “jerk with a heart of gold” coming off well thanks to Jonathan Groff (though sadly he barely gets to sing outside of a brief, goofy ditty about reindeers), Santino Fontana makes Hans’ wonderfully two-faced nature come through in his line deliveries (and clearly had fun being almost purely villainous in the last part of the film), and Josh Gad is genuinely funny and endearing rather than annoying as Olaf the snowman, the most hated part of the pre-release marketing. The animation on Olaf and Sven, Kristoff’s lovable reindeer sidekick, is particularly well-done and amusing.
The music hearkens back to the Disney Renaissance (while I love The Princess and the Frog, that’s decidedly more jazz, gospel and blues-oriented as a soundtrack) in its ready-for-Broadway orchestrations and lyrics, though “Let It Go” has a distinctly pop edge as well. Robert Lopez and his wife Kristin did the songs, having between them previously worked on stage projects such as Avenue Q, a Finding Nemo stage musical for Disney World, the musical episode of “Scrubs”, The Book of Mormon, and the most recent animated Winnie the Pooh film (which I suspect landed them the Frozen gig). I can’t really think of any duds amongst the songs. There’s “Frozen Heart”, which sets up the film thematically and is reminiscent of older Disney “worker songs” like “Fathoms Below”. “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” aches with longing and sweetness. “For the First Time in Forever” is super-energetic yet has a neurotic double edge (especially in the reprise). “Love Is An Open Door” is downright self-parody, “Let It Go” is a powerhouse, “In Summer” is a jaunty tune or Olaf, and the aforementioned “Fixer Upper” is a fun crowd song.
In the end, I perhaps have too much to say about this film; I may do separate essays later on some of the themes and character stuff. For now I paraphrase the late, great Roger Ebert’s assertion that if you look at a movie a lot of people love, no matter what it is, you may find something profound. I wouldn’t go that far with Frozen, but I still find it a heartfelt, funny and exciting film that deserves to be held up alongside other Disney classics.