As has become tradition in Disney and Pixar directed movies, this year’s “Frozen” is preceded by a short film called “Get a Horse!”. Director Lauren MacMullan uses this six minute short to combine the black and white Disney animation of old with the newer, 3D infused animations of today in a very clever way. More than a small piece of nostalgic entertainment this short film is emblematic of “Frozen” and its approach to acknowledging the Disney tropes of old and its clever subversion of expectations.
Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen” (based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen) takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle, a coastal city and a location of trade among other kingdoms in the world. The King and Queen have two daughters, their first born child is blonde Elsa who has been cursed with the ability to turn things to ice with her hands. Growing up alongside Elsa is her redheaded sister Anna who bears no such powers. The tired trope of a sibling rivalry is thankfully absent from “Frozen”. Anna absolutely adores her older sister Elsa and looks for any opportunity to spend time with her. Unfortunately, Anna is accidentally wounded by Elsa’s powers while they are playing and in the process of healing Anna her memories of her sister’s powers are stripped from her. This pivotal moment in the young sister’s lives shapes the action to come. Anna becomes reclusive, afraid she might hurt her sister again. Anna, forgetting that her sister has her ice powers, is confused and does not understand why her sister has shut her out. One Disney trope that this film is unable to escape is the death of the main character’s parents, the red shirts of Disney movies. Lacking any parental guidance as Elsa grows up with her powers she remains unable to control them and she shuts herself away from the world and her sister for many years.
At first glance “Frozen” has all the elements of classic Disney, an ‘evil’ Queen, the charming prince, comical sidekicks of the talking and non-talking variety and love at first sight. However, upon closer inspection you’ll find that in place of the evil Queen is a scared young woman unable to control her powers; she is instead, a young woman who would rather live in isolation rather than risk harming anyone. The charming prince Hans seems too good to be true and for good reason, and the idea of a fairytale romance is questioned and ultimately falls to the background in favour of a story that is really all about the power of familial bonds. Eventually Anna sets out on a journey to find her sister and bring summer back to a kingdom that has suddenly found itself under the thrall of winter. Along the way Anna encounters Kristoff, a young man in the ice selling business as well as his reindeer companion Sven and the adorably hilarious and sentient snowman Olaf. This being a Disney film expect many of these characters to indulge in several musical numbers all of which are original songs written for the film.
The music in “Frozen” is just one of it’s many outstanding achievements. The opening title sequence is accompanied by the piece “Vuelie” by composer Christophe Beck and while being inspired by Norwegian culture still invokes the warmth of the instrumental pieces from “The Lion King”. It seems strange then that a song that conveys such feelings of warmth would be the opening to a film titled “Frozen”. Ultimately, for all of its beautiful, snow filled landscapes, “Frozen” is a warm film filled with relatable characters. Even the ‘villains’ of the film are played much more comically than previous, more dire Disney bad guys and girls. “Frozen” abstains from telling a cookie cutter story of good versus evil, this is a film about losing touch with those you love and finding your way back to them.
Despite telling the tale of a cursed Queen, a damaged sisterly bond and a kingdom unreadily plunged into winter, “Frozen” remains a light tale full of comic moments in the form of clever lyrics as well as bright and wonderfully animated characters. The epitome of all of these elements comes in the form of naive, innocent Olaf. Olaf is new to the world, his existence having been brought about by Elsa’s recent uncontrolled outburst of power and he dreams of living in summer, completely oblivious to the effects that the heat would have on his largely snowy body. There are many moments of physical comedy delightfully portrayed by the talented animators at Disney and this extends to everyone and everything on screen. Light is reflected and refracted through ice, water turns to ice and back, snowflakes fall in impressive numbers and snow tumbles, accumulates and disperses in visually impressive ways. “Frozen” remains a visual splendor throughout and the creation and portrayal of such a well realized and rendered world lends believability and weight to the troubles that our heroes must endure.
In a similar fashion to “The Princess and the Frog” and “Brave”, “Frozen” continues in the recent Disney tradition of allowing female characters their own agency in taking control of their fates. Prince charming type characters still exist but they now come in the form of slightly flawed and thereby more believable portrayals of real people. They’ll still be there to help but now it’s a co-operative effort rather than the one sided rescuing of a damsel in distress, another trope that “Frozen” initially portrays and cleverly subverts in the film. As the short film that precedes “Frozen” showed audiences how Disney has grown in terms of their animation abilities, “Frozen” also shows us how they’ve matured in their portrayal of more nuanced and complicated characters. “Frozen” is a wonderful film that is more mature in its storytelling when compared to older Disney films while still retaining the undeniable Disney charm and fantasy that many of us have grown up with.