Movie Review: Disney’s Frozen is An Animated Winter Wonderland Musical
Frozen is the latest Disney animated movie, a princess story set in the majestic landscapes of Norway. Featuring two royal sisters, an endearing goofy snowman, catchy songs and more snow crystals than you’ll ever see in this world, Frozen is a feast for the eyes. It’s also a princess movie with the staples of the genre – long dresses, tradition, romance and kingdoms. In today’s world where real royalty seems so far from the people, is there still a place for a princess movie? Amazingly enough, there is. Sixty-six years after Snow White, Disney tweaks the genre its studios basically invented on screen, giving us a visually stunning winter wonderland with a feisty princess tale. Gone are the damsels in distress sleeping in coffins. These princesses have qualities, flaws and a strong temper. They are also fiercely loyal to their family and yes, they can handle a shovel.
The opening scene of the movie is enchanting. In the happy kingdom of Arundelle, little princess Anna wakes up her older sister Elsa to make a snowman in the middle of the night. Both girls head to a great hall in the castle and using snow magic in her fingers, Elsa creates a snowman, followed by snow hills and frozen floors for the utter delight of her young sister. All goes well until an accident sends Anna into a forced coma and Elsa realizes that her magic can be a curse.
During that scene, my 8-year grabbed my arm and whispered into my ear that she would love to have a sister like Elsa to make snowmen at home. Then when Anna got injured, she felt sad for her. Having an older sister, my little girl had already identified with the younger sister on screen. Even if you don’t have siblings or sisters, the relationship between Anna and Elsa is what dominated the movie for me. Yes, there is a (forgettable) romance, yes there is a (fun) chase/rescue scene, but the real sparks of movie magic fly when both sisters are on screen. Frozen‘s biggest asset is a beautiful sibling story.
While young Anna is happy-go-lucky, fearless and impulsive to the point of carelessness, Elsa is a darker character who’s afraid of her powers and who shoulders a heavy burden during much of the movie. When Elsa finally rebels against her social conventions, it’s in an epic scene where she throws the whole kingdom into eternal winter and belts out the beautiful song Let It Go, building an ice castle on top of the highest mountain of Arundelle. (It was my favorite scene of the movie.) Unable to control her magic, Elsa is a complex character who decides to cast herself out of society in order to save it.
Fortunately for us, the movie doesn’t end on that existential note and Anna decides to rescue her sister too, finding a grumpy loner mountain guy and his reindeer on the way, as well as one the best sidekicks Disney’s ever invented – Olaf the Snowman. Now, that snowman? After seeing countless trailers these past months, I feared Olaf would be irritating. I swear I was not well disposed in his favor. But guess what, I quickly warmed up to him (no pun intended) and as the plot progressed and winter looked like it might end, I feared for his safety. Can a snowman make it through summer? I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll need to see the movie. As for my girls, they loved Olaf from the get-go and thought he was the best, repeating his jokes numerous times after the movie. Clearly, this guy is here to stay in the Disney Valhalla, at least in the heart of the audience.
If you like music, you’re in a for a treat as the movie is practically a Broadway musical in the making featuring several catchy songs and using Broadway actors for characters voices. I dare you to leave the movie theater without humming one of the tunes. During the preview screening we attended, Let It Go was performed live by a West End singer, we heard it twice during the movie and unsurprisingly, my oldest daughter and I couldn’t get the song out of our heads afterwards. We now listen to it on the Disney website and I’d love to find the piano sheet music to accompany my daughter at home.
Breaking with tradition, the movie doesn’t have a single badass villain but a would-be designated villain in the person of Elsa and two minor villains at court, neither of which are real threats. Maybe that’s a good thing, that the obvious and designated villain isn’t one after all. I like characters with texture and Elsa is definitely one. Anna, on the other hand, I wish she had been closer to Brave‘s Merida. After all, she is brave. She’s not afraid of facing dark magic on the mountain or wolves in the woods. Why, then, does she need help from a guy to accomplish her quest? That, to me, is the biggest flaw of the movie but in the grand scheme of things, not one to cast a big shadow on the movie. The movie also doesn’t have fairies, another departure from the princess genre, but as Brave‘ used mythical Scottish creatures for magic, Frozen uses Norwegian trolls for magic. And that, I really like because it’s grounded in real ancient folklore.
As a last note, the movie includes enough action and comedy scenes that it will be a hit with both boys and girls. Few princess movies appeal to boys and I think this one would, thanks to the outstanding Olaf the Snowman and outdoors adventure scenes on the mountain. When I asked them, my girls compared Frozen to Tangled and weren’t sure which one they preferred. In their eyes, both movies feature fun scenes, good music, and powerful princesses. Since I have a bias for anything snow, I’d say Frozen wins. I also enjoyed the Norwegian touches in the movie, from the troll folklore to the funky sauna guy, the wooden architecture or the majestic fjords. Since we visited Norway on October and to be more specific, since we visited the city that inspired the city of Arundelle (Bergen), this was another way to appreciate the movie for me.
Now before I bore you to death with more considerations on Nordic design, siblings and snowflakes, I suggest you take your kids to Frozen and see what they think. I bet you’ll all have fun. Frozen‘s a real family movie and a perfect visual gate to the winter.