Unlike other animation studios, Disney has consistently taken viewers on a trip around the world. Their newest film Frozen is no exception, and if it’s possible to be “on trend” when it comes to cultural popularity then they succeed here with this their first film set in Scandinavia. It’s a princess movie to be sure, but it isn’t one that follows all the traditional rules that decades of animated films from Disney have dictated. Instead of a princess (passively) seeking the heart of a prince, Frozen is the tale of two sibling princesses seeking each other.
Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are the princesses of Arendelle. Elsa is destined to be Queen, but has a painful secret that once unleashed could turn the kingdom against her. Anna and Elsa’s parents cloistered the girls for most of their lives in an attempt to conceal Elsa’s hidden power until she could better control it. On her coronation day, Elsa manages to keep her secret under wraps until Anna angers her unintentionally. A perpetual winter is cast on the town, and Elsa runs away. It is now up to Anna to find her sister with the help of mountain man and ice peddler Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his trusty reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).
Disney fairytale films are almost always about a younger girl battling (whether passively or aggressively) against an older woman who is standing in the way of true love. It’s this dynamic that actually upsets me more than the princess’ infatuation with a boy. Not only is it usually woman against woman, but it’s always younger woman pure of heart against older woman full of bitterness and evil, and newsflash, the ugly hag always loses. At the very least though, we get a story that follows two women, one on the path of good, the other of evil, until it reaches its inevitable conclusion. Frozen shakes this up a bit. Both Anna and Elsa are protagonists in their own unique journeys, Elsa on her quest to be accepted as herself, and Anna who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with a sister who has been very distant throughout their lives. It’s a sibling dynamic that we haven’t seen much of, but here’s hoping that Frozen can pave the way for more.
Disney has had some hits recently with non-princess films like Wreck-It Ralph, but there’s nothing wrong with having a staple and doing a consistently good job with that genre. The performances by the voice cast are pretty stellar across the board, and Josh Gad toes the line between silly and sentimental particularly well as Olaf. Jonathan Goff (who sadly does not get a song) also gives a great performance, including an adorable addition to the prince/animal sidekick relationship. The visual interpretation of this world is also something to marvel at, with ice and snow never looking so magical. The Broadway-ready music is also some of Disney’s best work in recent years, and unlike recent films Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, this is a true musical in the vein of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
It’s impossible to tell if Frozen will end up as a classic, and to be honest, I think we’re no where near defining what a modern classic looks like. I think when “strong female character” stops being a trope we obsess about constantly, and more films just choose to have female characters of all kinds more organically, we’ll all be better off. In the meantime, Frozen is a welcome, and fun, step in a different direction.
Also screening with the film is the wonderful “Get a Horse” Mickey Mouse short. The corporate mascot is trying to get back to his roots in manic mischief, and this theatrical short is his first since 1995’s macabre Runaway Brain. Featuring an archival recording of Walt himself voicing Mickey, the short is guaranteed to delight children and animation nerds alike. It’s also best seen in 3D, where it is employed to create a meta version of Pixar’s “Day & Night” short that played before Toy Story 3.
Frozen opens today in Philly area theaters.