I’m going to say it up front: Disney’s Frozen is the best animation picture they have put out in years. The animation itself is lovely, the snowy scenes they created are epic in scale and gorgeous, the characters are interesting (and there’s a whole cast of them to boot!), and the story is surprising in a way that Disney-Princess-Tales so often are not. This movie is fantastic.
From here on, there are SPOILERS, Sweetie.
Frozen begins as all the good Disney musicals do, with a musical scene to set the stage for what is to come. We are introduced to a small boy with a small pet reindeer who is helping the huge men from the mountain cut and gather ice. At the same time, down in the valley, two princesses play in the middle of the night while their parents sleep. The older Elsa has a magical ability to make snow and ice appear, the younger Anna is simply in awe of it and wants to play. Together they build a snowman and slide on snow piles until there is an accident and the younger sister is hit with the magic. The king and queen come and rush the children into the mountains and the trolls, where the younger princess is cured, but at the cost of her knowledge about her sister’s powers. This is all witnessed by the boy with the reindeer.
This incident is the turning point in both of the sisters’ lives. Their parents lock them away for both of their safety in the big old castle, and Elsa takes to locking herself in her room, coached by her father to suppress and hide her ability. (When does locking princesses in castles ever go well? Never. Fairy tale people should really read more.) As the princesses grow, Anna is left with only a handful of servants and paintings and statues to keep her company. When their parents die at sea and Elsa comes of age, there is a huge ball, and Anna, for the first time in her life, is about to meet people. As is stereotypical for Disney princesses, Anna falls in love “at first sight” with a prince at the ball, Hans. They get engaged right away and to go Elsa for her blessing, only to be rebuffed. An argument between the sisters goes badly and Elsa’s powers are revealed. Called a monster and fearing for her sister, Elsa flees, leaving Hans and Anna behind.
This is where things take a turn for the not-usual-Disney side, and get really interesting. Elsa goes into the mountains and for the first time really embraces who she is and what she can do, and puts all of her abilities out there. She finds sudden confidence as she builds herself a palace of ice where she can be alone (to keep everyone safe) and leave them in peace. Unfortunately Elsa has (unknowingly) plunged the happy valley into winter and Anna heads into the mountains to find her sister so they can save the kingdom. She meets up with Kristoff, the boy with the reindeer but all grown up, and he agrees to help her survive the mountains. They are again rebuffed by Elsa, and this time in her desperation to protect Anna, Elsa accidentally shoots her magic ice into Anna’s heart. Elsa is captured by Hans (unbeknownst to Anna) while Kristoff rushes Anna to the trolls who tell her the only cure is an act of true love. Kristoff quickly takes her back to her fiance, Hans, down in the valley to save her. Again, the “true love’s kiss” fixing everything in a Disney movie, right? Not so fast…
After Kristoff leaves, Anna discovers that Hans is really a complete jerk, using her to gain power of a kingdom, and he leaves her to die while he makes plans to kill Elsa, whom he’s got in the dungeon. Anna realizes her feelings have grown for Kristoff in their time together and stumbles into an increasing blizzard to find him as Elsa escapes from the dungeon, pursued by Hans. All four reunite on the ice, Kristoff rushing in to kiss Anna to save her while Hans bears down on Elsa…
And then the Disney trope gets turned completely on its head.
Anna turns away from Kristoff and throws herself between her sister and the evil Hans, saving Elsa’s life. She is frozen solid for a minute, but as Elsa cries for her, the love of the two sisters saves Anna’s heart and she melts back into her living self.
And this is why I love the movie so much. The story involves love and it comes from the bond between the two sisters. They don’t need a prince to swoop in and save them, or even a rugged mountain man. They have everything they need with just the two of them. Romance is simply a bonus. Elsa is strong and independent and capable of being queen all on her own, and Anna’s huge heart steers her in the right direction, even if she is occasionally blindsided by it at the same time. It’s refreshing that Anna is never, ever jealous of Elsa, but simply wants them to be friends, to have the bond they did as sisters, and to work through whatever Elsa’s got happening. Elsa nearly drives herself to exile all in an effort to protect her sister from harm, and would sacrifice anything to save Anna. At the same time, they are each intelligent and independent, making brave choices on their own to save one another.
Not only that, the animation is beautiful (and the snow and ice, especially in a scene where they are walking through frozen willow trees, is just so well done). It’s gorgeous to look at. The music is also very good, though at some points it seemed more like a stage musical (in that it directly involved the action happening more than just the emotions of the characters).
My other favorite part of this movie is that it has a whole cast of characters. There aren’t just the two princesses (though having two of them where one isn’t the “baddie” is a definite departure in and of itself!), but there are supporting characters that aren’t just sidekicks. The other characters serve purposes, are important to the action, and are developed. For instance there is a Duke that comes to the ball to find out the country’s secrets. He isn’t aligned necessarily with Hans (argues with him on some points in fact) but is a potential problem.
The characters are complicated, just like real people, and have more than one note. Hans being the bad guy was a complete surprise, as up until the reveal, I honestly worried about Anna having to choose between him and Kristoff.
The actual sidekick characters are well done. The “living” snowman, Olaf, is good comic relief without being annoying; he’s more endearing than anything, which is what you want in a good comic relief character. The reindeer, Sven, isn’t too anthropomorphized to be irritating, though he’s definitely got a little Disney animal-ality about him. Kristoff has little character flaws and quirks that make him an interesting match for Anna, not just “Prince Charming.” He even does voice-overs for Sven, to which any pet owner can, I’m sure, relate (I know perfectly well I’m not the only one who talks “for” my cats).
This is very much a modern fairy tale with complex characters, beautiful cinematography, fun music, and an interesting story. It goes in unexpected directions, especially for a Disney film, and has plenty of surprises. I’m glad to have a Disney princess in Anna who doesn’t marry the guy she meets in one night, and to have an actual queen as a hero in Elsa– so often women are left to be “princesses” when men get to be kings, but Elsa is a bonafide ruler of a country and deserves to be one.
I highly recommend this movie, and will probably go see it again myself.
Note: Frozen is very VERY loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale “The Snow Queen.” The only similarities between the two are really that there is a queen who has power over ice and snow and that only love can melt a frozen heart. These are definite thematic elements used in both stories, but after that they share no similarities at all.