I always wondered when Disney was going to make an adaptation based on the fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” or if they would at all. Ever since “Tangled”, though, I got the feeling that Disney was going to start covering all the fairy tales they missed before. Or, at least, make movies that were loosely based off those fairy tales. “The Little Mermaid” is actually a horribly mean-spirited and sad fairy tale, Snow White gets really violent, etc. No, Disney of course has to make their material appropriate for the whole family, which is why Frozen is basically nothing like the original tale.
But oh, Disney, have you outdone yourself this time.
I heard all the hype about this film when it just came out. People loved it, critics loved it, it was supposed to be this big wonderful accomplishment. I even heard the comment that it was the best Disney movie since The Lion King. So when I saw it, my expectations were high.
And okay, I don’t think it’s the best since The Lion King, but I still thought it was really excellent.
Here you have a story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna. They are princesses, and very close as kids. Elsa, the elder, has the power to freeze things with the wave of her hand. It’s a really cool (excuse the pun) power, except she can’t control it, and one day while she and Anna are playing she accidentally freezes her sister. The King and Queen take Anna to a bunch of magical trolls who heal her and take away her memory of her sister’s power. From then on, Elsa is kept hidden from the rest of the world, as her parents are afraid she’ll hurt people if she gets too close to them. Anna doesn’t understand why her sister has to stay hidden, and she tries to play with her sister, but Elsa stays behind closed doors.
So here we have another young-girl-getting-locked-away-by-parents story, except in this case it’s two girls instead of one, and it affects them differently. It affects Anna kind of like it affects Rapunzel in Tangled – Anna longs to see the outside world, to have fun and meet people and live her life, but her years of isolation don’t turn her into a mean person. She’s quite spirited, fun-loving, and good-natured. Anna is the adorable little sister you take to parties because you know she’ll make you look good (that is, if you’re socially inept, like me). I really liked that they portrayed her as cute and bumbling – she’s clumsy, she makes mistakes, she’s not at all what you’d think of when you think “princess.” She’s like Ariel, but without the annoying and stupid (I HATE Ariel with a burning passion. I almost wish Disney had stuck to the original fairy tale and had her dissolve into sea foam). She’s not graceful or poised, like you might think a princess would be.
The really interesting character, though, is Elsa, and I was absolutely mesmerized whenever she was on screen. Perhaps it’s because I feel a certain connection to her – I’m the oldest sister in my family, and I certainly know what it’s like to have a younger sister who deals with people much better than I do. I also know what it’s like to freeze people to death and make ice castles in four seconds (okay, I wish). But there’s a certain tragedy about Elsa that makes her a really fascinating character. You don’t know if she’s entirely right in the head. When she runs away and goes off by herself, is she going to hurt anyone who tries to come close to her? Is she going to hurt her sister? How does she think she can live on her own?
And I think all the feminists of the world must have leapt to their feet and cheered when Elsa tells Anna, “You can’t marry a man you just met.”
I applaud Disney for it, too, for saying it, at least. You see, Disney hasn’t made a movie with a heroine who marries a man she just met in a while. I don’t think you can possibly make the argument that Frozen is groundbreaking in that regard. In fact, it’s impossible. Let’s do a quick run-through of Disney heroines, from Little Mermaid and beyond. By the way, it probably won’t be in chronological order. I’ll do my best.
1. Ariel – Ariel only fell in love with Eric before meeting him; she married him after getting to know him. The biggest problem I have with Ariel is that when she’s getting to know him and finds out he’s the most wooden, boring, flat character in the entire world, she marries him anyway. What a little idiot. But she does actually spend time with him, so she passes.
2. Belle – The most complex Disney heroine, possibly the most complex Disney character ever, is not going to be so stupid as to fall in love with someone she just meets. That’s why she doesn’t fall for Gaston; she’s just too smart. She’s independent and thinks for herself. Example: when the beast tells her to get out, she leaves. She only comes back when he needs her help, not the other way around.
3. Mulan – Mulan isn’t a love story, so it technically shouldn’t even be on this list. And yes, I am pretending Mulan 2 doesn’t exist. You should, too. One of the best things about Mulan is that they don’t get together at the end, and the conflict of the film is really Mulan’s inner conflict, not her desire to find love. Mulan really is so much more complex a character than people give her credit for. She just needed to be in a better film. But I digress.
4. Pocahontas – I hate Pocahontas, but like The Little Mermaid it passes because Pocahontas and John Smith do spend time together. But it’s still an awful movie.
5. Tiana – Tiana is a hardworking, independent woman who isn’t even looking for love and only allows herself to love Naveen after they travel through a swamp together (and almost get killed by a bunch of scary shadow things). The Princess and the Frog is still the best thing I’ve seen out of Disney in the 2000s-2010s, and it’s the reason I don’t think Frozen is the best thing since The Lion King. But that’s for another review.
6. Rapunzel – Rapunzel, like Tiana and Belle, isn’t even looking for love. The love story between her and Finn only becomes central in the last third of the film, and they get to know each other.
Anyway, you see my point. Disney had gotten rid of marrying their females off to men they’d just met long before Frozen. They even made their own parody to demonstrate that, Enchanted. No, Frozen is special because there isn’t a love story at all. Or there is, but it’s not between a man and a woman. It’s between two sisters.
I can’t believe I have to say this for a Disney film, but…SPOILERS.
Disney totally had me thinking that Kristoff was going to save Anna with a true love’s kiss, like what happened in Enchanted. In fact, if that had happened it would have been exactly like Enchanted. Anna’s freezing to death, can only be saved by true love’s kiss, they rush her to the prince she’s marrying after only knowing him for a day but it turns out he’s not her true love, so she has to turn to the random nobody guy she met and actually got to know, he kisses her, she’s healed.
But that’s not what happens.
Instead of Kristoff performing the act of true love that can save Anna’s life, it’s Elsa who does it. When Anna sacrifices her life to save Elsa, Elsa’s sorrow over her sister’s “death” is enough to show her true love and care for her sister, and saves Anna’s life. Furthermore, Elsa discovers that the way to reverse her frozen spell is to feel things. You see, Elsa’s spent her whole life keeping her emotions bottled up inside. Her parents forced her to keep away from people because they saw her as a threat. Therefore Elsa saw herself as a threat. She tried to keep an emotional and physical distance from everyone, but what she didn’t know is that it only made her power worse. Only by letting go of her guilt and anger could she reverse the effects of her power. Only by allowing herself to love her sister could she save Anna’s life.
AND THAT’S WONDERFUL. THAT’S WONDERFUL STUFF. KUDOS TO YOU, DISNEY.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so satisfied with the resolution of a Disney film’s conflict, or so surprised by one. And if that’s the reason Frozen is getting as much praise – and I suspect it is – it deserves all it can get.
The film wasn’t perfect, though. For example, for as much as I loved Elsa’s character, I wanted more of her. The film focused a little too much on Anna, and even though Anna as a character is fine, there’s not that much difference between her and Rapunzel from Tangled. I also thought the film could have spent more time exploring the somewhat abusive relationship between Elsa and her parents. Her parents were killed off rather quickly, and it’s obvious that Elsa depended on them more than anything else – to tell her what to do, how to feel, who to be. Unfortunately, that particular conflict is kind of swept under the rug.
I also didn’t like that Hans, Anna’s prince that she falls in love with after a day, turned out to be diabolical. That was going a little over the top, and it gave Anna a get out of jail free card when it came to discovering which guy was the right one for her. But since the story is really about the sisters, it wasn’t that much of a problem.
My only other complaint, and it’s solely based on personal preference, was that although I thought the animation was beautiful, I wish it had been in 2D. God, I miss 2D animation. The Princess and the Frog was such a breath of fresh air, but for some reason Disney hasn’t decided to go that route since. Leave the 3D to Pixar; let’s see some more hand-drawn.
Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, you should go see Frozen. It strays from the Disney formula as much as any film I’ve ever seen, and it creates a great story with a complex emotional relationship. I really, really liked this film, and would highly recommend it.