The following post is my response to seeing Disney’s new movie, “Frozen”…and is recklessly riddled with spoilers. And this movie is one that actually has a doozy or two that exposes a lot of it gets spoiled, so you’ve been warned.
First things first…
“Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, “Tangled”, and “Tangled”.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way, because I haven’t been able to see any reviews of “Frozen” yet that haven’t compared it, either positively or negatively, to “Tangled”, as if that movie was somehow the greatest film Disney ever made. Now…”Tangled” will not be mentioned again for the remainder of this response. Let’s begin…
“The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson is one of my favorite fairy tales. Forget the Brothers Grimm…the far majority of Anderson tales end with someone dying. That was fine by Anderson because he was an avid Christian and believed that so long as you went to Heaven when you died, it’s a happy ending. That’s why his second version of “The Little Mermaid”, with the mermaid dying but joining the spirits of the air instead of becoming sea foam, is still a happy ending because she receives a soul and will one day go to Heaven forever. However, “The Snow Queen” is a fairy tale that both has a good, long-range “scope” (avoiding the need for “padding” to lengthen a film) and actually has a happy ending. Best of all, it focuses on platonic love over romantic. There’s nothing wrong with romantic love…it’s just overdone, and negates the idea that someone can love someone else more than anything in the world and not want to marry them.
So, naturally, when I heard that Disney had considered “The Snow Queen” too “dark” to adapt and instead claimed they were “inspired” by the tale…and by “inspired” it pretty much meant: “Hey! There’s a story about a snow queen! Let’s make a different story about a snow queen!”, I was upset.
Sure enough, this movie isn’t “The Snow Queen” except in two regards, one of them being that it’s about a “snow queen”. I’ll mention the other one later.
However…it was wonderful. If you just came to hear that, then there it is. Go see the movie now. Otherwise, here’s why it was wonderful…
A couple years back, “Enchanted” was supposed to be the quintessential “anti-Disney princess” movie…not so much in being against Disney princesses, but in reversing common trends to them. However, it ended up being more of a “modern Disney princess” movie than anything.
“Frozen”, on the other hand, is the “anti-Disney princess” movie. The film literally turns the notions of the “share true love’s kiss with Prince Charming and live happily ever after with him” on its head. For all the female leads Disney movies have, they’re often gender stereotypes and idealistic princesses waiting to be carried away by their handsome princes. I have no idea who the prince’s name was in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, but he might as well have been called “Prince Deus Ex Machina” for popping out of the blue, kissing Snow White, and living happily ever after. Aurora’s only purpose was to kill time until she could touch some spinning wheel needle and then wait for some prince to kiss her.
And this movie looks like it tries to be that way too. It starts with not one, but two, princesses: Elsa and Anna. Anna is the more “typical Disney princess”, while Elsa goes on to become queen, though. So technically it only has one.
First off…Elsa is probably the saddest character ever made in a Disney film since I’ve been alive. It’s never really explained why she has powers over cold…only mentioned a few times that she’s “cursed”. It’s not something she asked for or tried to get…just was simply given. And being a power that only gets worse, that’s uncontrollable, and, worst of all, hurts the people she loves is terrible enough. Yet the worst part is how her parents and that “troll king” decide to deal with it…by forcing Elsa to live a secluded, isolated life from other people of complete emotional restraint: “conceal, don’t feel”. She’s forced to shut out the people she loves, not allowing herself to interact with them or love them, all while her power gets worse and worse…to the point where she won’t even touch her own parents and has to go about with her body covered the whole time.
The song: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is one of the saddest intros to a Disney movie I’ve ever seen. The only thing that beats it is “Up”, although that’s technically Disney/Pixar. The first verse is innocent enough, with five-year-old Anna knocking on Elsa’s door, wanting to play with her…but Elsa won’t open up or answer, and so she decides to unhappily move on. The second verse is when she’s a bit older and wanting to talk to her again…telling her how they used to have fun, how she’s unhappy playing by herself in the isolated, sealed-up castle. (As you can see…Anna had to suffer too, and wasn’t even allowed to know why.)
But the third verse…after their parents die in a shipwreck and Anna comes back from the funeral, which Elsa had to miss for fear of exposing her powers to a crowd, and Anna leans against the door and basically tells her: “Everyone’s telling me to be strong right now, but I really miss mom and dad. We’re all we have now and I feel so alone. Please…talk to me.” The way the song is written, when Anna sings, for the last time, “Do you want to build a snowman?”, she’s prompting Elsa to sing: “I do.”…but Elsa never gives the line. And you see both of them…together and yet alone…and it just really drives home how alone both of them had to live for so many years…but Elsa far worse. She couldn’t even be at the funeral of her own parents. She couldn’t even be there for her sister when she needed her, just to hug her and tell her “everything’s going to be ok”. She couldn’t even tell her why she had to live like this. And she couldn’t do that for ten years…during which she spent her childhood living in fear and dread while Anna spent hers isolated and unhappy. I can’t listen to that part of the song without tearing up.
But, the movie progresses from there. The castle opens up for Elsa’s coronation, and Anna is all bubbly and enthused just like any other Disney princess at the thought of meeting her true love in addition to just having human contact. When she meets the man of her dreams in the form of Prince Hans and immediately wants to get married, it’s definitely rushed…but you can forgive Anna slightly, though. Elsa made every indication of sealing up the castle again after the coronation for an indefinite time period, so she was pressed to find true love as soon as possible. Still…Anna assumes her story will be just like that of any other Disney princess (or “prince” for that matter), that the same day she meets someone they’ll hit it off and live happily ever after. She definitely wants him to live in Arendelle with her and Elsa, most likely because she’s tired of being alone. And Elsa’s response to the idea of having more people around her is predictable…but there’s the sensation even if that wasn’t there, Elsa still would have disapproved. For all the emphasis on Elsa being afraid and isolated and emotionally restrained, she also pervades a sense of “intelligence” and “dignity” befitting a queen. You expect she would “know better”…that she knows life isn’t an ideal fairy tale and that Anna is making a rash choice.
However, the atmosphere of the party should also be noted…as well as how Queen Elsa looks. She’s poised, proper, reserved…everything someone expects of a storybook queen…but also what is historically expected of women. She’s a pretty object to be beheld and admired, but that’s all. The guests who come there just treat her like any other dignitary, someone to bow to and say a few words, and, in the case of people like the Duke of Weselton, is expected to be some figurehead noble who can be impressed into doing anything. She’s not allowed to show her true nature, to talk too intimately, to let her inner thoughts or self be expressed, and she’s even restricted in a very concealing dress that barely exposes her face, with her hair tightly bound so that her tiara can stick in it. The nobles around her include females…but as the movie progresses, you see the only ones making decisions are the males. The only way she “fits in” among these people is being aloof and quiet…obeying “conceal, don’t feel”.
So she gets in the argument with Anna, exposed her powers…her “true nature”…and what do the men around her immediately say? “Sorceress”, “Witch”, “Demon”, and “Monster”. Everyone who admired her moments ago turns away from her. She’s met with fear, hate, and suspicion, and so she flees.
And what happens when she runs so far that she gets to a snowy mountaintop?
The song “Let It Go” starts off sad and morose, and Elsa is sunk in depression and isolation. But then…she realizes the truth. She’s always been isolated, but also repressed. Now, at least, she doesn’t have to hide her true self anymore. It’s a sense of liberation. Although she was scared at first, she now let’s herself “go free” and flexes her powers she’s kept held up for years…and the more she uses them, the more she realizes what she’s capable of. As the song progresses, her volume rises, her enthusiasm and tone picks up, and what then?
First, she removes her other glove, thinking she doesn’t need it now. Then she throws away her cape…and she begins to “transform” from there. As her volume rises, she eventually throws away her own tiara and messes up her perfectly arranged hair to be loose and “free”, before getting rid of her tight, conservative, concealing dress for a flowing, loose, and partially revealing one. Her poise goes from rigid and slow to more free and able, and she even gets a slight smile on her face. It’s the best “transformation sequence” I’ve ever seen in a Disney movie…and it is a transformation. Elsa is not the same person she was at the beginning of the song by the end of it. In short…when she rejects the notions everyone always told her, to always keep herself isolated and be “the good girl they all want me to be”, her power truly shows it’s “stuff”.
The movie progresses from there in a phase that’s “more Disney”. Anna goes after Elsa and meets up with Kristov, who initially is self-interested and callous, but slowly warms up to her (pardon the pun). Meanwhile, Anna’s love-of-her-life plays the part of a good and noble ruler back in Arendelle by being kind and prudent with his authority, while the Duke takes on the role of the villain by wanting the winter Elsa caused stopped at any cost…including killing Elsa. Anna’s attempt to get Elsa to stop the winter ends badly. Anna gets a piece of ice in her heart (one of the few allusions to the original “The Snow Queen” story) and slowly begins to turn to ice herself, and as Kristov, who has fallen for her like any good Disney princess love-interest should, rushes to take her back to Hans, Elsa gets captured after a terse fight. (I honestly had to blink during the fight with the Duke’s henchmen…because I nearly thought she had impaled the first one.) The only other thing to note is that part of the lyrics in the otherwise silly “troll song” actually foreshadow the film’s conclusion, alluding to the fact that love is the secret to controlling Elsa’s power.
Of course, the next big moment occurs not long after, when the freezing Anna is taken back to Hans…only to have him perform a rather stunning Face Turn Heel. Some people think that scene was contrived…I thought it was brilliant. It serves several purposes. One…it does something few Disney villains have been ambitious enough to do. How many Disney villains can you “not see coming”? Most of them might as well dress in black and have long mustaches like Goop in “Meet the Robinsons”. Two…it serves to justify Elsa. She was right all along…it was too soon to think about marrying him without knowing anything about him. Three…it’s a moment of “female maturity”. Until this point, Anna is still very much in the mindset of the Disney princess…that her “dearest prince” will make everything alright with a kiss. Even when Hans reveals his nature, she even pleads with him at first, as if he’ll reconsider. And when all is said and done, the solution she ends up embracing is to try and kiss Kristov instead, hoping that he ends up being her “true love” instead. The question is, in spite of the little “troll song”, does Anna really love Kristov? Well…Kristov seems to love her, and their relationship is probably on the up-and-up…but to the point of “true love”? Probably not. No more is that illustrated than in what happens next…
And so, in the big finale, when all four of the principle “players” are out on the ice, Anna, Elsa, Kristov, and Hans, the biggest moment of the movie occurs. It’s not entirely unexpected…but still poignant. When Anna has the choice of saving her own life or saving that of her sister’s…she chooses her sister. That illustrates two things. The darker of the two is that Anna is hinted to not really love Kristov at this point. She wants to hurry up and get to him so that he can kiss her and hopefully save her life. Now…anyone in that situation would be desperate to save themselves, so it’s kind of ambiguous…but the sense is that Anna may not really love Kristov or Hans…she just wanted them to kiss her to save her.
However…her end decision is not ambiguous at all. She knows she’s moments from death, and only has time for either Kristov or Elsa…and she chooses Elsa. So…let us assume that she was indeed in love with Kristov. What does that mean? The moral of the story…which is the same as that of the original “The Snow Queen”…platonic (in this case, sisterly) love is stronger than romantic love. For all the years of isolation…all the shut doors…and all the accidental times Elsa hurt Anna…she still loves her enough to die for her.
And as a result…Anna reverts back into flesh and blood after being frozen. As it turns out…it wasn’t a kiss from a handsome prince that solved anything. The love Anna and Elsa had for each other was already stronger than any winter magic. So…the story wasn’t about a Disney princess finding true love in a handsome prince…it was about two sisters rebuilding their relationship and realizing how much they loved each other.
What happens right after is my only real “complaint” about the movie. Elsa suddenly has a “Eureka! Love!” moment and instantly gains control over her powers. It comes off not only as a tad silly…but also a bit too convenient. Really? All Elsa had to do was “feel love” and she would have been able to control her power? Well, true enough, Elsa had been feeling nothing but fear and sadness for so long. Her parents magnified her one accident to the point where she couldn’t be happy anymore. Still…to say Elsa had never felt love for 10 years is ridiculous. The whole reason she ran off in the first place, the reason she sealed herself away, even the reason she told Anna at the party to leave if she didn’t want to live like this anymore…was because she loved her. She was trying to not only protect Anna from her power but to let her “be free to live for herself”. Also…how come Olaf wasn’t able to save Anna? He was pretty much willing to let himself melt into a puddle if he could keep Anna warm.
Still, I’ll forgive it because it’s both a family film and the writers had kind of dug themselves a hole. Elsa’s powers were out of control, she had no way of controlling them, and no way of removing them so she could “live normally”. There were only two choices to end the eternal winter…she either gains control of them or she dies.
Also, Anna’s statement to Hans, “The only one with a frozen heart is you.”, is kind of overdone…but she makes up for it by punching Hans out.
Even the ending is nice. Sure, Anna and Kristov kiss…but they aren’t rushing to tie the knot. Their relationship is merely “continuing to develop”. And Anna and Kristov aren’t even the ones that end the movie. It’s Elsa and Anna. Else finally gets the happiness she’s been denied for ten years, and neither she nor Anna is alone anymore and have gone right back to “playing together”. Elsa is once again queen of Arendelle…but her look has definitely changed, for she’s also now the “snow queen” as well. And she’s definitely “taken charge”…not just in keeping the kingdom open, but dealing both with Hans and the Duke. She’s no longer the conservative, cloistered, emotionally-restrained woman from the beginning. Her power no longer causes fear and rejection, but is loved and admired by all.
In short, this was one of the most take-charge Disney princess movies I ever saw, where the conflict beginning and ending was centered around the female leads, not a male figure coming in to do something about it. And for once…it focused on a different kind of love that was just as powerful.
Add to this the humor, the brilliant animation (You know how hard it must be to animate characters covered with frost and snow and to have it fall off of them?), the wonderful music, and the Miyazaki-like storytelling (there’s no villain except for the last five or ten minutes, and in spite of the winter the great deal of the conflict is internal), and this movie deserves to be a Disney classic right up there with “Beauty and the Beast”.
I can think of no better way to end this review than quoting Christina Rossetti…who, in the poem “Goblin Market” with similar themes, gave the best moral that “Frozen” could ask for.