When the first teaser trailers appeared for Frozen way back when I wasn’t convinced it would be my kind of thing. When it comes to animated films I’m not likely to get as excited about Disney’s offerings as I am about the work of other studios. Though I’ve been a fairly loyal fan since my childhood there can be no denying that they don’t always offer the animated prowess of their sister studio Pixar or the originality and intelligence of Ghibli. I find it hard to mention any recent Disney film that I have got really excited about. I enjoyed Wreck It Ralph but the idea was greater than the execution. However, these days you can’t really go anywhere on the internet with somebody mentioning this supposed ‘game changer’ and its Oscar nominated song ‘Let it go’. So, once again, I bowed to peer-pressure and checked it out.
Frozen, Disney’s 53rd feature film, is another in studio’s traditional yet modern style of storytelling that has become their trademark since John Lasseter made his way over from Pixar. Disney may be well into the technological age with their computer-generated animation but Frozenjust goes to show that the studio still hasn’t given up on its primary principles: namely wholesome family fairy-tales chock full of courage and fun garnished with big musical numbers and charming characters.
Disney has been playing around with the idea of adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queenfor a fairly long time but it wasn’t until Jennifer Lee’s screenplay that they found the best way to translate the tale for its audience. Lee took the decision to rebrand the villainous Snow Queen into an isolated and scared teenager with the power to control ice and snow.
That teenager is Elsa (Idina Menzel) who, after an incident involving her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), is taught by her father, the King of Arendelle, to conceal her powers and hide herself away. When their parents are tragically killed, Elsa and Anna must fend for themselves and Elsa goes to greater lengths to hide her powers from both her sister and the rest of the kingdom. Unfortunately, her skills are revealed at her coronation leading the new Queen to flee the city whilst accidentally enveloping it in vicious winter weather.
Anna is much more impetuous than Elsa and, after hastily getting engaged to a virtual stranger, the youngster instinctively rushes off after her sister to bring her back and fix the situation. On her journey Anna is aided by an ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and a talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). The sisters must battle great obstacles to save each other and their subjects: taking part in the ultimate battle between love and fear. It’s hardly a massive leap from the tales of old but there is something refreshing about the focus on two females.
Frozen contains all of the state-of-the-art and breathtaking animation that we have come to expect from the studio. The frosty landscape is engrossing and shiver-inducing: Elsa makes her magical flakes whirl across the screen; frost collects beautifully on windowpanes and boats; and the ice palace is an awesome glistening spectacle. The focus here has been put more on visuals than narrative but I can forgive the patchy nature of the story when the animation is so wonderful.
Like any self-respecting Disney film, the action in Frozen is occasionally halted to make way for an uplifting song and dance routine. These musical numbers have been written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (known for their work on Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and have a musical theatre style to them. Not only do these moments appear infrequently but they also happen to sound fantastic: at the very least they’re annoyingly catchy. Kristen Bell proves to be a formidable vocal talent and plays Anna perfectly. Unfortunately, she has been overshadowed by Idina Menzel (a Broadway personality) who, in my opinion at least, has been horribly miscast as Elsa. Menzel’s rendition of ‘Let it go’ has been eaten up by audiences but I just found it uncomfortable. The lovely song has become hyperbolic in her hands and sounds very nasally and strained. It is too Broadway (not meant as a compliment I’m afraid) and Menzel is far too mature to play the youthful Queen.
Though this isn’t really Elsa’s film and, after Anna, the key figures are the more high-profile supporting characters of Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and Olaf. Sven defies Disney logic by being unable to speak but, in a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek touch, Kristoff often provides the voice for his friend in their one-sided conversations. It is Olaf, though, that comes out on top here. Despite the annoying presence he had in the endless marketing campaign, the snowman is a naive and caring figure who provides plenty of warm and humorous moments.
Frozen can certainly be classed as a ‘modern’ take on a Disney princess films thanks to its awkward and dorky heroine Anna, its knowing winks to the tropes of the genre and its unrelenting focus on the two female leads. However, I have seen a worrying number of people claiming it is the first major step to a feminist Disney era. Whilst watching the film I found myself enjoying it more than I expected, having long passed the age when I unquestioningly engulf these types of narratives, but I can’t say that I saw it as a major step towards any real gender equality at the studio. Yes, it does portray strong female relationships over the typical male/female ones and I obviously celebrate that. However, there are still enough worrying gender stereotypes to prevent me from celebrating too quickly.