“Frozen” Warms the Heart

While Disney has closed down their animation department, that does not mean the end of the delightful fairy tales they have long been known for. The latest Disney feature is a CGI musical set in eighteenth-century Scandinavia, starring two sisters, a love triangle, a reindeer, and a talking snowman. While the plot has a few unresolved holes (to be discussed momentarily), the overall story is good and the characters are likable and fun. Supposedly the film is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Snow Queen, but those familiar with the (rather dark) source material will not recognize any of it in this cheerful, wholly un-depressing picture.

The scene opens on a pair of little princesses who are best friends. The older sister, Elsa, has magical powers that allow her to create snow and ice with a wave of her hands. The younger sister, Anna, has a playful spirit and eagerly eggs her sister on. After a tragic accident, however, Elsa and her parents become convinced that her powers are a curse rather than a blessing, and that she must hide them away lest anyone else get hurt. Because strong emotions exacerbate the chill, Elsa shuts herself in her room and shuts Anna out. After both girls are orphaned (this is Disney, after all), Elsa becomes a complete recluse.
The turning point in the story comes at Elsa’s coronation. This is the first time that she and her sister have been outside of the castle in years, and Anna, still playful as ever, decides to take full advantage. She immediately meets, falls in love with, and agrees to marry one of the party guests. For some reason Elsa seems to think that this is a bad idea. She refuses to bless the marriage, Anna gets pushy, Elsa gets flustered, and the transition from figurative to literal ice queen is complete. The kingdom is plunged into winter; Elsa flees to a mountaintop where she figures she can be who she is without having to worry about hurting anyone.

Probably the best part of the whole film is a baby reindeer named Sven who appears during the opening song, which is based on Norwegian folk music. Sven, now a very large adult reindeer, and his owner, an ice-seller named Kristoff, return to the plot to help Anna track down her sister before the magical winter becomes permanent. They are later joined by an enchanted snowman named Olaf, who seemed in the previews like he would be obnoxious, but in fact is endearing as the only snowman in the world who dreams of lying on a warm tropical beach and getting a sun-tan. The interactions between Kristoff and Anna, who bicker rather than make lovey eyes at each other, are also quite entertaining.

For instance, as Anna tells him about how unfair and awful it is that she is not allowed to marry the man that she met about twenty minutes earlier, Kristoff is, astoundingly, in agreement with her sister. In fact, at no point in the story does anyone besides Anna – who is somewhat lacking in common sense, having been stuck in a castle most of her life – and her beau, Hans, think that marrying someone you just met is a particularly brilliant plan. This is almost like a recanting on Disney’s part, since movies like Snow White have long established that “love at first sight” is a perfectly valid reason for jumping into a long-term relationship in search of a happily ever after. Contrast “Love is an Open Door”, a duet between Anna and Hans, with one of the old classic Disney love themes, such as “Once Upon a Dream” or “A Whole New World”. The lyrics are pretty similar. “Love is an open door / Life can be so much more / With you” is not too different from “A whole new world / A new fantastic point of view… Now I’m in a whole new world with you”, but the message is quite different in “Frozen.” Without delivering any spoilers, suffice it to say that, by the end of the movie, Anna will find that the people telling her not to marry the stranger she’s known for a couple of hours were right all along. This is a departure from the Disney romance model and a refreshing perspective from Hollywood.

In many ways, in fact, this is a feminist film. [Warning: spoilers ahead.] After Anna is struck in the heart with a piece of magic ice, she’s told that she must perform an act of “true love” to melt it and prevent her becoming an ice sculpture before the day is out. Naturally, like many a Disney heroine before her, Anna assumes this means “true Love’s kiss”, so she high-tails it back to the palace to find Hans, her fiance of three hours, and give him a smooch. When that does not work, she realises that it must be Kristoff who is her true love, since he had a less superficial connection with her and seems to actually return the feeling. But ultimately, it is not a kiss from a man she met that day that saves Anna – it’s an act of self-sacrifice done protecting her sister. Which, really, makes considerably more sense. The bond between close family members is much stronger than most other relationships; hence the saying “Blood is stronger than water”. How on earth could Anna have found “true love” with someone she has spent a mere afternoon with, and how could that have been more powerful than her love for her sister, whom she has known her whole life? This is Disney’s way of saying, “Actually, we lied. The whole meaning of a woman’s life is not wrapped up in her romantic relationship with a man. A woman can actually have other relationships, too! And they can be way more important than romance! is not that revolutionary?” Ariel might have given up any chance of ever seeing her family again so that she could be with some prince she saved from a shipwreck, and Cinderella’s horrific upbringing might cease to have any effect on her as soon as she meets some guy at a dance, but Anna and Elsa understand that there are more important things than so-called “true love”. In fact, Elsa does not even have a love interest. She’s too busy running a kingdom and dealing with her issues and her broken family to worry about that just yet. Disney seems to have entered a new era, at least for now.

The only real problem with the plot of the movie involves Elsa’s deus-ex-machina discovery of how to control her powers. It’s something that there is no reason she should not have discovered already, and it is expressed in so abrupt and nebulous a fashion that it feels like the Disney writers got to the end of the script and realised that they had not figured out how to resolve the problem of the kingdom’s being frozen, so they quickly added in something that sort of sounded okay and called it good. Otherwise, the ending is satisfactory, the characters are well-rounded, and the message is wholesome and uplifting. The music is quite good as well – another thing viewers have come to expect from Disney – so it’s no surprise to see it nominated for the “best song” Oscar. A high point in the film is the costume and set design, which give a strong sense of place. If the magic were removed, this could be a documentary of daily life in old-timey Norway, complete with folk art and music. All in all, it’s a wonderful spectacle both visually and musically, and well worth seeing.

4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for… no reason at all, actually. There is nothing in this movie that would make it more than a G. A preschooler might be scared of the trolls.

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