Review: Frozen (Buck & Lee, 2013)

Still from the movie Frozen

Putting nostalgia aside, there are few who would suggest that Pixar hasn’t been an improvement on the traditional Disney cartoon films–even those such as Aladdin and The Lion King produced during the Disney Renaissance. Pixar films are sophisticated enough for adults not only to tolerate but to appreciate. No one I know is ashamed of saying that Toy Story 3 moved them or that a certain sequence in Up caused their throats to thicken. But, back when I was growing up, a Disney movie wasn’t just a movie, it was a soundtrack, and it was the music that gripped us. The hook stayed in me perhaps a bit longer than it did in most of my peers (few remember Hercules, but I confess I still eagerly anticipated the film as late as when I was a high school sophomore), so it was with sentimental longing that I viewed the much-hyped Frozen on Christmas Day.

With its roots in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, this most successful of recent Disney films has been touted as a feminist sort of princess story, with a convention-breaking plot for the modern girl who won’t be sidelined with dolls and kitchen sets anymore. A tale of two free-spirited and strong-willed Norwegian princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), Frozen flouts the traditional storyline of beautiful, helpless female in thrall of evil villain who must be saved by her muscular, sculpted prince. (One might say this direction is the culmination of a tendency that started as early as Beauty and the Beast. with seeds even in The Little Mermaid, but nowhere does it seem as explicit, as intentional, as it does in this film.)

The elder of the two sisters, Elsa, must suddenly assume the throne when their parents pass away. The only problem is that Elsa has been in hiding the past decade, even from her sister Anna, because of a rare but uncontrollable power she has to turn physical objects, including people, into ice. (Elsa is a positive reimagining of Anderson’s Snow Queen, who is a villain.) When Elsa’s coronation event goes awry, it is up to Anna to save her sister, her kingdom, and herself, though not without some help from the humble, grouchy iceman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his dog-like reindeer, and the loyal, dopey-looking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). And, while there’s still a prince in this story, his role in this tale is considerably different from what one might expect.

I can see the film’s allure for children. It doesn’t quite hold its own for adult audiences–its feminism is at times a bit too didactic–but those who are easily charmed, like my husband and me, will at least enjoy the reindeer’s antics, as well as those of Kristoff’s friends, the trolls. Aside from that, what accounts for Frozen‘s popularity is undoubtedly its music (work of husband-and-wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez). Once again children have something to sing along to! I confess I’ve finally outgrown that activity, but it warms me to imagine another generation “letting it go” and belting these tunes out to their collective hearts’ content.