In November of 2013, I don’t think the world realized just how much of a cultural phenomenon Frozen would become. Yes, Disney was getting better, and the so-called “Revival” was in full swing. But I don’t think anyone really imagined that we’d get another movie that would impact our culture in the way that The Lion King did nearly twenty years before.
More than a year later, this movie is still EVERYWHERE. People are getting sick of “let it go.” little girls cling to their Elsa and Anna dolls for security, and there was a record number of “Elsas” at Halloween. It’s crazy!
Or is it?
The Lion King was a phenomenon, and it deserved to be. It had amazing music, characters anyone could relate to, a good story, and a culture of its own. I guess my question is: Does Frozen DESERVE to be ranked up as high as the Disney greats, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King? Why is it such a phenomenon? Why does EVERYONE seem to like this movie? Should it be as high praised as it is?
My short answer is, well…. yes and no. Let’s see if I can explain.
First of all, everyone needs to know where I’m coming from when I review this movie. I understand now that some people have a real hatred toward this movie strictly because it IS such a phenomenon. Personally I think that sort of hatred is ungrounded. Hating something simply because everyone loves it is, well… it’s sort of stupid. I’m not saying that some of these people don’t have legit reasons to hate it. I CAN see this movie as being one that can be hated. But personally? I don’t want to sound dramatic, but this movie and its songs probably saved my life.
The winter of 2013 was REALLY bad in Chicago. We had record snowfall, it was cloudy every day, and it was incredibly cold. My sister and I went to see Frozen the weekend it came out, so we saw it before it got “big.” And I will be honest: I didn’t know quite what to think upon exiting the theater. But as I thought about it day after day, I decided I liked it. Then winter hit, and I discovered I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder something fierce (I have since discovered it’s probably due to the cloudiness…). I sank into this strange depression/anxiety mood that made me blow every little thing out of proportion and made me think nothing could get better. Music has always been my go-to to try and pull me out of my funk, and you can bet I listened to “Let it Go” over and over again. Because I needed to.
So yeah. This movie is incredibly personal for me, but I will try to not let it interfere too much, because now, more than a year later, I have seen it probably a dozen times (at least 3 of those thanks to my niece) and I can see its flaws and what makes it so incredible. So let’s attempt to answer my questions.
I’m actually not going to explain the plot, because 1) it’s one of the main qualms of the movie, 2) Everyone and their mother has seen this movie, and 3) it’s so far off of its source material I don’t even want to delve into that. I could write an entire blog entry on how Frozen and The Snow Queen differ/why they changed it, etc. But I’m not going to.
There were a lot of things that had to come together to make this movie as successful as it was. Here’s what I think it really boiled down to:
1) The world was ready for Disney to produce a GOOD musical again
2) This movie challenges the fairy tale tropes. It wasn’t what people expected, and that made it unique.
The bulk of this review is going to be dissecting #2 up there, but I do want to mention the first point. Disney has always been about a good music. For kids born anytime in the 80s or any era where Disney relied heavily on music to bring their stories to life, Disney movies without music just seems… weird to them. And yes, Princess and the Frog and Tangled had music, but not like this. Disney tapped into not just musical writers, but one of only a dozen people to have won all four major awards: a Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Oscar. I’m talking about Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. I mean geez, this is the guy who co-created Avenue Q AND Book of Mormon. Do I need to say more?
These people are experienced, and because of that, this music isn’t only good, but it FITS. It fits the movie the way the music in The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast fits. There is a reason those two made such great broadway musicals, and why I’m not pissed this one is getting turned into one. This music fits more than any Disney movie since. It conveys emotion, moves the story along, and each song has a point (yes yes, we’ll get to fixer-upper in a second…). They’re built like broadway musical songs, which adds to the whole “musical” feel (especially the reprise of “For the first time in forever”)
I will, however, offer a few criticisms of this music. First, this movie is incredibly top-heavy when it comes to its music. in the first 25 minutes we’ve already had 4 of the 8 (and a half? I don’t know what to do with “Reindeers are better than people.”) songs. Even in the theater, I thought this was a little much. But again, don’t get me wrong. I love these songs. There’s a lot that needs to be moved quickly in the beginning to get to the real story, and songs is a good way to do it. It just seems a bit much.
Second criticism is that really, Jonathan Groff should have gotten a longer and better song. He has an amazing voice and obviously his character knows how to play the guitar(?) so we can assume it’s a pastime of his. It’s a small one, but I would have liked that.
Third criticism: I know everyone likes Olaf’s “In Summer,” but I have to admit it really took me a few times watching the movie to not think it was incredibly weird and out of place. Not even just the song, but the way they chose to animate it. It’s just incredibly random and it kinda bugs me. Ok, next.
Now for the part everyone is going to hate me for: I know I mentioned above how every song is needed and this INCLUDES Fixer Upper, the song that I know many people really really hate. They say its pointless. They say it’s stupid. They say that whole scene is worthless.
IN DEFENSE OF FIXER UPPER AND THE TROLLS: Kristoff said throughout the entire movie that he knew people who were love experts. I know in the movie they go to see if he can help her with the issue with her hair (and maybe even figure out how to change the winter) but really, what would make anyone think that when they went to visit they would do anything but give love advice? He literally spends the entire movie saying that’s what they do! It’s what they’re best at, so they go off on a tangent and sing a song.
But seriously, does anyone actually listen to the song? The song literally tells us how to fix everything. It tells Anna what Elsa needs to do to fix the winter, and what she needs to do to help her. They know deep down what the real deal is with this movie and give us the freaking message: Families aren’t perfect. They’re all different but that doesn’t matter. You love them no matter what and no matter what you want to help them, even if you’re embarrassed of them.
This song is not pointless. It is well needed. I will defend this song until the day I die.
Ok, I’m going to end my music talk on the song that people love and loathe at the same time: That’s right, start singing along or plug your ears…
I’ve already said what this song means to me personally, but no matter if you love or hate this song (and most people hate this song because kids sing it over and over), you have to admit that it’s unbelievable. Not only is the animation during it incredible (It’s one of the only movies I’ve gotten chills during and gotten so into it I FORGOT I was in a movie), but the words are as well (“My soul is spiraling like frozen fractals all around” – seriously??). It’s a song that everyone can relate to. And Idina is awesome.
Also fun fact: “Let it go” and subsequently Frozen winning Best Animated Feature at the Oscars was the first time Disney Animation had won an Oscar in 14 years. Their last one was Phil Collins winning best original song for “You’ll be in my heart” for Tarzan in 1999… It was also the first movie SINCE Tarzan to start with a song.
Alright, let’s move away from songs and focus on my #2 point up there, because I really do think this is at the heart of why this movie did so well: This movie challenges the fairy tale tropes. It wasn’t what people expected, and that made it unique.
To really delve into this, we really have to look at the characters, and needless to say there will be *Spoilers* I can’t avoid them. Sorry.
So let’s start by defining some of our typical fairy tale characters and motifs. We have the Princess that needs saving, the knight in shining armor, the evil queen, True love at first sight, and true love’s kiss breaking a spell.
Well, Disney has already shown that they don’t necessarily follow the first two, but let’s see how they work in this movie. Namely the first one: The princess that needs saving. Disney has spent the last decade showing us that their female protagonists aren’t the same worthless princesses like in Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. They can actually do stuff, and a lot of times they are the incredibly brave ones and they don’t need saving. In fact half the time they’re the ones who save the guy.
Now in this movie this is a bit tricky, because technically we have two princesses, and you could argue that Elsa is the one that needs saving. She’s strong physically with her powers, but mentally she’s shrouded by her fear that is fueled by love. This in no way means that she’s not brave. In fact you could also argue that she’s incredibly brave, just in a different way than Anna. But she does, in a way, need to be “saved.”
Elsa thinks that being alone is the only way she can be who she really is, but it turns out to be the exact opposite. The Lopez’s have said that “Let it Go” and Elsa in general can stand for a person who has anxiety or depression. When you are suffering from those things, you need a support system. You need people who care about you to get through things and understand who you really are and understand how YOU can be strong. You have to be able to feel things to get through things. You can’t just turn it off.
Anna helps Elsa understand this because she is the one who saves her sister. She’s the unwavering one in her love, even if she and Elsa haven’t been close since they were little. She’s the one that really bends the trope. She’s brave and willing to do anything, but what’s refreshing is that the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just that this is how it is, and this is how she is. She never once thinks Elsa is a villain or a monster because she loves her, and she’s willing to do anything to save the people she loves.
Onto the knight in Shining Armor (who I guess you could argue is really Anna in this movie after what we just talked about). We’re led to believe that Hans is this character. I mean think about it. He will do anything to protect Arrendale. At one point he even goes up the mountain to try and rescue Anna after thinking she’s in trouble. He even mentions not to harm the queen, and even talks her OUT of becoming a monster and keeps her grounded. But then the movie turns it on his head when we find out he’s the real villain. Suddenly the villain we thought we had (the Duke of Weasletown) was nothing but a sniveling baby and a red herring.
Ok, onto True love at first sight. I really absolutely love how the movie did this one and the last one we’re going to talk about. This movie has this trope, or at least we’re led to believe it. Anna meets Hans, falls in love with him, and they’re engaged within the first 30 minutes of the movie. While this seems laughable, I only took it as that the first time I saw it. I didn’t think much of it because that’s what happens in fairy tales. Then Kristoff started questioning it, almost making fun of it, and I began to realize that, ok, maybe this movie is self aware. That’s cool. Then we learn that Hans was using her and her flaw (she’s extremely easy to love and believes everyone is good at heart) and everything got turned on its head. What’s interesting in what Frozen did with this trope is that we still have true love between Anna and Kristoff, which may not have happened at first sight, but still happens pretty quickly all things considered.
Alright, now onto that last one, the idea that true loves kiss will save the day. After Anna realizes Hans is a jerk, it’s Olaf that makes her realize that he’s not the one who can help, Kristoff is. And while I really do believe that would have worked, this movie turns the trope on its head again and instead makes Anna sacrificing herself to save her sister as the act of true love that will thaw her frozen heart.
And this is what everyone takes from this movie.
It may not be the first time that Disney has shown how important family is. It’s not the first time Disney has taught us about the love of sisters. But it’s the first time that Disney led us to think one thing then turned it on its head. And that’s why this movie is so incredible. Anna took a chance. She had every intention of running to Kristoff, but couldn’t let her sister suffer. That’s it. Love.
I don’t think any Disney movie has ever put Love as the centerpiece. Not like this. This movie isn’t about just the love between siblings or the love between families. It’s about Love. Period.
Elsa’s parents did what they did because they loved her. They thought they were trying their best.
Elsa ran away and hid herself to protect her sister from ever getting hurt by her again. Because she loved her.
Anna was willing to do anything – even sacrifice her own life – to save her sister.
Kristoff left Anna at the palace to kiss her prince because he loved her and knew that’s what she needed.
And of course, Olaf was willing to melt because he loves Anna.
This movie IS special, even if it’s not perfect. It changed the way we thought of characters. It gave us some incredible songs. It gave us some incredible characters and scenes that still make me laugh every single time I watch it. I don’t really want to talk about any more in depth. I really think I’ve said everything I can say, with a few random notes that I couldn’t fit in anywhere above:
– Kristoff is seriously the best male lead Disney has ever done. Again he’s realistic like Flynn, questioning the ideals of Anna in regards to her wanting to marry a man she just met. I also like Kristoff because you get the idea of his backstory but it’s a mystery. You have to figure it out, and even then you can’t be sure – but there of course are reasons he acts the way he does. Was he abandoned? abused? we have no idea!
– Olaf is also a LOT better than I thought from the trailers. Josh Gad had the ability to make this character extremely annoying and didn’t. Apparently it was his dream to voice a Disney character and be remembered the way Robin Williams was remembered for the Genie. I’d say he succeeded.
– The animation on this movie is incredible. Anna’s dress for the inauguration is amazing. The scene where she’s going up the stairs in the ice castle and you see her reflections is incredible!!
– I love the scene where Anna climbs the rock face. Kristoff is just like “this girl is crazy but she’s kinda awesome at the same time.” Kristoff and Anna are both a little “off.” You actually get why they’d be good together.
– This is another ending (or close to ending) where I was crying. I love that after Anna freezes and after Elsa stops the wind there is literally NO SOUND for a few minutes. No music, no sound effects – NOTHING. It’s very effective, it’s just Elsa’s voice. The theater was insanely quiet during it, even the kids, I was impressed.
So to answer my previous questions: Does Frozen DESERVE to be ranked up as high as the Disney greats, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King? Why is it such a phenomenon? Why does EVERYONE seem to like this movie? Should it be as high praised as it is?
I think it does deserve to be with the greats of the Renaissance. It’s a good movie, but that being said it has flaws and I don’t know if it should be as highly praised as it was. I don’t know if it should be the cultural phenomenon is it (especially more than a year later). I think Disney just hit the perfect storm on that one. But it is a good movie. Even if you’re sick of hearing “let it go.”
I give Frozen (2013) a 4.2 out of 5. I gotta knock points off for the unbalanced-ness of the songs and the plot which can be a little weird.
Up Next: Big Hero 6 (2014)