Walt Disney Pictures has had an incredibly long career with numerous ups and downs. You wouldn’t think that Disney almost went out of business as recently as the 1980s, but that was entirely the case. It took a less cynical adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to dig them out of debt. And wouldn’t you know… decades later, an adaptation of Andersen’s The Snow Queen would practically upend the company’s time-honored formula. Released ten years ago, Frozen is one of the company’s most successful movies of all time. I saw it in theaters a week after my first ever trip to Walt Disney World. Like much of the rest of the world at the time, I loved it. However, as the years went by, it felt like more and more people hated it, and still do to this day. I’ve rewatched the film a few times, but I haven’t seen it in at least five years. Sounds like a good time to do a retrospective and see if it’s actually still good or not!
In Frozen, well, we know what happens. Two princesses, Anna and Elsa, live and play in their castle in scenic Arendelle. The latter has ice powers for reasons that won’t be explained until the sequel. Elsa almost kills her sister, and is told by the local trolls to not use her powers at all. After the parents—well—become typical Disney parents if you catch my drift, Elsa becomes a shut-in, and both sisters are depressed. When they finally get to meet for the first time in forever (haha reference) during Elsa’s coronation, things go awry, i.e. Elsa has an anxiety attack and everyone knows she has ice powers now. She runs away, causing a second Ice Age in the process. Time for Anna to fix her sister!
Well, let’s get the formalities out of the way: it still looks pretty. Beautiful particles, lighting, and expressive characters. The animation team literally filmed themselves playing in snow for research on the movie’s physics. Speaking of research, Arandelle showcases the company’s ability to painstakingly recreate architecture from around the world, with this case pulling from Norway. You can still tell that it’s a bit older, but this is probably the last Disney movie that shows any age. I feel like they start to peak with the visuals from Moana onward.
Anyway, movie talk. Let’s just say this: Elsa did nothing wrong. First off, it was Anna’s fault that she was almost murdered by her own sister. She did all the jumpy-jumps too fast and that’s why Elsa froze her skull. She has complete control over her powers until this exact point (also, it’s Anna’s fault that Elsa has the panic attack in the present conflict, because she gets all lovey-dovey with some turdboy). The trolls don’t help either. Yes… I kind of got this point from MatPat’s theory regarding the trolls. I haven’t watched him in forever, but I always believed that theory in particular.
For the most part, it’s your typical classic Disney movie. The conflict is established, and the protagonists go on an adventure to fix it. However, there’s one thing that upends the Disney formula. It’s a last minute change to the ENTIRE movie that was done when the lead composers—Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—wrote a certain song: no villain. Well… there is a villain in this one, but he doesn’t count. From this point on, Disney protagonists would be their own villains; in this case, it’s Elsa’s fear of her powers, which causes her to lose control. If it wasn’t for that song, Elsa would’ve been more like Ursula. Some people might think that would’ve been better, but this is what we got, and it set the new precedent for Disney movies to this day.
Frozen’s second-biggest strength is its cast. Anna and Elsa are both subversions of the traditional Disney Princess. The former is a ditzy, tomboyish dingus, and the latter is emotionally insecure until she gets proper therapy. They are by far some of the best women in Disney movies.
The love interest is not a handsome prince; far from it. In fact, the male lead is an utter loser who can’t even lift a single block of ice: Kristoff. He has no manners, but he’s lovable and silly; a fresh take on the handsome Mr. Perfects who make a lot of 20th Century Disney movies age REALLY badly by today’s standards. His deer, Sven, is probably one of the best animal companions. Though Kristoff has his own voice to interpret Sven’s thoughts for the audience, Sven is so in sync with Kristoff, it sometimes feels like Sven is ACTUALLY talking.
Of course, no protagonist in Frozen does better than Olaf. A simple, summer-loving snowman who loves warm hugs, this little guy has some of the legitimately funniest lines of any comic relief character. Josh Gad will be immortalized as Olaf, despite the numerous roles he’s been in before and since Frozen.
However, the weakest link is the last Disney villain to ever be cast: Hans (not related to Christen Andersen). He’s just a pretty-boy who blatantly shows signs of not being the movie’s love interest, making his betrayal very predictable (although his delivery was actually really good). I feel like the Duke of Weaseltown would’ve been a better choice. He was already established as really funny but also conniving, and he already had intentions to burn Elsa at the stake anyway. Oh well.
Thing is, though, all we’ve discussed—consequently—means squat compared to Frozen’s biggest strength: the music. Disney has always had really good musical numbers (even though I didn’t appreciate Enchanted, The Princess and the Frog, nor Tangled’s soundtracks until years later; a Disney sin on my younger self that will haunt me until my dying days), and Frozen was the biggest breakthrough since The Little Mermaid. The whole soundtrack is excellent, but there is one song that took the cake. One paradigm-shifting song that made Frozen both famous and notorious at the same time, and the aforementioned one that changed the entire core of the movie mid-development. It’s why every Disney movie since is the way it is. I need to make a new paragraph just to discuss it.
Obviously, the song in question is titled ‘Let It Go.’ It starts as a somber piece before suddenly shifting into an epic, showstopping anthem of female empowerment. Adela Dezeem—I mean—Idina Menzel delivers powerful vocals here, cementing herself in the role of Elsa so well that everyone forgot that she was in Enchanted. The song might even have influenced the current Feminist movement. I still enjoy the song to this day, although that’s probably because I was never subject to the billions of memes it spawned.
It’s here where we arrive at a bit of an impasse. Up to this point, I’ve mainly discussed positives about Frozen. However, I’m going to be honest here: in my rewatch for this post, I wasn’t exactly in love with it. The conflict feels arbitrary in retrospect (hence this being a retrospective), the main antagonist is a shoe-in because of the Lopezes’ gambit, and the trolls’ musical number—while funny—feels like padding and tonal whiplash. Though it was a huge deal at the time for a Disney movie to take a direction like this—what with sisterhood constituting as true love—it’s not novel anymore. Moana, Encanto, Raya, and arguably Frozen’s own sequel are better than this in virtually every way (and that’s not including Pixar movies). Sometimes I’d argue that Princess and the Frog and Tangled are better, despite coming before and having the old formula. Another thing is that I watched this in 2013; I was a different person then. I hadn’t watched a single anime, let alone a foreign film other than Scrooge 1951. I had only JUST gotten into my first manga, and had only been to Walt Disney World once, and went into Frozen in theaters a week after that landmark first experience in the parks. As the person I am now, Frozen is just…
After All These Years: 8.65/10
I had a REALLY difficult time coming up with that score up there. While Frozen has a lot of the usual charm and personality of Disney movies, it also has a lot of the trappings. Are there a large number of better, more creative foreign animated features? Yes. Is Frozen still enjoyable? Yes… if you love Disney. If you decide to watch it, just don’t stay for the credits, because some mainstream popstar does a ‘Let It Go’ cover during them; THAT is perhaps the biggest flaw of Frozen.
One thought on “Letting it Go for TEN YEARS: Frozen Retrospective”
I won’t lie, I think Frozen was the last Disney movie I ever paid to see in theaters. And mostly because my friends wanted to hear Idina Menzel’s voice for “Let It Go”, so it’s been refreshing to see someone revisit this series whose not just dunking on it (*cough Youtubers cough*). I haven’t watched it since the theatrical release, but it is a pleasent memory for me. Thanks for reviewing it!
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