Seen: In 2D at the Kerasotes Showplace theater in Secaucus, NJ.
Growing up I was a bit of a fairy tale nerd, and Hans Christian Andersen was one of my favorite storytellers. Mostly because of how much I adored his story “The Snow Queen,” an exciting adventure wherein a brave girl journeys across the land to rescue her male best friend, who’s been captured and brainwashed by the titular evil queen. I’d followed the ups and downs of Disney’s adaptation of the story, which radically changes the central plot and only includes white people, and of course is titled Frozen, something ambiguous and un-girly. The marketing was terrible but Idina Menzel and positive reviews had me curious. The story centers around two princess sisters, one- Elsa- born with deadly ice powers that she is forced to hide from the world, and the other- Anna- born with regular boring human abilities. During her coronation Elsa freaks out and accidentally encases her kingdom in perpetual winter, and it’s up to Anna to save the day with the help of Kristoff, a goofy ice picker.
Focusing on two cool (ha!) ladies and the bonds of sisterhood, Frozen is an enjoyable adventure with some progressive themes. The characters are fun and interesting, the setting is lovely, and the magic is awesome. The landscapes are gorgeous and the effects are really beautiful, with Elsa’s versatile power showing itself in a range of visually-striking ways. I wish I could whip up a sexy ice dress for myself, just to hang out in (although it seems unlikely she would give herself stilettos for walking around in an ice castle, I mean really). I liked that romance was more of a subplot because Anna’s relationship with Elsa was paramount. Especially since the romance, while cute, seemed hypocritical after Kristoff berated Anna for getting engaged to a guy she just met (but I guess that was part of the point?). I also liked that the ideas of good vs evil were more of a gray area, making the story more about acceptance and understanding than black and white moral codes.
While overall I can say I did like Frozen a lot, there are various things nagging at me that keep me from loving it. For one thing, I generally find it off-putting when movies start out as musicals and then forget about it halfway through. It works in Mulan because it’s basically a commentary on the soldiers’ mentality before and after they’re confronted with actual battle, but that’s the main successful example I can think of. In Frozen, there are several songs in a row in the beginning, and they’re cute but kind of forgettable and a little too casual in their lyrics (“for the first time in forever” makes me think of something you’d hear in a pop song, as opposed to a fantasy musical, but that’s me being nitpicky, I don’t know). There is one stunning sequence, and for some reason it’s Idina’s only solo, but I think that’s the only song that truly stands out. I thought the snowman’s song was funny, but that’s primarily because it’s a silly concept, not because the song itself is especially memorable.
My actual biggest issue is the animation- specifically the character design. I am so sick of these pasty, plasticine figures with their huge eyes, pouty lips, and doughy cheeks, it’s just ugly. The female body types are all the same, the clothing moves like clay, and everyone only has like 3 facial expressions. I’ve never been a bit proponent of CG animation, it’s always looked kind of gross to me (especially human figures, which is why I think Pixar is most successful with characters like Wall-E or the Toy Story toys), but this one got to me more than usual for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I found myself truly appreciating the landscapes and architecture, which were wonderfully rendered and made the uninspired character design even more apparent. Honestly the most visually appealing part of Frozen was probably the trailer for The Boxtrolls that preceded it, because I am so fucking psyched for more stop-motion animation from Laika.
Anyway. I did enjoy this movie, and I’d like to see it again. I’m so glad there’s a story that focuses on sisters, similar to how I loved that Brave was about a mother-daughter relationship. I’m also excited that one of the protagonists is basically a lady X-Man, with all the magic powers, isolationist angst, and gay metaphors that come along with being a mutant. Rad. Oh also the so-called “twist”? Is that really a twist? Both the thing with Hans and the thing with “an act of true love” were pretty easy to spot early on, but I’d had multiple people telling me there was a big twist at the end so I spent the whole time waiting for it all to be taking place in a kid’s snow globe or something.
ONE FINAL NOTE: I feel like no one’s talking about how this movie was co-directed and written by a lady, specifically Jennifer Lee who also co-wrote Wreck-It Ralph. I know we don’t need to ruminate on gender things all the time, but I just think it’s really neat since so few women write or direct Disney films. You’re awesome, Jennifer!
Pair This Movie With: I’ve seen a few people comment that this kind of a version of Wicked, which is fair, and I totally wanted to listen to the Wicked soundtrack when I got home. There are also parallels to Enchanted in its commentary on “falling in love in one day”-type fairy tales (and Idina again!). It would also pair well with Tangled, not only because the characters look exactly the same, but because they both have plucky heroines who escape their confinement, and they probably take place in the same universe or whatever. Not gonna get into that.by