Frozen melts away the malaise that plagued Disney animation for over a decade. The film launches itself into the highest ranks of animated classics not by repeating the classic Disney formula for success, but by breaking free and charting its own course. Honest treatment of mature themes sparks the magic of Frozen, allowing the story to engender characters with whom the audience can empathize.
The story centers around two sisters, Princesses Elsa and Anna of Arendelle. Elsa is the loving older sister, and Anna the energetic, neurotic younger. Elsa possesses the power to create ice or snow at will and when she loses control of her power, she accidentally harms Anna. The King and Queen of Arendelle then decide to lock Elsa away and forbid her to use her powers or reveal them to Anna. However, when the time comes for Elsa to ascend to the throne, she must face the public for the first time in her life. At the coronation, Anna decides to marry Prince Hans after only having met him earlier that day. Anna’s reckless behavior angers an already anxious Elsa, causing her to lose control of her powers, unleash a flurry on the castle, and run away. While Elsa flees Arendelle, she manages to throw the kingdom into a perpetual winter that threatens its imminent destruction. So Anna embarks on a journey with the help of Kristoff, the local ice provider; his reindeer, Sven; and Olaf, a magical talking snowman to find Elsa and return summer to Arendelle.
The writers of Frozen at every turn pose classic scenarios – that an audience familiar with Disney fully expects to follow the typical formula – and then, thankfully, launch the story in a different direction. Rather than a main character who starts alone and surrounds themselves with friends, Frozen starts with the isolation of Anna from Elsa. The story arc is not only refreshingly new, but far more believable and enjoyable. After announcing their engagement having met only hours before, Elsa replies to the news of Anna and Hans’ engagement with a crowd-pleasing, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” What makes Frozen so spectacular – its departure from classic Disney – is exactly what makes it appealing to adults. The idealistic portrayal of love is shattered as the film pokes fun at the idea of two people falling in love during the course of a day with Anna and Hans’ satirical duet. Additionally, instead of an evil villain threatening to destroy the kingdom, Elsa’s own inner struggle with her powers becomes the focal problem in the story.
Spectacular animation permeates the film. The icy, mountainous landscapes are chillingly beautiful and the animators do a fantastic job bringing to life the many extraordinarily detailed icy creations, from Olaf the Snowman to Princess Elsa’s dazzling ice castle. The film is also visually pleasing in that the characters movements appear far more natural than in past computer-animated films. The animation captures the choppiness of Anna’s spastic behavior which becomes humorous asides throughout the film. Not only are characters walking and using facial expressions that appear very natural, their clothing and hair movements are surprisingly realistic. Elsa’s blonde mane shocks the audience when she literally and figuratively lets her hair down. It is nothing short of impressive how the animators kept par with the fantastic writers and directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, in creating a visually gratifying film.
The vivacious voices of the actors also bring to life the best in their visually appealing counterparts. Despite the mature themes and originality of the film, Frozen still recreates what has made Disney a box-office powerhouse. Josh Gad delivers a wonderful performance voicing Olaf, the lovable snowman, and steals the show with many lines that leave both children and adults in stitches. Most notably, Olaf produces some of the largest laughs with some of the cleanest humor that relies on situational irony and well-timed quips as opposed to sexual entendre. While Disney captured all the humorous traits that children love in the bubbly and admittedly hilarious Olaf, it grounds the film in the emotionally complex Princess Anna who arguably displays the largest range of human emotion of any animated Disney characters to date. Anna faces nearly every emotion from blind infatuation to desperation in her struggle to navigate her fractured interpersonal relationships and save Elsa. The characters all have much more depth than is common in animated films, and that depth and range allows both Kristen Bell (Anna) and Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) to deliver bold vocal performances. But perhaps most impressively, Idina Menzel (Elsa) belts out the sing-along solo “Let It Go” with such bravado that it is sure to become a new favorite in the Disney Canon.
Of course, the film contains a few minor blemishes on an otherwise exemplary record. The characters happen upon a few very convenient coincidences that help the protagonists and the film begins very sing-along heavy, with a couple of the early numbers comprised of an arrangement of rather vapid, uninspiring lyrics. However, beyond these two minor shortcomings, Frozen comes into its own as a film Disney can be truly proud of.
There has yet to be a movie produced by Disney where the incredible power or love or friendship has not been at least a minor theme. Frozen is no exception, but the similarities end there. From the improved and stunning lifelike visuals to the newfound effort to create characters with a full range of human emotions, the movie sails into uncharted waters for Disney. In breaking from the tired, formulaic story of good versus evil, the hero using the power of love and friendship to conquer evil, Frozen introduces a riveting internal struggle and blurs the lines of what constitutes an appropriate subject and theme for an animated film.
Ryan Poladian is a senior in the Philosophy Department.