The traditional Disney musical is a genre that has been given the shaft in recent years. With Pixar becoming the foremost animation house in Hollywood, we’ve got films that are thematically deep and resonate in ways the older Disney musicals didn’t. And while there’s no denying the absolute cinematic quality of Pixar’s films, there’s a simple endearing quality to the likes of Aladdin and The Lion King that I have grown to miss. The quality I am talking about may not make me introspect like Pixar regularly does but makes me feel warm and gooey inside and feel good about life in general. Thankfully, Disney has realized that this market is still alive and well and have begun targeting the demographic again. This is what has led to the Disney revitalization we’ve seen beginning in the latter part of the last decade with The Princess and The Frog and continuing into this one with Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. Frozen completes the Disney resurrection and is a triumphant return to form for Hollywood’s historical animation house. It is also the best film Disney have produced in nearly two decades.
One common aspect linking the aforementioned films is that Disney has chosen to cast lesser known actors instead of bona fide Hollywood stars. These actors have been chosen more for their vocal talent and singing range than their thespian abilities. From Anika Noni Rose in The Princess and The Frog to Mandy Moore and Zach Levi in Tangled to Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell in Frozen, the singing ability of these actors is undeniable. The reason I am highlighting this is because it is a crucial factor in Disney’s resurgence. And nowhere is this more telling than in Frozen. Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell’s vocals elevate the film from one that could’ve been good to one that is genuinely great. It also means the standalone Frozen soundtrack is one of the best Disney has delivered in their history, but we’ll save that for a separate post. (Trust me, go out and buy the soundtrack now. It simply is that good.)
Frozen is loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, a book I haven’t read. It follows the story of sisters Elsa (Menzel) and Anna (Bell). Elsa is gifted with the ability to create ice and snow. As little girls, Anna is completely fascinated with Elsa’s magic, and they share a deep love for each other. When a freak accident results in Elsa hurting Anna, their parents have no choice but to seclude Elsa from the rest of the castle, both for her own safety and the safety of others. As a result, Elsa grows up in fear of injuring others, despite being warned that fear will be her undoing. Many years later, on Elsa’s coronation day as Queen of Arrendelle, Anna meets Hans (Santino Fontana) and decides to marry him on a whim. Elsa refuses to give them her blessing and a verbal spat ensues, whereby Elsa’s powers are revealed and she freezes Arrendelle and dooms it to an eternal winter. How Anna tracks down her sister, meeting Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and the funny little snowman Olaf (Jonathan Gad) along the way, and how they understand and reconcile with each other forms the rest of the plot.
While the plot isn’t as rich and layered as something from the house of Pixar, it is to Disney’s credit that they take it in different and interesting directions. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was how Frozen debunks the notion of “one true love,” wherein a handsome, young Prince saves the Princess in need. This has formed the backbone of many of Disney’s own films, and for a while it looks like Anna and Hans’ love at first sight will take the traditional route, but it ends up differently than most people would expect, with a mildly surprising twist along the way. However, what I loved beyond anything else was how Frozen, for the most part, led me towards an all-too-familiar clichéd and predictable climax, before turning that notion completely on its head by giving me a wonderfully heartfelt scene of true love of the sisterly kind. The notion that true love is not only one that exists between lovers, i.e. the cliché, but also between siblings and in most other relationships in our life is one I can fully get behind.
I know I’ve already talked about the vocal talent in this film, but it is worth mentioning again because it is truly incredible. Whether it be Anna’s loneliness, Elsa’s distress, their love for each other, or Kristoff’s playful charm, the voice actors are successful in using their voices to depict their character’s every emotion. But the highlight of the film is without a doubt the Oscar nominated Let It Go. The song comes right after Elsa’s powers are revealed and she runs away to the North mountains. Elsa sings about the liberating feeling of not having to live in fear and isolation anymore. Idina Menzel nails every emotion in that song and sings it with a gusto that is riveting. The entire five minute sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a film all year, animated or otherwise.
Despite professing my undue love for the film, I realize that Frozen isn’t for everyone. My sister wasn’t particularly fond of it while my mother enjoyed it. But films are always about the personal reactions they evoke in us. Something about the way Frozen was put together and the way it depicted love touched me, and I appreciated that. It is one of the films I’ve truly loved in a long time. I am not talking about enjoying a film’s craft like I did with Argo last year or even considering a film to be a cinematic masterpiece like A Separation, I am simply talking about falling in love with the emotions depicted in the film. Last time that happened was Neethaane En Ponvasantham from last year. Frozen is going to become a staple of my home cinematic viewing for a long time to come.
- Banner image used under the Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons