Frozen really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. After its release in late 2013, Frozen became the unexpected hit of the decade, climbing its way to becoming the most popular animated film in history, and creating a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon that few films could ever match. If we were to rewind the clock back to the earlier part of 2013, however, probably no one could have seen such success coming. The teaser trailer seemed to indicate the film was about a snowman and a reindeer fighting over a carrot, and later marketings only seemed to give the impression that it was just another Disney princess movie, but with two princesses.
Now, however, it’s all too easy to see where Frozen’s success stemmed from. In a time where Disney has been at their creative best, crafting memorable features such as Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana, Frozen sits comfortably as the apex of Disney’s modern generation.
Frozen tells the story of two sister princesses: The older sister Elsa (Idena Menzel) and the younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who live in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with a magic gift, the ability to create and manipulate ice and snow. For two sisters who love spending time together building snowmen and ice skating, this is a dream come true. But Elsa’s magic is often too powerful for her to control, and can even become dangerous.
One night when they were young, Elsa accidentally struck Anna with a magic spell, which almost cost Anna her life. Horrified, the desperate king and queen take the girls to a tribe of trolls, who manage to heal Anna. The trolls then remove Anna’s memories of her sister’s magic, as the girls’ parents decide Elsa’s powers should be kept a secret to protect anyone from any further harm.
Elsa and Anna are then raised in separate chambers of their castle, with Elsa locking herself away from her sister as she tries to learn to control her powers, and Anna becoming just as lonely with the absence of her sister in her life. As they grow older, Anna and Elsa lose their parents, leaving them with only each other. Though Elsa’s fears of her powers mean they don’t even have that much.
Once Elsa becomes of age, she is to become the new queen of Arendelle. But after a confrontation with her sister goes awry during her coronation, Elsa accidentally reveals her powers to her sister, and inadvertently unleashes an eternal winter onto Arendelle. Elsa exiles herself from the kingdom, and Anna sets out to find her sister in hopes that she can break the spell that has befallen Arendelle.
It’s probably the most character-driven setup in the entire Disney animation canon. While most Disney films tell great stories, oftentimes the characters are a bit archetypal, and are more like pieces that simply push the plot forward. But here, it feels like Disney crafted the story around the characters, their personalities, and their relationships with each other. Frozen is all the better for it.
Not only is the story built around the characters, but said characters are just so likable, as Frozen takes many of the usual Disney archetypes, and evolves them into deep, fleshed-out characters.
Anna is kind-hearted and heroic, but also socially awkward and more than a little clumsy, while Elsa is intelligent and refined, but also sad and lonely. There’s a greater sense of substance to Anna and Elsa than the Disney heroes and heroines who came before them, which makes them all the more relatable and sympathetic.
The other characters include Olaf (Josh Gad), a snowman created from Elsa’s childhood memories who serves as the film’s comedic sidekick. Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mountain man with a pet reindeer named Sven, who escort Anna on her journey. Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), a royal from a neighboring kingdom who serves as Anna’s love interest. And the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), an eccentric and distrusting figure who believes Elsa to be a menace due to her powers.
Much like Anna and Elsa themselves, the supporting cast also has a greater sense of depth than most characters found in Disney films: Kristoff is lonely to the point of providing the voice for his pet reindeer so he has someone to talk to. Olaf avoids the unfortunate pitfall of some past Disney sidekicks of being an overbearing distraction by actually serving an emotional connection between Anna and Elsa. Being their imaginary friend from their childhoods, he actually contributes to the story by serving as a bridge between the sisters. Not to mention Olaf’s childlike naivety makes him all the more endearing. Even Prince Hans is given dimensions that prevent him from simply being another automaton of a Disney prince.
Of course, the biggest mixup of Disney norms goes back to Anna and Elsa themselves. While most Disney films have stories that are built around the plots of dastardly villains, here Elsa more or less serves as the antagonist of the story. Yes, some sinister characters (such as the Duke of Weselton) show up, but they are never the driving force in the story. It’s the dynamic between Anna and Elsa that serves as the film’s central conflict. Anna isn’t a heroine out to stop a villain, but instead is trying to reach out and understand her sister.
Because of this alteration of story and characters, Frozen is able to change up the Disney formula in fun and inventive ways. It’s one of the few Disney films that’s full of surprises.
Like the majority of great Disney features, Frozen is a musical, and it has the catchiest and most memorable soundtrack of any Disney film. Some of the best songs in the film include Do You Want to Build a Snowman, a simple but heartbreaking number that explains the divide between Anna and Elsa during their youth. For the First Time in Forever (one of the best “I want” songs ever), which further shows the contrasts between the sisters’ personalities. And Let It Go, Elsa’s signature song that has not only become my favorite Disney song ever, but has also seemingly become the anthem of childhood for an entire generation.
All of the songs in Frozen are insanely infectious, and will surely get stuck in your head in the best way. The songs are so good, in fact, that the wonderful musical score is often overlooked because of them. Though not as iconic as the song work, the instrumental pieces from Frozen are still a joy to listen to, and help capture the film’s many emotions.
To top it off, Frozen is a beautifully animated film. Frozen adopts a similar look to Tangled, combining CG animation with traditional, hand-drawn techniques. The characters’ motions have a fluidity that matches even Pixar’s best, and the character designs all leave a lasting impression. Plus, the snowy landscapes and magical goings-on make for some truly captivating imagery. Frozen is simply a gorgeous film that belongs in any discussion of beautiful animated features.
Frozen is a wonderful film. It’s as simple as that. It tinkers around with Disney’s conventions and turns them on their head, while still paying full respect to the things we love about Disney films to begin with. Its cast of characters are as memorable as those of any of the best animated features. And they tell a great, heartwarming story filled with fantastic songs and stunning animation.
On the surface, Frozen is Disney doing what they do best, at their best. In its depth, Frozen is unlike anything Disney has ever made before.