Critic: 'Frozen' one of Disney's best animated films in years

Published on Monday, 2 December 2013 14:29 - Written by STEWART SMITH ssmith@tylerpaper.com

“Frozen” deserves a significant place in the pantheon of Disney’s animated “princess films.”

Not only does it feature two of the most well written female characters ever, it features one of the best messages (if not the best) ever presented in a children’s fairy tale film. I’m not sure if I’m ready to declare it a timeless classic alongside pieces such as “Beauty and the Beast,” but it is undoubtedly one of the most significant films the studio has put out in years.

“Frozen” is adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale “The Snow Queen,” and tells the story of sisters Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). The two used to be inseparable best friends. But once Elsa’s latent magical powers (which involve the ability to create and manipulate snow and ice at will) start getting out of hand, their parents force her into isolation.

Now, ten years later (and following the disappearance of their parents in a shipwreck) Elsa is in line to assume the throne of their small kingdom. But when Anna inadvertently angers her sister, Elsa’s powers get out of hand and she unleashes a frosty fury that traps the land in perpetual winter. Feeling responsible, Anna sets out to make things right with her sister.

There’s so much to love about “Frozen” that it’s difficult to know where to begin. For one, the songs are just so dang catchy. I had Elsa’s “Let It Go” number running through my head for a couple days at least and I’m not sure my wife can wait for the soundtrack to show up in her Christmas stocking. They’re catchy, they advance these characters and the story and are integrated well. That’s about all you can ask for in a musical. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Tony Award winner Menzel kills it, but it’s Bell who blew me away. I had no clue she had the sort of pipes she puts on display here. I’m almost kind of surprised she hasn’t taken a stab at a musical theatre career.

It also can’t be stated just how happy it makes me to see female characters like Anna and Elsa in a film, much less in a film aimed at kids. Disney has long been one of the sole studios to put out films with females as the lead characters (in genres and stories that aren’t reductive romantic comedies), but Anna and Elsa feel markedly different from characters such as Belle or Ariel.

Anna in particular is one of the strongest, most independent characters the studio has put out, perhaps ever. She heads out on her own to go after her sister, (initially) rejects the help of woodsman/ice vendor Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and does it all with a dogged determination that would befit any male hero put in her position. And while Elsa gets notably less screentime than her sister, I appreciate that the writers continued to find layers for her and not simply turn her into a cackling villain once she goes into self-imposed exile halfway through the film. Her reluctance to rejoin society and find a way to peacefully exist makes sense and it’s a nice arc for the character to go through.

The film’s most notable and important achievement, though, is more textual than anything else.

In so many fairy tale films (Disney’s included), “true love” is in almost all cases defined by or represented with a girl/princess waiting for “true love’s first kiss” from a handsome guy/prince. True love is something that is developed almost instantly, with no real relationship established between the two characters, often over the course of a single song or sometimes with so little as a single glance between the two).

“Frozen,” however, goes out of its way to subvert both of these things. At the risk of spoiling things a little bit, the whole “fall in love over the course of a single song” is skewered in the most thorough way possibly by the time the film’s final act arrives and it goes out of its way to define “true love” as something far deeper and more significant than simply a girl being kissed by a handsome guy. I can’t think of another film of the sort that does this and it’s a choice that should be applauded by all. Far too often “love” gets reduced to a fleeting emotion, a kiss or some other superficial thing, and this goes for all movies, really, not just in fairy tales. That “Frozen” defines it as self-sacrifice for the good of another person feels like a big deal.

My only real complaint is that it feels like film is missing a musical number or two. For one, Kristoff doesn’t get any sort of number of his own. He’s one of the main characters but never really gets a chance to break out into song and it feels like a real missed opportunity. But more than that, it feels like there’s one big finale number missing from the final act, one last number before or during the climax to give everything that final push into undisputed greatness.

That’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, though, I suppose, especially considering everything else that “Frozen” gets right. I just hope that Disney fires the team that marketed it as the ads and trailers did a miserable job of communicating almost anything about the film. I had to practically drag my parents and sister to the thing because they had no idea that it was a musical, or that it had so much humor (serious, I could watch so much more of Olaf, the magically animated snowman) or even what the story was. This is a film that Disney should be immensely proud of, but instead it feels like it’s been largely obscured.

Here’s hoping this finds the huge audience it deserves.

Grade: A