Disney is a strange company, but in the best way possible. They’re bold enough to buy the Marvel franchise, hire Pixar’s mastermind as their creative director of pretty much everything at this point, and continue crafting movies that stay true to the Disney tradition, at least by most loose definitions of the term.
By this tradition, I mean the continuation of the Disney princess phenomenon, including its most recent renaissance (as they say) of the classic Disney Princess movies reinvented to capture the cutting edge animation that reached new heights in the late 80s with The Little Mermaid, only to reach full form thanks to breakout 90s hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Mulan.
The rise of Pixar brought on a new age, however, with the onslaught of yet another renaissance in animation — one that rendered any other offering by Disney (ironically) obsolete.
Pixar was their critical and family-driven darling, and the mouse studio didn’t really have the creative direction to answer this problem for quite a while, even when DreamWorks came into its own with the introduction of Shrek and those frankly despicable minions.
This is all to say that Disney plays the long game when necessary. After the tempered success of Princess and the Frog in 2009 and Tangled a year later, it became more than clear to me and others that Lassetter’s Disney was on a true comeback, beginning with Bolt and carrying on today to Frozen.
You see, Disney has been experimenting over the past few years with what I call the “Disney-Pixar-Dreamworks” trilogy. They’ve taken the strongest elements of each animation studio and developed full-fledged Disney movies with them.
One might argue that this all started with Meet The Robinsons or the aforementioned Bolt, but these movies were mere precursors to what Disney would ultimately settle on creatively. No, this all started with Tangled, a new take on a classic Disney character named Rapunzel.
The checklist is simple:
1. Does the movie have a Disney Princess and/or fantasy setting?
2. Are the animation and storytelling in sync, as it is with Pixar?
3. Does it contain lovable side characters that shape the marketing campaign akin to Dreamworks?
This list is a complete yes to the “trilogy” that is Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, and Frozen. And it shows in how Frozen in its most basic components is a mixture of several movies and concepts: It has the character relationships of Shrek, the plucky female from Tangled, and the Broadway musical effort of Wicked (complete with the plot of two sisters at odds with each other).
This is no complaint, as Frozen manages to also maintain its own originality and charm between the pages, mostly thanks to the ambitious retelling of The Snow Queen (though the similarities between stories is slim at best), a story that isn’t told often enough complicated by Disney’s best soundtrack in years, perhaps since Mulan or Lilo and Stitch if you’re an Elvis fan.
The Snow Queen is an old Danish fairytale most audiences have never heard of, centering around two sisters who happen to be princesses living in a kingdom Disney has deemed Arendelle. The oldest sister, Elsa, has magic powers of no explanation: she can turn anything into snow or ice for reasons the audience is never clued in on, thankfully. As she grows older, her powers become harder to control, and for reasons I won’t spoil, she shuns her doting sister, Anna, for the majority of their childhood.
The opening sequence to Frozen is clearly gunning for the same emotional beats of Up and its first eight minutes, offering a lively, albeit sad look at the broken relationship between these two girls. You don’t have to be a sister or have one to feel the cloying sentiment in this number, aptly called Do You Want to Build a Snowman?
After an unfortunate incident, Elsa unintentionally curses the kingdom with an eternal winter (even though it’s summer), covering the land in snow and paranormal snow creatures. She runs away in order to isolate herself and is pursued by Anna and some of her new friends, a group of misfit characters to put it kindly.
Plot-wise, the story is strong and well-written, focusing more on its comedic timing than anything all that dramatic, but the music seems to be the tool that delivers the film’s most poignant moments, including some key lessons meant to empower young girls, including a twist on the romantic love story that is sure to delight parents.
The characters, for the most part, are likable and effortless in their inclusion as this is Anna and Elsa’s story. When we are introduced to Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, who have a friendship reminiscent of Han Solo and Chewbacca, the movie succeeds at making them a worthwhile addition without distracting from the main plot. Even Olaf, who should have been annoying in hindsight, provided the levity and fun required of him in a film that could otherwise be deemed dark and heavy-handed.
The only complaint worth lodging at Frozen in my view is the ending, as it goes with many animated movies of recent years. It’s not terrible in any sense, but it is a slight let down in how the film builds and executes, aside from a minor twist on the material involving the impact of the two sisters and their relationship. For every other character, there’s little for them to do by the final minutes.
Other than that, Frozen is a fantastic installment in the Disney archives, providing a new and fun adventure that children and nostalgic young adults like myself will enjoy thoroughly.