When Frozen premiered in November of 2013, there was no shortage of hype surrounding its release. The directors had a resume of success with Tangled (2010), and even from the (in retrospect) inappropriately toned American trailer, the animation looked fantastic. However, I doubt that even the most optimistic Disney fans could have predicted the phenomenon that followed, the highest grossing animated film of all time, the sing along version, the obsessive fandom (especially among young children). However, with the potential for hype backlash that comes with such publicity, it’s difficult to assess whether or not Frozen is a great film in its own right or simply an overhyped production driven by 5 year olds watching Spiderman and Elsa YouTube videos. I recently had the opportunity to watch Frozen for the first time since seeing it in theaters less than a week after it released in the US. This has given me the time to distance myself from the hype of the film, to approach it with a fresh mindset, albeit still a fan of the movie. While Frozen still holds up to my expectations on the second viewing, I did notice some flaws when viewing it from a more critical perspective.
Figure 1: The Japanese trailer captures the spirit of the film a lot better
Firstly, the technical and artistic aspects of Frozen held up really well, in particular the animation and soundtrack (in general). Frozen may be adapted into different mediums such as stage shows or (ugh) live action television, but nothing can match the perfect harmony of Disney’s 3D animation and music composed by some of the industry’s greatest talent. Listening to a song like “Let it Go” or “For the First Time in Forever” by themselves reduce them to simple popular showtunes, but watching the character expressions, the backgrounds, the choreography and camerawork creates a unique kind of entertainment experience that you can’t find in other mediums. Watch the reprise of “For the First Time in Forever,” and just watch the palate of emotions in each of the character’s eyes. Watch it again and take note of the details in the backgrounds like how Anna’s reflection appears in the ice as she climbs the stairs. Watch it again and marvel at all the particles that the computer needed to render for the snow during the duet (heck, even YouTube can’t handle it). Individual scenes like this are really what puts Frozen in the conversation among the all time great animated films, how so many complex elements have to work together to create a scene that even I lack the technical knowledge to fully appreciate. Secondly, the world of Frozen is interesting and has potential for expansion. Clearly magic exists in their universe, the ability to control the weather, the ability to create life, and these powers are relatively rare as Elsa and the trolls are the only ones that seem to have powers of their own. There’s many lands beyond what we’re shown and potentially a wide variety of cultures and ideas that can be brought to a bustling trade hub like Arendelle. While “Frozen 2” might sound like a cheap cash in idea for a sequel, there’s enough lore in the world they created for many stories to come. Finally, the characters, especially Elsa and Anna, are complex and multifaceted. While originally designed as the villain, Elsa developed into a sort of anti-hero, struggling to find her place in a world that she felt couldn’t accept her. Anna is the character that gets the most development throughout the film, which was especially noticeable on the second viewing. The overall plot revolves around the discovery of what love is, how love at first sight may not be the call of destiny that one initially believes. This subversion of the traditional Disney norm of meet, fall in love, happily ever after was a welcome change that signals a more modern approach to storytelling.
Figure 2: The best song in the movie. Sorry “Let it Go”
Frozen is not without its flaws either, most notably the story structure. The whole relationship between Elsa and Anna is predicated on a flawed set of logic that Doug Walker calls “Frozen parents logic.” Despite an explicit warning from the trolls that Elsa would need to learn to control her powers, apparently they misheard and taught her to conceal them. Also the fact that Anna needed to have her memory wiped of Elsa’s powers seemed incredibly clumsy. Why did it need to happen in the first place? Why did nothing happen when she eventually found out, not even a shocked reaction about such a major secret being kept from her? How did she spend thirteen years in the same house without finding out? The other major flaw in the story is how Hans suddenly face heel turned in order to create a villain at the last minute. I’ve mentioned that I don’t think last minute villains are necessary in my review of The Little Prince, but even if they thought it was necessary in this movie, I think the correct decision would have been to foreshadow it rather than make it a surprise. Adults will of course anticipate the switch, but kids will still get the “shock value,” which is only applicable to the first viewing anyway. In subsequent viewings the transition of Hans from hero to villain is incredibly clunky. It distracts from what is otherwise a generally interesting story about the relationship of the two main sisters. Finally, while the soundtrack was solid overall and has songs that will stand the test of time and become Disney classics alongside “A Whole New World” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” there are some songs that just seem like out of place duds as well. “In Summer” spends time featuring Olaf, who I know Disney wanted to push to market the movie to children but it’s almost just a big lipped alligator moment that serves no other purpose. Also “Fixer Upper” is a decent song on its own, but it’s hardly the showstopper to be the last song in a musical of this scale (and no the Demi Lovato cover of “Let It Go” at the credits doesn’t count). Most successful musicals have at least a cast reprise of the signature song, so actually having Elsa and the rest of the cast sing “Let It Go” at the end would have made more sense to close the movie. Honestly even the Reindeer Remix would have been a better credits song. While these are clearly issues that diminish the overall quality of the movie, there’s certainly more than enough positives to make up for its shortcomings.
Figure 3: Poor Jonathan Groff. What could have been…
Is Frozen really all it’s hyped up to be? Is it Disney’s greatest work of the century? Despite all my praises of it, I would have to say unfortunately no, not from the movie’s lack of quality but from the overhype that it’s received from becoming such a cultural phenomenon. Is it one of the best Disney movies of all time? Yes, but for its popularity I would expect it to be one of the greatest movies of all time, or at least a contender for Disney’s best ever. Unless you’ve really fallen in love with the songs or characters, there are simply too many flaws to overlook when viewing Frozen multiple times to really get the continuous enjoyment that I’d expect from a movie I’d call one of my all time favorites. If you’re watching it for the first time, temper your expectations a bit and make sure that you’re not looking for the perfect movie. I don’t think that the movie has a ton of rewatch value for most people, and I sympathize with parents who have to watch it over and over with their kids. Still, while the “Frozen is overrated” train continues to gain momentum, one shouldn’t go into the movie expecting to be disappointed either. It’s still an incredible film that is one of the definitive works for Disney’s second renaissance, and hopefully the franchise can continue to entertain audiences for years to come.