Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Santino Fontana (Hans)
Director: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
The Basics: Frozen, Disney’s latest animated feature, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Sisters Anna and Elsa are separated from a young age after Elsa’s ability to magically create snow and ice put Anna’s safety in jeopardy. While Anna craves companionship and romance, Elsa’s powers and her fear of them being exposed make her crave solitude instead. After a disastrous Coronation Day for Elsa in which her powers are revealed, Anna goes in search of her sister to stop the eternal winter Elsa has wrought upon their kingdom. Along the way, Anna meets Olaf, a snowman who longs for summertime, and Kristoff, a young ice salesman who challenges her naïve beliefs about falling in love. Frozen has all the makings of a classic Disney film: great songs, stunning animation, a surprisingly strong sense of humor, and a heart worn firmly on its sleeve. But what makes this film special is the way it adds something new to the tradition of great Disney princess films. Frozen is a story about true love, but this true love is not the stuff of princes and princesses and love at first sight. Rather, it’s the love between sisters that drives this film. Frozen is an empowering film that celebrates all kinds of love—familial love, romantic love, and love for ourselves.
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Frozen is the first Disney film to focus on two princesses, and both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell carry this film equally with their unique vocal skills. Menzel’s voice is peerless, and she gives Elsa a power and edge unlike any other Disney princess. Her control over her voice perfectly suits Elsa’s journey through the film—from the quiet tension in her part of “For the First Time in Forever” through her complete unleashing of her power in “Let It Go.” No other actress could have given this character the kind of depth Menzel gives her. Elsa is unlike any other Disney princess who came before her, and it seems fitting that she was given life by a woman whose voice is unlike any other.
The same can be said for Anna—she’s certainly not your stereotypical, poised and perfect princess. She’s awkward, naïve, and overly eager for companionship at times, but she’s also fiercely loving, brave, and warm. Bell brings a vivacity to this princess that jumps off the screen, but she’s also able to communicate a very real vulnerability in her voice. Bell’s pure, gorgeous singing voice was a huge surprise to me.
Menzel and Bell have very different but equally beautiful voices, and listening to them sing—alone and especially together—was a feast for the ears to rival the best Broadway performances.
Scene Stealer: Olaf the snowman is a character who could have gone extremely wrong, but instead turned out to be one of the highlights of the film. A lot of credit for that should go to the fact that he was used just enough to be entertaining and consistently funny but not so much that he became obnoxious. Also, a lot of credit should go to Josh Gad for the way he’s able to make Olaf silly enough for kids to love him and sweet enough to feel important to the story beyond just comedic relief. (“Some people are worth melting for” was one of my favorite lines.) His big music number, “In Summer,” is a highlight of the film and a fantastic moment of musical comedy. Gad makes the silly and the smart facets of the number work perfectly, and I found myself surprisingly charmed by this addition to the list of great Disney sidekicks.
Bring the Tissues? Frozen worked my heartstrings with a dexterity usually reserved for Pixar movies. It hits you with a sucker punch of heartbreak at the start (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” somehow manages to be both a cute and devastating musical number.), and the rest of the film has moments of real emotion that sneak up on you with their power. The climax of the film put more than a few tears in my eyes, and I have to imagine I wasn’t the only one moved by the film’s message of love and acceptance.
Most Memorable Scene: Every Disney princess movie has a moment where the heroine sings about what she really wants and who she really is, and those are often my favorite moments in the film. “Let It Go” is another one of those moments, where Elsa embraces her power and vows to leave behind a lifetime of repression and fear of letting her true self be seen by the world. Sung with Menzel’s characteristic power, this song is sure to become an instant Disney classic. This is a love song a princess sings about herself, and it’s one of the best songs a Disney movie has featured in a long time.
The animation in this scene is just as incredible as the vocal talent on display. As the song builds, so does Elsa’s ice castle, and the combination of stunning visuals and inspiring music combine to make this scene a moment worthy of its place among others that defined their respective Disney films: Ariel singing as the waves crash behind her; Belle and Beast in the ballroom; and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider watching the lanterns.
Strengths: A Disney film is often only as good as two things: its animation and its music. Frozen excels in both of those areas. The detailed depiction of Elsa’s powers is beautiful throughout the film, and the way the animators captured Menzel’s controlled ferocity and Bell’s exuberance through the slightest change in Elsa and Anna’s expressions is masterful. And the music in this film is some of Disney’s best in years. Each song shows off the vocal abilities of its cast while also moving the plot and the characters to new places. There were more than a few moments of Broadway-caliber beauty where I wanted to stand up and applaud after a musical number was done.
What really made Frozen soar, though, was its fresh look at the way love can function in a fairytale. From the start, the film deconstructs the idea that “true love” has to be romantic love, and that’s not something you see in most animated films. Anna and Hans’s “love at first sight” story is depicted honestly, showing the flaws in falling in love with someone you barely know. Instead, her relationship with Kristoff develops in a way very similar to the relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn in Tangled. These two characters are shown getting to know one another, and they don’t fall in love right away. Instead, they learn about what makes each other tick—Anna’s devotion to her sister, Kristoff’s unconventional family—and that’s what brings them together.
The relationship between Anna and Kristoff (and between Anna and Hans) is more of a subplot than the main story in Frozen, and that in and of itself is revolutionary. Anna and Elsa have the most important relationship in this story, and that love story helps bring to life the other great love story in the film: Elsa learning to love herself for everything she is. Anna’s acceptance of Elsa and love for her helps Elsa learn to turn her perceived flaws into strengths, to accept herself and learn to accept love from others for exactly who she is. Elsa doesn’t want romance, and she isn’t seen as strange or wrong for that. And just because Anna desires romance, she isn’t seen as wrong or less of a “strong woman,” either. The sisters represent different types of young women, and it’s nice to see both types celebrated and shown as capable of loving each other selflessly and with a strength greater than any romance in the film.
Weaknesses: For having so many beautiful songs that show off the talents of Menzel and Bell, I was surprised that there wasn’t more of Jonathan Groff’s voice on the soundtrack. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and I found it somewhat disappointing that Kristoff wasn’t given much to do in terms of singing. However, it was fitting when you consider what the movie was really about.
My only other complaint was the way a couple of lines in the music took me out of the moment, however briefly. For example, the line about being gassy in “For the First Time in Forever” had no real purpose beyond making kids giggle, and it felt out of place in what was such a sweeping, theatrical song. But maybe I’m just being a Disney music prude.
Final Verdict: Frozen is a worthy addition to the list of Disney classics. Its animation, music, and charm reminded me of everything I love about Disney films. And its themes of family, sisterhood, and self-acceptance made this a fairytale for a new generation of young viewers—especially young girls— who will hopefully be inspired by Anna and Elsa to be the heroes of their own stories.
Final Grade: A