Disclosure: Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale “The Snow Queen” is my absolute favorite fairy tale of all time. It’s a strange combination of religion, coming-of-age, and a nice little tale of female empowerment. So, of course I was bound to be a little more harsh on the Disney Adaptation than strictly necessary.
Full Disclosure: I laughed and smiled almost non-stop through the movie.
There are certain things that Disney does a frighteningly good job of: first and foremost is, of course, stunning animation, whether it be the initial screening of Snow White, the ballroom scene and integration of CGI, in Beauty and the Beast, or the glorious ice structures in “Frozen.” Disney does a marvelous job of making us believe in love — that simple, childlike love that springs up at a dance, or due to a duet in the forest, or from a magic carpet ride. It weaves magic into its worlds in a way that maintains its fantasy — there is never too much, or too little. And finally, Disney is freakishly good at creating adorable animal sidekicks.
But now we’ve entered into a new era of Disney, and an area where the company seems to struggle a little — a world that isn’t willing to accept that girls are beautiful princesses in need of saving. So all of their stories need female empowerment now, whether that is Tiana and her dedication to hard work, Rapunzel as the clear creator of adventure in Tangled, or here, Anna and Elsa’s role at the forefront (I would mention Merida, but the truth is — gasp! — I haven’t seen “Brave.”)
Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m all for girl empowerment — but Disney doesn’t quite seem to know what that means. And nowhere is that more clear than in “Frozen.”
There’s a familiar trope that runs through the film — the traditional idea of love curing all. The characters all believe that true love’s kiss is the way to cure death by ice curse. The inversion of that trope occurs at the end, when the sister’s love is enough to overcome a curse. We’re supposed to cheer for this idea that sisterly love is just as powerful as romantic love. Normally I would be all for that — but the story here doesn’t support it..
In the opening act, Elsa harms her beloved younger sister, and consequently shuts her out, the better to protect her. For the next ten years or so, the sisters don’t interact. Ever. They finally are drawn together by Elsa’s coronation, but it is clear that the relationship is tense. Elsa runs away, and Anna follows after. When they next meet, they get in a fight, Elsa refusing to return to a land that shuns her, Anna desperate to fix the horrible frost that is occurring. They are separated again when Elsa attacks her sister. The next time they meet? That moment when we are supposed to believe in sisterly love. But the relationship hasn’t been developed. We believe it exists because we’re told that it exists. But it’s not enough.
My other beef with Frozen? The sudden appearance of a villain in Act 3. One of the most interesting things about the film was its lack of a clearly defined villain. Elsa is the one who caused all of the danger and problems — but she is clearly no villain, and only wants the best for everyone. Her own struggle with self-acceptance lays the groundwork for the plot, and carries through to the final scene when, suddenly, abruptly, and unnecessarily, Hans points out that he’s actually been a bad guy all along, which completes destroys the self-awakening storyline that Elsa’s gone through, and similarly eliminates a great opportunity to see Anna’s growth. How much greater would it have been to see Anna actually have to make a choice between two good men, one who perfectly matched her earlier naivetee, and one who can appreciate her for her inner strength and pluck.
Then again, perhaps this is all asking too much of a movie that has, as a pivotal character, a talking snowman. The frustrating thing was that “Frozen” could have been the best Disney film since, dare I say it, “The Lion King” — instead, it’s just the best since “Rapunzel.”