Frozen released in November of 2013, which happened to be the start of an unusually cold fall and an early winter throughout pretty much all of North America. The line, “let’s go bring back summer”, kind of sums up the main plot. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason Frozen did so well, but that’s not the only reason.
Frozen remains to this day the highest grossing animated movie of all time, with $1.276 billion earned worldwide on a $150 million budget. That also made it the highest grossing movie of the year 2013, and it’s currently the 9th highest grossing movie of any kind. It’s already spawned a Broadway show, the focus of an entire half season of the Once Upon A Time modern-ish fairy tale TV series, two short films (one already released, and another up and coming), its own toy line separate from the official Disney Princess franchise, and an upcoming theatrical sequel to be released in 2019.
It’s already experienced a home video re-release, a sing-a-long version to be more precise. A lot of people in the following couple of years named their newborn children Elsa, after Queen Elsa in the movie, putting it at 88 of the top 100 names on the most common baby names chart (the first time “Elsa” had ever appeared on the chart). It received a lot of critical praise, with an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, .1 percent higher than Tangled’s score.
So in short, Frozen is the 2010’s version of The Lion King. It’s a monster of a film that still won’t go away. You can buy freezies with Anna and Elsa’s faces on the packaging. I see kids with Elsa shirts all over the place, even those who would have been too young to see the movie when it first came out. When a movie performs that well, there’s bound to be at least a little bit of backlash. For one, it’s formed a strange rivalry between Frozen and Tangled fans, one that I’ll get into in my upcoming Tangled vs. Frozen post.
Like Tangled, Frozen’s history goes as far back as Walt Disney himself. Back in the late 1930’s, Walt Disney planned a live action/animated hybrid movie acting as an autobiographical film for Hans Christian Anderson. The animated sequences would be based on the author’s various fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Snow Queen, among others. However they faced difficulty with The Snow Queen in particular, unable to figure out how to relate the story to modern audiences in a short segment.
In the late 90’s, Glen Keane began working on an adaptation of The Snow Queen, but the studio scrapped the project at the time because Glen Keane quit to focus more on his Rapunzel adaptation that would eventually become Tangled. Multiple other people pitched their own adaptation ideas in the next few years, but they were all turned down. They shut down the project completely until Disney and Pixar merged, putting John Lasseter in charge of the entire animation department. Lasseter convinced Chris Buck (co-director of Tarzan) to return to Disney to work on the project along with co-director Jennifer Lee (who also helped write Wreck It Ralph and later Zootopia). Tangled’s success convinced them to create the movie using CGI animation instead of the originally planned traditional animation.
Fun fact – Both Kristen Bell and Idina Manzel auditioned for Rapunzel, and they were both pointed to Frozen instead. You could jokingly say that Frozen took in Tangled’s sloppy seconds, but in truth, Mandy Moore is a better voice for Rapunzel, while Bell and Manzel fit Frozen’s two princesses perfectly.
Frozen stars Princess Elsa (later Queen Elsa), and her younger sister, Princess Anna. Elsa was born with magical ice powers and nobody seems to know where they came from. After she accidentally strikes Anna with an ice beam, forcing the family to seek help from little rock trolls, Elsa is locked away with the hopes that it’ll help her master her powers. The opposite happens – the longer she spends in isolation, the more out of control her ice powers become. When the king and queen die while on a voyage for unknown purposes, the two princesses are left alone in their castle.
Three years later, Elsa is coronated as the Queen of Arendelle, but not long after the ceremony she loses control of her powers and flees. Most of the surrounding people are terrified, some of them calling her a straight up witch. Elsa leaves the kingdom in an increasingly harsh winter storm, trapping all the foreign guests and their boats in an iced over harbor. The rest of the movie is about Anna trying to get Elsa back so she can reverse the storm, refusing to give up on her sister. Various other parties struggle to deal with the problem in their own nefarious ways.
There is a lot about this movie that works very well. Anna and Elsa are fantastic co-leads, with the complete opposite character flaws. Anna is a social butterfly who’s willing to open up to almost everyone. She doesn’t understand what romantic love truly means, and falls for the first prince she meets once the gates are finally opened up again. Elsa is closed off, doesn’t want to trust anyone, and after her powers are revealed, she runs away with the intention of living completely on her own. Despite their differences, they clearly care about each other. They both know how the other can solve their problems, yet they’re both too stubborn to think through the others’ advice or about their own choices until their lives depends on it.
The animation is still technically impressive today. It made several advancements in digitally animating weather effects, reflections and light bending through clear, round objects. The ice powers Elsa throws around are stunning to look at, with various snowflake like patterns in the ice castle Elsa builds for herself. Facial expressions and body language are expertly crafted throughout the movie. Some of the set designs are genius as well. The only real downside is that the scenery is very white after a while, but that’s necessary by the story’s design and it makes the finale where summer returns all the more beautiful for the movie’s closing moments.
You can’t talk about Frozen without mentioning the songs. There are eight original songs in the movie, plus a reprise. The triple threat of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”, “For The First Time In Forever” and “Let It Go” are all monsters in their own right, with the latter winning the Academy Award for best original song. The latter two are both anthem songs in their own way. I’m pretty sure “Let It Go” alone is a major reason why this movie made so much money. It’s also become the source of annoyance for so many parents and caretakers out there.
With all that said, Frozen is not without its flaws. For one, the eight songs actively harm the movie’s pacing if you think about it. The first five songs (also the best five) all happen within the first half hour of the movie, severely delaying the storytelling. As fun as “Love Is An Open Door” was the first time I heard it, it could have been half as long and still conveyed everything it needed to. The introductory “Frozen Heart”, while a neat Norwegian folk-style song, doesn’t feel like anything else in the entire movie. As such, it kind of feels like an imitation of The Lion King’s vastly superior “Circle of Life”.
The movie also saves its worst two songs, “In Summer” and “Fixer Upper” for last. I’ll get into the former later, but “Fixer Upper” is kind of an annoying song by the rock trolls that if you think about it, don’t really have any purpose in this movie.
But the movie’s biggest flaws lie in its supporting cast. Elsa and Anna are very well developed, but the remaining cast is very large, and almost everyone is underdeveloped. The King is kind of a terrible father, yet that’s never addressed in the movie. The queen mother doesn’t say anything so she might as well not exist at all. Kristoff acts as Anna’s minor love interest, but he’s just a boring character who prefers to live a quiet life.
Olaf, a snowman built and brought to life by Elsa’s powers, is kind of an obnoxiously cute character and the movie’s obligatory comedic sidekick. His song, “In Summer”, is a mildly funny comedic number that feels like its two minute runtime is a minute too long. He’s not annoying by any means, and he lets emotional moments happen, but you could remove him entirely and it wouldn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie one bit. I could go on, but there are plenty more superfluous characters.
Prince Hans acts as another love interest for Anna. They get engaged mere hours after they first meet, and Anna puts him in charge of Arendelle while she leaves to get Elsa back despite not knowing anything about his ruling style. He seems like a perfectly nice and charming guy for most of the movie, but then he turns full-blown villain out of nowhere. The first time I watched Frozen, I thought it was a great twist on the Prince Charming cliché in Disney Princess movies. I felt it helps tell the contrasting morals where you shouldn’t shut yourself out from people, yet you shouldn’t just open yourself up to the first potential romantic partner you meet.
But overtime, I’ve realized that there is nothing subtle about the movie’s morals. Multiple characters directly hammer the “you can’t get married to someone you just met” message over and over again. It’s a lesson that most people learn by the time they’re old enough to get married anyway. And despite the movie’s constant hammering of that message, there isn’t any kind of subtle foreshadowing for Hans turning villain in the third act. It feels like the plot twist was tacked on after they decided to turn Elsa into more of a victim than a villain herself. And if anything, today’s world has the complete opposite problem, with not enough people committing to a long-term relationship anymore. But let’s not get into that.
When I first saw Frozen in theaters, I really enjoyed it. I got caught up in the monster hit songs, enjoyed the visuals and I liked the twist. However I’ve enjoyed it less with every viewing since. I watched it twice in theaters, and once shortly after I bought it on Blu-ray. I didn’t touch it for more than 3 years after that, until about two months ago when I was still early into this project. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoyed re-watching this movie this movie. I’ll just get more specific with my thoughts in the next post. I’m sure most people reading this have either seen this movie by now, or they’re actively avoiding it. As such, there’s no point in saying who I’d recommend this to.
There are only three movies left to go. There’s Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. Of the three, I’ve only seen Moana before. After that, it’s time for a break from my movie posts, besides maybe a couple lists here and there.