BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
Frozen, Disney’s latest addition to the princess film genre, is a surprising film that offers Broadway-style musical numbers with visual and emotional complexity that still entertains. Building on the revamped princess ideal presented in Brave and Wreck It Ralph, Frozen avoids the tomboy temptation, instead creating two strong female characters who are both girlie and strong.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck spin the tale of Danish kingdom Arryndale where the king and queen must hide a dreadful secret: the oldest of their two daughters, Elsa, turns things to ice with a touch. After a playful morning turns dark, Elsa is shut away from the world, including her adoring younger sister, Anna. Elsa’s powers, and the reason for her isolation, are kept secret from everyone, including Anna, who becomes desperate for affection, particularly following her parents’ deaths. When Elsa (Idina Menzel) comes of age, her coronation day proves disastrous when her secret is revealed and she is driven into the mountains. Anna (Kristen Bell) sets out to find her, ridden with guilt for upsetting Elsa with a quick engagement to a prince from another kingdom. At her side is local ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer and wise-cracking snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad). Their mission, to thaw the kingdom and bring Elsa home, is a journey full of danger, betrayal and courage.
The film’s most dazzling sequence (and there are many) is Elsa’s transformation upon reaching the top of a snowcovered mountain. After years of hiding her gifts from the world, she unleashes them, creating a spectacular palace of ice while singing “Let It Go,” an anthem about embracing her inner power. Aside from the scene’s visual explosions, Elsa’s stripping away of shame, delighting in her own excellence, is wonderous. Menzel sings the hell out of the song, making even the silliest lyrics soar. Her transformation into an empowered woman is especially meaningful as it is done for herself, not for some love interest.
Frozen is clever in the sly way it tackles tropes of the genre. Kristoff, for example, provides both halves of his conversations with his non-talking reindeer. More significantly, within the first thirty minutes of movie, Anna has already sung twice about true love and gotten engaged. In earlier princess films, this would be the entire film. But Frozen jabs at the functionality of such a view: everyone aside from Anna questions her commitment to marrying someone she doesn’t actually know. Anna is pretty, but she’s also spunky, smart and awkward–in essence a teenage girl swept up in her imagination. When Elsa flees, Anna doesn’t send men to bring her back, but takes on the task herself. Even her relationship with Kristoff is based on a need for transportation, rather than rescuing or romance.
Don’t mistake: Frozen is a love story. But it is the love story of two sisters. All other loves, the movie tells us, are minor flurries.