Page to Screen: Frozen (2013)

inspired by “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen


If you are a regular visitor to these premises, you will know that I am a Disney freak from way back. My favorite Disney movie has always been The Hunchback of Notre Dame (rivaled only by Atlantis: The Lost Empire for hipster cred), I followed Tangled religiously through pre-production (all that gorgeous concept art!), and, despite my own vague distaste for Beauty and the Beast, I take an almost personal pride in the fact that its success shook Hollywood so badly that the Best Animated Film Oscar had to be created.

But when the first trailer for Frozen came out, I was unenthused. Already unfamiliar with “The Snow Queen,” the kids’ animated comedy trailer treatment certainly didn’t endear me to it. Plus, its position in the pattern of Disney princesses is certainly uncomfortable; two more white princesses when we don’t even have a Latina princess yet? And representation isn’t a one and done deal, Disney. And as for the film’s treatment of Saami influences in its vaguely Scandinavian setting… well, I’ll point you to Johan at selchieproductions for an informed opinion that I cannot provide. When I discovered the film’s ending while working in the children’s department at the bookstore, I was quite pleased, but felt no urge to go and see the darn thing.

And then “Let It Go” got into my system. Much like its fellow Best Song Oscar nominee “Happy,” I heard it and realized I would be bellowing it on repeat in about two weeks. After it played on a local radio station, I knew it was time to just go and see the darn thing.

And… it was okay.

There were parts I adored. Anna, in particular, is an amazing character, because she’s socially and physically awkward, but remains completely confident. She throws herself at the world as wholeheartedly and subtly as a raging bull; when the call to action comes, Anna is immediately on a horse and out the door. Elsa, too, as a portrait of someone suffering deeply from depression and anxiety, is lovingly and sympathetically rendered. Having two main female characters means that you get to cover more ground, and Frozen is a perfect example of that. And having a film that centers so much on the relationship between two sisters, to the point that it actively rejects the idea that true love must be heterosexual romantic love and instead celebrates their love, is weepingly genius. Between this and Sleepy Hollow, sisters were an emerging trend for 2013. Let’s keep it rolling into 2014!

But Frozen is a thin film, and this is because there’s no real villain to motivate the plot, per usual Disney standards. Originally, Elsa was the villain, but “Let It Go” was such a powerful and positive song that the screenwriters decided to make her more sympathetic. Hans, Anna’s love interest, was rewritten to be the villain, his scheme revealed in the film’s final act. (I really want to know how the film was supposed to end with Elsa as a villain.) It was a smart move; Elsa is far more compelling as she is, and Hans subverts the Disney prince archetype marvelously. But the production failed to take the next step: giving Elsa more screen time to ground her.

“Let It Go” aside, Frozen seems terrified of letting Elsa have screen time alone or, after the prologue, with her sister. During said prologue, it’s a great decision, reflecting the sisters’ estrangement, Elsa’s terrified refusal to let anyone see the real her, and building an aura of mystery around the woman Elsa has become. (And, incidentally, playing to my love of tragic women with the world on their shoulders.) But after the sisters are separated, we see her sparingly. Oh, what I would have given to see a quiet moment of Elsa in her ice palace, feeling safe for the first time in her entire life. And her interactions with Anna are so touching that I wanted more of them negotiating their relationship. Anna’s love subplot was perfectly fine—she and Kristoff are quite cute—but I would have happily sacrificed it to see a film where Anna and Elsa spent more time recovering from their supremely messed up childhoods and finding each other again.

On the technical side, the animation feels a little phoned in to me. There’s something about the lighting that calls attention to its CGI in a way that Tangled’s romantic lighting didn’t. Of course, it probably helps that Tangled was set in summer and Frozen is set in… well, summer, but it’s also eternal winter, so the natural lighting isn’t going to be as lovely. Still, there are reused character models that seemed to jump out at me, and the fact that Elsa and Anna look so similar doesn’t particularly help. I saw this in theaters (the day before the DVD came out, of course), but I think I would have enjoyed it just as much on the smaller screen later.

Bottom line: Frozen is… okay. Anna and Elsa are astonishing characters and their relationship is lovely, but the story’s a bit thin and the animation is a bit phoned in. Perfect for home viewing.

I saw this film in theaters.

5 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Frozen (2013)

  1. The story is a bit thin. You are saying true facts. I just am so happy whenever a movie shows up that portrays female relationships as real and important in their own right. I felt the same way about Brave — not quite enough story to carry it along, but I didn’t mind because female relationships!

    That’s a really, really interesting post about the Saami. Oh Disney. So much appropriation, so little consulting with the people whose culture it is.

    • Right? I’d love to live in a world where I could forget about Frozen because I had a ton of amazing, sister-focused films to compare it to. But every step counts, and this movie is one such step.

      Right? I’m not sure whether to be excited or hesitant about Moana in that context.

  2. I think I love what Frozen could have been. When I saw it in theaters, I enjoyed it, but was really underwhelmed after the pure, forever-love I have for Tangled. That said, I think about Frozen, and Elsa, and Anna, a lot. And I love to think about their story before and after the movie was set. I watched the movie again on a recent plane ride and it was comforting in the sense that I was happy to get lost in the story while I half-slept (I’m a terrible flyer), but it didn’t make me sit up and watch the way Tangled would. All that being said, I will reblog tumblr images of Elsa and Anna for the rest of forever, because I think their characters are, as you said, astonishing. Their relationship is amazing and I want more about it. So hopefully there will be a lot more fan art for me to consume in the future.

  3. Pingback: Page to Screen: Maleficent (2014) | The Literary Omnivore

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