Like 2010’s Tangled, Frozen may well represent the kind of thing Disney Animation are going for nowadays, trying to relive their past of cartoon musical hits adapted from fairy tales, whilst making (still oft-criticized) baby steps to break ground in story and character, and all the while remaining thoroughly up-do-date from a technological perspective with their CG animation. Frozen can be called much more of a success in the latter regard than the former, creating a luscious icy landscape, a fantastical expansion of glacial Scandinavian scenery, accentuated by sweeping, active visuals.
As they are known to do, Disney has adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen very, very loosely. The protagonist, Anna, and the Snow Queen character Elsa are sisters now. Beginning when they are young princesses, Elsa displays X-Men like powers to create and manipulate ice and snow, but can’t control them fully, accidently injuring Anna. Their Royal parents have some trolls wipe Anna’s memory (don’t ask) and bring them up in separate areas of the castle. Elsa’s handling of her ability remains undefined as she grows, and after unwittingly revealing it to the general population, she flees to to the mountains to escape cries of “sorcery!”
In its defence, Frozen continually displays some attempts to modernise the fairy tale family movie and tell an original story. The driving force of the plot is Anna’s quest to bring her sister back home, not only is this a new angle for such a film, there is no obvious villain in Frozen at all. Anna herself is a more active heroine than some, yet also displays a good deal of the teenage over-romantic naivety Disney has celebrated in the past. However, for the first time I can recall, she is called out on this, by both her sister and Kristoff, a young ice-cutter she meets along the way, to dramatic and comedic effect in a clever subversion of the ‘love at first sight’ troupe.
Disney can’t seem to help themselves though, for every new idea Frozen contains there’s an old one too. There are two comedy sidekicks thrown in, Kristoff has a pet reindeer called Sven, whom the animators treat like some freakish dog-horse hybrid. Sven thankfully doesn’t talk, with Kristoff filling in for what he imagines Sven’s thoughts are on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, they are later joined by sentient snowman called Olaf who’s consistently irritating (a lot of Frozen’s comic relief is lacklustre).
The musical numbers seem to come more frequently than a lot of their “renaissance era” films, taking up a good chunk of the running time. They’re a hit-and-miss bunch, with some early ones being rather effective, but a couple of others coming up short (the troll’s song is particularly poor). They don’t all serve to advance the plot either, at one point a mediocre, throwaway joke by Olaf is turned into a whole musical fantasy sequence that I could have quite happily done without. The celebrated but already-on-the-verge-of-being-overplayed Let it Go number is a memorable sequence though, if probably more so because of the animation and Idina Menzel’s vocal power than the song itself.
For a lot of Frozen the story is messy and unfocused, lacking an obvious A to B journey through line, characters go back and forth between the town and the ice castle (which isn’t very far away). Although it threatens a predictably sentimental conclusion, it manages to sidestep it, putting a refreshing emphasis on a sororal relationship over romantic one. This is unfortunately the sole spark of unpredictability in the film’s resolution though, that is otherwise as standard as they come.
Beautifully animated, Frozen is at its best whenever it tries to step outside of established Disney animation patterns, but ultimately has too much tying it back to the canon to stand out, and despite its enormous box office success, when put up against the best of the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, it’s far from the top.