Disney’s Frozen is the second film of 2013 that adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. You may recall the first one, Snow Queen, a Russian import redubbed with an English-speaking cast and given a limited U.S. release in October. Or maybe you won’t recall it – and frankly, you’d be better off. It was a major disappointment on narrative and technical levels, the plot fragmented into a series of unrelated vignettes, the computer animation being on par with a cheap and hastily produced Saturday morning cartoon. Why it was received so warmly in its native country, I cannot begin to explain.
Perhaps popular opinion will shift once audiences there see Frozen, which may not rank among the best of Disney’s animated films but is nevertheless a very entertaining film. More to the point, it’s superior to Snow Queen on just about every level.
As with all other Disney films adapted from beloved fairy tales – or, for that matter, as with any film adapted from another medium – there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by comparing Frozen to its source. I realize I’ve been arguing this point ad nauseum, but I continue to see movie reviews detailing why film adaptations don’t live up to their inspirations, so I’m forced to conclude that the message isn’t getting through. I still encounter people who boycott 1995’s Pocahontas on the laughable principle that it’s not historically accurate. These movies are intended to stand on their own. If you can find it within yourself to think of Frozen as an animated musical and not as a reimagining of Andersen’s story, you will, I believe, be much more open to what is has to offer.
Here is a fun, light, visually enchanting family comedy that, in spite of what the title suggests, is actually rather heartwarming. The images are, to my great surprise, not diminished by the film’s presentation in 3D. There are, in fact, several scenes where the process is used to great effect. For the most part, they involve the Snow Queen’s acts of magic. Tendrils of blue light will often emanate from her hands, swirl high in the air, and form spectacular ice sculptures, including an entire palace atop a snowcapped mountain. Only the film’s songs by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are a disappointment; although serviceable to the story, they’re unlikely to be mentioned in the same sentence with such Disney standards as “Under the Sea,” “A Whole New World,” and “Colors of the Wind.” Where is Alan Menken when you need him?
The story, set in a Scandinavian kingdom, involves two sister princesses, Anna and Elsa, the latter born with unexplained cryogenic powers. She was taught to suppress them following an accident that nearly resulted in Anna’s death. When the King and Queen lost their lives at sea, their daughters, once inseparable playmates, became distant, Elsa often secluding herself within the confines of her room. Years pass, and we reach the story proper; on the day of her official coronation into queendom, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) loses her temper with Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), who has instantly fallen in love with and is set to marry the handsome Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana). As a result, Elsa inadvertently reveals her magical abilities to the royal guests, who are, needless to say, less than understanding. As she flees into the solitude of the mountains, her lack of emotional control plunges her kingdom into an eternal winter.
Anna, ever the optimist, is determined to find her sister and reassure her, which in turn would allow the kingdom to thaw. On her journey, Anna meets a rugged mountain man named Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer sidekick Sven. The pairing of Anna and Kristoff should give you a pretty good idea of what direction the story is going in – as far as fairytale romances go, at least. Where this leaves Hans, you’re simply going to have to find out for yourselves. Anna also meets the film’s central comedy relief character, a talking snowman named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), who sings longingly about the happiness summer would bring him. Yes, I see the humor in a snowman not understanding he would melt in the summer heat. I am, however, forced to question how he even knows what summer is – or, for that matter, how he knows about green meadows, sandy beaches, and dandelions. Rounding off the side characters are a tribe of magical trolls, who disguise themselves as rocks.
I have my suspicions that the decision to title the film Frozen was motivated more by marketing and gender demographics than by what would actually serve the story. Such was the case with Tangled, Disney’s adaptation of Rapunzel, so titled due to the belief that The Princess and the Frog underperformed because the word “princess” made it inaccessible to boys. I find this line of thinking ridiculous. I was a child during the Disney Renaissance, and during that period, I can say with conviction that neither I nor any of the boys I went to school with were dissuaded from seeing The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or Pocahontas simply because the titles weren’t “male” enough. Nothing about Frozen – the animation, the characters, the themes of familial love – would have been compromised had it been titled The Snow Queen. But then again, that’s just my opinion.