Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 9, 2014)
Prior to its release, if you’d asserted that 2013’s Frozen would become arguably Disney’s biggest hit ever, I’d have laughed. Frankly, the movie looked pretty generic and ordinary to me; I could see nothing to differentiate it from other recent “princess-oriented” Disney releases like Tangled.
Once I watched Frozen, I still felt the same, but that’s a topic for later in the review. Whatever my feelings may be, audiences ate up the flick – and critics enjoyed it as well. Frozen snared almost $400 million in the US and grabbed over one billion dollars worldwide. It also managed to win two Oscars, including Best Animated Feature.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen introduces us to two young princesses named Anna (voiced by Livvy Stubenrauuch) and Elsa (Eva Bella). Older child Elsa possesses a magic power to literally create snow and ice from her bare hands. This occupies the kids with fun until one day Elsa accidentally harms Anna.
Trolls save the younger girl, but the event terrifies the king and queen (Maurice LaMarche and Jennifer Lee). The trolls remove Anna’s memory of the events and the kingdom goes into lockdown to prevent Elsa from potentially endangering anyone else. This remains the situation for years, as Elsa holes up in her room and doesn’t emerge for any reason – not even to play with her sister.
Over time, Elsa’s powers grow and her parents die in an accident at sea. Three years after that tragedy, Elsa (Idina Menzel) comes of ahe and needs to take over the crown, and this requires that she open the castle for a ceremony. This scares Elsa but excites the ever-social Anna (Kristen Bell).
For a little while, all goes well. The coronation progresses without a hitch, and Anna appears to meet the boy of her dreams when she falls for Prince Hans (Santino Fantana). The pair immediately plan to marry, but Anna doesn’t support this impulsive decision.
A tiff between the sisters results, and in her emotional state, Elsa’s powers manifest themselves. This upsets Elsa and she flees.
In the wake of her outburst, Elsa inadvertently brings eternal winter to the kingdom. Anna tracks her sister in an attempt to correct the situation, a quest that eventually involves mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).
I love Disney animation and I hope to feel dazzled and delighted with every film they release. Alas, I failed to experience those emotions when I viewed Frozen. While consistently enjoyable, I thought the movie lacked a certain magic to make it better than average.
On the surface, Frozen comes with all the right material to succeed – and maybe that’s the problem. As I mentioned earlier, when I went into Frozen, I saw nothing to differentiate it from its “princess peers”, and my screening of the movie didn’t change that attitude. Every element one expects from Disney materializes here, and none of these components does anything to reinvigorate the form.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the Disney format is “tried and true” for a reason. Still, I think Frozen could’ve been more imaginative and inventive than it is. While it comes with a fair amount of fun, adventure and drama, it doesn’t bring anything particularly special to the package. It checks off boxes as it goes but doesn’t manage to rise above the formula.
To a large degree, Frozen offers a throwback to Disney’s most recent era of success, which means it feels very much like the kind of film the studio produced in the 1990s. On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, as Disney produced a bunch of strong films in that period.
However, Disney’s 1990s run satisfied because it managed to wed the studio’s “classic” sensibility with a more modern feel. Those movies didn’t reinvent any wheels, but they updated the formula in a vivid manner.
That was great for the 1990s but not as good for the 2010s. To be sure, Frozen occasionally tries to mock the format. Whereas Little Mermaid wholly embraced the notion of “instant true love”, Frozen makes fun of the concept. It also gets in some jokes at the expense of other typical genre conceits.
That said, Frozen usually remains a traditional Disney princess adventure of the 1990s mold. Given how much I enjoyed those films, I probably should embrace this, and I kind of do, but I still think Frozen comes across like more of a throwback than I’d prefer. Does its ending alter the standard “act of true love” concept? Sure, but it doesn’t offer the radical change some may argue; honestly, the finale delivers a very Beauty and the Beast feel.
Again, none of this makes Frozen a bad film, and it’s usually pretty entertaining. It gives us a good mix of comedy and thrills and it moves at a decent pace. I can’t say any of the characters become especially memorable, but they’re interesting enough, and the voice actors play their parts well.
I just feel Frozen remains pretty average. There’s a certain perfunctory feel here, like we get “Disney on Autopilot”. Frozen becomes an enjoyable experience but not one that gives its genre a creative jolt.