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Frozen Review: Pure Disney Magic
There’s something inherently magical about a great Disney film. Whether it’s an assortment of whimsical settings, tales of faraway lands, clever dialogue, modern themes, or well-written stories, something about the way the studio crafts a film often has the ability to transport us to a place of pure magic. And, while the studio has had their missteps in the past, when they do create a solid and cohesive work, the result is often something so well done that it becomes deserving of becoming a modern classic. Frozen is no exception to this.
An adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Snow Queen, Frozen tells the stories of Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), two princesses living in the beautiful kingdom of Arendelle. Tragedy strikes the castle when the King and Queen learn that Elsa’s frozen magical abilities are no longer under her control and she accidentally freezes a part of her sister. After calling on the help of some neighboring trolls (naturally), Anna’s memory of Elsa’s powers are erased, and Elsa is warned that fear will always be the biggest barrier to controlling her powers.
In an attempt to keep anyone from discovering her strange abilities, the King and Queen shut the girls away from any contact outside of the castle. This, of course, causes the girls to develop in two very different ways. Elsa becomes the loner, comfortable in solitude as she tries to make sense of the terrifying power that is seemingly out of her control. Anna, on the other hand, becomes a reluctant youth who craves to experience the outside world for herself.
It’s when Elsa is crowned Queen of Arendelle that the two finally experience the outside world, with two very different results. Anna quickly takes to the party life, dancing in the ball and swooning over one of the guests. Elsa, on the other hand, loses control of her abilities and makes a run for it, leaving Winter in her wake as she entrenches Arendelle in a deep freeze.
Thus, it’s up to our intrepid hero Anna to try and find her sister in an effort to get Elsa to unfreeze the land and make amends with her people.
The most interesting part of Frozen was its ability to create solid and cohesive characters that each feel distinctly unique and different from each other. Anna especially goes through her own interesting arc, changing from the naive flirt seen in so many Disney films of old into a adventurous and independent young woman whose love for her sister fuels her every move. Sure, we’ve seen it in films before, but the lesson she learns and the strength she finds within is still a fun and satisfying arc to witness.
Elsa, on the other hand, is a character ruled by fear who slowly grows to accept her powers and takes solace in the abilities they grant her. Not unlike Menzel’s iconic character Elphaba in the musical Wicked, Elsa is a somewhat timid and misunderstood character ruled by her strong desire to just belong and be normal. In some ways, this almost could have become a fascinating villain origin story showing a fearful character becoming drunk with power. Instead, the film decides to approach her character’s resolution in a different and ultimately interesting way, and it’s completely satisfying and earned by the end of the feature.
Even the rest of the ensemble have their own distinct traits that separate them from the leads and help them to stand on their own as unique characters, from Olaf the lovable snowman (Josh Gad) who dreams of Summer, to the reluctant and standoffish ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). They all play well off of each other, and the overall dynamic between the film’s characters is a fun one to behold.
Like 2010’s Tangled, the film feels refreshingly like classic Disney films of old, adapting a classic fairy tale and adding to it with its own modern themes. The idea of an act of true love and true love’s first kiss comes up as a main plot point in the film, but the story takes it in an thankfully new direction that both makes sense and manages to say something about how silly many of the conventions of classic fairy tales really are. It’s this sort of act that both speaks to the film’s sense of self-awareness and manages to keep the surprises coming througout.
The film also adopts a musical-like structure, effectively using songs as exposition to introduce us to characters, express their emotions, and give the film a sense of whimsy that makes it all the more magical. Although there are only a few truly standout numbers, the music repeatedly explores a running theme and acts as underlying connective tissue that both helps realize the story and entertains. There are a few songs that didn’t necessarily add anything to the overall story itself, but they’re endearing enough to be overlooked when considering the film as a whole.
The animations and visual presentation in Frozen are, in a word, gorgeous, with a fine attention to detail that gives the visuals a tangible feel that so many animated films lack. Sure, the character designs are great, the animations are fluid and detailed, and the environments feel well-realized, but any moment that Elsa is harnessing her powers on film are nothing short of a visual treat. Disney Animation Studios is quickly catching up to the visual fidelity of Pixar, and the result is stunning.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who enjoys film and its whimsical properties won’t appreciate the overall charm of Frozen. Yes, it’s a bit rote in the sense that it’s another animated feature that gives us a look at characters who ultimately benefit from discovering themselves and their strength that comes from within. But, it manages to do so in ways that are both refreshingly meaningful and comedic, all while commenting on the way people, particularly women, are portrayed in fairytales of old. From its interesting story and gorgeous visuals to the fun musical numbers and interesting themes explored throughout, Frozen is a work of pure magic that will not only sate the needs of its audience, but leave them wanting more right up to the very end.