Ever since “Princess and the Frog” magically removed the dust off the colored pencils of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, the company has been on a delightful upswing that – due to Pixar’s recent struggles and puzzling focus on sequels – has taken the house of mouse back to its rightful place as the most prominent animation studio in the world. “Tangled” marked the peak of post-renaissance Disney fairy tales, “Winnie the Pooh” and its silly simplicity tugged audiences’ heartstrings with sensitive candor, and “Wreck-It Ralph” was remarkably original. “Frozen” is the next step on that ladder, and although it heavily borrows the visual lines of “Tangled”, it is a marvelous step forward in terms of script and storytelling. In fact, it is so loosely based on its source material – Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” – that calling it the best original script to come out of the studio would be no exaggeration.
Anna and Elsa are the princesses of Arendelle. The two lead a healthy and happy childhood, developing a strong bond of friendship and partnership. Elsa was born with the power to create ice and snow, and one day – while playing with her sister early in the morning – Elsa accidentally hits Anna with her power, almost fatally injuring her. Anna is rushed to the Trolls, who are able to heal her but erase all memories she had of Elsa’s power while maintaining the happy playful childhood moments intact. The accident disrupts the relationship between the sisters. Elsa, understandably traumatized by what she did, keeps away from her sister in order to protect her from further injury, while Anna grows lonely, failing to remember why exactly her beloved sister has been locked in her room for years.
In spite of their mutual love and care for each other, the now distant sisters could not be more different. Elsa, fearful that she cannot control her powers, carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and pushes people away. Anna, on the other hand, due to the emotional void left by her sister’s sudden defensive attitude, is willing to trust and become close to anyone that displays care towards her. Every trait of their personality is strongly supported by their childhood accident and everything that happened afterwards, and therefore Disney is able to create two incredibly complex good-hearted characters whose relationship is in the need of mending. That deep development unravels relatively quickly, but it is remarkably effective and true.
On the day of Elsa’s coronation, the bond between the sisters suffers its most serious rift yet. As the castle doors are opened for the first time in years, Anna falls in love with a charming prince and decides to marry him on the very same day. Elsa, shocked by the absurdity of the situation and fearful of having more people enter the family’s circle, forbids it and, as the two of them argue, Elsa loses control of her powers in front of the whole kingdom and is, to a certain degree willingly, forced to isolate herself in the mountains, freeing her powers and creating a devastating eternal winter.
Anna’s sudden marriage, in all its ridiculousness, reveals two of Frozen’s greatest qualities. First and foremost, it shows that every single action characters take and every corner the story turns is strongly backed up by its script. Her eagerness to find someone is easily explained by her needy nature, a direct consequence of growing up alone in a castle with her sister and best friend constantly locked in her room. While Elsa’s outburst comes in the heels of her inability to handle her powers properly, something that nearly caused her sister’s death. The second quality comes in when characters make fun of Anna for her abrupt marriage and sudden finding of a “true love”, making Frozen show itself as intelligently aware of the clichés of the fairytale genre, only caring to naturally step into them when it wishes to do so.
Even though it does present characters with evil intentions, Frozen never makes the story gravitate around them. Their role is relatively minor when compared to the relationship between Anna and Elsa. That is the true source of the core problem that is used to move the plot forward – the endless winter and Anna’s attempt to make Elsa realize what she has inadvertently done – and it gives both movie and personages an impressive depth. It is never about darkness and goodness. It is about the twisted turns life sometimes takes when everything seems to be so sweet, how we react to those issues, and the outcome our actions, that are often selfless in relation to us and selfish regarding others, can have on those around us.
Neither Elsa nor Anna is truly to blame, and the wish that those two characters come out of this ordeal on top keeps the movie engaging throughout its run. Anna is the little sister we all wish to protect, she is naive and well-intended to a fault. Elsa, meanwhile, is the tragic figure who punishes herself for something that was not entirely her fault.
Frozen might deal with some pretty serious subjects, but it is a movie that is sometimes as light as a feather, and – naturally – the credit goes to its humor. Olaf, the talking snowmen who desperately wishes for the return of Summer, plays the role of the traditional sidekick that tells jokes when things take a turn towards the worse. However, when millions step out of Disney stores carrying his plush as the Mouse fills up his wallet, it will be money well-earned. The character is not only downright hilarious and far from annoying, but he also has a role to play and adds emotional value to the storytelling.
At its heart, Frozen is a musical. It might be Disney’s most music-packed film since both “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid”, as it even features segments of sung dialogue in certain emotional peaks. It might displease the ears of a modern audience who has grown unaccustomed to seeing music in a cartoon, and it will certainly receive frowns from those who do not appreciate the genre. However, for everyone else, it is a delight to watch Disney – which has just recently brought back music to its flicks – bet so heavily in so many songs. Even if all the numbers do not have the same high level of quality (one in particular is responsible for the only low point of the movie), the soundtrack is undeniably strong, and anyone who does not leave the movie theater with “Let it Go” – the movie’s centerpiece and the moment on which Elsa frees herself of her burdens and traumas – stuck on their heads might have to think twice about buying a ticket to see any animation again.
It is hard to find someone who did not have their childhood deeply marked by an animation. As a child of the 90s and someone who grew up in the midst of the Disney Renaissance, Frozen – sadly – cannot be that movie for me. As I walked out of that theater, though, moved by the film’s power, I could not help but smile and be happy that the Walt Disney Animation Studios are back to producing pictures with enough force to be generation-defining to millions of children. They are definitely blessed to be able to call Frozen the movie of their childhood, and they will certainly do so a few years down the line.
To those whose biological clocks are not timely adjusted to its release – the ones whose childhood has already sailed away and all the children that are yet to come – there is still hope though. We can appreciate and be in awe at the sheer magic that is Frozen and, in turn, we can praise it and preserve it for years to come so that – like all timeless classics – new audiences can discover it even decades after its original release. It is an extremely valuable and entertaining heritage; one that teaches lessons about sisterhood and life without being pedantic, and keeps the wheels of a growing legacy turning. Walt would be proud.