Monday, December 30, 2013


The kid and I checked out Frozen the other day. It only shares the slightest similarity to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen, so fans of Gerda and Kai may need to adjust their expectations before attending. Instead of a girl-power story of a young girl, against all odds and an evil Snow Queen, rescuing her young male friend Kai, Frozen features two strong female heroines, a pair of sisters (and princesses, of a northern country dubbed Arendelle) named Anna (Kirsten Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). Elsa has a special ability — she can create ice and snow with the wave of her hand. But after some childhood play goes horribly wrong and her younger sister Anna is injured, their parents rush them to some friendly trolls, who take away Anna's memory and doom the fearful parents and Elsa to hiding their older daughter's gift away from the world — and her sister. "Conceal, don't feel," is the mantra they insist Elsa adopt.

Elsa, the Snow Queen - it's lonely at the top of a mountain of ice

Par the usual Disney fairytale adaptation, the girls' parents soon meet a tragically convenient end, leaving the sisters to grow up orphaned and estranged — as Elsa fears that she will lose control and seriously harm Anna and others. When Elsa comes of age there is a glimmer of hope at her coronation that the two sisters may finally grow closer, but that hope is quickly dashed when the impulsive Anna falls immediately for a visiting prince named Hans (Santino Fontana), and Elsa loses her temper and control of her powers, to the horror of her sister and coronation guests. She flees the scene, unwittingly covering Arendelle in ice. She may be forced into a life of isolation, but she is finally free, and no longer hides her ability but exults in it, constructing an enormous mountain castle made of ice.
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway 
"Let It Go," music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Idina Menzel
An intrepid Anna sets out after her sister, sure she can convince her to come home and "fix" everything. She is joined on her quest by some comic (and potentially romantic) relief — Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his lovable and loyal reindeer Sven, as well as a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

Beware, spoilers below:

Frozen has a lot to recommend it. The vocals by Bell, and especially Menzel, are great. I do think, however, that apart from Elsa/Menzel's big number "Let It Go," the songs were pretty forgettable. Does every Disney animated movie have to be a mini-musical? Maybe it's time to move beyond Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Pixar and Dreamworks are making entertaining pseudo-Broadway song free animated movies.

Olaf the snowman is adorable and sure to have multiple spin-off cartoons, as his character of a snowman who yearns for sunnier days is just too great to resist. After the sisters have an unsuccessful reunion Elsa once again unwittingly injures her sister, lodging a shard of ice in her heart, You would think that after being able to build such an amazing palace of ice (a truly gorgeous sequence) she might pay a little more attention to what she does with her flying ice hands.)

Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven in a beautiful ice forest

When the trolls confirm that the only thing to melt the ice that is slowly freezing Anna's heart is an act of true love, it is assumed that true love's kiss will save the day. The audience knows that Kristoff, not Hans, is the candidate for that job. But there is a last-act plot turn that spoiled a bit of the magic for not just me, but my daughter. The screenwriters make Hans a truly nasty villain, robbing Anna of the ability to realize for herself that she doesn't really love him. They do minimize that blunder by having the love that saves the day be that between the sisters, and not dependent on romance, which, admittedly, is great. But the sour, clichéd character of Hans still hung over our movie-viewing experience as we exited the theater.

That said, I would still recommend Frozen. Making Elsa a conflicted and not evil Snow Queen was an interesting choice. Along with Tangled and Brave, Disney's princess stories are trying to take some forward steps. Teeny, tiny, baby steps forward. But next time let the girl be strong on her own and make her own decisions about love, and not let her get dumped and disappointed by a bad guy so that she then notices a good one. Let the conflicted, "dark" girl like Elsa be the main focus rather than her spunky, cute sister. Could Disney manage a story that didn't have princesses in it at all? The original Snow Queen didn't need Gerda to be a princess. Far from it — she and Kai were poor. Not every girl dreams of being a princess. Remember Lilo and Stitch? It's worth a try.


Mario R. said...

Sounds more like the story borrows a few elements from the Anderson original than that it's an adaptation as such. Even not having seen the film, however, I agree with your general analysis of the idée fixe the Disney studio is into of making every girl a princess, even if she wasn't born one. (Tiana, in The Princess and the Frog, for example, starts out as a waitress, although at least her prince was poor and disinherited). Making every child feel special is one thing, but the "princess" thing goes beyond that. Lilo was such a great character, and mercifully free of all the "princess" aspects, including her physical appearance.--Mario R.

xoxoxoe said...

Many fairytales feature princesses, but many don't (like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, etc.) Disney has made its share of princess/fairytale adaptations over he years, but I don't think the Princess Culture really hit until the '90s. Maybe that's when I became aware of it, but it seems mostly centered around marketing. Maybe that's when Disney upped its retail presence with its stores? Hmmm ...

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