Looking over the lineage of Disney Princess movies, I’ve come to the realization that we are currently in the third wave. It began innocently enough with Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was then followed by the films Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The nineties ushered in a Disney princess renaissance, where animated damsels populated such movies as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin (though not as the central character) among others.It would be more than a decade until the House that Mickey Mouse Built would again bring princesses back to the big screen. Coincidentally, the release of Frozen has been in development for the same amount of time if not longer.
Co-directed by Chris Buck and screenwriter Jennifer Lee, Frozen feels like a throwback to Beauty and the Beast. It was undoubtedly assembled by a team that has a supreme appreciation for Disney films of the ‘90s. The film has the same spirit even if computer animation replaces the hand-drawn variety. And the filmmakers have even made sure to include one of the everlasting qualities about most fairytales involving a princess – “true love’s kiss.”
In the developing stage Frozen was going to be a straight adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” But Lee, who also co-wrote 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, deconstructs the princess archetype in similar fashion to what Pixar did with its own princess film, Brave. Needless to say, Lee captures the same sort of mix of whimsy and romance and talking non-inanimate objects that made Linda Woolverton’s reconstruction of La Belle et la Bête so memorable.
In a bit of storytelling twist, Frozen presents us with two princess siblings. There’s no backbiting where the younger sis wishes to push older sis out of the picture so she can be the once and future queen. But there is a little bit of sibling rivalry in the icy relationship they have. Young Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) is the more tomboyish of the two sisters, with a desire to frolic and play and do anything to get outside the castle walls. The same can’t be said of Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna’s older sister, who becomes Queen after a tragic seagoing accident involving their parents. The two sisters used to be close but an event during their childhood caused a separation between the two leaving Elsa to isolate herself from others. Born possessing the powers over ice and snow, Elsa has spent most of her adolescent youth sheltered away from Anna as a means to keep her safe. But when things go awry during her coronation, Elsa flees the castle and the kingdom of Arendelle towards the snowcapped mountains to create her own Fortress of Icy Solitude that would put Superman’s to shame. Shocked about the magical revelation, Anna goes in search for her big sister with the help of an ice-cutter named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff).
Because it wouldn’t be a Disney film if we didn’t have at least one or two talking inanimate objects, Frozen offers us two side characters to give the film extra cuteness (read: entertain the kids). First, we have Sven, a reindeer that doesn’t talk, but does enough non-verbal communication to illicit laughter with the tykes. Then there’s Olaf (Josh Gad) who, as the talking Snowman, is blatantly silly. His goal as a secondary character is to lighten the mood as comic relief when the thematic elements verge to darker territory. Kids will love him.
While watching Frozen two fictional characters sprang to mind. The first was The Monster from Frankenstein. The second was Edward Scissorhands. Queen Elsa has qualities comparable to both. Her being born with magical powers only to be vilified by certain members of aristocracy is akin to Mary Shelley’s monster being chased away by villagers. And with Edward Scissorhands, Elsa’s isolation is similar to Edward’s self-imposed isolation once his creator passed away.
These similarities aside, what’s most novel about Frozen is the lack of a definitive villain. At least if talking about a Wicked Stepmother, or a witch with a poisonous apple. Instead, the film’s dominant conflict is Elsa and her inability to control her powers. The ability to control ice and snow is like a double-edged sword. It can make for a short-lived jovial Winter Wonderland. However, it can also make for an Eternal Winter, which is the problem affecting Arendelle.
As was evident with the release of Enchanted (2002) – arguably the film that made the suits at Disney think about starting a new wave of animated princess movies – you need to find time for at least a few musical numbers. It used to be commonplace in Disney animation, but the days of the Broadway-inspired song and dance numbers are a rarity nowadays. Thank goodness the tradition was revived with The Princess and the Frog and here again with Frozen. While there may not be an “Hakuna Matata” among the songs offered, where you will leave the theater auditorium humming the tune, it does have one of the better female-empowerment songs you’re likely to hear with “Let It Go.”
Timed in accordance with the holiday season, Frozen is sure to be a big hit among families in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kids will love it because of Olaf. Older viewers nostalgia will be the attraction. Of the recent crop of Disney princess movies Frozen is light and breezy and engages young and old viewers alike.
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Writer(s): Jennifer Lee, inspired by “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen
Notable Cast: (voices) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana