Frozen review: This modern Snow Queen will melt your heart
But while Brave ended up being boring and strangely unadventurous, Frozen's princesses are wonderfully modern despite their old-fashioned setting.
Since 1937, when the animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was released, Walt Disney Animation Studios has stuck to a formula for its princess stories. A beautiful princess, in order to live happily ever after with her prince, had to face all sorts of magical dangers. She sang songs, danced, pranced with cute animals. In the climax, when faced with something evil, the princess' eyes widened, her lips parted in a horrified gasp and she squeezed her eyes shut, because what's the point of having a prince if the princess has to do all the heavy lifting?
From Snow White to Disney's adaptation of The Snow Queen, Frozen, a lot has changed. Frozen keeps a tight grip on many Disney staples. Delicate princess with enormous eyes: check. Cute sidekick: check. Love of life who is BFF with a snorting animal: check. Lots of songs: check. General feeling of fuzzy contentment: check. But writers Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris borrow a few basics from the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and let their own tale soars away from the old story to tell one that is heartwarming and modern.
Elsa and her younger sister Anna are the two princess of the fictional Scandinavian country of Arendelle. As little girls, they're inseparable until a curse lands Elsa with the power of turning things she touches into ice. Elsa realises how dangerous she is when she accidentally almost kills little Anna. Worried by her inability to control this terrible power, Elsa agrees with her parents' decision to separate her from Ana. Ana has no idea that her elder sister is suffering from a curse and after their parents die unexpectedly, the two girls grow up in a gloomy castle, together yet apart because Elsa keeps herself locked in her room.
When Elsa comes of age to assume the crown of Arendelle, the gates of the castle are opened up for the first time in years. Ana is thrilled. There are other people in the castle, she's all dressed up, Elsa's come out of her room and, as if all this wasn't awesome enough, she and a super smooth prince have fallen in love. Elsa proves to be a killjoy when she tells Ana she can't marry literally the first man she's met within a few hours of meeting him. But it's love at first sight, wails Anna and throws a tantrum. Elsa panics and suddenly, there are icicles shooting out of Elsa's hands.
Hating herself and her curse, Elsa runs away, leaving Arendelle frozen in unseasonal snow and ice. Far away in the mountains, Elsa builds a spectacular ice castle and for the first time in years, she relaxes because here she is truly alone and there's no one she can hurt. She can finally be herself.
Anna, however, is not ready to give up on Elsa even though the rest of the kingdom thinks Elsa is an evil sorceress. With help of a little snowman named Olaf and a hunky ice-dealer named Kristoff, Anna sets off to fix things, return summer to Arendelle and bring her sister and queen home.
Frozen might be inspired by The Snow Queen but it is cheerfully unfaithful to this source. Elsa is no evil, frosty vision of twisted and toxic maternity like the original Snow Queen. She's a young woman in difficult circumstances, frightened, trying to understand her abilities and burdened by expectation and convention. It's easy to sympathise with her and marvel at her ability when she builds her spectacular palace in the mountains. Next to her, Anna is very much a child who needs to grow up and she does in the course of the film.
The biggest twist in Frozen comes in the way it treats the love story that has usually been at the heart of all Disney princess' tales. Anna's life is anything but simple and adding to its complications is the piece of ice that shot out of Elsa's fingers and embedded itself in Anna's heart while the sisters were arguing. The ice slowly starts to freeze the life out of her and only an act of true love can save her life. You'll never guess what that act of love turns out to be.
There's so much to love in Frozen. Josh Gad as the snowman Olaf is absolutely adorable. Of the numerous original songs in the film, my favourite was the one in which a family of trolls try to hardsell Kristoff to Anna as a potential love interest.
"Is it the clumpy way he walks or the grumpy way he talks? Or the pear-shaped, square-shaped weirdness of his feet? And though we know he washes well-he always ends up sort of smelly But you’ll never meet a fellow who’s as sensitive and sweet!"
Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, is the perfect princess for a modern fairy tale. Menzel won a Tony for her performance as the Wicked Witch in the Broadway musical, Wicked, and she does a fine job of depicting Elsa as both fearsome as well as vulnerable. It's one of those rare cases where being typecast may not be a bad thing. Kristen Bell plays Anna, who is all the more lovable for the way she learns from her mistakes and doesn't lose heart.
Few could have imagined that Disney, the traditionalist, would do a better job than Pixar at producing a modern fairy tale heroine, but Frozen is a much more accomplished and fun film than Brave, the Pixar attempt at a girl-friendly fable that was released last year. Frozen's feet are firmly planted in the fairy tale tradition, which is why princes, magic and happy endings are a must.
But while Brave ended up being boring and strangely unadventurous, Frozen's princesses are wonderfully modern despite their old-fashioned setting. Elsa and Anna aren't constrained by tradition and both of them end up making unconventional choices. The moral in Frozen is simple: everyone's happy when the women are happy, and the women are happy because they know they've got each other's back.
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