Having grown up during the Disney Renaissance – the period between 1989 and 1999 when animated Disney Classics dominated – I’ll admit to still watching and anticipating new releases. From the makers of Tangled (which underwhelmed me a bit, if I’m honest), Frozen is back on form, a watered down adaptation of The Snow Queen that proves entertaining for kids and adults, and will make you smile and feel a little bit weepy.
The story goes like this: Princess Anna (Kristen Bell), is a fearless optimist who’s elder sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) has shut herself away from all human contact. Seemingly regal, poised and reserved, Elsa secretly lives in fear of her growing ability to produce ice and snow, thanks to a near fatal accident involving Anna when they were children.
When the sisters’ parents die in a ship wreck, Elsa is forced to open the gates of the castle for her coronation. Suppressing her powers for one day is a simple enough task, if only she can control her emotions. Naturally she ends up demonstrating her ice-making skills in front of the entire congregation and, terrified of the consequences, flees up the north mountain while the kingdom of Arendelle is left trapped in eternal winter.
Anna is certain her sister isn’t dangerous and sets off in pursuit with the help of a rugged mountain man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven, leaving her brand new fiancé Hans (Santino Fontana) in charge of Arendelle. Of course, climbing a mountain when you’ve been stuck in a castle your entire life will not go without incident, and the pair encounter Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and my favourite character of all, a hilarious snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who wishes more than anything to experience the heat of summer. Yes, you read that right.
If Olaf is my favourite character, Anna comes in a close second. Disney have clearly taken on-board the critique that the Disney Princesses of old are a little too unattainable, too perfect and too lacking in personality, because Anna is a very ordinary, quirky, well-meaning and silly little bundle of joy, who likes to see the best in everyone and is lonely to the point of talking to herself and the pictures on the walls (“Hang in there Joan!” she sings at a portrait).
During one comic example, an outsider’s description of the “beautiful princesses” is juxtaposed with a shot of a snoozing Anna with her mouth hanging wide open on the day of the coronation. She promptly launches into song because “for the first time in forever” she’ll be able to fetchingly drape herself against a wall in public and shove chocolates in her face.
Elsa by comparison is the picture of the burdened elder sister, the weight of her secret weighing heavy on her shoulders until she’s fled the kingdom and decided she can’t be bothered with suppressing her abilities any more. Idina Menzel’s career has been forged time again by her hauntingly beautiful ability to convey the feeling “screw it, I’m doing this my way” through melody. Let It Go is by far the most powerful number in a film packed with tunes reminiscent of the old Disney. And it’s a welcome return thanks to the talents of Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson Lopez and Christophe Beck who are behind the music, lyrics and score respectively.
Warning: The songs will get stuck in your head! I left the cinema singing, “Do you wanna build a snowman!” on loop, until I gave in and bought the soundtrack. If it’s going to be stuck there, I may as well know more than one line of it.
Yes, Frozen is chirpy and bitter-sweet, filled with every heart-wrenching moment we’ve come to expect from Disney animations. And yet the story telling has moved forward, modernized, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised when trademarks of the genre are turned on their heads, pulling the plot in a direction you didn’t quite see coming.
In the lead up to the release of Frozen, there were a lot of complaints from the moral backbone of the internet about white-washing, something which, in the case of a film based (loosely) on a Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, doesn’t bother this reviewer. One could argue that in the interests of historical and geographical accuracy, Disney were staying faithful to the background of the source material. Of course, you’re entitled to feel injustice, but lets not let the issue overshadow the lessons Frozen is intended to teach.
That is after all, what Disney does best; imparting morals on its young audience, and for all of the institution’s failings, you can’t fault them for that. What does Frozen teach us? That love is unconditional, that despite what Snow White, Cinderella or even Sleeping Beauty may tell you, true love’s kiss isn’t the be all and end all. Oh, and you probably shouldn’t fall into an engagement with a man you’ve known for one day.
The strongest message of all though: Romantic love is not necessarily the strongest.
Frozen is in UK cinemas now.