Frozen seems to be everywhere. Just about everyone I know has been rhapsodizing about it for ages, and as Christmas gets closer, it seems like there’s barely been a day when someone hasn’t mentioned it or started singing “Let it Go”. And so, eventually giving in to the mass pressure of popular opinion, I watched Frozen.
It was not, I should stress, any particular dislike for Disney, animated films, princesses, or musicals that made me reluctant to watch it. I’m not a monster. In fact, I think all of those things are great. My favourite Disney princess is Jasmine, I can do all of the words for a variety of musical numbers, et cetera. It’s more that I struggle to watch films in a timely manner; I don’t feel like it very often, and then the easiest moment to do so passes. I like films, I’ll happily watch them, I just rarely make an effort to do so on my own.
So it was with Frozen: left to my own devices, I might never have got round to watching it. But vague societal pressure, coupled with the more immediate force of my partner telling me I had to, right now, led to me sitting down and pressing play.
The film is an (extremely loose) adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. There are two sisters, both princesses, one of whom has power to shape and control ice. Her parents decide that this power is dangerous, and so seclude her away from anyone so she can learn to control it. The majority of the film takes place when the older sister (Elsa) becomes queen, leaving her chambers and re-entering the real world. She does not have full control over the ice powers, and her younger sister (Anna) has to try and save everyone.
I wasn’t blown away, to be honest. Frozen did not appear to be the marvelous tour de force that everyone seemed to think it was. In my opinion, Frozen is an alright film – it isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen – but it does have significant issues.
Before addressing those issues, it is only fair to write about the things I did like. Primarily, I liked the sections with the younger sister. Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, is really well realised – she grows up throughout the film, and manages, while being incredibly naive, not to be irritating.
Her initial song, “Do you want to build a snowman” and her bickering with the ice-seller, Kristoff, were (to me) the high points of the film – you get detailed, nuanced characterisation, and a heroine who is more complicated than the average princess.
The ice powers allow the animators to do some really beautiful things – ice palaces erupting from the mountaintops, fountains frozen in mid-stream. Anna’s second song “For the First Time in Forever” has a lovely sequence where she is dancing down a portrait hall, briefly taking the place of various characters in the paintings. It’s a very pretty film, with lots of bright splashes of colour against the white snow.
It does occasionally cross into the uncanny valley, however. Elsa, in contrast to her sister, seems plastic and overly-made up; it’s difficult to empathise with someone with the facial expression of a barbie. Her design struck me as aiming too much for an edgier, adult look – in a quest to make her look grown-up, they made her look fake.
Similarly, one of the supporting characters, a talking snowman called Olaf, is deeply creepy. While this is lamp-shaded by the film at various points, it still doesn’t make it any easier to view the disturbing little goblin as a source of plot-critical advice about love. If it tried to tell me about the healing power of love, I would hit it with a chair. Again, it seems like a swing and a miss – they were aiming for funny/cute, and got nightmarish snowcreep.
Overall, Frozen feels like the inexpert application of a formula. It’s got everything that a good Disney film should have – princesses, villains, songs, and non-human supporting characters. The issue is that all of those are slightly off, and don’t mesh as well as they should. The songs feel tacked on and not integral to the story, particularly the troll’s song.
The narrative itself seems weak – again, it has all the necessary elements, but they don’t jibe together well. It was always going to be difficult adapting Hans Christian Andersen for Disney, particularly with this specific source. Hans Christian Anderesen’s stories are brilliant, but don’t lend themselves well to happy endings. His “The Shadow” is still one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. “The Snow Queen” is even worse, because it doesn’t fit the expected storyline; The Little Mermaid is based on his work (without the harrowing ending) but that story has a clear arc – mermaid falls for human, makes deal with villain to try and win his love. All you have to add is “then she succeeds” to make the perfect Disney story.
“The Snow Queen” doesn’t fall along the same lines. Yes, there is a quest in it, but so much of the story is asides and tangents and events in which Gerda has no agency at all – she is kidnapped almost constantly. Everything just happens, there is little driving force. It is difficult to adapt it without removing most of the story, and then you are left with a totally plain narrative – girl looks for friend.
And so it is a very, very, loose adaptation. Only a few tiny elements were kept from the original story as it went through rewrite after rewrite. It has sort-of worked – you have a coherent story, but it isn’t a very strong one. Scenes that don’t need to be in there are present, acting as filler. Scenes that I would have liked to be included – more about Elsa’s character, for example – tend to be missing. The whole thing ends up quite disjointed.
Frozen is fine – it is watchable, you can sing along, the characters act as they should do. I can think of far worse ways to spend an hour and a half. But it also isn’t great – it’s an okay film, with moments where it gets really good, and moments where it all comes crashing back down. It is a Disney film with all the right bits, but missing the overall vision, the links and focus that would elevate it higher. It sticks at adequate – an okay film, but nothing special.
You can buy it here.