The royal family of the fictional Scandinavian Kingdom of Arendelle has two daughters: blonde crown princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) and redhead Anna (Kristen Bell). After a childhood incident in which Elsa—born with significant powers of cryomancy—seriously injures Anna, the King and Queen separate the two in order to protect them both: Anna from recalling Elsa’s powers and Elsa from becoming afraid of her own powers. Even after the King and Queen are lost at sea, Elsa—too afraid of hurting anyone with her powers—continues the separation despite Anna’s pleas until the day of Elsa’s coronation.
At the summer coronation reception, Elsa is aloof from her sister and tries to keep to herself until her sister falls in love with Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and declares her intent to marry him. Elsa, pointing out the absurdity of the notion, accidentally reveals her cryomancy before all the courtiers and flees the kingdom, unintentionally setting the entire kingdom into a premature endless winter.
With the queen gone, Anna sets off to find her in the hopes of reconciling her sister and ending the early winter. Along the way she is aided by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and animate snowman Olaf (Josh Gad channeling the spirit of John Leguizamo). Unbeknownst to either girl, they have to deal with the Duke of Weselton’s (Alan Tudyk in a role recalling Wreck-It Ralph) conspiracy to have Elsa killed and Arendelle subjugated to unfavorable trade conditions with Weselton.
I notice as I look over Shep’s review of Thor: The Dark World, that my summary is significantly longer than his summary of that movie and yet everything you read above takes place in the first 20 to 25 minutes of the movie. To say the opening sequences of the movie are very narrative heavy is an understatement. Early on the movie feels a bit of a mess due to this. It is very difficult for the first fifteen minutes of the movie to figure out who the protagonist and antagonist will be—in truth, this latter takes much longer because the first antagonist appears to be Elsa!
As for the story, after the incident early on in the movie involving Elsa and Anna, the king and queen take them to friendly trolls to heal Anna. There the troll shaman sets the main theme for the movie: fear will threaten to destroy Elsa. In a much later return to the trolls, he adds that only an act of true love can save a frozen heart. The king and queen naturally make the decision to protect Elsa from fear by—wait for it—telling her never to use her powers, to shelter her sister from her powers, and, without outright saying it, to fear her powers.
Yes, it is that blindingly obvious how dumb that decision is in the movie.
What is commendable about Frozen is how often such obvious stupidity is very directly addressed by the movie. In the case of Elsa’s fear, she knows that her fear has been holding her back and sings as much in the first big by-the-way-Elsa-is-Idina-Menzel number “Let It Go.” Anna’s falling in love and deciding to marry Prince Hans is addressed first by her sister, later by Kristoff, and still later by Hans. Basically, any time you are starting to feel that something in the movie is typical Disney ridiculousness, the movie agrees with you and works that into the plot. Although, do not try to make sense of Arendelle’s rules for who rules the kingdom in case of an emergency.
Since this is a Disney animated movie, certain questions naturally arise: how are the characters, how is the animation, how is the music? With regards to the characters, they are all generally well-played. Most of the lack of character development early in the movie is addressed later in the movie in ways that tie the plot’s many threads together. Another character to be considered is the inanimate one: snow and ice.
The artists for Frozen learned to love and fear snow and ice. Using both aspects of this they have developed a gorgeous world in which snow and ice can at one moment be beautiful and postcard worthy and at another moment be terrifying and hostile. I think of the film’s climactic scene in particular for this latter aspect. The artists also did a wonderful job of representing a traditional 19th Century Scandinavian setting (probably Norwegian given the mountainous terrain). Fans of Kenneth Branagh‘s Hamlet will recognize the similarity of the sets. Where movies like Marvel’s Thor give us a post-Wagner setting, the artists made the real Scandinavia in its time and place a remarkable and new setting.
The music is the one area that I am most undecided about. The movie is very front-heavy with the music, packing five musical numbers into the first 25 minutes—particularly as a servant of the mass of exposition detailed in my summary—while spreading only 4 musical numbers through the film’s remaining 83 minutes. The other problem I had with the music is that it had too many different personalities. The opening number “Frozen Heart” is a gorgeous mostly a capella folk number. The closest the movie comes to this theme ever again is Kristoff’s “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People.” The next three songs are very Disney and then Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” seems to announce that the movie has settled on a Broadway theme. But it hasn’t. There is no one personality to the music for the movie.
Lastly, I want to address the three readers out there familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which this movie is based upon. If you’ve made it this far in the synopsis and are wondering how it is based upon The Snow Queen, there are really only two relations. First is the character of Anna who is analogous to both Gerda and Kai. Her purity of heart represents the Gerda character and her predicament in the second half of the movie represents Kai’s. This leads to the other relationship with The Snow Queen, the movie’s thematic cure: only an act of true love can heal a frozen heart. I will not give away how, but I will say to those who have seen the movie that this clause is fulfilled by Olaf but the movie chose not to recognize it as such.
If you have kids or want to spend Black Friday at a family friendly movie, go ahead and see it. The number of themes the movie pulls together make it hard for me to decide if this movie is better than Tangled—the previous movie it will be most naturally compared to—but I cannot say it is a bad movie. I would simply say it is not Disney’s best, but that is a very high bar.
We saw the movie in 3D, which made the interiors of the palace and the threatening snow really very dark. That said, when the snow is actually falling (or blowing as it often does), it is worth the effect.
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee (Screenplay), Chris Buck, Shane Morris, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, Ciarán Hinds, Alan Tudyk, and Chris Williams.