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Frozen review: I have chills

Frozen green light

The showstopping central musical number is a glorious anthem to female power and ability… and so, in fact, is the whole wonderful movie. Disney is finally getting it.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m starved for stories about girls and women

I’m “biast” (con): the trailer was a bit a goofy

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh my goddess. Where did Frozen come from? It didn’t come from Hans Christian Andersen, that’s for certain; this bears so little resemblance to his “The Snow Queen” that I wonder why they even bothered with the connection. It did spring from the grand Disney tradition of full-on Broadway-style animated musicals, like we haven’t really seen since the 1990s. But unlike 2009’s throwback The Princess and the Frog, which felt like nothing more than a tired retread of the pursuit-of-romance motif that had long since been laid to rest, Frozen is — we can hope, anyway — the start of a new era for the wonderful little subgenre Disney has claimed for itself.

Because, listen: Frozen is a princess story, sure. Hell, Disney is doubling down on the princesses, cuz there’s two of ’em here. But Disney is also doubling down on the hints of nascent feminism that Brave hinted at, the barest-bones sort of feminism that accepts that girls and women might possibly want more outta life than to get married. The princesses are sisters — the elder Elsa (the voice of Idina Menzel: Enchanted) and the younger Anna (the voice of Kristen Bell: The Lifeguard, Movie 43) — and this is mostly the story of their troubled relationship. Which has nothing to do with, oh, jealously that arises over them both liking the same prince or something. (Don’t worry! This isn’t a hairy-legged feminazi sort of story. The film fully accepts that boys are totally cute and it’s really nice to be liked by them.)

When Elsa and Anna are small children, there’s an accident: Elsa’s para-ability to make things cold — a sort of arctikinesis — knocks out Anna as they’re playing in supernaturally produced snow, threatening the little girl’s life. As part of the magical cure, Anna’s memory of Elsa’s ability is taken away — cuz it’s probably a good idea that they not play like this again — and their parents, the king and queen of the realm of Arendelle, decide that Elsa should remain locked away, lest she hurt anyone else; Elsa is so terrified of doing so that she readily agrees. Fast-forward to the present, as Elsa comes of age and is about to crowned queen (their parents were killed in a shipwreck). Anna has spent years not knowing why her beloved sister has shut her out; Elsa is desperately worried that, with her powers increasing and not easily controlled, she’s become a monster, and that her subjects will see her as one. The recipe for disaster is in place.

Just to underscore: it’s not Girl Hero and Girl Villain here. It two girls as protagonists revolving around each other.

So who are the villains? Not who but what, in fact: Unintended consequences and good intentions — there’s a strong undercurrent of “Don’t try to shelter your daughters; you may think you’re protecting them, but you’re not” — and the pressures of conformity. (There are also some minor weasels and opportunists looking to do harm to Arendelle, but they’re secondary.) And those villains are stomped, handily. When Elsa finally stops denying her unique and pretty darn amazing arctikinesis, she celebrates by belting out a tune that is a glorious anthem to female power and ability as she creates a wondrous mountain ice castle for herself. Not since Howard Ashman’s remarkably astute lyrics for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid — which were far more about a girl’s longings to be her own person than they are about finding romance, even if the stories around them were — has there been a Disney song like “Let It Go,” as Elsa tosses away “the good girl” she “always [had] to be” and stops believing that “conceal, don’t feel” is a healthy way to live.

I had chills listening to this: someone gets it. (The lyrics are by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez; they wrote the songs for Avenue Q.) Writers and directors Chris Buck (Surf’s Up) and Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), with a screenplay assist from Shane Morris, get it. Disney is finally getting it. Hearing that you’re not allowed to be yourself is stifling to a girl. (To a boy, too, of course… but boys don’t get told that, directly or indirectly, anywhere near as often as girls do.) Bottling yourself up is dangerous.

In Elsa’s case, literally and on a grand scale. Cuz she doesn’t realize that, in her letting go of her inhibitions, she has accidentally also covered all of Arendelle in ice and snow. In summertime. She didn’t mean to do that. Anna doesn’t know yet whether Elsa’s actions were deliberate or not, but Anna is determined to find her sister and convince Elsa to fix everything… and to let Anna back in as friend and family.

Another message that needs more airing: A gal doesn’t need a guy to save her from herself, either.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t male characters here, too, in case you’re worried about little boys having someone to identify with. (Not that little boys can’t identify with girls and women; they just need to chance to do so!) There’s handsome Prince Hans (the voice of Santino Fontana), whom Anna falls hard for. There’s goofy ice merchant Kristof (the voice of Jonathan Groff: The Conspirator, Taking Woodstock), who helps Anna on her journey. There’s even snowman-come-to-life Olaf (the voice of Josh Gad: The Internship, Ice Age: Continental Drift), a byproduct of Elsa’s magic; as comic relief sidekicks go, he’s one of the best Disney has come up with yet, and he even gets one of the film’s best songs, a hilarious and poignant ditty about his longing for… well, you’ll see. (As kiddie-aimed comedy goes, Frozen is an especial treat: there’s not a one “humorous” crotch injury here, and no fart jokes. Incredible.)

The animation is gorgeous. The songs are soaring. There is real Disney magic here. And it’s subverting much of what the Disney magic of old was spinning. Progress! And it goes down very easy.

US/Canada release date: Nov 22 2013 | UK release date: Dec 6 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated BTC: Betchel Test Compliant
MPAA: rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
BBFC: rated PG (contains mild threat)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • MisterAntrobus

    This is quite a pleasant surprise. The publicity I’ve seen for this so far has looked wretched.

  • Cole Millions

    Awesome review MaryAnn! I loved the film too, so did my little sister! Definitely enjoyable for all ages AND genders!

    Oh, and what did you think of the short, “Get a Horse!”?

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    The short is pretty clever. I liked it a lot.

  • Jonathan Roth

    So glad to hear this! I’ll check it out this weekend, I’m sure.

  • http://www.rogue-penguin.com TempestDash

    I’m happier than I’ve been in a while to hear this. I can’t wait to catch this one on Thanksgiving.

    Edit: How’s the 3D? I remember being impressed by Tangled’s 3D but less so about Wreck It Ralph and Brave.

  • RogerBW

    Don’t tell the Disney marketing machine! Clearly this one got sneaked past them somehow.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    The 3D is not distracting, but I’m not sure it adds much, either. The 3D *is* absolutely essential for the short, “Get a Horse!” that precedes the film, however.

  • http://twitter.com/grownduskier Davey

    Wow! This is so different to what I was expecting. I read a blog a while ago that said that when they were adapting The Snow Queen all of the female characters had been changed to men, so I was not expecting a movie that supports feminism. Here’s the blog for anyone who wants a different view (written by someone who has not seen the film): http://thefeministfangirl.tumblr.com/post/54520561695/reasons-why-im-not-supporting-disneys-frozen

  • TheDisbeliever

    “…by someone who has not seen the film…” Exactly.

    There was/is so much hate for this film and Disney from so many people that just NEEDED something to be angry about. That were just searching for anything to justify their outrage. Hopefully the glowing reviews will get people to check it out and make up their own minds.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    In some circles, the prefered term is “cryomancy”.

    I’ll show myself out…

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    I like that!

  • http://www.rogue-penguin.com TempestDash

    Good to know! My son tends to get fidgety with the 3D glasses on so I often have to gauge his tolerance before buying tickets. If it’s valuable just for the short, we may still go with 2D and try out the 3D when it comes to Blu-ray.

  • althea

    Wow from me too! This is the first Disney I’ve wanted to see in the theater in…maybe decades. It sounds great, thank you, MaryAnn.

    I’d forgotten that I’d heard they were doing Snow Queen and reacted the way I usually do – oh no what are they going to do to yet another beloved story? But I see they haven’t actually made The Snow Queen at all. Good for them. HCA (apparently) gets away unharmed.

    Can’t wait to see how the new princesses fare in the Pantheon.

  • Gee

    I was all set to hate this movie. But to be fair, I blame the marketing, which made it look like an exact Tangled romcom clone complete with relatable-because-klutzy heroine and an excess of eye-gaugingly annoying comic relief. I’m genuinely relieved that’s not the case. Just goes to show how misleading trailers can be.
    I am still irritated by the character design of the princesses. Why do all Disney/Pixar women look exactly the same? I honestly can see little difference between Mrs Incredible, Rapunzel, even Merida, and these women: small mouths, button noses and huge doe eyes. I’m not saying I expect them to not be conventionally beautiful, but they could at least be distinctive. Even the original animated Disney princesses are a lot more distinctive in their design. The other design work seems good, though. I like Anna’s little folk-art dress. I hope that it has a real sense of timae and place and Scandinavian influence, and doesn’t come off too generic fantasy-kingdomy.
    Still, I’ll definitely watch this now I know it has a good story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1186107134 MarkyD

    I’m surprised, just like everyone else. The one trailer I saw was awful.

    I like that this isn’t full of big name celebrity voices, just because. I can’t stand that almost every animated film(Dreamworks, moreso) does that now. I don’t care about who does the stinking voice! Just give me a great story, with great characters, and animate the crap out of it.

  • Danielm80

    Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Alan Tudyk are big names in my household. (I live in a one-bedroom apartment.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1186107134 MarkyD

    Yeah, and you are a total movie goober, right? You review them like MaryAnn does? So of course those names are familiar to you.

    Heck, I love movies quite a bit, but only know two of those(Kristen and Alan).

    From a mainstream perspective, most of the general audience would probably only know Kristen Bell. And even she isn’t really all that popular outside of the younger demo.

    Are they using their names in the commercials? I haven’t seen one. Somehow, I doubt it.

    To me, when advertising relies on big names to sell, it tells me you don’t have much confidence in your movie. Either that, or no confidence in your audience to know what a good movie is, which kind of makes sense, considering the junk that does well.
    Anyway, I’m happy this turned out well, regardless of voices and marketing.

    Tangents, man,

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Menzel and Groff are mostly familiar only to serious theater geeks, actually.

  • Danielm80

    My one-bedroom apartment is filled with theatre geeks and movie goobers.

  • Bri

    For magic, cryomancy is a good term, though MaryAnn’s use of ‘arctic’ is more evocative.
    If one goes with a ‘psychic’ power theme, many use cryokinesis (as the opposite of pyrokinesis)

  • RogerBW

    Strictly speaking, “arctomancy” would be the magic of bears.

  • althea

    Menzell is pretty well known now. She’s been in movies (“Enchanted”), on TV (recurring on “Glee”, among others) and shows up on the talk shows quite a lot.

  • Danielm80

    I love the fact that, in the closing credits, someone gets a credit for “Caffeination.”

    There’s also a pretty funny disclaimer right before the credit cookie.

  • bracyman

    Hell yeah! Why hasn’t anyone made that movie?

  • http://www.BalloonStoryteller.com Balloon Storyteller

    GREAT article MaryAnn. I was also surprised by this film. As a children’s entertainer, I see most of Disney’s stuff. With Brave they were on the right track with the strong female leads, but in this one, I think they made more of the relationship between women. Also, I love that the main conflict in the story isn’t caused by someone being evil or misbehaving. It’s a great example of something going wrong when people try to do the right thing. That’s just how life is sometimes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1186107134 MarkyD

    My wife and I saw this on Sunday. I liked it quite a bit, but did have a few problems.

    I really didn’t like the stupid snowman sidekick. There was a few funny moments with him(it?), but I was mostly just annoyed. Totally interjected to make the kiddies laugh. The presence of this character didn’t help the movie one bit, but it didn’t really harm it either, I suppose.
    I’m so tired of princess stories. We need stories like this about “normal” females. I understand the whole movie fantasy thing, but it’s just been done to death.

    Most of the songs were forgettable or eye-rolling. Fortunately, the most important one, Let it Go, worked very well. Great scene. Except for her sashaying hips after she changed. That was weird.
    The movie looked amazing. I like anything that reminds people how awesome nature can be. Ice, snow, etc. can be stunningly beautiful, and they nailed it here.

  • Toreyanna B

    Love your thoughts on frozen, Maryann, and I agree. The character design really bothered me at first – I called the movie Battle of the Snow Barbies – but after a few hours I realized how amazing the good things about this movie are. But that short? I was not ok with it. Sexist, ableist, anti-fat CRAP. It was astounding to me that the people who were able to greenlight Frozen would attach it to this piece of drivel with Minnie Mouse being helplessly tossed about for what felt like hours, and an actual joke where a literal Fat Cow replaces tiny Minnie for laughs. Ugh. So sad.

  • Bluejay

    Just got back from this, and wow. This movie SO exceeded my expectations. Excellent songs, first of all — not just “Let It Go” but also “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “Love is an Open Door” … heck, pretty much all of them — and I didn’t recognize the Lopezes until you mentioned Avenue Q, so now it makes perfect sense to me that the songwriting is so smart. (Wikipedia now tells me that Robert Lopez also worked on songs for the unexpectedly-musically-amazing kiddie show Wonder Pets, the always-clever Phineas and Ferb, and a little musical called The Book of Mormon, so, yeah, good on Disney for hiring Real Talent.)

    So many nice little touches. The way that Kristof and Sven “talk.” Anna’s tiptoeing “cold-cold-cold” walk. The image — toward the end — of one exhaled, frozen breath.

    And so many Disney movies feature the Act of True Love that saves the day, but I really love how it’s handled here and the possibilities it opens up. Disney tropes subverted, indeed.

    And it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Really refreshing to see. Well done.

  • http://cereta.livejournal.com/ lucereta

    As someone who spends a whoooooole lotta time thinking about gender in film, just about all I could say as my daughter and I left this film was, “Yes. Oh, dear God, YES.” I think I have listened to “Let It Go” about a dozen times in the three days since, and it is *definitely* going on frequent replay in the car to and from school.

    Slight moment of motherly pride before the movie as we were watching the preview for *The Nut Job*:

    Daughter (very quietly, because she is Very Good in theaters): That’s funny! (Pause) But there’s only one girl! That’s not fair!

    Education coming along nicely.

  • http://cereta.livejournal.com/ lucereta

    I *loved* the Act of True Love. I was pretty sure that was where they were going, and was desperately hoping they wouldn’t let me down. In a weird turn of the meta-wheel, I could see some influence of *Once Upon a Time,* there.

    (Wonder how long it will take Elsa and Anna to show up there?)

  • Dominic

    Amazing how a children’s family movie has to be dissected into an adults view of the battle and suggested inequality of the sexes, but what would one expect when written by an apparent femenist who probably hasn’t had a successful boy-girl relationship in her life. I bet you thought you sounded educated when you said this story beared no resemblence to HCAs original and that is because his stories did not have happy endings, the heroine usually suffers death or other less than desirable outcome, this comes from his loathing of his alcoholic mother but you would have known that if you cared to comment from knowledge rather than ignorance. We are going to take our girls to see it today and rather than interpret the social implications we are going to enjoy a family day and revel in one another’s company. You see for us we believe in raising daughters who will not blame men or society for what their lives become but rather accept the responsibilities and decisions for the lives they have imagined for themsleves. Blaming others for your lot in life especially as an adult is for the lazy and weak minded.

  • Matt Clayton

    The connection between “Frozen” and “The Snow Queen” is very minimal — more along the lines of ‘inspired by.’ Disney released the film internationally as “The Snow Queen” in some territories, because it’s a well-known story.

    But aside from the name, some minor aspects (trolls and the Scandinavian setting), and one of the main characters being able to conjure up snow and ice — couldn’t be more different.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    The hips sashayings were a nod to sexuality, weren’t they? When you think about it, the whole movie revolves around it. The opening song starts out with “break the frozen heart.” Take that as the subjugating approach to female sexuality. Then the next step, instead of subjugation, is repression, “Conceal, don’t feel.” Then we have the sexual liberation movement hollering “No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” In the end, all the extremes are rejected in favor of common sense “don’t marry someone you just met” and love, “putting the needs of another above your own” as the solution to something so powerful and dangerous and sex.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I actually have an aunt and a cousin who are both named Elsa. And my late sister had a first name that was pronounced in Spanish much like Anna. And the movie’s script even mentions my mother’s name in passing. So this is obviously a Hispanic movie. ;)

    But seriously, folks…

    It took a long while for me to warm up to this movie (no pun intended). But I eventually did.

    Though how I managed to get through it without once thinking of Dante or Milton, I’ll never know.

  • Tonio Kruger

    For what it’s worth, my mother is about as Hispanic as actress Kristen Bell but I would like to think she’s Hispanic in spirit. Then again I would also like to consider Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars honorary Hispanics. As well as the Doctor. And Dana Scully. And Indiana Jones. And Princess Leia…

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Huh?

  • Bluejay

    So is this like that macho guy on the other thread, who admires Sigourney Weaver so much that he considers her an honorary man? ;-)

  • Bluejay

    (Wonder how long it will take Elsa … to show up there?)

    Not long. Though why she’s being presented so ominously, I have no idea.

  • Tonio Kruger

    No. More like the gay Conan Doyle fans who like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson so much that they see them as gay icons.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Though come to think of it, Princess Leia does have a Latino stepfather…

  • Tonio Kruger

    If you mean the honorary Hispanic thing, I think I explained that in my response to Bluejay’s post.

    As for the Dante and Milton thing, one of the first links you posted in regard to this movie was to an online essay by a Baptist professor who could not help referencing Dante and Milton in regard to this movie. I just found it funny that despite having read Dante’s Inferno in college, I never once thought of Dante and Milton while I watched this movie.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Maybe because it’s Fairy Tale Elsa and not Motion Picture Elsa.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I do have to give the movie credit for illustrating author Robert Heinlein’s classic definition of love.

  • EM87

    Some people still hate it. It’s actually kinda sad to see grown up people feeling the need to be so angry at something to the point of making things up and spreading this bad mouthing all over the internet, especially if this “something” is a (great) kid movie, with themes capable to appeal to pretty much anyone (aside from those sad people apparently), or the company who made it. Fortunately, the hate is like 0.5% of the love, so they can happily destroy their health for nothing.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Almost every successful movie produces a backlash. The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Forrest Gump… All these were the target of a backlash — yet they were all successful anyway.

    Disney movies are especially prone to backlashes because for many years, it was hip to hate Disney. So Frozen is in good company.