I obviously don’t try to hide my love of animated films: I’m part of the Disney generation. I grew up with Jasmine, Belle, Ariel, Meg, and Mulan; as I got older, Tiana and Rapunzel were added to the lineup of Disney heroines. No matter how old I get, though, I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t want to see the newest animated musical from Disney. (I’m twenty-three, if I were going to grow out of it, you’d think I would have done it by now.) So of course I saw Disney’s newest film, Frozen, which came out on November 27. Everyone has been raving about Frozen, calling it the best Disney movie since Beauty and the Beast. It certainly had the best opening weekend of a Disney animated musical since The Lion King, but I wasn’t so sure. I liked The Princess Frog and Tangled, but they still weren’t quite up to the standards I had come to expect as a child growing up on these flicks. So I went into Frozen with an open mind, if not very high expectations.
Frozen follows the story of two princesses in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle: Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell.) Elsa has a magical gift to create snow and ice. But after a traumatic childhood event, Elsa hides herself away and tells no one about her gift, while Anna grows up essentially alone. On Elsa’s coronation day, she and Anna get into a fight and Elsa runs away from Arendelle, leaving the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna follows her sister to find Elsa and bring her back. She teams up with Kristof (Jonathan Groff,) a surly mountain man, his reindeer Sven, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad.) By the end of the film, I had definitely fallen in love with the characters of Frozen as well as the story. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s as good as The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, especially through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, but Frozen is definitely a quality Disney film–for the most part.
When I first heard about the casting for Frozen, I was excited. Idina Menzel has one of the best voices in Broadway and I’ve loved her since I heard her as Elphaba on the Wicked soundtrack. Kristen Bell is also one of my favorite actresses and I knew she could sing because of her part as Mary Lane in Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical. Then there was Jonathan Groff, who starred in Spring Awakening and guest starred on Glee. It’s a seriously solid cast, especially for a musical. I hadn’t really heard of the other stars, Santino Fontana and Josh Gad, and I wasn’t sure of their singing abilities, but both were fantastic in the film as well.
However, while it’s become increasingly popular for animated films to get big name stars in order to draw in crowds, I miss the days when Disney would use voice actors. Perhaps it’s just me, but in Frozen I sometimes had issues separating Menzel’s voice and assigning it to Elsa. Basically, because I’ve seen Menzel and Bell in many other things and they both have very unique voices, it was hard to forget that they were voicing the characters and just get lost in the story. It’s a very small complaint, but it still took me out of the film briefly a few times.
To be honest, within the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movies I was looking through the characters trying to figure out who the villain would be. Generally it’s easy to pinpoint the bad guy in any Disney flick because they’re usually dressed in black and ugly. However, there was no one fitting that description in Frozen. For a while I thought it would be the Duke (Alan Tudyk) whose closed mindedness partially led to Elsa running away and leaving Arendelle as a frozen tundra. The big twist of the movie though, comes when Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) reveals his true colors. Hans arrives in Arendelle for Elsa’s coronation and he and Anna hit it off quickly, getting engaged within hours of meeting. But he’s not interested in Anna’s heart, he’s interested in her kingdom and he’s willing to do anything to get it–even if that means killing Elsa and Anna.
However, while I actually really enjoyed Hans as the villain of Frozen, I’m adult. I already know that people aren’t always what they seem. A charming prince might want something more sinister and an old woman might not want to poison a young girl with an apple. Gina Dalfonzo, a writer for The Atlantic, asks: is that really what we want our children to be learning? The moment when Anna runs to Hans for a potentially live saving kiss of true love, Dalfonzo argues, is needlessly surprising.
But just when he should be saving the princess, the male lead reveals himself to be a greedy, throne-usurping would-be killer: Hans leans in, supposedly about to give her that kiss … then sneers, “Oh, Anna, if only there were someone who loved you.”
Ouch. That moment would have wrecked me if I’d seen it as a child, and the makers of Frozen couldn’t have picked a more surefire way to unsettle its young audience members.
After seeing Frozen, I didn’t even consider how this moment would have affected a child but reading Dalfonzo’s article made me nostalgic for the blatantly evil villains from my childhood. What especially chilled me after seeing Frozen was the article “10 Ways to Know Very Quickly If Your Man is a Psychopath” and how many can be applied to Hans. Seriously, it’s horrifying.
Since I saw Frozen, I have been listening to the soundtrack over and over again. When I saw “Let it Go” sung by Idina Menzel, I instantly knew it was going to be my favorite song from the film. It’s quintessential Menzel–beautiful and fun to sing along to. Additionally, “Do You Want to Build A Snowman” is equal parts cute kids song and heartbreaking portrayal of two sisters growing apart. “For the First Time in Forever,” both the original and the reprise, gives a look at the differences between Elsa and Anna as well as how their relationship has changed since childhood. Then there’s “Love is an Open Door,” the duet between Anna and Hans that is cute and funny (though definitely takes on a different tone after you know what Hans turns out to be.) But one of the best songs is “Fixer Upper,” sung by the trolls that raise Kristof, which is fun both in the film and on the soundtrack. Woven throughout every song in the film is a sense of humor that never gets lost even within the strong stand alone tracks like “Let it Go,” or the love song, “Love is an Open Door.”
However, I have two qualms about the soundtrack. First off, Jonathan Groff is an amazing singer. Have you heard the Spring Awakening soundtrack? Or his duet with Lea Michele covering Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”? He’s fantastic. I would even go so far as to say he is one of my favorite male singers (in addition to fellow Spring Awakening alum, Skylar Astin.) So why? Why? WHY did he only get one song on the soundtrack? A song that didn’t even showcase his talents! Sure, “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” is a cutesy, hilarious track, but it’s not exactly along the lines of “Let it Go” or “For the First Time in Forever.” Why go through the trouble to hire someone like Groff and then not even give him a decent singing part? I’m actually baffled–and angry.
My other problem with the soundtrack is Demi Lovato’s version of “Let it Go.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Demi Lovato–probably more than many other twenty-three year olds–but the point that’s insinuated by her cover is that Idina Menzel’s original version isn’t a good enough single to go along with the film. It’s an insult to Menzel and all of us who grew up with Disney films. My coworkers with young nieces and nephews have told me that apparently the kids today enjoy Disneymania and other similar covers more than the original songs. Let me repeat: they like the pop stars’ covers of original Disney songs better. I’m sorry, but I can’t endorse anything like that. I very much dislike Kidz Bop and everything similar because it panders to the idea that children can’t enjoy things that aren’t catered to them. There’s no reason kids can’t listen to Macklemore’s original version of “Thrift Shop” or the original “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. I don’t get it. And for that reason, I can’t enjoy Lovato’s version of “Let it Go.” (I also just don’t like it as much.)
Frozen is a magical, wonderful fairytale based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” Frozen combines everything we have come to expect of a Disney film. To quote Belle: “Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!” (It’s actually kind of scary how accurate that is.) Frozen has princesses and tales of true love, though the film puts its own spin on the classic elements of a Disney flick. I can’t remember the last time a Disney movie had two princesses, or the last time any Disney characters had siblings at all, actually. But my favorite twist on the classic fairytale is the way that Anna cured her frozen heart with an act of true love. In most fairytales, that usually means a kiss and even Anna thinks of a kiss at first. What actually cures her, though, is sacrificing her life for her sister. Although romance plays a big part in Frozen, the relationship between Anna and Elsa is more important. Perhaps that isn’t a characteristic of classic Disney, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.
However, this is going to be the most immature complaint, but we’re talking about a children’s animated musical so I feel I’m allowed: Frozen will never be as good as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, or Hercules because I watched it as an adult. There’s something magical about those Disney movies I grew up with that has nothing to do with the actual films: nostalgia. No matter how old I get, I can always go back and watch The Little Mermaid or Mulan with my friends and forget all the troubles that come with being an adult. I’ll never have that with Frozen or Tangled or The Princess Frog. This isn’t really even a criticism of Frozen. Sure, some things are different in this film than in the ones I grew up with, but the real reason Frozen doesn’t feel like classic Disney isn’t because the movies are different, it’s because I’m different. That’s a hard pill to swallow. But at least all those old Disney movies will still be there, and there will always be new Disney films that can, even for a little while, remind me of the magic from my childhood.