There is nothing like snowy and wintery films to cool us all down in the middle of this summer, and Debbie at Moon in Gemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon for this very purpose. For this fun blogathon, I chose to write on animated films Frozen (2013) and The Sword in the Stone (1963). While Frozen is, essentially, the winter animation, there is also some winter scenery at the very end of The Sword in the Stone. These are both Disney-productions, with some fifty years separating the two, but one is computer-generated, while the other one is hand-drawn. My arguments will be that there are good enough animations, but they both fell short of their desired mark. While Frozen has great visuals, some music and concepts, the animation’s plot and characters can be criticised. Equally, while The Sword in the Stone relies on a fascinating legend and is entertaining, its visuals sometimes leave much to be desired and its episodic plot is uninspiring. My first post will be about Frozen, and because I critique it in depth, I am also warning about spoilers!
Frozen  – ★★★1/2
In Frozen, Elsa and Anna are two young Princesses of Arendelle who are initially close. Elsa has the innate power coming from her hands to make “snow magic” and cover things in snow and ice. One unfortunate incident in their childhood results in Anna being accidentally injured by Elsa, and Anna then forgets the incident through help. Some ten years later, Elsa is at her coronation, where her unique powers are incidentally become known, forcing her retreat to the mountains and, from that point on, Arendelle is covered in perpetual snow. What follows then is Anna’s journey to persuade her older sister to return and somehow end the winter.
Message and Music
Firstly – the good things. Frozen is a sweet, amusing and child-friendly animation. The biggest merit of it is the touching way in which it explores the sisterly affection and friendship. Elsa and Anna were close when little, but grew apart when they matured. They each have their own insecurities, and sometimes difficulty in communication is the biggest obstacle to a friendship growing. Elsa and Anna both learn to cherish each other through the hurdles they face in the story, and this positive look on sisterly companionship and friendship should be one of the picture’s biggest draws. The principles of self-sacrifice and helping friends in need are also well-presented, and the final climax of the movie when Anna decided to protect her sister with her life is very moving. Besides, Frozen‘s musical scores are memorable and well-performed, especially Let It Go, Do You Want to Build a Snowman and For the First Time in Forever.
One other great thing about this animation is all the wonderful visuals with ice vistas everywhere, with snow looking beautiful and real. Apparently, just to construct one shot where Elsa builds her palace, around fifty Disney computer workers toiled tirelessly for more than thirty hours on the new technology. The main characters are also very well constructed visually with memorable features and attention to detail. However, in my view, the people in the animation that uses digital technology still look too robotic and lack fluidity in their movements. Such robotic movements can perhaps work splendidly for toys, such as in the Toy Story trilogy (1995-2010), or even for animals, such as in Finding Dory (2016), but, applied to real people, they are simply not that good, and the digital technology simply renders human characters a bit too artificial and awkward.
Parallels with Andersen’s “Snow Queen” and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
There are many parallels between Frozen and Andersen’s fairy-tale The Snow Queen. The character Anna was actually modelled on the girl Gerda of Andersen’s story. Gerda is a loving person and a true friend in the story who has a tender relationship with the boy Kai, her neighbour and friend. Whoever read The Snow Queen will immediately see that Elsa in Disney’s Frozen plays the role of Kai. Like Kai, who has become indifferent and withdraws from Gerda in the story when the splinters of the evil mirror get to his heart, Elsa also withdraws from Anna after she accidentally injures her. The same concept of some magic getting into the head or the heart of characters, changing them, is present in both Frozen and The Snow Queen.
Later in both stories, Kai and Elsa are associated even more with snow and ice, and both flee from their homes one way or another. Also, in both The Snow Queen and Frozen, Anna and Gerda set out on a journey to find Elsa and Kai respectively, since both still cherish the good times they had together. Interestingly, a reindeer in both stories help the heroines and there is an ice palace in both tales where the “captives” reside. In the end, both Anna and Gerda are willing to sacrifice themselves amidst all the danger and save their loved ones. However, while the Andersen’s story is clear, the premise of Frozen is more muddled, especially when it comes to the motives of the characters. The conclusion of both tales is the triumph of summertime, love and truth, and the purity of one’s heart saves the day eventually, melting the ice between the two characters who grew apart.
Moreover, some plot elements of Frozen hint at the episodes from Beauty and the Beast (1991), even though that animation is also based on a French fairy-tale. Notable similarities are the invasion of a castle in both films – Elsa’s ice castle and the Beast’s castle respectively. The invaders in both stories think that the owner is “a monster”, and one person should be rescued from there – Anna and Belle respectively. In reality, the perceived monster is not actually a monster.
Analysis of the Plot
Considering it closely, Frozen has a relatively thin plot, with an obvious “Disney glitter” added to the story to make it more appealing. The plot could even have been done as a short because some thrilling actions with wolves and snow monsters, dialogues, as well as songs performed by characters, take up much of the story, and the main story is simply Anna’s journey to Elsa. Disney even goes its favourite way and “kills” the parents of Elsa and Anna at the beginning of the story to make both sympathetic. Moreover, Frozen is not the most coherent or logical animation there is. Many things are left unexplained in the story and many of the character’s actions are puzzling. It is never explained why Elsa was born with the powers of ice magic in the first place, and the fact that Anna alone goes to fetch Elsa through all the snow is odd. Elsa’s social withdrawal because of her fear not to hurt Anna is also a bit strange. The feeling is that, upon watching the animation, one will not even be able to say with any certainty why Elsa decided to leave, why Anna decided to follow and how exactly the story managed to turn from the story about attempting to return Elsa and summer to saving Anna’s life.
Considering the main characters, it is understandable that Disney wanted to break from its dated portrayal of “passive” females in such animations as Snow White (1937) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), where the heroines simply waited for their princes to rescue them. In the 1990s, we had independent, free-thinking and book-reading Belle, who was inspirational, as well as Mulan, the warrior who even rescued her own prince. In Frozen, Disney decided to go a step further with Anna. She is kind-hearted and quite imperfect, and the intention was to make her as “laid back” and relatable as possible. However, the problem here is that there is too much of this message of Anna as an easy-going person, and she is quite annoying most of the time, using a lot of slang. Anna is an uncertain role model because she lacks the intelligence of Belle (Anna does make strange decisions), and does not have the grace and vigour acquired by Mulan.
Elsa is the older sister of Anna, and is supposed to be more rational and serious of the two, with Anna being more cheerful and spontaneous. However, even that “fire-ice” contrast is not very evident here. Then, there is Kristoff, an ice delivery man, whom Anna meets on her way to Elsa. Kristoff comes off as a good guy, but there is also no denying that he is a misanthrope. Kristoff does not hide the fact that the most important thing to him is his ice-delivery business, as well as his trading sledge. Given these traits, materialistic-minded Kristoff could hardly be expected to be a good role model for boys. This is supposed to be an animation that empowers girls, but Kristoff puts Anna down a number of times, even though jokingly, for example, implying that she cannot knock or climb mountains “properly”. These “jokes” reveal more deep-seated concerns with this animation.
Then comes the main “villain” of the story – Hans, who is a prince of another Kingdom. The situation with this villain is more complicated than it first appears. There is no doubt that Hans turns out to be quite evil, leaving Anna to die at one point and trying to makes himself a King through deceit and duplicity. However, Prince Hans actually saved Elsa’s life at one point in the story when someone tried to fire an arrow at her in her winter palace. This action cannot also be ignored, and given Kristoff’s evident materialistic and professional desires in the story, Hans’s wish to get ahead professionally and materialistically could not really be criticised that much either.
The most pitiful thing about Frozen is that its main characters do not really complete their hero’s journeys. Kristoff is supposed to realise that it is not his business or material possessions, like his sledge, which is important in life, but friendship and love. And yet, at the end, he is presented with a new sledge by Anna and is promoted to the head ice-delivery man for the Kingdom. Anna is also far from completing her journey. Before the coronation, Anna dreamt of finding “the one”, and she seemed to have good chemistry with Kristoff. However, in the end, apart from one kiss shared by Anna and Kristoff, we do not see any romantic conclusion or any hint that Anna and Kristoff’s relationship will progress romantically in future. Anna is still a Princess and Kristoff is still a servant of the Kingdom.
In that way, such animation as Anastasia (1997) is more satisfying since there both Anya and Dimitri complete their hero’s journeys there. Dmitri, who was materialist at the beginning, changes his heart and turns away from money, finding his love with Anya, and Anya finds love with Dimitri, as well as establishes links with her grandmother. Elsa probably comes closest to completing her journey and changing as a person in Frozen, because she understood the power of love and sacrifice, and that helped her to control her magical powers. However, even that interpretation is something “too little coming too late” because Anna and Kristoff have been the main couple of the story.
Having said that, the funniest and the most adorable character is probably snowman Olaf, and his number when he sings and dreams about summer is probably one of the best in Frozen. In fact, the secondary characters are delightful to watch, and the trolls’ dance number, as well as the scenes with Kristoff’s reindeer Sven, are quite entertaining.
Frozen has some beautiful visuals and catchy tunes, while it also admirably explores the touching bond between two sisters, stressing the inspiring message of self-sacrifice. However, nothing can really camouflage the fact that the plot is thin, the characters’ personalities are annoying, and their motivations are puzzling, making them very uncertain role models. It does not help that the “villain” here is vague, and the benevolent characters never complete their hero’s journeys satisfactorily. Though entertaining with funny side characters, Frozen also relies too heavily on previous material to be memorable in its originality.
11 Comments Add yours
Due to my granddaughter, I’ve seen this film more times than I’d like to admit. I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Nice review.
Thanks, yeah, if you dig just a layer deeper, you realise there is barely any coherence to it and all these flaws, but it is for children, so it is ok.
I think Walt Disney wanted to make an animation based on “Snow Queen” but he could not because there was this problem with the evil character because Snow Queen does not appear enough in the book to show off her evil intentions. “Frozen” tried to introduce villainy by the back door, but I am afraid they were not too successful either. Hans’s duplicity can be too much to take for the young (Hans appears so likeable in the beginning) and the evil here is a bit complicated.
The muddled plot, thinly written male characters, and an unsatisfying conclusion left me cold to Frozen. And if I never hear Let It Go again, it will be too soon! A better film about female bonding, in my opinion, can be found in Brave.
I agree. I really enjoyed the visuals hence my decent rating, but as you say, a muddled plot and an unsatisfying conclusion there really were. I know it sounds pretty bad, but I am just glad I am not growing up with “Frozen”!
Hear, hear! I liked the one sister making a big sacrifice for the other, but it’s always bothered me that the one girl was locked up in that room. And then runs away. And then wants nothing to do with her sister. Et cetera.
You talked about the characters not completing their heroes journey, and I think that’s what’s always bothered me about this film, only I couldn’t have articulated it so well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film!
Thanks for reading! It is indeed hard to look at some sisters’ decisions and sympathise with them because they hardly make much sense. I am also glad you agree with me on their hero’s journeys.
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Gee, I guess I’m in the minority here, I love Frozen. But glad you took the time to give such a thoughtful and thorough review. Thanks for bringing it to the blogathon!