Today, I am here to tell you about a little indie film from Disney that flew way under the radar… Just kidding. We are talking about Frozen!
Frozen, in many ways, showcases the best and worst of modern movie viewing and fandoms. It was released kind of quietly back in 2013 but then built momentum week after week. Its first week was November 22 to 28 and it stayed in the Top 10 until March 14 to 20. Such staying power for a movie is almost unheard of these days. And not only that but the soundtrack was in the Billboard Top 10 for 39 weeks! That’s just insane.
So why did it catch on so much? Why did people love Frozen? Well, I have some theories.
First, Frozen is the first Disney Princess movie about 2 sisters. Between the personalities of Elsa and Anna, you covered a lot of different kinds of girls. You also get to see these girls at different ages and experiencing different things. Just imagine if we had gotten to see Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast with 2 sisters? That would be so interesting.
I have 3 sisters so seeing the relationship between Anna and Elsa is something I can understand. I love my sisters but I don’t always understand them or the way they think. I am more loud and outspoken where another sister is more reserved and shy. I think a lot of people can relate to those differences, and seeing Anna and Elsa’s relationship play out was great.
Second, Frozen had an amazing soundtrack. You may be sick of the standout song, “Let it Go,” but admit it: the first time you heard it, you were impressed. Frozen is the first real belt Broadway musical Disney has done. They have successfully adapted their other feature films into Broadway musicals but they are more classical or mixed sounded rather than belt. I am a huge Broadway fan and I worship at the feet of Idina Menzel, who voiced Elsa, so it was such a thrill for me to hear her sing Disney songs.
I thought Kristen Bell held her own on the songs as well as other Broadway favorites such as Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and Santino Fontana. The songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were also excellent. Even songs like “Fixer Upper,” that other people hate, I think is kind of catchy. The songs cover a lot of musical ground with “Frozen Heart” bringing you into the story like “Fathoms Below” in Little Mermaid. Then, the story grows with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “For the First Time in Forever,” and “Love is an Open Door.” Finally, we get our showstopper with “Let it Go.”
Olaf is also very sweet with his song “In Summer,” which serves as a “Hakuna Matata” reprieve from the tension of the film.
For the third theory, people loved Frozen because it subverted Disney norms. Some will disagree with me on this one, but I still think Frozen made some refreshing choices we don’t see that often in Disney Princess movies.
First of all, Elsa actually becomes a queen, not just a princess. In all the years of Disney films, we’ve never seen a princess be crowned and become a queen. And this isn’t just a throw away scene. I think the coronation is one of the most powerful moments in the movie. Yes, Elsa is worried about her powers, but I think she is also well aware of the pressures of ruling. At the very least, it is important enough for her to lead that she is willing to risk exposure of her abilities.
Frozen also subverts the norms through its romantic plot lines. Anna falls for Hans instantly and gives him her heart. Then, as most of us know, he ends up being a jerk. Some may dismiss this now, but I know many like me were so impressed with this twist. When Anna meets Kristoff, who is more like Flynn Ryder from Tangled, their romantic banter is a lot of fun. I also love the way Kristoff talks (and sings) to Sven. That was hilarious. These are characters I really enjoy.
The subversion of love also comes in the ending where, after striking Anna earlier out of fear, Elsa is able to save her because of love. The love of two sisters ends up being more powerful than the love of a man. I know there are all kinds of feminists who claim this really isn’t so great but, for me, this was awesome. I thought it was neat seeing a different kind of love, sisterly love, save the day in a Disney film. So sue me.
Fourth on our theory list, Frozen worked because it showed character journeys that were raw yet easy to relate to. Let’s take Elsa, to begin with. Elsa in some ways is similar to Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Both characters are told if they be who they really are, they will hurt themselves; however, Elsa’s parents take it a step farther and, though they don’t actually say so, they allow her to believe that if she is herself she will hurt, or even kill, her sister. This creates a fear within her that is truly devastating. Some people fault Elsa for running away. I think that makes her ten times more real.
I know many in the LGBTQ community relate to Elsa, but I think anyone who has played a part or hid who they are can relate. It’s such a crippling, awful situation to be in and that’s what makes “Let it Go” such a wonderful moment.
I admire Disney for allowing their heroine to go to such a dark place, and I love the fact that “Let it Go” doesn’t solve everything. Is that not how life is? We have dramatic moments that seemingly change everything but then we find out that life still kind of remains the same. It’s certainly how depression and mental illness works. With every great triumph is a thousand challenging days.
That’s what makes life hard for us and Elsa, and what drives the plot of the second half of the movie. The main question becomes how does Anna get through to Elsa now that she has had this breakthrough and what does Elsa do next to help her people and to be happy? Or is it better for her to stay in the ice castle and hide? What if she just continues to hurt those she loves because, with the cat out of the bag, now she can’t go back to who she was before? Those are terrific questions.
You even see in Frozen a character arc with Olaf that you don’t typically see in the average Disney goofy sidekick. Olaf is happy and singing about summer but as the story grows he becomes more attached to Anna and Kristoff. We get to the moment where Anna is dying and he refuses to leave her. He says “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours… Some people are worth melting for.” What a great message to teach our children. Love is not about a knight in shining armor or always being saved but it is about putting someone else’s needs before your own.
Of course, with any massive hit there is a massive amount of backlash. I even saw Frozen listed with Foodfight and Doogal as one of the worst animated films ever made. Give me a break. Some will claim it is false feminism or that the story has plot holes. I hate to break it to you, but your favorite Disney films also have plot holes and problems.
And, as for feminism, at least they tried to tell an empowering story. Sure you can pretzel your way into some negative messaging but any arguments I’ve seen are quite a reach. One feminist even managed to find fault with Elsa’s dress claiming it was “astonishingly impractical.” Groan. Scores of performers at Disneyland seem to be doing just fine.
In contrast, Beauty and the Beast is often put on a pedestal but it has tons of plot holes and the feminist agenda isn’t really all that tidy. I LOVE Beauty and the Beast and find many arguments against it weak as well. I’m just trying to prove Frozen isn’t alone in these kind of criticisms. Literally any movie falls apart if someone is determined to break it down.
I get that not everyone is going to love the belt style of Frozen and the story might not be for you, but claiming it is awful just because others love it is frankly kind of sad. What makes me super sad is when people are critical of little girls for loving the film. When I was 8, I literally listened to The Little Mermaid soundtrack every day. I watched the movie over and over again. Just ask my brother and he will testify of this fact. I’m sure it got annoying for my parents but I was happy and so they let me have my fun.
Part of the movie-going experience is obsessing about a film when you are little. Whether it is Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, Disney movies, or anything else, we all can relate to the fun of being a part of something bigger than yourself, of loving something in the intense way only kids can. That’s a good thing! So it really bums me out when I see people criticizing little girls for loving Frozen. Leave them alone and let them love their movie.
With that said, if you don’t love Frozen, that’s fine. There are plenty of other Disney movies to enjoy. As for me, I love it. I love the sisters. I love Elsa’s struggle. I love the songs and the animation. It is a seminal movie in the Disney Canon for me, and I even liked Frozen Fever, so there!
Let’s all enjoy Frozen and to the haters I say “Let it Go!” 🙂
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.