For a long time now Disney has been the major purveyor of princess-based fairytales with the same formula working time and again – some evil is overcome and the princess finds her prince charming. With so many iterations it’s now worn out its welcome and the House of Mouse needs to change with the times. And times have changed. We’re now in an age of greater gender equality, hopefully leaving the archaic stereotypes of yesteryear behind, and it’s therefore unsurprising that films have come under greater scrutiny for their female characters than ever before, with tools such as the Bechdel Test providing an interesting insight into the representation of women on the silver screen.
On this level Frozen appears as a chilly breath of fresh air, telling the Hans Christian Anderson inspired story of two sisters – princesses no less – in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. As the older of the two, Elsa is burdened by the responsibility of being the heir to the throne as well as possessing some crazy nondescript ice powers that she struggles to control as she grows up. In contrast, her younger sister Anna, having been bizarrely separated from her sister after a freak accident, is more carefree and cheerfully naive. They both harbour a desire to reconnect like they did as children and it’s this sisterly bond that drives the movie.
The more time you spend in the icy world of Arendelle however, the more the cracks begin to show. Not in the animation, which is on a par with the excellent Tangled, but in the world itself. I’m fully aware that you have to suspend your disbelief for a fairytale, but when said fairytale refuses to develop itself within the defined limits of its own setting, it starts to ask for too much disbelief. Unlike a lot of blockbuster movies released today, Frozen could easily have benefitted from an extended running time to solidify its story roots and envelop us in its snowy surroundings.
Time and effort has clearly been put into Elsa and Anna and the film is at its best when they are interacting and dealing with their interesting sisterhood. Their male counterparts play second fiddle and are as such less engaging, but it’s the right move to let the sisters take centre stage. Comic relief is hit and miss – yes to Olaf, no to Trolls – and the former’s frequent interjections are often chuckle-inducing. And the villain, you say? No clear one to speak of. This is new Disney, remember?
New or old, this wouldn’t be Disney without a plethora of musical numbers and Frozen duly obliges. The range is a little inconsistent but for the most part they are smartly written and catchy from the adorable ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ to the comedic ‘In Summer’. The ones that stand out as lesser efforts have to be the grating troll song ‘Fixer Upper’ and the cringe-worthy ‘Love Is An Open Door’ which is perhaps justified as being needed to set up the film’s radical take on true love. Lastly, ‘Let It Go’ is still a belter being the spiritual successor to Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’, with Idina Menzel (or Edel Dazeem if you prefer) again proving she has some of the best lungs in the business.
Returning to the story, its main thrust is love and just what the heck it is, and to its credit Frozen sticks firmly to it, almost too firmly I noticed on my second viewing as the signposts are apparent early on. But while its centre may be obvious, the spin the writers put on it amounts to a surprising and dramatic conclusion. Along with this unique look, the creators of Frozen have still managed to capture that patented Disney magic and that’s what a lot of people are here for. They won’t be disappointed.
Frozen is Disney’s second confident step on the new fairytale path that started with Tangled, and thanks to its two female leads it’s an enjoyable one too. Which Kingdom will they head to next?