video: Walt Disney Studios
It took Disney years to find a family-friendly way into Hans Christian Andersen’s bleak fairytale ‘The Snow Queen’, in which a young girl must rescue her beloved from a witch who corrupts innocents by poisoning their hearts with shards of ice. The breakthrough came when one bright spark at the House of Mouse had the idea that the Snow Queen and the young heroine of the tale should be sisters. Thus came about arguably the first Disney movie to focus not on romance, but sisterly love. Not on good vs evil, but on blurring the boundary between the two.
A few broadway style musical numbers and a snappy adjective title a la Tangled later and we have the story of Elsa and Ana, heirs to the throne of Arendelle. Elsa (Idina Menzel, voicing a similar part to the role she originated in Wicked) has the ability to control snow and ice, but as she grows her powers become harder and harder to control. When the princess’ parents are killed in a plot-convenient shipwreck, Elsa cracks under the pressure of ruling a kingdom and reveals her powers to a horrified court. Demonised and humiliated, she flees, her torment plunging Arandelle into eternal winter that only her sister may be able to thaw.
Traditional fairytale romance isn’t entirely off the menu however, as Ana’s quest to find her sister and restore summer leads her to enlist the help of two hunky heroes: Hans, a prince from a neighbouring kingdom, and the far less refined mountain man, Kristoff. (Get it? Hans/Kristoff/Ana = Hans Christian Andersen). Here, Disney ventures into further new territory: a love triangle without a clear-cut resolution. Ana also encounters Olaf, her own childhood snowman brought to life by Elsa’s newly liberated magic. Olaf (voiced by The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad) is the film’s main source of comic relief, getting the biggest laughs for speculating about all the fun he’ll have when summer returns…
A sympathetic anti-heroine, complicated matters of the heart and the tragi-comedy of Olaf’s sunny fantasies all help set Frozen alongside Mulan and The Lion King as one of the most mature offerings to come out of Disney’s long history. The film fits neatly into the post-Shrek mould with a heavier focus on all-American action comedy and jokes about the tropes of the old-school canon: “You got engaged to a guy after knowing him for one day?!” This snarky tone might be a better reflection of cynical modern times, but fellow kids of the nineties may feel a pang of nostalgic longing for the superior songs and sheer romance of the Disney Renaissance (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast etc.)
Character designs, too, seem to have become more generic of late. Beyond their hair colours, Elsa and Ana hardly differ from Rapunzel in Tangled, lacking hand-drawn idiosyncrasies such as the creases under Ariel’s eyes, say, or the plumpness of Pocahontas’ upper lip. On the plus side, the computer generated winter landscapes are stunning, as befitting a young audience educated in the lush backdrops of Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Special mention must go to all of the animators who so beautifully captured the properties of different types of snow.
All in all, Disney’s 53rd animated feature is a worthy entry into the canon; charming, heartfelt and frequently laugh-out-loud, even if it doesn’t enchant as completely as some of the classics. The House of Mouse may have evolved, but it hasn’t lost all of its magic.