Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the movies I own and then blog about it. Today's film needs no introduction, as it's still pretty prominent in pop culture today: Frozen. This was originally in my notes at March 30, 2014.
Frozen was almost a bit of a nostalgia trip when it hit theatres. It had been a long time -- not since they halcyon days of the 1990s -- that Disney's latest animated movie had so captured the public consciousness and went on to dominate pop culture for a season. It even spawned a hit song that the world is still singing and has officially grown sick of...Let it Go. I remember when I first starting seeing the trailers, I wasn't too impressed, but then it came out, and started getting many, many good reviews, so I decided to go catch it in the theatres.
And I thought it was...pretty good. Not as groundbreaking as some were making it out to be, but still a worthy addition to the Disney Princess canon.
I still wound up buying it on Blu-Ray, and when I popped up it the machine to watch it again at home, I was hit with a brief twinge of fear. What if my reaction to watching it at home would be the same as Disney and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie?
Me watching Frankenweenie in the theater: Yeah, it was alright.
Me watching Frankenweenie at home: (Uncontrollable sobbing) THAT MOVIE IS SO BEAUTIFUL! THAT LITTLE BOY LOVED HIS DOG SO MUCH!
I grabbed the box of tissues and kept it close, just in case.
Much like the last Disney Princess movie, Tangled, Frozen had a long and storied history. Disney had been trying to get an animated version of the Hans Christen Andersen tale The Snow Queen off the ground since they days of Walt himself back in the Golden Age of Animation. When the Disney Renaissance hit in the 1990s, they dusted the off the project once again and it was placed on their "to-do list." In the 2000s, the project seemed to die again, but when Disney decided to bring back traditional animation with The Princess and the Frog, it was once again dusted off and placed on their "to-do list." It was to be traditionally-animated, but when The Princess and the Frog failed to meet Disney's box office expectations, it got shifted over to the computer animation division. As you can imagine, with 60+ years of story revisions, the end product bears very little resemblance to The Snow Queen, but Hans Christen Andersen still gets a "Story Inspired By...." credit.
The Kingdom of Arendelle is blessed with two princesses: Elsa and Anna. Elsa, the older of the two, was even gifted with a magical ability: the ability to control ice and snow. The two girls are playing one night, when Elsa accidentally freezes Anna. The King and Queen take the girls to some magical trolls in the woods, who are able to heal Anna, but in the process, they have to wipe out Anna's memories of Elsa's powers. The trolls also deliver a dire prophecy: if Elsa does not learn how to control her powers, it would spell doom for the kingdom.
Unfortunately, the King and Queen interpret "learn to control" as "repress them, don't tell anyone about the powers and never, ever use them." They reduce the palace staff to a skeleton crew, and become virtual shut-ins in the palace. Even Anna is never told about Elsa's powers, and the two sisters, who were once quite close, begin drifting apart as Elsa shuts herself in her room, out of fear of once again hurting her sister.
That's why my favourite part in the film is the whole Do You Want To Build a Snowman? number, where we see the sisters growing up and growing apart. Especially the tragic end to the number, where the King and Queen are killed, and Anna desperately wants to reach out to her sister, but Elsa remains shut away. It's heartbreaking.
(Huh. I was hoping to embed the clip from YouTube here, but the search keeps giving me a dozen cover versions of the song. Moving on.)
We jump forward a couple of years, when Elsa has come of age, and she's about to be crowned queen. The palace is opened up for the first time in a long time. Anna is enthralled with all the people coming in, but it cranks up Elsa's stress to 11. Anna meets Prince Hans of a nieghbouring kingdom. It's love at first sight and the two resolve to get married. Of course, Elsa figures this is nuts, and coupled with the stress of the day, her powers go haywire, and she starts randomly freezing things around her. Distraught at the trouble she's caused, Elsa runs off into the wilderness to live a life of seclusion. Just one hitch: in doing so, she plunges her queendom into a perpetual winter.
And thus our heroine Anna has her quest: track down her sister and get her to undo the damage she has done. Anna is joined in her quest by Kristoff, an ice merchant who knows the mountains like the back of his hand, and his reindeer companion Sven. And, because this is Disney, we need a goofy sidekick. That stock character is Olaf, a snowman built and brought to life by Elsa. The joke with Olaf is he's in love with the concept of summer, blissfully unaware of what happens to snow in summer.
But, at the end of the day, what I liked the most about Frozen was its subtle subversion of one of those Princess film tropes: true love. When Anna finds Elsa, things go bad, and Elsa once again accidentally freezes her sister. This time, the damage is worse. Elsa has frozen Anna's heart, and the only thing that can thaw a frozen heart is "an act of true love." Of course, everyone in the film (and even those in the audience when I saw the film) interpret this to mean "true love's first kiss," so the race is on to get Anna back to the palace so her fiancee Hans can make out with her. But then, we learn Hans is the villain of our piece. He mentioned early on that he has 12 older brothers, thus making him 13th in line for the throne, meaning he'll never be king. So he came to Arendelle with the intention of seducing Elsa, then killing her and taking the throne for himself. But hey, seduce the younger sister, let her die, then blame and kill the older Snow Witch sister in the name of justice and get the throne when he's proclaimed a hero? That works too.
So Hans goes off to kill Elsa, leaving Anna to die. Olaf comes in, and builds a fire for the first time to save Anna and keep her warm. Watching this in the theatre, I thought, "Oh! This is the act of true love, right? Olaf sacrificing himself to save Anna." But no. Once she's regained some strength, and realizes she's in love with Kristoff, Anna goes off to make out with Kristoff.
Everything comes to a head in a raging blizzard that Elsa has whipped up as she escaped from the dungeon. Kristoff, Anna, Hans, and Elsa are all stumbling about in the blizzard, trying to find each other. Hans finds Elsa first, and tells her that she inadvertently killed her sister. In her grief, Elsa stops the blizzard. It's a beautifully animated moment, as the very snowflakes themselves are halted in mid-air. With the blizzard stopped, Anna if finally able to see Hans raise his sword and prepare to strike down Elsa.
Given the choice between kissing her true love and saving herself, or jumping in between Hans and Elsa and saving her sister, Anna chooses to save her sister, turning to ice just as Hans lowers his sword.
And that's the act of true love that saves Anna: taking the bullet meant for sister. True love in this story was not romantic love, but familial love. That was such a wonderful little thing that had never been touched upon before in such a tale, that I really liked it.
So, Anna is saved, Hans is locked up for his attempted coup, and with the knowledge that "true love thaws a frozen heart," Elsa finally finds the key to mastering her powers. Rather than closing her heart and living in fear, she opens up her heart and lives in love. She thaws out the kingdom, reconnects with her sister, and lives happily ever after.
And shockingly, none of the subjects of her kingdom go, "Wait a minute. She's got superpowers over ice and snow, plunged the kingdom into perpetual winter on her first day, and now we're supposed to love her wholeheartedly? UPRISING!"
I didn't need the box of tissues watching it again. I still stand by my original assessment that Frozen is merely pretty good. But I've once again got to give props to the music. The songs were written by the husband and wife duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who also gave us the hit off-Broadway play Avenue Q. Mr. Lopez even teamed with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to do The Book of Mormon. The songs are just spectacular.
Frozen may have had a long journey to get to the screen, but it was worth it.