I’ll be honest with you: I was all set up to hate Frozen. Aside from the not-really-there marketing, the egregious whitewashing, that bullshit about animating female characters being haaard, and the skeevy-looking snowman sidekick, it just looked like a kind of unremarkable movie.
Take it away, Thorin:
Okay, maybe the Thorin gif was a bit of an exaggeration, but this movie was really good. I cried, even.
So Frozen begins when sisters Anna and Elsa are wee children, and Elsa, who has magical ice powers, accidentally hurts Anna, hitting her in the head with a blast of power while they’re horsing around. Their parents take them to the trolls to heal Anna, and the trolls fix her up, but they remove her memories of Elsa’s ice powers in order to keep her from encouraging Elsa to use them. Overnight they go from best friends to practically strangers, because Anna still wants to play with Elsa, but Elsa is forced to keep her at arm’s length so Anna doesn’t rediscover her secret. Their parents die in a freak accident, as Disney parents are wont to do, and they grow up like that, alone on opposite sides of locked doors.
Fast forward to Elsa’s coming of age, when she’s to be crowned queen. She hopes that her biggest challenge will be not freezing the scepter when she’s forced to touch it barehanded during the coronation, but her temper is pushed over the edge when Anna approaches her, starry-eyed in love with a visiting prince named Hans, and asks for Elsa’s blessing on their marriage. The sisters fight, and when Elsa loses it she accidentally unleashes her powers. Horrified, angry, and 20395% done with the double life she’s been leading, she rushes away into the woods, leaving summery Arendelle under a blanket of snow and ice.
Anna rushes after her, leaving her sort-of fiance Hans in charge while she’s gone. In the woods she encounters an ice-cutter named Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven, who agree to help her find her sister, and a goofy living snowman named Olaf goes along for the ride, too. When they do reach her, however, they realize Elsa didn’t want to be found. In leaving the castle, she was able to embrace her power for the first time, and find pride and empowerment in her ability rather than the shame she was raised to feel. She doesn’t want to go back, and doesn’t believe she has the power to unfreeze or give life to anything, only to hurt or kill, and so she chases away Anna and company. When a search party lead by Hans comes to Elsa’s new ice castle to look for Anna, however, Elsa is overwhelmed and ends up captured and imprisoned back in Arendelle.
While this is happening, Anna is starting to lose her gumption: in her fight with Anna, Elsa unwittingly sent a bolt of ice into Anna’s heart, and this time it’s Kristoff who leads her to the trolls for healing. Hearts are more complicated than heads, however, and they say that only an act of true love can heal Anna now.
Kristoff, despite his own burgeoning feelings for Anna, helps race her home to Hans to receive true love’s kiss, but in a wild subversion of everything we know about charming foreign princes, Hans refuses, leaving her to die so he can seize her throne. He sets off to dispose of the other threat to his rule, but discovers that Elsa has already escaped, kicking up a wild snowstorm in her wake. Anna is growing colder by the second, but when Olaf points out that Kristoff is probably also in love with her, she races off to find him and get a kiss from him instead. In the confusion of the storm, Anna races around trying to find Kristoff and Elsa searches for Anna, but Hans finds Elsa first. Anna, in a final desperate act, throws herself between Hans and Elsa, stopping his killing blow and performing an act of true love. She is saved, Elsa realizes that love is the way to melt what she’s frozen, and everyone lives happily ever after. She even fixes up the snowman so he won’t melt.
Anna is spunky, and a go-getter, and I don’t find her character particularly anti-feminist, but I think what astounded me the most coming out of this movie is what an amazing character Elsa was. She never has a love interest, and in fact Hans mentions at one point that previous suitors’ attempts to woo her had never really stuck. She’s the queen, not just a princess, by birthright, and grows as a character over the course of the movie to be a truly great queen. Most of all, though, I was amazed at how much she could be an analogue for a queer character.
Disney is easily years if not decades away from introducing an explicitly LGBTQ+ character into their animated canon, but Elsa is the sort of character that if Word of God handed down her queerness tomorrow, I would not be surprised in the least. Her whole storyline is analogous to many queer kids’ experiences: knowing that they’ve been born different, being shamed by their parents or loved ones for their difference, and never being able to truly be themselves until they’ve escaped that home. Her anthem “Let It Go” was one of the several times the movie brought me to tears, because it’s not the song of a girl who’s afraid and overwhelmed—it’s the song of a woman who is leaving behind a toxic mentality and finally embracing her whole self.
Further quelling my fears about the film, romantic love may be high on Anna’s list of priorities, but Elsa is absolutely number one, and love doesn’t even come close until Anna believes it’s a life or death matter. Anna does seem to need to be saved, but in the end she saves both herself and her sister through her self-sacrifice. And in the end, although she does appear to be happily together with Kristoff, the climactic moment of the story is one of sisterly love, not romantic. (And she shows Hans what-for.)
I also appreciated the self-aware lampooning of the ‘marry the man today’ thing that many princesses from older franchises had going on. When Anna is explaining to Kristoff that Elsa got mad at her because she accepted the proposal of a man she’d just met at the party, Kristoff is appropriately agog and aghast. “You were going to marry a man you’d just met?” he questions her. “Didn’t your parents ever warn you about strangers?” Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora: eat your hearts out. (Though, in fairness, I should point out that while Anna only spent like an hour with Hans at the party, she does still only spend like a day and a half with Kristoff; however, like Mulan and Shang, despite their feelings for each other, the two of them never even discuss getting married on screen.)
Even Olaf, the stupid fucking talking snowman that I knew I was going to hate, that I believed stronger than anything that I’d want to dropkick into a volcano… was actually pretty funny, and not creepy or obnoxious at all. I have never been so wrong in all my life.
The animation was absolutely, positively stunning; beyond the icescapes and settings, I spent most of the movie drooling over the realism of the fabrics. (I sew, okay, I know high-quality fabric when I see it and God, just lay me down in a bed of Elsa’s blue suede gloves.) That said, I have to further side-eye the animators: they managed to realistically capture the sway and shift of a taffeta skirt, and created a snowflake generator such that every snowflake in the movie was unique, but still claimed that animating women’s faces was hard because they have to be pretty all the time and shh, no, Anna and Elsa don’t look just like Rapunzel.
There were certainly other flaws in this movie; for one thing, the sniveling Duke of Weselton seemed to be there only to act as a red herring for Hans, and definitely got more screentime than he deserved. The opening music had a strangely tribal sound to it, which was doubly strange considering that a) there were no native tribal groups represented in the film, and b) the rest of the movie was pretty firmly set in an 18th century, Western European, rococo-y aesthetic. I don’t have any knowledge of the original Snow Queen tale, but from what I can tell this is a diversion from it in pretty much every way, so it will probably be hard on the hearts of fairytale purists. And finally, some of the musical numbers seemed a little unnecessary—I think they would have been more powerful if there had been a few fewer.
Given all of that, though, I really really enjoyed this movie, and would highly recommend people check it out. It’s not just smashing the box office because it’s a kids’ movie that premiered conveniently during the holidays. This is a gripping tale with a moral of acceptance of yourself and a focus on the importance of sisterly love like we haven’t seen from Disney since Lilo and Stitch, and it’s definitely worth buying a ticket for.