Frozen – 2013 – dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Even after 76 years Disney can still make a musical that can move an audience (even if recent efforts have been pretty lackluster). The best musical since Mulan, Frozen is (loosely) inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and while it isn’t perfect (could have used a bit more editing in the story room) it’s a breath of fresh air in musicals from Disney Animation Studios.
The story is one of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who are princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with the power to create snow and ice and after an accident where she injured Anna, their parents Elsa locks herself away as the sisters grow up. The King and Queen die so when Else comes of age, she has to come out in public for her coronation. Anna confronts Elsa about her reclusiveness and the confrontation leads Elsa to reveal her powers to the entire kingdom. Elsa then runs away leaving Arendelle in a perpetual winter and Anna goes to find her to bring the summer back. There is a love story for Anna running concurrently here but it goes in some surprising directions that move it away from the traditional Disney Princess story.
There is a lot to love in Frozen, the dialogue is pretty stellar and sounds believable from the characters. Elsa and Anna have a nuanced relationship not found much among the Disney Canon (it’s on the same level as Nani and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch). Josh Gad provides a great comedic supporting role as Olaf the snowman and even though some of his best lines are in the trailers, they still work in the film. However, the real standout in the film is the music.
Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel now both have songs that should be immortalized in the Disney canon of musicals. Do You Want to Build a Snowman and Let it Go are the two best Disney Songs since at least Beautiful from Mulan and at most Whole New World from Aladdin. They are powerfully written, with whimsy and nuance and joy and strength and most of all, they are relevant to the emotions of the characters. Do You Want to Build a Snowman gives us the development of Princess Anna’s character from age five to eighteen showing her go from optimistic hope in her relationship with Elsa to desperately reaching for connection when everything falls apart for her. Let it Go shows Elsa thriving after being shunned just for who she is (happily doubling as a new personal anthem for plenty of members from the LGBTQ community out there).
The only problem with this film is in the plotting. There are elements of the story towards the end which are definitely in spoiler territory that the film doesn’t earn. The story is also pretty confusing and it’s hard to describe what the film is about without providing more background than should be necessary. However, the greatest strength of this film is that that doesn’t matter. The music and the animation (oh the animation!) are completely enveloping and it makes any of the little bothersome elements just not matter. At the Oscars it will get nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song for Let it Go (and maybe a second one for Do You Want to Build a Snowman). Frozen is an incredible film, despite any flaws, and it reminds us what the magic of Disney really is.