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Wayback Wednesday: Frozen (2013)

You won’t admit how great this movie is? Three words: Let. It. Go.

Look, I know that we as a society have not fully recovered from the Frozen (2013) phenomenon of 2014, but you have to admit: The mania was valid. Whether you instantly fell in love with it or grew to find its hold on pop culture annoying, there’s no denying that Frozen is an exceptional movie. It personally ranks in the top 10 on my list of favourite Disney movies, and first on my list of movies about ice. Seriously though, I think this is a really special, really fantastic movie that even six years later, continues to give me chills with each watch. “Chills….” okay, I promise that that was my first and last ice pun.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.52.42 PM
Credit: / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” Frozen tells the story of Elsa and Anna, two princesses who though once close, have spent their childhoods isolated from each other. When older sister Elsa accidentally ruins her coronation by losing control of her secret power over ice and snow, she flees the kingdom and accidentally sets off an eternal winter. It’s up to the fearless Anna to rescue her sister from herself and restore summer to the land of Arendelle.

Frozen was a natural next step for Disney. In the 90s, princesses like Ariel, Belle and Jasmine changed the game when they were written as more independent, strong, and goal-oriented characters. The early 2010s saw newer princesses like Rapunzel and Merida continue growing into more well-rounded protagonists, an evolution that really left its mark with the introduction of Anna and Elsa. There’s always been something to relate to in each princess that has come before the pair, but what sets the sisters apart is just how modern their characters are. Whether it’s Anna’s awkwardness and longing for meaningful relationships or Elsa’s internalized fear and self-doubt, part of what makes Frozen so magical is watching these two unique characters and finding a piece of yourself in them. In so many ways, Disney broke new ground with Frozen, but no more so than when they created two princesses who were not only entertaining and inspiring, but flawed and complex as well.

The relationship between the two sisters is the heart of the movie, a dynamic that co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who also wrote the script) nail perfectly. As children, their relationship feels as authentic and filled with innocence as any pair of young siblings. It’s wise for the movie to show how close they are and how deeply they care for each other early on because once Elsa isolates herself for fear of accidentally hurting Anna again, the separation is hard to watch. For both of them. For Anna because she had to grow up without knowing why the sister she loved shut her out, and for Elsa because she had to grow up scared that she would hurt anyone who came close to her. If you have a sibling you love, Frozen is filled with surprising moments that will hit you in the feels like a wrecking ball.

Moments like when Anna confesses that she can’t live like this anymore and Elsa tearfully replies, “than leave.” Seeing Elsa’s desperation and self-loathing grow so strong that she’s willing to push her sister the furthest away she could is soul-crushing. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of soul-crushing / emotional / relatable moments, how about Elsa’s mantra? “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.” God, haven’t we all been there? Scared to embrace what makes us special so we hide it from the world? Frozen may feature adorable sidekicks and bouncy show tunes, but there are grown-up universal themes interwoven into the script that are masterfully handled.

Part of what sells the relationship between the lead characters are the vocal performances of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, who star as Anna and Elsa respectively. I adore these two actresses. Veronica Mars and Elphaba as Disney princesses? Yes please! The unbridled, exuberant joy in Bell’s voice and the stoic, sombre iciness of Menzel’s make them the perfect casting choices. The quirky charm and fierce tenacity that Bell brings to the character makes Anna a heroine you can’t help but root for. You root for Elsa too as you first watch her struggle to conceal her powers and then fully embrace them in a musical number that we will absolutely be talking about. Bell gets the more playful lines which are on full display with Jonathan Groff, who plays mountaineer and love interest, Kristoff. Sidenote, the scene where they debate her impromptu engagement to Hans is rife with hilarity and flirtatious chemistry. However, it’s Menzel who gets the more dramatic material and with it, is an absolute revelation. In the subtle readings of lines like, “me too,” or, “I can’t,” you can hear the wistfulness and resentment in Menzel’s voice, conveying Elsa’s internal pain. The character and emotion each actress brings to their role is just as prominent in their singing, especially their signature songs.

I know you’re all sick of “Let It Go.” Even I, an enormous fan of belting out this Broadway-inspired showstopper each chance he gets, will admit that at one point it was a tad overplayed. But you guys, it’s just SO. DAMN. GOOD. “Let It Go” is a soaring anthem of self-liberation set to chillingly beautiful music and accompanied by Menzel’s powerhouse vocals. Besides the gorgeous music and lyrics and the stunning visuals of Elsa letting her powers reign free and building her ice castle, what’s most enchanting about this number is the message behind it: We all have something to let go of. This cathartic moment of owning everything you are and letting what’s special about you known is one of the most uplifting pieces of animation in recent memory. “The cold never bothered me anyway…” There’s such power in that line. I make no apologies. “Let It Go” is one of my favourite Disney songs.

Of course, “Let It Go” isn’t the only bop on the Frozen soundtrack. Anna’s song “For the First Time in Forever” is a delightful “I want” song that shows off the yearning oddball nature of her character. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is filled with childlike fun and then in true Frozen fashion, takes an emotional turn that will leave you reeling. Really, the only dud in this soundtrack of memorable songs is Kristoff’s “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People.” Sorry Kristoff fans. But apparently Groff’s impressive vocals will be properly utilized in the sequel! Speaking of impressive vocals, let’s take a moment to applaud Josh Gad as Olaf, a snowman brought to life by Elsa. A great comedic relief that steals every scene he’s in, Gad owns this role. Olaf is a welcome addition to the pantheon of Disney sidekicks and I will gladly give him a warm hug any day.

In addition to standout characters, a deep script and sensational music, Frozen also boasts the most magical winter animation you’ll ever see. The way the animation team was able to use a rainbow of colours in a movie about ice and snow is a testament to the talent employed at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Really, I was struck by just how well this movie succeeds in every aspect. There’s adventure, comedy, drama, romance, music…a little something for everyone and partially why Frozen is the worldwide phenomenon it’s grown into today. There are scenes of palpable tension and shocking villainy all culminating in a climax with one glorious message: “love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” The powerful themes, iconic characters and timeless soundtrack make Frozen a winning entry in the collection of classic Disney stories that have touched the hearts and minds of audiences young and old.

Frozen is great. It succeeds by utilizing familiar Disney tropes while simultaneously reinventing them and doing something new. True love being represented as the familial bond between two sisters rather than a prince and princess? Revolutionary! A heartwarming story about accepting yourself and letting your loved ones love the real you just as much, the only way you could dislike this movie is if you yourself were suffering from a frozen heart.

Are you a fan of Frozen? What are your favourite Disney movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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