Disney Princesses have come a long way. Sure, they may still have wasp waists and twirly gowns and big, dewey eyes, but they no longer sit around (or lie around magically comatose) and wait for their Princes to come. This is a new era of Princesses, who grab their difficult circumstances by the horns and work to set things right. We’ve seen this in the most recent Disney animated films, Tangled and Brave, and now in Frozen, which is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Snow Queen.
The movie opens on the Nordic seaside kingdom of Arendelle, home to two little princesses named Elsa and Anna. Best of friends, they share a joyful game centered around older sister Elsa’s magical ability to conjure up snow and ice from her bare hands. In the midst of play, Elsa accidentally injures Anna and only the intervention of the leader of a band of stone trolls saves her life. The king and queen are terrified that Elsa will not be able to control her powers, and they sequester the kingdom behind locked gates and Elsa behind her locked bedroom door. Anna has no memory of the incident, and only knows that her sister has suddenly shut her out of her life. The girls age, and a hurt and bewildered Anna still tries to reach out, but Elsa will not open the door. Their parents are lost at sea and Anna is left completely alone. As she strokes her hand across the faceless door, she repeats the refrain from her opening song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” her voice and heart breaking.
Years pass and Elsa comes of age, making her the new queen. A giddy, delighted Anna rushes about in anticipation of the gates opening and new people streaming into the castle for the coronation. As she sings the expansive “For the First Time in Forever,” she even wonders if there will be a special young man for her amongst the strangers. Elsa meanwhile fears that she will not be able to conceal her powers and that her curse will be revealed, but she manages to make it through the ceremony. At the ball that follows, Anna is swept off her feet by the handsome Prince Hans and the two are amazed at their attraction as they sing “Love is an Open Door.” Hans spontaneously proposes, Anna accepts, and the two go to ask Elsa for her blessing. Elsa is appalled that Anna would marry a man she just met and the two quarrel. Elsa loses control of her abilities and inadvertently turns the floor and decorations to ice. A weaselly ambassador from a competitor kingdom accuses Elsa of being a monster and sorceress.
Elsa panics and flees, accidentally thrusting the summery kingdom into perpetual winter. Anna blames herself for the catastrophe and sets off after her sister. Elsa finds herself on the top of the North Mountain and realizes she is in her element, as she constructs a magnificent palace of ice and snow. Liberated for the first time, she sings the showstopper “Let It Go” and becomes the Snow Queen. Meanwhile, Anna is determined to find Elsa, bring her home, bring back summer, and set everything right. She meets burly, handsome Kristoff, who along with his reindeer Sven (how can you not love a reindeer named Sven?) agrees to help her reach Elsa up on North Mountain. They also encounter the comic relief of the movie, an earnest, epically cheerful snowman named Olaf that Elsa unintentionally brought to life. He sings to them of his dreams of living in a warm climate in “In Summer,” blissfully unaware that heat would make him melt.
They make it to the ice palace, but Elsa, still afraid of hurting people with her powers, refuses to leave. As she becomes more agitated, she again accidentally hits Anna with her ice shards, a blow to the heart that will be fatal. Chased by a snow monster, Anna and Kristoff flee back to the stone trolls, who say that she can only be saved by an act of true love. (After the slightly incongruous but charming song “Fixer Upper.”) Seizing on the fairy tale trope, they rush back to Arendelle so that Prince Hans can give Anna “true love’s kiss” and save her life.
Meanwhile, Hans and his search party bring Elsa back to Arendelle and she wakes to find her hands have been shackled to prevent her from using her powers. Anna is brought to Hans, who reveals himself to be a lot more nightmarish than dreamy. He locks her in and tells the councillors that they exchanged wedding vows before her death. Elsa escapes, and Hans follows her to kill her and frame her for Anna’s murder. Anna is freed by Olaf, who convinces her to go after Kristoff to obtain the true love’s kiss that will save her (since it was clear to everyone except her that he was her true love, not Hans). In the midst of thunderous blizzard conditions, Kristoff charges back to Anna, who painfully makes her way across the frozen fjord. There she sees Hans about to kill Elsa, so with her last spark of life she thrusts herself between them, as she turns to solid ice and stops the blow. This was the act of true love needed to save her and she thaws back to life, to the joy of Kristoff and Elsa. Thus, Elsa learns that love, not fear, is the key to controlling her powers and she realizes that she can bring back summer and live among her people again. And they all lived happily ever after, even Olaf (who is given a little mobile cloud of cold above his head so that he will never melt).
Frozen is a charming blend of humor and heartfelt emotion and soaring wintry vistas. The best latter day Disney classics (from The Little Mermaid on) have all flowed like well-oiled musicals, and Frozen is definitely in that category. There is no question in my mind that this will be adapted for Broadway, which was, no doubt, Disney’s plan all along. Even the choice of composers, the Tony-winning couple Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote Book of Mormon, lends itself to such an adaptation. The character of Elsa is voiced by Idina Menzel, Tony-winner for Wicked and in the original cast of Rent, and her rendition of “Let It Go” is the musical highlight of the film (her version is so much better than the Demi Lovato cover that is also on the soundtrack). Kristen Bell as Anna is the only real “Hollywood movie” name and she does a fine job. Her songs are not strenuous and she handles “For the First Time in Forever” with just the right amount of optimism and ingenue-like sweetness. My least favorite song in the movie is her duet “Love is an Open Door” with Santino Fontana as Hans, but that is not their fault. I found the song too contemporary and anachronistic for the time period of the story. Tony-nominated Jonathan Groff of Glee fame doesn’t get to sing much, but his brief “Reindeer are Better than People” is cute and fun, especially as he adds Sven’s “parts” in a gruff reindeer voice. Josh Gad is also a Book of Mormon alumnus and he is comically terrific as Olaf.
Frozen is a love story, but how different from the Disney love stories of the past, Sure, there’s love interest in the handsome prince and the handsome mountain man, but the real story is the love between two sisters, bound together by pain and tragedy and a tenderness that transcends both. They find their strength and go beyond their previous limitations through their devotion for each other, and come out on the other side. Now that’s a Disney Princess worthy of emulation.
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