Frozen – 2013

Directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Ciarán Hinds, Chris Williams, Edie McClurg
Screenplay Jennifer Lee based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

I hope I never get too old to appreciate the effect of a magical story on a child-like heart.  Watching this movie with my daughters was a transformative event for me. It brought me out of the long week made into a working weekend.  It removed the pressure of needing to clean a lived in house before a big party.  It’s warmth helped me to fight the effects of a bitter, unrelenting cold.  To look over and see a smile and some amazement.

Our youngest daughter, El, is in the best possible place for a child to be.  Her mind still understands possibilities and her heart still believes.  She is the embodiment of Anna.  She believes in Santa, and even the Elf on the Shelf, Thimble.  Her belief spurs our belief.

Elsa, in our house, is our daughter Em.  She’s the one who has seen some things first, and subsequently, has a harder time believing.  The cold tree of knowledge has affected her, and its obvious she wishes it hadn’t.  She’s beautiful to the core, sadly so.  

Em is battling the future she sees but does not understand.  The result is a frustration that reveals itself with unintended consequence.  She loves her sister, but is filled with envy for what she perceives El doesn’t know.  This lashing out feels like sheets of ice spreading out from their lives.

Just like the heroines in Frozen, there is a closed door between our girls.  It was closed by the parents in the story, as a good-intentioned but poorly thought out form of protection.

“What if I don’t believe in Santa Claus,” Em asked her mother last Christmas.

It was kind of a threat, which my wife handled with aplomb.

“If there is no Santa, then I guess you won’t be getting any gifts from him any more.  You definitely won’t if you ever say that to your sister.”

It’s no small thing, the chasm that develops between siblings just by the natural course of life: growing older.  Big events unfold at different times, and often out of the reach of the parents to control.  Someone got to our oldest child and gave her the icy touch of doubt.  She was showing signs of questioning even before she reached the age of her younger sibling.  As much as I wish they hadn’t, we have to move on with her, and keep preserving what we can of her innocence.

I remember the Christmas that I started to question the existence of Santa.  There was a tremendous amount of pressure for the last of 8 kids.  Not wanting my parents to know I had doubts, but not wanting to play the fool that my siblings must know I had been.  It was the start of a long dark winter of thought, and I never once felt the unbearable pressure that my eldest must feel keeping up this possible charade.

Somehow, our children have to meet in the midst of all the emotional chaos, and I think this film might lay the groundwork for this to happen.  This is easily the best film I have seen this year, and the best Disney film I have seen since Mulan.  Disney has found a path to the heart of girls, and by direct extension, the hearts of those who love those little girls.

Having only the barest connection to one of Hans Christian Anderson’s most lauded stories (and, sadly, no overtly Christian references),  Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck have managed to turn the Disney convention of love on its ear.  There is a nod to the traditional concepts that we have been the bread and butter of the Princess trade that has had its share of critics and devotees.

The story is an amazing accomplishment.  After the tremendous success of Tangled, it would have been easy to release a couple of decent Princess in peril films.  Disney always gets a pass for those, even if the Princess always finds “true love’s kiss” on the lips of a Prince or Han Solo like rapscallion.  The evil character, no matter the situation or the misdeeds, usually meets their end falling off a cliff of some kind.  It’s like clockwork.

Frozen wisely threw that clock out.  The result is a timeless story that gives a refreshingly apt definition of love.  Two sisters, the afore-mentioned Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) separated by powers that they cannot comprehend, even if one of them thinks she knows the sad answer to the predicament.  She is wrong, of course.  The power is a plot device, but also an effective metaphor.  Both girls are worthy of love, but unaware of the gift that they are kept from.  Malificent has nothing on the problems well-meaning parents can impart on their children.

The big day arrives.  The reason for the big day is not nearly as important as what happens on that day.  The younger sister finds a wonderful surprise when the door opens on her life, and when her older sister tries to slow her roll, a premature winter strikes, afflicting everything and everyone around them.  Elsa decides that her power is so abhorrent that she needs to remove herself from everyone and live in isolation.  Anna knows there is something wrong with that, and follows her sister, pushing her way through the storms she creates.

Along the way, Anna meets some delightful characters, including Olaf (Gad), the enchanted and literally lovable snowman, who craves “warm hugs.”  This character could have been a complete disaster, but instead, it is a beautiful addition to the story.  The magic that creates him comes at a crucial point of the story.  If you aren’t watching closely, you could miss it.  There is a definite and resonant reason that he exists.  He’s not just an opportunity for some comic actor to tell a few jokes and do animated pratfalls.  This character is literally the embodiment of love between two sisters.

Olaf is what we all wish we could always be.
Olaf is what we all wish we could always be.

The boys in this film are also essential, but not for the reasons that one might expect.  Mountain man Kristoff (Groff) and Prince Hans (Fontana) are perfectly presented as potential answers to the predicament that the girls find themselves in.  They are such comfortable characters, it is difficult to envision the twists as they approached.  Most, including yours truly, would have been perfectly willing to accept what Disney usually offers here.  Baited breath escaped the lips of most viewers as the characters approached what seemed to be a typical type of ending.  The surprise is daunting and it was a breath of fresh, crisp, cold air.

The Trolls of Frozen are also given a facelift from the original story, where they are presented as evil characters.  Here they offer some helpful advice, a little magic of their own, and a telling assessment on how the cold can affects us:

“The heart is not easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.”

The animation of Frozen is the best I have seen since Mulan as well.  There are some breathtaking traverses that elevate the tension, but nothing so overwhelming as to inundate one with an ocular migraine blast of special effects.  Buck and Lee understand the beauty of landscape, both visually and story wise.  The kingdom of Arendelle exists to all who survey it and will for some time after.

An astounding collection of unforgettable images like this one.
An astounding collection of unforgettable images like this one.

The soundtrack has original songs composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband, Robert, and a score composed by Christophe Beck.  It’s wonderful all the way through, but “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “For the First Time in Forever,” and especially, Menzel’s powerful “Let It Go,” are the ones we’re all going to hear in our mind for years to come whenever we think of Frozen.

The simple message of love between two sisters is the best thing I have seen derive from a Disney film.  It could not have come at a better time, too.  My girls have their battles, and they have some doubts about one another.  It’s not that I think this movie will magically bring them together this week.  It’s an image that I hope won’t leave their minds, though.  With any luck, it has planted a seed that will germinate later.

“Dad,” she asked, as we drove home from the movie last night after 9pm, “Is it possible for someone to do what Elsa does; to have that cold come from them?”

“No,” I replied, “It’s just a good story.”

“Good,” she said, “Because I don’t want my children to have that.”

I smiled to myself, knowing that by the time she gets to my age, she’ll have her kids asking her a variation of that question.  It will mean at least two things to her then, even if she gives one answer.


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