Frozen” is a story of two journeys: one of Princess Anna, who wants to rescue her kingdom from a permanent winter, and the other of her older sister Elsa, who (unintentionally) generated the blizzard that has entrapped their castle and its surroundings in mile-high dunes of snow.
And actually, “Frozen” also marks a journey for Disney, which took some risks in bringing a complex but honest message about women and sisters, love and identity to an audience used to splashier fare from the company. “Frozen” turned out to bag two Oscars (best animated feature and best original song), in a triumphant victory over Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song “Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises).”
There was some criticism in the U.S. that Miyazaki’s work smacked of nationalism, placing the golden statue beyond its reach. Still, “Frozen” shares a similar spirit to much of Miyazaki’s work, with the message that a human being, regardless of gender, age or circumstance, must come to terms with their own identity in order to love and serve others.
“Frozen” is a princess story, but one that is significantly distanced from the usual run of such Disney tales in which romance occupies center stage. Consider the predicament of Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), who discovers at an early age that she has the power to start a small blizzard, just by feeling a little blue or a little mad. In her case, emotional turmoil translates to an arctic winter that eventually engulfs the kingdom of Arendelle.
As the oldest daughter, Elsa must inherit this kingdom and rule over it wisely. She’s ill equipped to do so, having spent most of her young life estranged from her family and riddled with anxiety about her powers. Elsa’s solution, then, is to flee, and to live as a recluse up on a snowy mountain of her own unwitting creation. That’s when she belts out “Let it Go,” the best and most heartfelt empowerment song to come out of Disney in a decade.
Elsa’s kid sister Anna (Kristen Bell) is far from docile herself. She wants to save their Arendelle home, but she also wants to help Elsa in what she hopes will culminate in a happy sisterly reunion. Plucky and often over-confident, Anna is yang to Elsa’s yin, and once the pair manage to join forces, the energy that ensues engulfs the screen.
Having read this far, you’re probably worried that “Frozen” is rabidly feminist, and that the two princesses appear with unshaved legs in khaki cargoes or something. But Disney would never make that kind of mistake. In fact, certain crucial facets of the story seem downright formulaic, as if filmmakers Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee went “Uh-oh!,” swerved off the rocky road and switched the GPS back on. Phew, smooth asphalt.
The two princesses are plenty princess-y. Come icy blizzard or avalanche, their tresses and dresses are perfectly in place or flapping gorgeously in the wind. There’s a love story too, as Anna consorts with handsome Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and enlists his help in getting to Elsa.
For all that, “Frozen” feels gender-defying and subversive. And when was the last time a Disney movie did that?
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