The year was 2013. It had been a year since Wreck-it Ralph opened in theaters. The influence of that movie had come and gone, and Disney was gearing up for its next animated movie, but things were relatively low-key. I mean, their past animated features since the beginning of the revival era (The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, and the aforementioned Wreck-it Ralph) were all successful hits, but in terms of popular culture, they just didn’t have that much staying power, save for Rapunzel. They came out, did their thing, and quietly exited. Merchandise was pretty limited. And I suspect that was the same thing expected when Disney was preparing to release its newest animated film, because prior to the release of Frozen, the same thing happened. I happened to had been working at Walt Disney World at the time, and I can tell you at that point in time, Frozen seemed to be anticipated as just yet another animated Disney film.
Over the next week or so after its release, me and all my friends and co-workers went to go see it and we all seemed to like it. Love it, even. It was funny, sweet, beautiful, culturally sensitive, feminist, and just flat-out good! But then…the merchandise sold out pretty quickly, and we noticed the shops had a hard time keeping up with the demand. Then came the memes. The allusions to the-then topical Polar Vortex and the Early 2014 North American Cold Wave phenomenon. The soundtrack downloads. The interviews with Idina Menzel. When John Travolta referred to her as “Adele Dazeem” at the Oscars. The infusion of Elsa and Olaf on every conceivable product that could be marketed. And then the YouTube videos…oh me oh my, that time when everyone, man or woman, old or young, white or…not-white, started uploading their best DIY music video of themselves singing “Let it Go” or a parody of. It was quite a time to be alive…and maybe, participate in.
But it’s been five years since Frozen blew in like a hurricane. And I recently I decided to pop it in because A.) it has been at least four years since I’ve seen it, and B.) I’m a adult and don’t judge me. Does it hold up? Now that the backlash has calmed down, is it still any good? Choose to chance chill and change channels for this chilly chat!
The plot: Anna and Elsa are the princesses to the crown of Arendelle, a Scandinavian kingdom. However, Elsa (Idina Menzel) has secret powers to command snow and ice, and being a shut-in for years feeds her insecurities. Younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), however, wants nothing more to get out and trust anyone she meets. On the day of Elsa’s coronation, Anna bumps into a strapping prince named Hans and they agree to get married right away. But when Anna and Elsa argue, she accidentally unleashes her powers, exposing herself in front of her sister, fellow dignitaries, even the kingdom. Elsa panics, worrying about hurting others, and flees into the mountains, determined to live in solitude forever. Unfortunately, in her haste, she also cast a winter spell over the Kingdom, trapping everyone inside.
Anna gives pursuit, determined to fix the problem. Her only companions are ice vendor Kristoff (Jonathon Groff), his goofy reindeer Sven, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). Together, they hope to talk Elsa down, unfreeze the kingdom, and reunite their sisterhood.
How’s the writing?: I remembered just how smart and fresh the writing was back in 2013, and I worried that all those great lines were nullified after years of overexposure. Well, to my delight, they were just as funny, heartfelt, and smart as the day I first heard them. Olaf had pitch-perfect line reads and Anna was a great lead, as a bewildered, inexperienced princess thrust into a wildly unpredictable situation her emotions weren’t truly prepared for.
The story? Great! The emotional investment kept me tuned into to hoping the women would make it out okay. It still felt kind of rushed or cluttered at parts, like a lot was happening all at once. But I never felt like I got confused or anything.
Does it give the feels?: From the get-go, the movie focuses squarely on Anna and Elsa’s relationship, and that’s where the heart of it lies. They really do feel like sisters, close, yet still estranged.
Another aspect is the general likeability of the cast. Aside from Hans, the least likeable character would have to be Kristoff, and not because he’s unendearing, but because he’s more of a straight man/buffoon type. Anna’s perfectly quirky and klutzy, Elsa is empathetic with her emotional issues, Olaf is purely defined by things he loves, and Sven is a funny animal. And because these personalities are so well-rounded and relatable, they zero in on their relationships to one another.
Who makes it worth it?: Between the two princesses, I was always more partial Anna considering her playful, optimistic nature. But on the other hand, seeing a girl being clumsy and kind of dorky is kind of a trope in and of itself. The reason I say this is because I feel I ought to have greater appreciation for the main characters, but no matter how hard I try, I keep going back to Olaf.
Yes, he’s just another comedic sidekick to the princess, voiced by a very funny guy. But it’s not like it’s Danny Devito or Eddie Murphy or Rosie O’Donnell, whose sidekick characters just kept riffing their usual standup shtick in the shadow of Robin Williams. He doesn’t refer to pop culture or shout loudly, in fact, he tends to whisper a lot, which is a lot funnier. He’s not a smart aleck, instead his comedy comes from his scatterbrained train of thought. And above all, he’s completely selfless. Yeah, Mushu, Genie, Phil, Terk, Timon and Pumbaa all devote their time and lives to the main characters’ goals, but Olaf can barely comprehend doing anything unless it means helping out others. When Marshmallow attacks, he throws himself in to try to stop him from going after Anna and Kristoff without a second thought. He can’t understand Sven’s trying to eat his carrot nose. He is literally is the embodiment of Elsa and Anna’s love for each other. So even if you find his one-liners annoying, how can you hate on him when he defines love as “putting someone else’s needs before your own”?
Best quality provided: After the heart of the characters, easily the best aspect is the animation. It can be difficult to capture the pristine beauty of a colorless landscape covered in snow, but by God, they make it look gorgeous! Just what they can do using the snowflake fractal aesthetic! Elsa’s palace is just stunning!
Then there is the music. And you know what? I never got sick of it! Yeah, even the following summer, I worked a Frozen-themed event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, getting inundated repeatedly with the music, no. I got tired of it, sure, but not sick of it. The opening choir chant, “For the First Time in Forever”, “Love is an Open Door”,, “In Summer”, and “Fixer Upper” were on repeat, but guess which one wasn’t?
By the time Frozen‘s popularity hit the zeitgeist, all my friends and co-workers were just sick of it. And because everyone I knew had zero desire to hear “Let it Go”, it almost never popped up on my social media feeds. I rarely listened to it beyond when it looked on my iPod playlist. And it never lost its charm to me. It’s bombastic, it’s gentle, it’s empowering, it’s optimistic, it’s fun, and it still gets me excited just hearing the piano intro. Is it the best song? No. But considering just how good the songs on the soundtrack are, that’s really, really impressive.
What could have been improved: There is a lot going on in this movie. That much is undeniable. At times, it feels a tad cluttered. I remember when I first saw it, how jarring it was when Anna went from trying to talk to her sister about going back to Arendelle to suddenly singing to her sister about going back to Arendelle. As a reprise in a musical, it does what it needs to by furthering the story and amplifying the emotions.
Some complain about how their parents were awful in trying to conceal Elsa’s powers, but I looked at it as a king who understood how image is everything to royalty. A young girl, or even a Queen who accidentally hurts others or scares them, as grandpobbie shows, is the kind of thing that can incite unrest. Sometimes as a ruler, being poised and composed is paramount. So no, that part doesn’t bother me.
I’m more confused how Kristoff and Sven started out as kids with a group of ice harvesters, obviously under some adult supervision, but they randomly get adopted by a troll , and even Kristoff says they had nobody growing up until they were taken in. Weird.
Verdict: The big question: does Frozen hold up after five years, after its insane, highest-grossing-animated-movie-of-all-time hype? Well, I’m happy to say yes!
It’s just as heartfelt, funny, dramatic, and empowering as it was the day I saw it. I still thrill at Elsa’s castle building. I still snicker at Olaf’s observations. I still gasp when Hans says that one line. It still does all that because it’s just that good. While it may not breach my top five favorite Disney films, it’s in the top ten, easy. I give it eight big summer blowouts out of ten.
Do you want to build a snowman?
It doesn’t have to be a snowman…