Frozen is a legitimately great film but also a flawed one.
First, let's look at a few flaws, then admire its successes.
Frozen's biggest shortcoming is in not making Elsa, its most interesting character, the main protagonist and main heroine of the movie. As it is, she is a co-protagonist, but Anna is given far more screen time.
Yet Anna's story is nowhere near as interesting as is Elsa's. Where Anna merely seems bored and a little lonely at the beginning, we know that Elsa suffers terribly throughout her young life, in being forced to inhibit her emotions, live with the guilt of nearly killing her sister, and seclude herself, in order to protect Anna from the danger that her magic poses. Yet we barely see Elsa's side of the story.
But when Elsa transforms into the Snow Queen during her Let It Go sequence, that's when we especially wish and expect to see more of her. That feels like a great beginning, a launching point for the character, from which Elsa will go on to have an exciting storyline in her new identity.
But instead, the movie relentlessly keeps us down with Anna on what is a not very original or interesting road trip.
It would be as if, in Beauty and the Beast, the movie spent most of its time not in the Beast's castle, but with Belle and some villager on a road trip to and from the castle (and the castle would lack any magical objects, and Belle and the Beast would never fall in love).
Think of how much poorer a film that would have been, compared to the Beauty and the Beast movie that does exist, in which the very BEST moments are the moments in the Beast's castle and the scenes involving the Beast.
Frozen deprives itself of those very scenes, which would have been the best in the film, for no reason whatsoever.
But one could even forgive Frozen this, if it wasn't hindered by a second missed opportunity: It doesn't give Elsa a love interest, no prince to win her heart, no man to love, who would love her back.
This is baffling and unforgivable. Countless Disney princesses have been given stirring love stories when they didn't particularly need them. But in Elsa, Disney created a character of aching solitude and isolation, one for whom a love story actually would have mattered. It would have been as beautiful and rapturous to see as is the Beast's love story in Beauty and the Beast.
But it didn't.
The ending of the film feels very disappointing for that reason, giving Elsa at best a glass-half-full conclusion, showing Anna (the sister who has suffered less) blessed with both sisterly reconciliation and romantic love, while Elsa's reward for a lifetime of self-sacrifice and pain is...merely survival, and a touch of equilibrium.
On the other hand, the movie does a number of things very well.
It keeps the setting in Scandinavia and populates the story with actual Scandinavians, instead of making Arendelle look demographically like a modern American metropolis.
The animation is breathtakingly beautiful throughout. The depth of attention to detail, incorporating authentic Norwegian culture, is admirable, and one hopes that it might inspire Europeans and European-Americans to better appreciate their own heritages.
Making Elsa the heroine of the story rather than the villain was truly inspired. This is the film's one, true claim to greatness. In fact, throughout the movie, Elsa is actually the moral center of the story. Every one of her actions is selfless and noble, even as other characters make morally questionable choices. Added to that, she is traditionally feminine in appearance and demeanor, so this film redeems such essential feminine qualities (which are otherwise often vilified or erased in modern culture) by giving them to its most popular character.
Even more subversively, at many points in the story, the roles of the sisters reverse and it is actually Anna who becomes the antagonist to Elsa (as Elsa never is).
Anna is the one who causes the accident in the girls' youth by goading Elsa into playing the game and not stopping when Elsa told her to do so.
Anna takes Elsa's glove and refuses to give it back at a state function, throwing a tantrum in the middle of an important diplomatic affair, selfishly thinking only about her own wishes instead of how she is humiliating Arendelle itself. (It would be like the brother of the U.S. President throwing a tantrum toward the President on Inauguration Day.) And when Elsa tells Anna to leave the ice palace, Anna stubbornly refuses, agitating Elsa and causing the blast of magic.
Time and again, Anna is Elsa's antagonist, a situation that only changes at the end of the film, when Anna finally makes a selfless act – the kind of selfless act that Elsa has been making her whole life, in sacrificing her happiness for the safety and well-being of others. Finally, at the end, Anna learns the lesson that Elsa's example has provided to her.
Beyond that, the Hans twist is unnecessary, and the scene of his turn is incongruously melodramatic, his monologuing almost self-parodic.
Nevertheless, Elsa's "Let It Go" sequence is among the finest moments ever created in Disney history, and as a whole, the film is visually breathtaking.
Frozen is a magnificent move even as it is, but with a re-emphasis on its most captivating character, Elsa, it could have been a true masterpiece.
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