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It happens a lot. Someone shakes your hand with a remarkably chilly one and excuses the frigidity with “cold hands, warm heart.” Though the socially negative connotations of cold hands are probably quite unfounded, most people would take a cold heart more seriously.
The seasonably-timed Frozen is no exception, as this children’s animated movie explores the idea of a “frozen heart”—how it is manifested and what it means. Sound pretty deep for a kids flick? Important, even somewhat sophisticated themes are only some of the pleasant surprises in store for parents and kids who are tired of the string of crass, violent, and immoral children’s fare of late.
If you’re wondering what happened to the truly family-friendly Disney animated movies of the past, Frozen has some good news: at least for this picture, the old Disney magic is taken out of the freezer and brought out for a beautiful spring thaw.
As the younger sister to the heiress of a kingdom, Anna gets to live as a wealthy princess in a luxurious castle. Life should be perfect, but it’s not. Anna instead spends most of her childhood wondering why her older sister, Elsa, stays constantly shut up in her room, refusing to play or interact with Anna. Young Anna can remember a time when Elsa used to be her close friend, but those days dwindle to a faded memory, gone with no explanation.
Anna and Elsa grow into young women, but their relationship doesn’t change. The windows and gates of the castle stay closed and the loneliness goes unbroken…until Coronation Day. On this day of the ceremony and ball, Anna hopes for fun and romance.
Elsa hopes to survive the ordeal without exposing her awful secret to the people. For years, she has had to stay hidden, not even able to touch her parents or her sister because of the fear that she could harm them. She was born with a power to create snow and ice, as well as to transform any object into ice. She can even freeze a human heart. But the worst part of this power is that she can’t seem to control it. Anytime she becomes emotional at all, she starts freezing things around her unintentionally. Whenever she thinks she might have the power under control, Elsa remembers the time she thought that before, when she nearly killed her sister in a frightening accident.
Elsa keeps her gloves on and emotions in check on the night of the Coronation, while Anna sets out to have a good time. When Anna encounters her dream guy, a classic prince charming, she’s instantly swept off her feet and, in a matter of hours, determines to marry him. Elsa, however, forbids such a hastily formed attachment. The frustration of the mysterious years of rejection builds in Anna as she argues with her sister, but she doesn’t realize what she is doing by goading Elsa.
Anna never meant their argument to expose Elsa’s secret, to harm the kingdom, or to risk all of their lives. Yet such catastrophes are exactly the result. To conquer the pain of their past, Anna and Elsa will have to find the true love that can melt a frozen heart.
Much of the old Disney magic that once made Disney’s animated films the best in the industry stemmed from the positive messages and generally safe content parents could count on Disney showing their kids. With only a few disappointing exceptions, Frozen follows that trusted standard.
The heroines of Frozen are, at last, the kind of young female characters that parents have been desperate for children’s fare to bring back to the screen. Anna and Elsa are not in denial of their womanhood, wanting instead to be men. Nor are they overly sexual, flirtatious, or otherwise worldly (they only take two slight missteps, noted below). Instead, they are realistically flawed, but ultimately admirable characters who grow into adult women worthy of emulation as this story progresses.
With a balance between strength, independence, and unashamed femininity, Elsa and Anna face their troubled lives. These young women are not weaklings. Elsa has a tremendous power that she can use for evil or good, and her battle to control the power and not have it consume her gives this film an intriguing depth. Anna, on the other hand, is a somewhat ordinary girl facing extraordinary circumstances, who shows tremendous independence, courage, and determination in her effort to save her sister and the kingdom.
Yet, unlike in many modern movies, neither of these heroines feel the need to don armor or fight with the boys in order to prove themselves worthy of respect. They don’t have to. They instead earn that respect by their admirable behavior, presence of mind, upstanding morals, and deportment.
Far from making these women one-dimensional, these rare qualities make them all the more interesting and likable to watch as they attempt to conquer the difficulties before them. In addition, they have another marked difference from heroines in other children’s movies in that they do not use selfishness as an excuse or wear self-centeredness as a badge of honor. Rather, their motivations are almost always selfless.
Each sister has only one brief moment in this film during which she is selfish, and both these instances incur disastrous consequences. For the remainder of the film after these experiences, the sisters return to consistently trying to do what they believe is best for others, even at great sacrifice to themselves. Sometimes, sacrificing one’s happiness can seem even harder than sacrificing one’s life, yet the sisters do the former as readily as the latter.
Elsa and Anna, however, do make mistakes. Anna, in particular, shows the foolhardy hastiness of youth in her emotionally-driven decisions. Elsa is no saint either, needing to gain wisdom in order to repair the damage she unintentionally causes.
The errors these two young women make, however, are not harmful for young viewers to watch, but rather provide lessons that the filmmakers draw to the right conclusion. The sisters both experience severe consequences for their mistakes, thus showing youngsters how detrimental such behavior is.
In an amusing flip on a not-so-positive Disney tradition, Frozen even exposes the fallibility of the love (and marriage) at first sight plot device so common in many animated films. [SPOILER WARNING] Though Anna dreams of falling in love in one night and thinks she’s experienced just that, the filmmakers delightfully turn this idea on its head by having other characters in the story react with complete disbelief that Anna would even think of doing something so ridiculous as to get engaged to a man she just met. In the end, Anna’s impulsiveness has disastrous repercussions.
Through this deviation from the norm of the simple animated romance story, young viewers are actually cautioned to know a person before becoming emotionally attached, to use one’s head instead of blindly following emotions, and even to love a person for who he or she is, not for appearance.
This latter point of not judging a person by the outside is downright shocking for a romance in this genre. Yet the filmmakers intentionally set up a comparison between the handsome, suave prince Anna instantly falls for and the less than perfect, rough-around-the-edges Kristoff, a big guy who helps Anna find her sister.
Kristoff contradicts more than one norm, as he also bucks the anti-hero trend plaguing films. It’s easy to see how Kristoff might have a chance against prince charming, when one learns that Kristoff has a slew of admirable qualities to replace what he might lack in the dreamy looks and gentility Anna thinks she wants. Kristoff is ultimately respectful, courageous, strong, helpful, compassionate, and sacrificial. In short, he’s heroic.
A strong screenplay deserves most of the credit for these unusual devices, unique characters, and imaginative plot. Not only does this script show the courage of its creators to boldly contradict trends and norms, but it also tells a story that has unexpected depth for a kids’ piece. The screenplay builds in a layer through a powerful theme of love with twists that make the theme both original and nuanced.
The love part seems obvious, but here Frozen again contradicts the expected. While the movie explores romance, the kind of love that is ultimately of more interest to the writers is instead familial. Thanks to this primary focus, children viewers are not left with further dreams of knights on white horses or elated romantic whirlwinds, but rather with an inspiring realization of the love they already have and can give in their families.
More subtly, the filmmakers add another layer to the themes by juxtaposing the idea of fear as an alternative to love. The concept of fear is more quietly threaded throughout the film, at least in its function as a foil to the theme of love. Fully realized in Elsa and her parents, viewers see how easily fear can control a life, or even detrimentally affect several lives, when fear replaces love. Through this film’s powerful climax—the moment at which these themes come to a head—the biblical truth that “perfect love casts out fear” is brought to life.
These positive themes are rendered particularly resonant through the wildly creative and stunningly-executed world that supports the story and engages viewers’ imaginations. Amusing without being heavily coarse, the witty humor is reminiscent of Pixar’s work in its ability to gain laughs from kids and their parents.
But it’s the amazing world of ice and snow, the seamless realization of the stuff of dreams that is at once beautiful, awesome, and artistic—it is this animation that draws viewers into Frozen, making them easily overlook lapses in logic or the bounds of reality (which, actually, no animated film adheres to). The exceptional quality of Frozen makes the suspension of disbelief an easy and happy task, therefore allowing the filmmakers to get away with more unrealistic choices than they might otherwise attempt.
In Frozen, somehow a dog-like reindeer, a talking snowman, and rocks that are actually trolls become charming, comedic characters, rather than unrealistic annoyances. These characters work because of the writing, spot-on animation, and strong voice acting—all of which combine to make them genuinely funny and give them a realistic essence despite their strangeness. Without a single exception, the voice talent brings their characters fully to life, completing this high quality production package.
There are only a few icy patches where Frozen slips. Anna and Elsa both have brief moments where they fall into displaying some sensuality. These scenes take place during songs when the young women are completely alone. While singing about her wish to meet “the one” and fall in love at the Coronation, Anna moves her bare shoulder in a sultry way.
Elsa, during a solo song when she is alone, sings about embracing her freedom to finally be herself. Sadly, being herself seems to include dressing more suggestively, since she dons a new dress that has a high slit in the skirt which displays her bare leg (right at the moment when she announces “the good girl is gone”). She also starts to walk with more of a sensual hip-swing from that point on, though her moment of sexual self-expression punctuates her only period of selfishness in the film and ends up costing her and others.
Other potentially problematic content includes the mention that Elsa’s power is a “curse.” This idea is never fully explored, however, and seems just as likely to refer to the characters’ view of her power as negative, as it is to refer to an actual curse. Additionally, parents are not portrayed in the most positive light, since Elsa’s parents teach her to live in fear and the other primary characters do not have parents at all.
A mild amount of slapstick violence also ices the film. Anna punches one of the villains at the end of the movie in a silly moment of revenge that contradicts the more mature, ladylike behavior she and Elsa display during the rest of the story. A talking snowman character has his snow body parts separated frequently, but never with any sign of pain or discomfort.
This refreshingly minimal degree of slapstick in an animated film is made even better by the filmmakers’ handling of the movie’s more serious violent sequence. [SPOILER WARNING] In this scene, Elsa has the opportunity to kill men who are trying to murder her, but she resists. Even though she is supposedly giving into anger and fear at the moment, she actually shows remarkable control, only pinning the attackers, rather than killing them.
A few unfortunate comments of bathroom humor slip into the dialogue, but no crudity is shown, and the adult wording of quips about “tinkling” in the snow and the like will slide right past most kids’ notice. In an applaudable decision that other children’s films should follow, no offensive language, mild or otherwise, sullies this film.
Parents watching Frozen are likely to have some fond memories come to mind. Memories of the Disney animated movies we grew up with that were generally wholesome, entertaining, and beautiful to watch—movies that inspired us to imagine and stories that stayed with us for our whole lives.
Whether or not Frozen has that kind of staying power remains to be seen. But with gorgeous animation, little harmful content, an original and meaningful plot, as well as kid-pleasing songs throughout, Frozen offers something that has been missing in the lives of today’s youngsters. The magic of Disney isn’t frozen anymore.
[NOTE TO PARENTS: Some theatre showings of Frozen are preceded by an animated Mickey short. This short contradicts everything that Frozen achieves by throwing in almost every type of negative content in a few minutes time. Sensuality, violence, and course body humor fill this plotless short that parents should either discuss with their kids or try to avoid completely.]
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18