Everyone fell in love with Olaf and can’t stop singing that soundtrack – why is it that Disney’s Frozen is such a memorable and powerful movie?
I love me a good Disney flick. And a good musical. I’m quite partial to Tangled, The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Emperor’s New Groove, Beauty and the Beast, and many of the other classics. I also love watching Little Shop of Horrors with its memorable soundtrack.
When Frozen was first being reviewed during its opening weekend, people were comparing its greatness to The Lion King. They said it was a return to the Disney Renaissance, stating there hasn’t been a movie like it in decades. For me, I think Disney has been putting out great movies for ages, and a statement like that seems to ignore some of the more recent greats. But I can certainly see why such praise is aimed towards the movie.
The soundtrack is unforgettable. The actors and actresses have an amazing vocal range, and each of the characters are incredibly well acted and believable. Go anywhere in the world and you’re going to hear Let It Go being played ad nauseum. The story is interesting, the fairytale is unconventional, and the animation is great.
But I think there’s more to the implementation of Frozen than just the common elements.
I haven’t sat in on a Disney creative meeting, but I can only speculate what goes on behind those closed doors. There is an artform to the design of every scene, which is true of every Disney movie.
And I think Frozen is particularly memorable because of its powerful imagery and themes. We aren’t all Anna or the Snow Queen, we aren’t all Kristoff or a little troll, but all of these characters work together to present a highly relateable presentation that has some deeper value behind its design.
So here’s my review of Frozen, from the perspective of what these thematic elements are, and their resonance with us as its audience.
Oh yeah… spoilers (minor).
Family is a culturally agnostic theme, and Frozen sure knows it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Frozen has had such great international success even outside of a Western market. All of us are born into a family that we didn’t choose, into circumstances we had no control over.
And so it is with sisters Elsa, the Snow Queen, and Anna. Both are born into royalty and are the latest additions to the long line of Disney princesses. And as with all people, they have elements in their upbringing that leave a profound impact on them for the rest of their lives.
In the first few minutes, we see the impact of a well-meaning father who teaches Elsa to repress her powers with one of the prominent lines repeated throughout the movie, “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show”. For the rest of her childhood, and even into her adult life, Elsa lives hidden behind this mantra. Judging by the success of the titular song which deals with Elsa coming to grips with this pressure, this is something that a lot of people can relate to. Maybe like Elsa some people have felt like their upbringing they were held back in some way, like something was missing, like they couldn’t fully convey who they were. This could have been like the King in Frozen, showing concern and protection for his young daughter in dealing with something not even he could understand. Or maybe it was under circumstances that felt more intentional, where words became the ultimate prison for your emotions, feelings, or the quantifiable greatness inside. This can leave us like Elsa, with something to prove, with a power to discovery, with a personality to show.
We see the relationship of the two sisters which has been strained by closed doors. Where they once used to spend so much time together, one of the sisters is inexplicably cut off from the other. After time goes on, they are able to restore their relationship in the span of a day, when a big celebration takes place for Elsa. One of the great things about family is that you can see people you haven’t seen in ages, and you both are able to pick up exactly where you left off. It’s also great that family gives you the security of a relationship that goes beyond common interests, similar characteristics and even friendship. No matter who had done what in their relationship, Anna and Elsa’s sisterhood is what lets them draw out the best in each other, and it also brings out the best in their relationship.
Love at first sight?
It’s not a Disney movie without the notion of love at first sight. Harking back all the way to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, there’s always a Prince Charming who the princess meets a few minutes earlier before they are ready to tie the knot. It’s a fairytale kind of love, where “you just know” that something is right. People often joke that they blame Disney for their high expectations in relationships.
Disney movies are famous for portraying the discovery of love in the grandest of ways – the look (when they both know), the sweeping music, the magic lighting, and of course, true love’s kiss.
Without giving it all away, Frozen challenges the notion of love at first sight much in the same way that Enchanted did before it (ironically Idina Menzel features in both movies). “You can’t marry someone you’ve just met” is Elsa’s sisterly advice to the love-smitten Anna. Unlike the Disney princesses before her, Anna is faced with a challenge to all the stars that seem to be lining up for her – they like the same things, they have so much in common, they share similar family experiences, and he is full of the promise of taking her far away from her problems (that’s a big one).
Much of these elements are exactly the things that approach people’s minds when they consider the love in their life. Frozen surprisingly highlights that loneliness can cause reason to fade away in favour of rash decisions, which don’t always have the best consequences (another very relateable reality). Maybe this is why we find the idea of falling in love with a mysterious stranger, of someone who just walks into our lives suddenly, more appealing than the alternatives. It also pretty strongly suggests that good relationships are built off of discovering who the other person really is. Sometimes, the outside and the actions look really good, but it turns out you’ve found a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Other times the most unassuming person actually ends up making for the best choice after proper consideration and time to discover just who they are.
I guess the Disney examples before are Belle and Beast, and the classic tales of various princesses and their various frogs.
The Closed Door
One of the most prominent images throughout Frozen is the picture of a closed door. Anna and Elsa are both closed within the walls of the castle. Elsa is nothing more than a closed door for much of Anna’s childhood, even when she needs her most. Kristoff is faced with a closed castle after going leaps and bounds out of his way to assist Anna. Disney is very intentional in repeating this image multiple times throughout the film, including in some of the lyrics:
All my life has been a series of doors in my face, and then suddenly I run into you – Love is an Open Door
Please don’t shut me out again, please don’t slam the door, you don’t have to keep your distance anymore – For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)
All of us can relate with that image. Perhaps you know what it is in your life to stare at a door that someone has seemingly closed in your face. How do you speak to a door? A door can’t respond or act. A door doesn’t let you see what’s going on on the other side, and it doesn’t let the other person see through either. It can keep you bound and frustrated.
And throughout the film, all the characters learn what it is to trust and to let others into their lives. Elsa slowly opens up after having hidden her true self for so long. Anna learns what it is to persevere through rejection and to open herself to the right people. Kristoff deals with a door that he knew about but tries his best to understand anyway.
Maybe this movie is so memorable because in watching it, we secretly think to ourselves about how we can learn to do the same in our lives.
Identity and Acceptance
Let It Go is without a doubt is the most prominent moment of the film. It’s where Elsa is finally free to let her true power show and shine. The girl who was trapped and bound up, the secrets she had to continually keep to herself, are no longer holding her back.
And in discovering herself, she decides the best way to live her life is to continue to live in solitude, where she can’t hurt anyone else, and where she can’t be hurt by anyone else.
A lot of us struggle with loneliness and accepting ourselves. We see in ourselves a lot of things we don’t like, we are fully aware of our mistakes, and we often decide it is best to just portray what we think people want to see. We dress to fit in, we change our language to fit in, we compromise some of who we are to make certain friends and develop certain relationships. And we determine that if someone were to actually find out who we really were, they would walk away and leave. Perhaps this is even something born out of a painful experience.
A core message of Frozen is that who you are is actually pretty beautiful and powerful. Elsa has to learn that who she really is amazing, and that she can be her true self without having to hide or compromise any more. It also teaches us that there are people in our worlds who are completely willing and waiting to accept us for who we are, and who can also learn to adapt with new discoveries.
I hope we can all learn to do the same.
So there’s the first movie review on the site. Will I do one again… perhaps. I like to talk about the themes that movies and stories tell us in most of what I write anyway, but if it becomes useful to just focus on a movie again, I’ll probably do it.
And if you haven’t seen Frozen yet, go buy it. Yes, it is that good. You won’t regret it.
Oh yeah, and reindeers are better than people.