Big Broadway Numbers and Sensible Morals: Disney’s Frozen

Before I discuss Frozen, I feel it only fair to start this review with a disclaimer: Hello, my name is Leah Withers and I am a Disney Fan Girl. Yes, yes, I am one of those. Those 20-something people that re-watch The Rescuers Down Under on a Saturday night, totally sober, and live tweet commentary to absolutely no one. One of those people who falls gleefully down the Tumblr rabbit holes of Disney fanart (ermahgerd have you guys seen Pocket Princesses??) and who may or may not have a dedicated Disney board on her Pinterest… So hop on board good folks, see me after the jump, and let the squeeing commence!

Some spoilers ahead!

“OMG love!”—those were the first words out of my mouth as the credits began to run on Frozen. From the magic to the music, I think we have a winner here and good heavens did Disney need one.

Frozen is vaguely inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Snow Queen” and follows a few days in the lives of royals Elsa and her little sister Anna and their lovely, quaint, and Norwegian-ish kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa was born with magic ice powers but not much ability to control them. Despite being close in their early years, the girls become estranged as Elsa isolates herself out of fear of hurting others with her “curse.” On Elsa’s coronation day, Anna triggers her sister into exposing her secret and Elsa runs off into the wilderness, distraught and believing she is not fit to be in society. Sadly, her emotional departure throws Arendelle into a deep winter so Anna takes off to bring her sister back. Ensue hijinks, cute sidekicks, moral lessons, and all that jazz.

Now, Disney can be depended on to do many things well, such as beautiful and creative animation which I won’t waste breath on reassuring you is present in this film. But what they have struggled with in the post golden 90s era has been their music. Granted, classics like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King set the bar exceedingly high but that doesn’t mean Tangled and Princess and the Frog should be forgiven for having bad soundtracks. Blame bad song-writers, blame too high-expectations, blame whomever you like, but the decline in Disney musical magic has been apparent and tragic.

All this is to say that I was zip-a-dee-doo-dah excited by the gust of refreshing wind that was the music of Frozen! What changed? They stopped trying to be what they were and embraced something new—theater nerds, hold on to your hats: Disney has gone Broadway. That’s right, finally abandoning their sad and awkward attempts to recreate the auditory gold of nineties Disney, twenty-teens Disney has admitted they might never write another “A Whole New World,” dropped the pretense, and instead gone the stage musical route. The music of Frozen is reminiscent of Wicked and its ilk: fast, layered duets and smart, complicated arrangements. My favorite of the nine original tracks, “Let it Go,” is a personal manifesto akin to “Defying Gravity” and just as exciting to experience. Other notable songs are “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” which is sweet and heart-wrenching and “In Summer,” a delightfully funny tune.

So with great music on lock, Frozen frees up to be enjoyed for its other smaller elements. Cute and quirky sidekicks are always a fan favorite and Frozen delivers with an adorable (and very funny) reindeer and magically animated snowman. I’ll admit I was sold on this movie from the early teaser short where the reindeer and snowman fight over a carrot (did I watch that more than ten times back to back? Maybe…), but the pair of them continued to be heartwarming comic relief throughout.

The moral lessons of Frozen are strong with both new and commonplace truisms represented. [Spoiler] The movie does hang on that old chestnut: “An Act of Selfless Love” but does that ever really get old? No! Unless you are heartless, in which case you could probably use An Act of Selfless Love. But also present is something new and different for Disney: “love at first sight is pretty dumb and getting to know a person is what reasonable people do before hitching their life wagons together.” Yay, rational thinking! There’s also loyalty, with sisters who actually love one another without a shred of cattiness in sight. Miraculous! And the management of expectations: “Fixer Upper” is a fun song reminiscent of “Be Our Guest” and explores the issue of loving a person, including their faults.

So all in all: this Disney fan gives two big thumbs up to Frozen with its fantastic soundtrack, hearty and heartwarming story line, beautiful animation, and very funny characters. Squeeeeeeeee.

Oh, before I go—I do have one critique of Frozen, though it’s more for Disney in general. I get that this is set in vaguely-Norway or some such place, but does everyone have to be white? It’s animated! There’s ice magic! Can’t there be some diversity of skin color for no rational reason? I would love to see Disney charge into a racially-unconscious world like what we saw in the brilliant 1997 made-for-TV production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring the incomparable Ms. Brandy. Black, White, Yellow, Purple: fairy tales are the perfect place to shake and stir races together with no thought or logic and I’d love to see Disney take that approach rather than having to base the occasional entire movie around a particular race (Mulan, Princess and the Frog) just to tick off their “we swear we’re not racist” box. Fin!

Leah Withers is an Associate Publicist at Tor Books who hails from Northern Virginia, by way of Texas.


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