So I know this is almost a year after Frozen debuted in theaters, and while I did watch the film shortly after it came out in theaters, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t blown away by it until watching it for the second time, as I did earlier today.
As I watched the film earlier today, a ton of questions flooded into my head during the film that never got answered. Where does Elsa’s power come from? How did Anna grow up? Her character is so bubbly and open–and we know she’s the stark contrast to Elsa, but what other factors contributed to her personality formation? What about the girls’ parents? We only know that the parents told Elsa to keep her powers a secret to protect Anna…but how did this affect Elsa and Anna’s parents? What I really missed from Frozen was the character development–how they became the way they are, and how they changed throughout the film.
Anna’s and Elsa’s personalities in particular are things I wished were more well thought-out. Elsa and Anna were made to be opposites–and that was made apparent in the film. However, in terms of their individual personalities, I just couldn’t believe them as thoughtfully-developed characters. Elsa shuts everyone out, including her sister, because her powers caused her to hurt her sister. Anna can’t understand why Elsa shuts her out–yet she’s the quirky, bubbly, outgoing opposite of Anna. And while the sisters eventually reconcile, they really don’t have much character growth throughout the film that leads them to the resolution that they reach. And while Anna’s character has frequently been touted as a refreshing departure from the typical Disney princess, I don’t think that’s quite true (more on Anna’s character in my post here). While the critique for many previous Disney princesses is that they are beautiful and smart, or beautiful and strong, with beauty still a defining trait of the princesses, Anna is also beautiful, and her beauty is a defining trait for her–she is no different from these portrayals of Disney princesses. If anything, Anna’s portrayal is weaker, because her sense of self-sacrifice doesn’t come across as strongly as it does with other Disney female leads such as Mulan or Belle, who both sacrifice themselves for their fathers–the reason being is that both Mulan and Belle are much more fully developed characters that experience some kind of growth throughout their films.
While I hate to make the comparison between Tangled and Frozen because it’s been made so many times before (for very similar reasons), what I really missed in Frozen that I loved in Tangled was the character growth–Rapunzel’s growth from a sheltered, naive girl to someone strong-willed and independent, and Flynn’s transformation from a selfish, cunning thief to a self-sacrificing man who loves and cares deeply for Rapunzel. Most other Disney movies focus on this character growth–Simba’s eventual acceptance of responsibility in The Lion King, Mulan’s discovery of her identity after her journey disguising herself as a soldier in place of her father, Merida and her mother’s eventual ability to understand each other in Brave. This sort of character growth was what really made me connect with and root for the characters in those films, but that kind of growth and journey wasn’t really there in Frozen. While the protagonists in Tangled and Frozen do go on some kind of quest that takes up the greater part of the film, the quest in Tangled really pulls in the viewers because of the profound character development, and its entertainment factor is augmented, rather than carried by, the quippy dialogue and action among the main characters and side characters. On the other hand, Frozen’s quest needs those exchanges among Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf, and needs the comic relief from the side-character Olaf, in order for audiences to really be captured by it.
And what about Hans? Hans does a complete 180 three-quarters of the way into the movie, from sweet and charming to evil and greedy, plotting to steal Elsa’s throne–and I did not see it coming at all. What else motivated him to manipulate Anna and attempt to murder Elsa, besides having 12 older brothers? It’s hard to believe Hans’ character turnaround, because his feelings for Anna (whether real or not) were quite believable at the beginning of the film. He did look at her affectionately, and it didn’t seem contrived–it seemed real, especially considering that at the end of the film, Hans tells Anna that Elsa was the preferable choice for a marriage. Hans did seem genuinely worried for Anna as she took off to find Elsa–and when Anna’s horse returned without Anna. Hans did seem like a genuinely decent person when he tried to save Elsa from the other men trying to kill her in her ice palace. He deflects one man’s fatal arrow aimed at Elsa, and he tells Elsa to “not be the monster they think she is.” To me, Hans did seem like someone empathetic and good, and he did seem to actually care for Anna. If Hans were evil the whole time, what hints did he leave to indicate that he had ulterior motives (besides that one line in the “Love is an Open Door” song about “finally finding his place” and having 12 older brothers in line for the throne before him)? While Hans’s motives for plotting to steal Elsa’s throne do seem believable, when he tells Anna that he has 12 older brothers, it doesn’t seem like something he’s embittered about–it simply seems as though he shared Anna’s feelings of being left out by a sibling. Nothing in Hans’s demeanor changes to indicate that this one detail about his life might prove to be something of more significance later on in the plot. Although the love song with Anna and Hans does seem a bit weird and displaced at the beginning of the film, that doesn’t seem like enough of a hint that Hans might be evil–all it does is hint that this “romance” between them is likely not true love. All it does is further support the portrayal of Anna’s character as naive and desperate for love–but not the idea that Hans could be evil. I think the foreshadowing of Hans as a villain could have been more thoughtful and less random, and showing this would have made his character, and the film, much stronger.
In terms of entertainment, I will say that Frozen more than delivered. I was thoroughly entertained by the cinematography, the side characters (I think Olaf was probably my favorite character in the entire film), and especially the music. Idina Menzel and Kristin Bell were wonderful together in all of their duets. As a film meant to entertain, Frozen was spot on. However, in terms of a story, and a strong plot, built on a foundation of strong, well-developed, dynamic characters, I don’t think Frozen quite hit the mark. I still like the film, but it isn’t my favorite Disney film. The Disney films I love that really hit home (Brave, Tangled, Mulan, The Lion King) all feature some kind of character growth–and focus more on the development and journey of the character rather than focusing on trying to completely avoid Disney stereotypes–and this is where I think Frozen went wrong. If Frozen had focused more on creating multifaceted characters and the journey that these characters take to become better versions of themselves, rather than trying to avoid creating a typical Disney film, I would have enjoyed Frozen much, much more. And it’s not like the concept of a strong Disney princess valuing familial love over romantic love has never been done before. Brave did this beautifully, as did Mulan and Beauty and the Beast. I think Frozen tried too hard to defy stereotypes, to pull the rug out from under the audience–and this weakened the film and made it a flimsy adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale. The basis of a great Disney film comes from the characters and their growth as the film progresses, and I greatly missed this in Frozen.