When I was young, my older sister would occasionally stay home from school sick. Now, I loved school, so this seemed like kind of a drag. At one point, she had the itchiest case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen. She held her head high and suffered through it bravely. I developed about four spots that could’ve been anything, and cried bloody murder. We both stayed home a week, and I discovered an entire world that had been completely hidden from me.
Apparently, when you stayed home sick, you got to watch your favorite movies and drink raspberry ginger ale all day. We went through our go-to movies: an excellent drama about Native Canadian children called Where the Spirit Lives, the PBS adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (livelier than the 2005 feature film, even if the beaver costumes are the cheesiest thing you’ve ever seen), and a treasure trove of animated Disney films.
I liked the more experimental ones, like Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, and especially Fantasia. My sister preferred the princess stories – The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. My mother hated them because she’d worked so hard to be successful in a world that had told her, growing up, that women didn’t belong in the workplace unless it was to answer a phone or meet a man. To her, The Little Mermaid was anathema – it featured a young woman who gives up her entire life and position to chase a man.
Frozen faces a difficult task. Like The Little Mermaid, it’s loosely based on a Danish folk tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, but Frozen is made for a world 24 years older. Ever since Pixar, famed for franchises like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, took over Disney – technically Disney bought Pixar in 2006, but for all intents and purposes it was the other way round – they’ve been seeking to bring back the “princess story.”
It hasn’t been without challenges – Pixar may have its own brand of magic, but Disney captured something else. Pixar’s films have always been about coming out of your shell and discovering the world. From Finding Nemo to Up, the biggest threat is one’s own unwillingness to learn and change. Disney’s best films, however, are about the magic of home. The biggest threat is that you might not be able to find your way back.
In Frozen, Queen Elsa (Broadway legend Idina Menzel) hides her powerful ice sorcery from both her kingdom of Arendelle and her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell). Upon Elsa’s coronation, Anna becomes – in true Disney princess fashion – engaged to a prince she meets that very day. This upsets Elsa, who accidentally reveals her powers. She exiles herself into the mountains, unaware that she’s left Arendelle in eternal winter.
Cue Anna’s quest to talk sense into her sister, aided by the ice trader Kristoff, his moose Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf. In particular, ads for the movie make Olaf look unbearable for adults, but in context, his humor works wonderfully and gives the film its heart.
The songs – yes, there’s singing – are sometimes exceptional. They veer more Broadway than ever before, which means one or two smack of light rock, but they’re also the cleverest this side of Aladdin and none overstays its welcome. The action is solid and, while the computer animation lacks a certain detail, it more than makes up for this in its art and character design. Best of all is Anna. She makes emotional decisions just like a Disney princess, but there are consequences. Frozen finds smart ways of making the old-fashioned things matter – such as which guy she’ll fall in love with – while undermining enough of it to teach Anna that being in love doesn’t preclude her from being the hero in her own story.
Like the best Disney animation, Frozen is about the magic of home and the loved ones around you. It sits comfortably alongside all those Disney classics I’ve already mentioned, and I can’t wait to share it with my niece and nephew. It’s also refreshing to see the top two movies in America right now (along with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) are led by two very different female heroes. After all, you never know when a man’s going to be sitting home with four maybe-chicken pox. Frozen is rated PG for action and humor.
A version of this review appears in the 12/5/13 edition of La Vernia News.