As Pixar has been off winning awards and becoming the golden child of the animation industry, Disney has gone through a quiet period of renovation. The change occurred so gradually that I didn't realize until halfway through Frozen that they have created another solid classic, but one that could not have been made any other time. Frozen is a beauty of a film that delicately comments on the world that children are growing up in today as uncertainties about different cultures and lifestyles make for scary conversations, and Frozen is here to make those conversations a bit less terrifying.
Starting with The Princess and the Frog, Disney has made the women of their films the focus instead of an accessory of the lead. Tangled took this even further, and used tricky advertising to get audiences to think it was another animated comedy instead of a musical. Now Frozen takes this focus to an excellent resting place, focusing entirely on the relationship between two sisters who were once so close. It emphasizes aspects of their relationship that make it unique to sisters, but are so universal to siblings.
Frozen is a tribute to the strong women that have served as the side-characters for so many stories. There is no story without Princess Elsa and Anna, because their relationship is what drives Frozen forward. Neither one of them is prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood as they were both sequestered away from the world, Elsa (Idina Menzel) as a girl whose beautiful gifts are misunderstood to cause pain, and Anna (Kristen Bell) as a traditional princess who needs to find true love. Frozen finds subtle fault in these things, critiquing the absent parenting that has been the basis of so many Disney films, and the idea that girls need to find satisfaction in a way that pleases others to be happy.
Olaf is key to these subtle aspects even though he looks like another wacky sidekick. I never quite cottoned to his goofiness, but Olaf's a reminder of the closeness the sisters used to share, that relic their minds hold as adult responsibilities weigh in. When Elsa embraces herself its not her absent and stifling parents she brings back to life, but the snowman she built with her sister. I liked Anna's confusion when she first saw Olaf because that relic isn't the same between siblings. Olaf's existence is proof of their bond made real, and gives Anna strength, even as Elsa pushes her away. My brothers and I are still close, but we each look at our relationship through a different lens.
This tendency to hold the past too closely is excellently weaved throughout every plot thread. There are the main points, such as Elsa's inability to cleanse her memory of the pain she caused Anna. Kristoff hangs onto the old ice mining industry that's fallen out of fashion. Even minor characters cling to the past, as the handsome Prince and Duke of Weselton harp on old agreements to provide a path forward. Everyone is quite literally frozen in their ways, unable - for the moment - to change.
That's where some of the sneakily progressive tendencies of Frozen come alive. The two happiest characters in the film are Olaf, who is content to just be a snowman dreaming of warm climates, and Oaken, a shopkeeper who makes an indelibile impression with just two minutes of time. Both are designed wonderfully, with no edges or rough features, and embrace warmth through Olaf's melting exterior or Oaken's bright shop and multicolored sweatshirt. Oaken also serves the honorable distinction of being what may be the first openly gay character in any Disney film - a distinction made through a quick, and thoroughly adorable, cutoff gag to his family.
Oaken and Olaf's warmth excludes them from the snow that cakes everyone else in place. The animation of the snow is beautiful, and serves as a wonderful guidepost. Kristoff has powdery snow caked to his body during his first adult appearance, as the snow is just something he works with. Anna treats it alternately like an obstacle, molded into weapons or complaining about its feel. Then there's poor Elsa, who is free to make complex designs, but because she chose to isolate herself from the world. Unlike Brave, where the technological marvel of Merida's hair overwhelmed the character, the cold details compliment each character.
I loved the animation and progressive aspsects of the film, but the music took a bit of time to take root. The obvious stunner featuring one hell of a vocal performance is "Let It Go", and I enjoyed the charms of "Fixer Upper" and "In Summer" but the other songs sank into obscurity. Still, next morning, I caught myself singing, "Would You Like To Build A Snowman?", as I nodded my head along with the beats. It seems the music has dug in, and dug deep.
History says that this project has been a goal of Disney since the early '40s, but there was never a right time to realize the project. This is the perfect moment for Frozen, when kids are entering a world where different conceptions of love and families are slowly becoming accepted around the world. Two strong women at the center of Frozen show just how different the path forward can be, while singing some damn good tunes along the way.
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
Screenplay written by Jennifer Lee.
Starring Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel.