Disney had a fairly solid formula going. A young woman, born into privilege, is unhappy. It takes a man to complete her. Roll credits.
With Frozen, they attempt to change the tune. Elsa is a young girl with an amazing ability to control ice. While playing with her sister — the impetuous and spoiled Anna — she loses control of her fabulous abilities and zaps Anna in the brain. Fearing that the shock to the head will kill her, the king and queen take their two daughters to a village of magical trolls. There, the patriarch of the troll clan asks if Elsa’s powers are the result of a curse or if she was just ‘born that way’. The only way to protect Anna is for the grandfatherly troll to remove all memory of Elsa’s reality-bending, culture-jamming abilities and have Elsa grow up trying to repress who she really is.
As young adults, the unstable and narcissistic Anna falls madly in love with a boy that she’s just met and wants to marry him. When Elsa tells her that it’s a stupid idea, Anna lashes out and demands Elsa’s blessing. Confronted with Anna’s desire to marry anybody that she wants, Elsa reveals her repressed nature. The men of the city freak out and chase her away. Elsa establishes a palace of her own where she can be true to herself, but discovers that her continued flamboyance upsets the natural balance of the world and causes the city to remain buried in snow.
The film then follows the villain of the movie, Anna, as she tries to find Elsa and reconcile her with the community. On her journey, she meets a buffoonish magical snowman who wants to experience summer (an abomination), and reconnects with the heteronormative trolls who encourage her to settle down in a thoroughly heterosexual marriage as per the demands of universal law.
While all of this sounds like a gay old time, it’s a laboriously slow film. Most of the songs are instantly forgettable, falling mostly into the trap of just being straight readings of the plot set to music. Consider a film like Beauty and the Beast, where the opening song introduces the world and sets up the main character:
Frozen, on the other hand, opens with a song sung by the chorus about ice. None of the songs match the sheer joy of earlier Disney entries. Even the song that everybody’s raving about — Let It Go — is shrill and uninspired.
The plot also leaves a lot to be desired. We’re never told why Anna needs to forget all about Elsa’s special qualities. It’s suggested that there’s a piece of ice in her mind and that knowing about magic will cause the ice to take over Anna’s body. But when Anna discovers Elsa’s gift, there are zero consequences. This makes resolving the plot difficult: what are the stakes involved? Elsa’s ice magic is the core narrative vehicle for the movie, and yet the audience is never really told how it works or what the risks are.
Sure, props to Disney for making a film that you might want your daughter to watch, but it’s a shame that the film feels third-rate.