There is nothing like snowy and wintery films to cool us all down in the middle of this summer, and Debbie at Moon in Gemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon for that very purpose. For this fun blogathon, I chose to write on animated films “Frozen” (2013) and “The Sword in the Stone” (1963). While “Frozen” is, essentially, the winter animation, there is also some winter scenery at the very end of “The Sword in the Stone“. These are both Disney-productions, with some fifty years separating the two, but one is computer-generated, while the other one is hand-drawn. My arguments will be that there are good enough animations, but they both fell short of their desired mark. While “Frozen” has great visuals, some music and concepts, the animation’s plot and characters can be criticised. Equally, while “The Sword in the Stone” relies on a fascinating legend and is entertaining, its visuals sometimes leave much to be desired and its episodic plot is uninspiring. My first post will be about “Frozen“, and because I critique it in depth, I am also warning about spoilers!
In “Frozen”, Elsa and Anna are two young Princesses of Arendelle who are initially close. Elsa has the innate power coming from her hands to make “snow magic” and cover things in snow and ice. One unfortunate incident in their childhood results in Anna being accidentally injured by Elsa, and Anna then forgets the incident through help. Some ten years later, Elsa is at her coronation, where her unique powers are incidentally become known, forcing her retreat to the mountains and, from that point on, Arendelle is covered in perpetual snow. What follows then is Anna’s journey to persuade her older sister to return and somehow end the winter.
Message and Music
Firstly – the good things. “Frozen” is a sweet, amusing and child-friendly animation. The biggest merit of it is the touching way in which it explores the sisterly affection and friendship. Elsa and Anna were close when little, but grew apart when they matured. They each have their own insecurities and sometimes difficulty in communication is the biggest obstacle to a friendship growing. Elsa and Anna both learn to cherish each other through the hurdles they face in the story and this positive look on sisterly companionship and friendship should be one of the picture’s biggest draws. The principles of self-sacrifice and helping friends in need are also well-presented, and the final climax of the movie when Anna decided to protect her sister with her life is very moving. Besides, “Frozen” musical scores are memorable and well-performed. Even though the song “Let It Go” is over-hyped and sounds almost like a parody of some original version, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” is a cute and catchy and “For the First Time in Forever” is another great tune.
One other great thing about this animation is all the wonderful visuals with snow and ice vistas everywhere and snow looking beautiful and real. Apparently, just to construct one shot where Elsa builds her palace, around fifty Disney computer workers toiled tirelessly for more than thirty hours on the new technology (see the news link here). The main characters are also very well constructed visually with memorable features and attention to detail. However, in my view, the people in the animation that uses digital technology still look too robotic and lack fluidity of movement. Such robotic movements can perhaps work splendidly for toys, such as in the “Toy Story” trilogy (1995-2010), or even for animals, such as in “Finding Dory” (2016), but, applied to real human-like people, they are simply not that good, and the digital technology simply renders human characters a bit too artificial and awkward.
Parallels with Andersen’s “Snow Queen” and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
There are many who say that “Frozen” has little in common with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, though it borrows concepts from it, but there are actually many evident parallels and similarities between the two. The character Anna was actually modelled on the girl Gerda of Andersen’s story. Gerda is a loving person and a true friend in the story who has a tender relationship with the boy Kai, her neighbour and friend. Whoever read “The Snow Queen” will immediately see that Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen” plays the role of Kai. Like Kai, who has become indifferent and withdraws from Gerda in the story when the splinters of the evil mirror get to his heart, Elsa also withdraws from Anna after she accidentally injures her. The same concept of some magic getting into the head or the heart of characters, changing them, is present in both “Frozen” and “The Snow Queen”.
Later in both stories, Kai and Elsa are associated even more with snow and ice, and both flee from their homes one way or another. Also, in both “The Snow Queen” and “Frozen”, Anna and Gerda set out on a journey to find Elsa and Kai respectively, since both still cherish the good times they had together. Interestingly, a reindeer in both stories help the heroines and there is an ice palace in both tales where the “captives” reside. In the end, both Anna and Gerda are willing to sacrifice themselves amidst all the danger and save their loved ones. However, while the Andersen’s story is clear, the premise of “Frozen” is more muddled, especially when it comes to the motives of the characters. The conclusion of both tales is the summertime and love, truth and purity of one’s heart saves the day eventually, melting the ice between the two characters who recently grew apart.
Moreover, some plot elements of “Frozen” hint at the episodes from “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), even though that animation is also based on a French fairy-tale. Notable similarities are the invasion of a castle in both films – Elsa’s ice castle and the Beast’s castle respectively. The invaders in both stories think that the owner is “a monster”, and one person should be rescued from there – Anna and Belle respectively. In reality, the perceived monster is not actually a monster. For a real case of a plagiarism claim directed at “Frozen” see the news article here.
Analysis of the Plot and Characters
Considering it closely, “Frozen” has a relatively thin plot with an obvious Disney glitter added to the story to make it more appealing. The plot could even have been done better as a short because some thrilling actions with wolves and snow monsters, dialogues, as well as songs performed by characters take up much of the story, and the main story is simply Anna’s journey to Elsa. Disney even goes its favourite way and kills the parents of Elsa and Anna in the beginning of the story to make both even more sympathetic. Moreover, “Frozen” is not the most coherent or logical animation there is. Many things are left unexplained in the story and many of the character’s actions are puzzling. It is never explained why Elsa was born with the powers of ice magic in the first place, and the fact that Anna alone goes to fetch Elsa through all the snow is odd. Elsa’s social withdrawal because of her fear not to hurt Anna is also a bit strange. The feeling is that, upon watching the animation, one will not even be able to say with any certainty why Elsa decided to leave, why Anna decided to follow and how the story managed to turn from the story about attempting to return Elsa and summer to saving Anna’s life.
Considering the main characters, it is understandable that Disney wanted to break even more from its dated portrayal of passive females in “Snow White” (1937) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), where the heroines simply waited for their princes to rescue them. In the 1990s, we had independent-thinking and book-reading Belle, who was inspirational, as well as Mulan, the warrior who even rescued her own prince. In “Frozen”, Disney decided to go a step further with Anna. She is kind-hearted and quite imperfect, and the intention was to make her as laid back and relatable as possible. However, the problem here is that there is too much of this message of Anna as an easy-going person, and she is quite annoying most of the time, using a lot of slang. Anna is an uncertain role model because she lacks the intelligence of Belle (Anna does make strange decisions), and does not have the grace and vigour acquired by Mulan.
Elsa is the older sister of Anna, and is supposed to be more rational and serious of the two, with Anna being more cheerful and spontaneous, but even that fire-ice contrast is not very evident here. Then, there is Kristoff, an ice delivery man, whom Anna meets on her way to Elsa. Kristoff comes off as a good guy, but there is also no denying that he is a misanthrope. Kristoff also does not hide the fact that the most important thing to him is his ice-delivery business and his trading sledge. Given these traits, Kristoff could hardly be this role model for boys this animation should present. This is supposed to be an animation that empowers girls, but Kristoff puts Anna down a number of times, even though jokingly, for example, implying that she cannot knock or climb mountains “properly”. These “jokes” reveal more deep-seated concerns with this animation.
Then comes the main “villain” of the story – Hans, who is a prince of another Kingdom. The situation with this villain is more complicated than it first appears. There is no doubt that Hans turns out to be quite evil, leaving Anna to die at one point and trying to makes himself a King through deceit and duplicity. However, Prince Hans actually saved Elsa’s life at one point in the story when someone tried to fire an arrow at her in her winter palace. This action cannot also be ignored, and given Kristoff’s evident materialistic and professional desires in the story, Hans’s wish to get ahead professionally and materialistically could not really be criticised that much either.
The most pitiful thing about “Frozen” is that its main characters do not really complete their hero’s journeys. Kristoff is supposed to realise that it is not his business or material possessions, like his sledge, which is important in life, but friendship and love. And yet, at the end, he is presented with a new sledge by Anna and is promoted to the head ice-delivery man for the Kingdom. Anna is also far from completing her journey. Before the coronation, Anna dreamt of finding “the one”, and she seemed to have good chemistry with Kristoff. However, in the end, apart from one kiss shared by Anna and Kristoff, we do not see any romantic conclusion or any hint that Anna and Kristoff’s relationship will progress romantically in future. Anna is still a Princess and Kristoff is still a servant of the Kingdom.
In that way, such animation as “Anastasia” (1997) is more satisfying since there both Anya and Dimitri complete their hero’s journeys. Dmitri, who was materialist at the beginning, changes his heart and turns away from money, finding his love with Anya, and Anya finds love with Dimitri, as well as establishes links with her grandmother. Elsa probably comes closest to completing her journey and changing as a person in “Frozen”, because she understood the power of love and sacrifice, and that helped her to control her magical powers. However, even that interpretation is something too little coming too late because Anna and Kristoff have been the main couple of the story.
Having said that, the funniest and the most adorable character is probably snowman Olaf, and his number when he sings and dreams about summer is probably one of the best in “Frozen”. In fact, the secondary characters are delightful to watch, and the trolls’ dance number, as well as the scenes with Kristoff’s reindeer Sven, are quite entertaining.
“Frozen” has some beautiful visuals and catchy tunes, while it also admirably explores the touching loving bond between two sisters, as well as stresses the inspiring message of a self-sacrifice for a loved one. However, nothing can really camouflage the fact that the plot is thin, the characters’ motivations are puzzling, and they are trying too hard to be liked, becoming either annoying, perplexing or uncertain role models as a result. It does not help that the “villain” here is vague, and the benevolent characters never complete satisfactory their hero’s journeys. Though very entertaining with funny side characters, “Frozen” also relies more heavily on previous material than the majority thinks, and, even though Disney tries to break once again from its traditional Princess stereotype and usual romance, most of its underdeveloped concepts still backfire. 7/10