When Disney’s most recent feature-length animated film Frozen was released in theaters a few months ago, it was lauded endlessly by critics all over the world. Fans began cropping up everywhere, and it didn’t take too long for audiences to declare the film a new Disney classic on par with their equally-lauded films The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Frozen is a shoo-in for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in a few weeks, and will most certainly win Best Song, as the show-stopper “Let It Go” is a Broadway-ready karaoke curse waiting to happen.
But is Frozen becoming the classic everyone says, or is it just over-enthusiasm over its novelty? Indeed, is the film even really all that good, or are people merely taken by its limp attempts at not-so-clever Disney Princess subversion. I declare that Frozen is a relatively solid entry in the Disney animated Feature canon (it is certainly better than forgettable films like Home on the Range), but that it – at best – can only be declared average. Indeed, when one begins to pick the film apart, one can only come to the following conclusion: Frozen SUCKS. Let CraveOnline’s anger-baiting series Trolling explain why.
An element of the film few defenders of Frozen have mentioned are the rock-colored trolls who serve perhaps some plot function, but whose presence in the movie is otherwise pusillanimous. They sing a song, they cast spells, and they establish there is magic in this universe. They're also not funny, and clutter up the movie with exposition. Who cares if Hans was raised by trolls? Or was it Kristoff? The trolls are actually indicative of a classic Disney disease, which I'll illustrate in my next point.
Disney Sidekick Syndrome
Disney tends to populate their films with easily-marketable, “cute” animal sidekicks. It's part of the well-worn, completely tiresome formula that I thought the company had grown out of with films like Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled, but I guess not. In Frozen, we're treated to a useless and unfunny snowman character named Olaf who serves no plot function at all, and whose witty modern-voiced wisecracks only serve to slow the entire film. I suppose he's the only character with any personality (both Anna and Elsa are total drags), but he's too grating to be useful in the charisma department. Add to Olaf a mute “funny” reindeer, and you find yourself wanting to claw your face off.
Anna is Annoying
I suppose one of Anna's character traits is that she's naïve, but her omigawd SoCal teen girlspeak, and whiny, clingy “Do you wanna build a snowman” dogging of a sister she barely knows strikes me as unbelievably obnoxious. Disney has, at least in their more recent films, tried to strike a more comic tone than a magical one, and as such they have started to put fast-paced pseudo-comic dialogue in the mouths of their heroes. And I hate it. Because it's not funny. It's deliberately anachronistic. It spoils any classic tone the film would have had, and immediately dates them. Anna's bickering with Kristoff/Hans doesn't work, and you'll just have to wait for it to end. It worked in Tangled. Doesn't work here.
Anna falls in love with one man near the film's beginning, only to fall in love with another over the course of a few days. The theme with her story is a not-so-daring-at-all-really subversion of the persistently popular Disney Princess notion that a young woman can fall in love and marry in the same day (something we've seen in classics like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella). So Anna has a chance to make a moral decision: Does she marry the quick romance she promised, or does she call that off to pursue a longer-form relationship with a different new man? It would have been interesting if Anna actually did make a choice, but the film makes the choice for her, and turns her first love into a villain for totally arbitrary reasons. The men have no personality, so turning one into a villain can only be seen as the cheapest possible plot manipulation.
Subversion is Not Subversive
Many critics have praised Frozen for being a clever subversion of the Disney Princess romantic tropes I mentioned above. Um... have you not been paying attention to Disney features for the past 25 years? Ever since Beauty and the Beast, Disney has been trying to re-brand their classic Princess characters as complex people rather than mere prizes to be won. Indeed, this “subversion” of the Princess brand has become part of the brand: Mulan, Hercules, Tangled, Brave, the many Tinkerbell movies, all have supposedly been daring, self-aware “subversions” of the Disney Princess brand. Guess what, Disney? Being self-aware about your branding doesn't make the branding any less bland or insidious.
One Song of Strength vs. Film of Caution
The showstopping song “Let It Go” was clearly written for the stage, and Frozen will come to Broadway soon enough. It's a bold and wonderfully noisy belter that all theater majors will know by heart. It's also inconsistent with the character who sings it. Elsa, the snow queen, has been cloistered her whole life because she's a mutant X-Man, and who accidentally manifests her ice powers in front of the whole village. In shame and fear, she flees to the mountains. She's cautious, serious, mature, and fearful. Her only recourse is to flee. And yet, when she flees, her upbeat power ballad is about letting it all go. She's not becoming daring, however, at the moment she sings it. She doesn't learn to let it go until the film's end, when, perhaps, the song should have appeared. At best, “Let It Go” is an ironic song about how she can't let it go.
Frozen doesn't really begin until about halfway through. The plot of Frozen is needlessly complicated, introducing dozens of themes and useless characters on its way to the central story. There's an intro in the past, where we see all the main characters as children. Then there's a montage where some of the characters grow up. There's those dang trolls. There's a coronation. There's a song. There's a proposal. There's a freakout. And finally, finally, after 45 minutes, the plot finally begins. Frozen is about a girl trying to find her estranged sister. Sadly, the film felt is was necessary to pad out the film with the entire estrangement tale. All of that could have been more effectively packaged with a before-film narration.
The snowy visuals are all very impressive, and the studio constantly proves that its at the forefront of animation techniques. Also, the songs are generally upbeat, and I agree that a movie about two women is refreshing. But none of that changes the fact that Frozen reeks of Disney branding just as much as any of their other pictures, and nothing can change the fact that it's a padded, badly plotted, and kind of annoying movie.
Until next week, let the hate mail flow.
Witney Seibold is the head film critic for Nerdist, and a contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.