In Frozen you get two Disney princesses for the price of one. But they’re not just any old Disney princesses, says Simon Mernagh.
You can tell the bigwigs over at Disney have been agonising over how best to market reams of pretty new merchandise to aspiring princesses while still assuaging those pesky progressives who demand stronger female leads as examples for young girls. After a break of 18 years, between Beauty and The Beast (1991) and 2009’s The Frog Princess (Pocahontas, Alladin’s main squeeze, Jasmine, and Mulan came in between, but have only been subsequently tacked on to the merchandising range for good measure), they’ve been involved in steady princess market expansion for a while now. 2010’s Tangled was thoroughly entertaining and beautifully animated, but its helpless heroine needed her man. Last year’s Brave featured the short, sassy, red-haired warrior princess Merida, who has since been given a make-over that makes her look like flame-headed Barbie. While that movie hid conventional stereotypes under the guise of originality, Frozen turns the tables by dressing a truly groundbreaking adventure up in traditional, unassuming fairy-tale garb.
Oh yeah, and it’s a musical.
Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic ‘The Snow Queen’, Frozen certainly lives up to its shivery title: princess Anna (Kristen Bell) teams up with ice-miner and adventurer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) in an epic quest to rescue the kingdom from an eternal winter. Anna’s sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) unwittingly summoned the deep freeze, and has locked herself in a mountaintop tower to prevent any further harm to her people. Can everyone’s day be saved?
The phrase “unpredictable Disney movie” may sound like an impossible misnomer, but Frozen throws enough loops to fit the bill – nothing is telegraphed, twists and turns abound and the film lacks an immediately obvious villain. In this sense, Frozen is a snowy-white unicorn among the old mares housed in the well-used Disney stables.
Without spilling the beans, Frozen subverts and undercuts casually accepted and taken-for-granted definitions of ‘love’ with revolutionary aplomb. This is personified by a pair of proactive Disney princesses – rather than sitting around waiting for a knight in shining armour (read: some guy) to come save the day, the sisters actually cover their own backs. Although, we mustn’t ignore the male contributions: Kristoff is charming, while adorable snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and his reindeer sidekick Sven, incite plenty of laughter.
Did I mention, it’s a musical?
Never mind all this highfalutin ‘Gender Studies 101’ convention-smashing – how are the songs? Well, this reviewer may regret the following words, but better songs have hardly been sung in a Disney film since The Lion King, perhaps even Aladdin. Bell’s formidable pipes easily hold their own against the legendary Menzel (of Rent and Wicked fame), while the infectiously hummable tunes themselves burrow their way into the brain and claim squatter’s rights.
What’s so enormously appealing about Frozen is the sheer lengths taken to improve on the tried, tested and, dare I say, tired formulae of its animated predecessors. The only people Frozen could possibly leave cold are those already stiffened by the throes of rigor mortis.
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