Frozen (2013), Disney’s latest fairytale inspired animated feature, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, written by Buck, Lee and Shane Morris, and featuring the voice talents of Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Santino Fontana, is the perfect example of what the studio does best – pure, unadulterated escapism which appeals to children of all ages.
After the death of their parents the King and Queen, Anna’s (Bell) elder sister Elsa (Menzel) is to be crowned Queen. However Elsa has a dreadful secret – the ability to turn everything to ice with the merest touch of her finger – and when she inadvertently casts her kingdom into eternal winter she flees the land to take refuge in the mountains. To save her sister from herself as well as the local townspeople who blame her for the winter which now envelops their home, Anna – along with the handsome Kristoff (Groff), his feisty reindeer Sven and the irrepressible snowman Olaf (Gad) – sets off on a journey which will change all their lives forever.
I have a friend, a children’s author, who accompanied me to a screening of Frozen. After watching the film I asked her what she thought of it – did she feel inspired? She told me that she felt “the joy of Frozen is the complex and touching portrait of sisterhood at its heart, which has been treated so that all children – with or without sisters – will identify with it”.
Which, when you analyse it, is a perfect summation of not just the film, but also of what Disney as a studio does on a more general level. Their most successful films – of which Frozen looks set to join the ranks – have proved their longevity because, like all the best children’s literature, they never talk down to their core audience. Neither do they, like so many modern kid’s films, try to be too clever for their own good, often ending up so convoluted that they loose and confuse younger and older viewers alike. Instead they focus on characters with a universal appeal and situations which nearly everyone has found themselves in at some point in their lives and can hence relate to. In Frozen we have siblings who believe in each-other when no one else does, true friends who pull together and are there for you when the chips are down, and people – who unfortunately we all know as well – that show their ‘true colours’ when the going gets tough.
As well as its deeper sociological and psychological messages, the film also has the elements which are present in all of Disney’s best work. That the animation is of the highest standard in its field is never in question – this is after all from the studio who virtually created the art form of the feature length cartoon as we know it. However, the elements which lift Disney’s work above that of its competitors – fairytale inspiration (Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen), believable characters (including the obligatory joker of the pack – in this case the loveable and eternally optimistic snowman, Olaf) who seem so human you imagine you could meet them for real, and a smattering of catchy songs – are also present.
When Disney looks outside of the world of fairytales and legends for inspiration the results are not always a resounding success, whilst their most consistently popular and enduring works – such as Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) – have always taken their cue from the land of make-believe. Their underlying message of good winning out in the end, though not always true in real-life, still appeals and speaks to everyone deep down. It was a theme which they took for their first film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs way back in 1937 with resounding success, so why change now.
Frozen is reminiscent of films made during the studio’s golden age during the 1940’s and 50’s and, as my friend so aptly pointed out, speaks to the child in all of us – an ability which has always been Disney’s magic ingredient.
6th December 2013(UK)
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel,Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds