I didn’t hate Frozen. It’s a sweet charming film, and the way that it subverts classic Disney princess tropes is brilliant and certainly worthy of praise. Despite that, I had plenty of problems with it. In this article, I’m going to detail those issues and attempt to come up with solutions. I wish this film was better than it is, and I can think of a few ways to make it better. There are two big things and then a few little things, so I’ll break it into sections. And there are some spoilers in here, so don’t read this until you see the film.
I thought they made a major mistake with the relationship between Anna and Elsa. Their relationship, as shown on-screen, goes like this:
Elsa has magic ice powers that she can’t control. When she’s little she accidentally hurts Anna, so their parents have the stone trolls (we’ll get to them in a bit) erase Elsa’s powers from Anna’s memory. After that, Anna never sees Elsa again. Oh, sure, the film wants us to assume that they had some contact in the following decade-plus, but it doesn’t show it. Elsa stays inside her room and tries to learn how to control her powers, with little success. Anna constantly tries to reach out, and is always rejected. Here’s where I started to have problems.
During the ballroom scene after Elsa’s coronation, they have a conversation, and they talk as though they’re total strangers. Anna is awkward and isn’t sure how to address Elsa, but she clearly wants to make a connection. However, that action implies that they don’t already have a connection. One of the themes of Frozen is “Family is super important and you should always stick by them and stuff,” and that’s great, but as astory the film fails to justify Anna’s actions after Elsa flees. Their sisterly bond is totally arbitrary. Based on what the film shows us, Anna has no real reason to believe that Elsa is redeemable. She knows nothing about Elsa, because they haven’t had any contact in years. A single scene of Elsa doing something kind for Anna (without coming out of hiding) would have gone a long way towards fixing this.
So here’s my fix: Don’t erase Anna’s memory. Honestly, that’s what it all comes down to. Cut the trolls entirely and have Anna know about Elsa’s powers the entire time.
What does this solve? Well, kind of a lot. Anna’s pleas to Elsa to open up to her are much more meaningful if Anna knows why Elsa keeps her distance. She knows that she can be hurt, but she doesn’t care. She loves her sister anyway. The film as it stands gives us this, but it’s not set up in a completely believable way. In the “Do You Want To Build a Snowman” number, young Anna is confused when Elsa all of a sudden abandons her. So whenever she goes to Elsa’s door and asks her to come out, for all she knows Elsa is just being a jerk.
Anna’s steadfast belief that Elsa can be a good person is also more meaningful if they have a longer history, so we can’t have more than ten years without any interaction between them. Like I mentioned, they really should have had just one scene of Elsa doing something nice for Anna. In a montage like that, we only need the one. Anna is a fundamentally hopeful character, but it’s better if the audience knows that her hope is justified.
Apparently, the decision to make Anna and Elsa sisters came fairly late in the game, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Their relationship is supposed to be the core of the film, but it feels so forced.
So, let’s talk about “Let It Go”, and why it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t hate the song itself, and removed from the context of the film it’s a great empowerment anthem. That said, it doesn’t fit into the film whatsoever. The filmmakers clearly struggled with understanding who Elsa is, and there’s no better example than this song. They animate her in a few different ways, and none of them are consistent with the way she acts in the rest of the film. Her sassy smirks at the end and when she undoes her cape are from a completely different character. Same goes for her gleeful, childlike run to the gorge where she builds the staircase. Neither of those character traits are present in the rest of the film. We see her being afraid and meek, and we see her briefly being aggressive and violent. Was she supposed to be an outright villain at some point? Maybe “Let It Go” was meant to soften her. I dunno.
At first, her emotional breakdown at the castle unleashes a massive blizzard which covers the entire land in a ton of snow. She runs off to a mountain, and realizes that she has no reason to hide her powers anymore because everyone knows about them now. She takes off her gloves, starts experimenting with what she can do, and builds a massive, intricate ice fortress on the side of the mountain.
So, right off the bat we have some big issues. We’re supposed to believe that Elsa can barely control her powers, but that staircase and that castle look stunningly perfect. And she makes both of them without a second thought. When did she learn to do this? It’s probably just instinctual. But even so, her creations should be roughshod and kinda crappy at first. Unless she was secretly practicing ice architecture…during the years that she completely failed to control her abilities. (Hey, maybe a quick scene where she makes Anna a mini ice castle for Anna’s birthday or something? Would have made a major difference.) Also, I guess these magic powers to control ice and snow also extend to changing the color of her dress and creating a new cape? Not to mention the fact that she can create fully-intelligent sentient beings. The lack of limitations to Elsa’s powers is pretty sloppy writing.
Anyway, “Let It Go” is such a bizarre addition to the film, because it loudly announces a character change that doesn’t actually happen. Elsa doesn’t let anything go. She’s still the exact same person. She shuts herself away in a castle and is obsessed with making sure that no one gets near her. She lets it go at the very end of the film, that’s for sure. She lets go of her fear and anxiety. That’s the metaphor the song was going for that the film didn’t follow through on.
If she’s gonna “Let It Go,” she should have done so. Elsa should have been a character who had been keeping all her emotions (and magic powers) bottled up inside her for her entire life, such that when she lets them out she does a total 180. Elsa should have been more openly villainous, and then her redemption would have meant something. And I don’t mean that she should have been evil. I just mean that she should have given in to her hedonistic, repressed urges and loved doing it. Her argument then becomes, “Look, I can’t control it no matter how hard I try, so there’s no point in trying. It’s better to let it all out.” Remember, Elsa’s had close to zero contact with other people her entire life. Make her super misanthropic! And because of that, she doesn’t immediately comprehend the damage that she’s causing to innocent people. Then her arc becomes about learning the value of balance instead of just learning the value of love. And you can do all of this without making it too emotionally complex for a kid’s movie!
So, this was sold from the beginning as a film about two sisters and the unique bond they share. That’s not an area that movies explore a lot in general, let alone movies for kids, so it’s a great initiative. However, since Frozen can’t get a solid grip on Elsa or her relationship with Anna, the majority of the movie is just The Adorkable Hour starring Anna and Kristoff. This goes back to the idea that their “sisterly bond” is totally arbitrary. The film just wants you accept it, and it assumes that you do. So we get an adventure between two cute but awkward people who won’t admit their feelings for each other, and you’re meant to just keep in mind that there’s a bigger throughline happening. To an extent, this is all building up to the big twist with Prince Hans, which is phenomenal. But Frozen sells you a bill of goods when it comes to the sisterhood stuff.
So how do you fix this? Well, the nature of the story demands that Elsa and Anna be separated, so it’s admittedly tough to have their relationship be the focus. Their meeting in Elsa’s ice castle has to happen a lot sooner, and it has to have much larger consequences for both characters. Anna’s relentless optimism should be shattered when Elsa hurts her with her powers. In the film we get, Anna has no emotional reaction, and the “frozen heart” stuff exists only to add some drama to the climax and to set up one of those great trope subversions. This is at the halfway point of the film, so it’s a great opportunity for Anna and Elsa to completely switch roles. For Elsa, this is the moment when she realizes that she’s gone too far, when she understands that giving in to her repressed desires is even worse than keeping them trapped inside, and when she decides that her sister was right all along. But for Anna, this is the moment when she realizes that she was wrong about Elsa, and that maybe her big sister doesn’t care about her as much as she cares about her big sister. Anna can’t be saintly and patient enough not to be annoyed to some extent with Elsa’s behavior throughout their lives, but up until this point that had been overpowered by her love. When Elsa seems to deliberately hurt her, all that goes away, and her repressed feelings of anger and resentment come to the surface. If you want, you could even say that this is because her heart’s been frozen. That’s obviously the metaphor, but since there’s magic it’s okay to make it literal.
And here’s the really cool part. You have Kristoff console Anna and try to convince her that “family is super-important no matter what or whatever,” but Anna rejects him and goes back to the castle alone. Now she’s shut herself off, just like Elsa. It’s not until her “true love” completely betrays her that she realizes what “true love” actually means. At which point Elsa returns, and the climax plays out as it already does. Now we have a far more thematically resonant and coherent story, and it’s actually focused on a sisterly relationship.
Recast Idina Menzel.
I know this is heresy, and she’s obviously a fantastic singer. But her performance as Elsa is totally flat. Now, does the script give her much to work with? Not really. But she stays firmly at that level, and she doesn’t make the character her own. Contrast that with Jonathan Groff, who totally plays up Kristoff’s awkward, anti-social charm. You could say the exact same thing about Kristen Bell’s Anna, and Josh Gad’s comic timing as Olaf is the only reason that that character worked for me. Menzel is a standout disappointment in an otherwise great cast.
Menzel is so clearly a great actor, though. The problems with Elsa are mainly script-based. So this fix exists separate from what I’ve already mentioned. If you’re not going to give Menzel anything to work with, cast an actress who can better handle the thin material. Or just make Elsa a meatier part and let Menzel do her thing.
Yeesh, those character models. The character animation in general is weird.
Anna and Elsa are basically Rapunzel. It’s all in those big eyes, but even the way they move is reminiscent of her. It really feels like they took a stock character model and stuck new hair and clothes on it. As for the animation itself, it sort of feels like they spent a lot more time on the snow effects than on the characters. I’m not an animator, so I can’t articulate it well, but there’s something off about it. I dunno. Maybe I’m crazy. But I stand by the design point.
Cut the trolls. There’s no purpose to them beyond healing Anna, but since “love thaws” there’s not much reason to have them there. I was so confused when they popped up. “Wait, there’s fantasy creatures in this too?” If you’re reading this and you’ve seen the film, I bet you forgot all about them until you got to this part. I certainly don’t think of them when I think of Frozen. And since I saw the film months after it came out and I didn’t know they were in there, I doubt many other people do either. I like Kristoff’s eccentricity, though. Just have his family be quirky mountain men. Same deal, but you don’t have an out-of-place second magic bean.
Cut the Duke of Weselton. Sorry Alan Tudyk, but this character serves very little purpose. He could have been a great red herring, and I think that was the intent, but they don’t play him up enough as a villain to make that really work. He has just enough screen time for you to assume he’s going to have an impact on the story, but he does literally nothing.
This one is possibly petty, but…is this a musical or what? Because if you imagine a stage version of Frozen with an act-one break, there’s only one song in act two. It’s like they used all their musical numbers to introduce characters and then just ran out. It always bugs me when movies have narration at the beginning to set stuff up and then completely drop it until the final scene. It’s the laziest screenwriting technique on the planet. Well, this is almost the musical equivalent of that. All the songs exist to introduce characters, and once all the characters are introduced the songs dry up. The trolls get a number at some point, but it’s not interesting and it probably would’ve worked better at the very end of the film as a conclusion to the Anna/Kristoff arc. And then there are more specific musical issues.
“I don’t know if I’m elated or gassy/But I’m somewhere in that zone”
You cannot be serious with that lyric. In fact, the music as a whole feels unfinished. For example, the orchestration during “Let It Go” is severely underpowered. It doesn’t have enough oomph to match Menzel’s vocals. In each song, you can see a lot of great ideas, but none of them are fully developed. Well, except “Love Is An Open Door.” I actually think that’s a really fantastic number. And a lot of the songs seem to be there just because it’s a Disney movie and the characters have to sing. The song that all the trolls sing is a great example. Nothing actually happens in that song, it doesn’t illuminate anything about the characters, and it doesn’t really have any impact on the story. It’s just there so that there’s another song. For some reason, that’s the last song in the movie. It’s like they just forgot about it.
That’s it. There’s a lot about this film that I absolutely love, especially in how it subverts classic Disney tropes. And I think that’s the main reason that people have gone so crazy for it. But it’s the great things about it that make its flaws seem even worse. It’s too bad. Frozen had the potential to be the greatest Disney movie in a very long time. It’s not, though, despite its fantastic themes and messages, and that’s what really hurts.