Frozen probably deserves a place among the Disney renaissance classics

frozen anna kristen bell

As mentioned before, in my teenage years I thought about being an animator. This dream, unlikely as it was, was largely a byproduct of the so-called Disney renaissance, the string of animated hits from The Little Mermaid to The Lion King that marked the studio’s return to prominence after some lean years. I stuck with it long after the renaissance had faded, finally giving up after seeing Tarzan. That long sabbatical (and the fact that my daughter was far too young for the juggernaut that is Frozen until now) allowed me to approach this with more objectivity. And what struck me the most about Frozen is how much it has in common with its more distinguished predecessors.

Frozen is technically the first “real” musical Disney’s made since The Lion King, at least according to writer/co-director Jennifer Lee.  The effort put into the musical aspect of it pays off.  Early song “For the First Time in Forever” gets close but doesn’t quite manage to surpass the classic “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Although it does have the most inventive and staging of any of the songs, with a character inserting herself into classic paintings that pair nicely with the lyrics.  Frozen’s story shows similar effort, and is markedly more nuanced than any of the classic Disney films. That depth plus a surprising third act twist offer a nice alternative to the “princess needs a prince” plot that drives far too many of these films. It provides a nice tweak of the genre without being too tongue in cheek a la Shrek. And it’s also nice to see a female writer/director, especially after the rather public removal of Brave’s Brenda Chapman in 2010.  (Too bad that for a movie about two sisters less than half the dialogue is spoken by women, and that Elsa and Anna look exactly the same as every other Disney/Pixar heroine for the past 10 years).

Reflecting more of a Broadway influence, Frozen is packed with more than the traditional five songs common to the Disney renaissance canon. The songs are by the ubiquitous Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (whose ubiquity is apparently soon to be fulfilled by Lin-Manuel Miranda). I’m familiar with their work from other things – Disney’s 2010 Winnie the Pooh and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon, two projects that couldn’t be more different. And once you know their style, it gets a little easy to predict the lyrical jokes they’re going to use. Still, the songs are by and large solid, with the aforementioned “For the First Time in Forever” by far the best of the bunch (despite the popularity of “Let It Go”). However, as someone who used to be really into this as an art form, part of me is disappointed it’s computer animation, especially when you look at its hand-dawn concept art – but I suppose Studio Ghibli is the last of the major studios to animate by hand, and even they use computer assistance.

That said, it’s hard to quibble with something so enjoyable. As a parent, it’s always nice to see a movie for kids that adults can enjoy too that doesn’t pander to either. And unlike the Pixar films, whose plots are still a little grown up for her, Frozen gets its point across in a way that even a three-and-a-half-year-old can understand (despite the nuance I enjoy). But none of this explains why she complains “I don’t like it” halfway through the still-superior Little Mermaid.

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3 thoughts on “Frozen probably deserves a place among the Disney renaissance classics

  1. Frozen defiantly has a different story arc than Little Mermaid, so that might be why you’re daughter doesn’t like it as much. The majority of my peers I’ve talked with say Frozen is too much of a behemoth and slam it. It’s nice to read you’re more optimistic/objective approach to your analysis. Personally watching Frozen brought out that nostalgia in me, with a nice twist at the end instead of the focus solely on finding true love.

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    1. I really liked the twist too as it’s nice to see a happy ending that doesn’t involve our heroine getting married (although that’s how The Little Mermaid ends and I still prefer that one – go figure). Maybe it is the story that makes the difference, but I’m starting to fear my daughter just has terrible taste. Her favorite movie is Cars!

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      1. Movies are ultimately a form of entertainment so you can’t fault her on Cars too much. I’m sure she’ll grow to like quality cinema one day. Granted it took me a while before I started to be more conscientious of my cinema choices. Overall Disney is being more aware of its audience and the shifting social constructs we are grappling with as a society. That’s why we are seeing different types is story arcs from Disney. For example, look at Zootopia and the message of essentially saying don’t be racist. A relevant message for the stuff going on in the US of late. But it’s still nice when they go back to the story line such as Little Mermaid. Two of my favorite Disney movies released recently is Tangled and Brave. I love Tangled and think they did a great job with it – a slight twist on the whole falling in love arc. But I think Brave was also a great success as well for a different message of independence.

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