In 2013 Disney released its 53rd animated feature entitled Frozen, a film inspired by Hans Andersen’s “Snow Queen” (1844). The original text was given a Disney makeover, with some characters and story plots getting replaced or rearranged to suit Disney’s vision of an ideal animated feature that will please audiences from all demographics. As Frozen became the most successful Disney animated film to date with worldwide earnings of well over a billion dollars it is obvious that Disney is well skilled in their knowledge and execution in producing films that engage and entertain their audiences. Frozen is considered to be a progressive and modern story set within a fantastical fairy tale universe and it is adored and abhorred by viewers and critics alike.
This essay intends to analyse the visual language and story execution of the film and how it created varying responses and different interpretations from its viewers.
The fantastic visual style of the film is inspired by Scandinavian culture. (Solomon, C. 2013) It borrows heavily from Norway’s natural landscape, architecture, decor and costumes that also make up the design aesthetic for the film in terms of light, colour and atmosphere. The filmmakers used advanced technological innovation to animated the realistic yet also stylized snow, ice and other effects of the film including facial expressions and hair and cloth simulation. Background and characters are conceptualised and modelled after Disney’s best hand-drawn classics as well as it’s previous successful fairy tale release Tangled (2010). As the film is a musical it employs appealing and catchy music sung by recognisable performers to support and further illustrated its story. The film’s most popular song “Let It Go” has been translated and recorded into 41 different languages (Keegan, R. 2014) and it is considered to be the film’s lead promotional asset within the international market.
While Frozen is undeniably a Disney film, it does stand apart from its predecessors through certain aspects of its story execution. Many have praised its decision to feature two main female protagonists whilst also turning one into a reluctant antagonist at the same time. There is also further personalisation of the main protagonists; Princess Anna and Queen Elsa as opposite characters in terms of strength both physical and emotional, independence, capability and attitude. These storytelling choices have been regarded as a positive representation of the nuance and complexity of the female psyche. Even secondary characters are fleshed out and engaging, they work together to drive the story and none are entirely redundant. However it is the film’s treatment of the concept of ‘true love’ and its emphasis on unconditional love between siblings that audiences hail as a milestone in Disney storytelling (Evenson, C. 2014). The overall themes of accepting and loving oneself for who you are, self control, self sacrifice and morality reassures parents of impressionable children that Frozen would be a film they can learn valuable lessons from. All of these factors coupled with its stunning visual style and engaging music is perhaps one formula for a financially successful animated film.
Yet despite the many positive responses the film has received much criticism has been garnered for it as well. The philosopher Stefan Molyneux (2014) in particular has much criticism regarding storytelling and characterisation of its main protagonists. Not particularly impressed with the theme of unconditional familial love, Molyneux compares this trope to emotional abuse for despite years of rejection from her sister Anna willingly sacrifices her life to save Elsa’s. Citing this apparent lack of realistic psychological damage as a delusion and insult to victims of real childhood trauma, he continues by addressing the rampant sexism he had observed to be presented in the film. He begins with the opening sequence of the film where a group of men are seen toiling and cutting ice for consumption with much effort. What he infers from this scene is the comparison of how the ice is a metaphorical currency and men have to work hard for that currency whereas the female protagonist controls and produces ice with the wave of her fingers; a metaphor of how women are able to gain and control resources by the merit of their beauty and charm.
“So – why is the grueling pursuit of excellence such a common theme in men’s movies, but not in women’s?”
(The Truth About Frozen, 2014)
This is a reoccurring theme in the film. As an example Molyneux cites Elsa’s ability to master her repressed abilities to the extent of building an entire castle in less than a minute, abilities that by every means she should have difficulties to control regardless of her emotional state. He also dislikes Anna’s ability to survive the blistering cold and her physical skill and dexterity that enables her to save Kristoff twice; a man with a lifetime experience of surviving outdoors. She knows how to expertly tie a knot and drive a carriage. Unlike the film Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012) whose protagonists are seen practicing their skills in montages, in Frozen’s context Anna has only be seen dancing through the empty halls of her castle and is not portrayed as having any physical or mental pursuits. Neither sisters in fact are seen being taught the ways of ruling a country yet are still embraced as rightful rulers.
There is much evidence that discuss and conclude that while Frozen is perhaps a small step in the right direction towards progression and feminism, the film itself is suffers from problems in storytelling and is not as gender equal or progressive as it makes out to be. However, it is a positive sign that any film that garners this much debate at all amongst viewers proves that people care about what they watch and have the desire for intellectual discussion.
- Frozen. (2013) Animated Film. Directed by Chris Buck, Jenifer Lee. [DVD] UK:Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment;
- Solomon, Charles. The Art Of Frozen. Print.
- Tangled. Disney: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, 2010. film.
- Rebecca, Keegan. ”Frozen’: Finding A Diva In 41 Languages’. latimes. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
- Candice, Evenson. ‘How Frozen’S Treatment Of True Love Transcends Our Expectations | The Artifice’. The-artifice.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.
- Andersen, Hans Christian (1983). The Snow Queen. The Complete Fairy Talesand Stories. trans. Erik Christian Haugaard. United States of America: Anchor Books;
- Block, Bruce A. The Visual Story. Amsterdam: Focal Press/Elsevier, 2008. Print.
- Joseph Campbell And The Power Of Myth – The Hero’s Adventure (1988) TvMini-Series. Directed by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers,[DVD] UK: Acorn;
KEY WORDS: Allegory. Cinematography. Characterisation. Sexism. Critical. Familial relationships.