‘Frozen’ breaks the ice of tradition
Erin Thomassen | Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Even though temperatures were below freezing over break, “Frozen” continued to attract and delight Notre Dame students.
Lauded in a trailer as “the greatest Disney movie since ‘The Lion King,’” many students, like sophomore Annemarie Coman, flocked to theatres with a mix of “high expectations and skepticism.”
Few were disappointed, however. Junior Ashley Towne said it was her new favorite Disney movie, while junior Rob Callus said it made his “top three.” What is it about “Frozen,” though, that distinguishes it from other Disney films? If you have not seen “Frozen” yet, don’t read further — exit your web browser and sprint to theatres.
In “Frozen,” Disney surprises audiences by concealing the villain from them. Normally, a villain is apparent from the beginning: Maleficent curses Sleeping Beauty in the first scene, and Scar is openly evil in “Be Prepared.” Consequently, audiences were surprised to learn at the end of the film that Hans only pretended to be Prince Charming to procure the throne for himself. Until the end, most people seemed to assume the Duke of Weselton (aka Weaseltown) was the main villain. Junior Gavin Hsu said he realized Disney used the duke as a decoy to satisfy the audience’s need for a scapegoat until Hans proved himself to be the actual antagonist.
Disney continued its trend towards feminism in “Frozen,” allowing Ana to save Kristoff when he is almost eaten by wolves instead of having him save her. Furthermore, the true love that thaws Ana’s frozen heart is sisterly love instead of romantic love. Students noticed Disney’s trend towards female empowerment in other recent films such as “Brave,” a story about the relationship between a mother and daughter instead of the usual prince and princess. However, Disney has not turned completely feminist in the modern sense of the word, since the main female characters in “Frozen” were still built and dressed like Barbies.
Musically, “Frozen” was more mature and complex than previous Disney creations. The film featured layered duets à la Les Mis in “For the First Time in Forever,” when Elsa and Ana sing their own verse before singing them at the same time. Sophomore music major Elizabeth Charles said the “Frozen” songs intertwined sung and spoken lyrics in order to push the story along. These songs communicated crucial points in the story, instead of being tangential excuses for song and dance.
Since the directors cast Broadway stars in the leading and supporting roles, all vocals were impressive. Kristoff, who only sang for about a minute in the film, previously starred in “Spring Awakening” with Glee’s Lea Michelle. Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba in “Wicked,” contributed her powerful voice to Elsa. Disney’s leading ladies are normally sweet, soft sopranos with vibrato to spare (think Snow White), so casting Menzel as Elsa was a daring step for Disney. Some students remarked that her raw voice seemed strange coming out of a lithe blonde, but others did not care about the apparent incongruity because they were so captivated by Menzel’s voice. When musical buffs heard her belt “Let It Go,” they were reminded of her rendition of “Defying Gravity,” since both songs are about a young woman with dangerous powers who breaks free from society.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the music and lyrics couple who are famous for “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q,” brought their fresh sense of humor to the “Frozen” tunes. They made Ana real for young female fans by poking fun at her awkwardness and relatable by having her use words that her fans would use. The idea that comedy can come from a princess’ faults started in “Tangled” and was expanded in “Frozen.” (Can you imagine Cinderella singing while stuffing chocolates in her face?) The use of “valley girl” language also started with these two films. (Can you picture Snow White calling the evil Queen “totally crazy”?) Much to the chagrin of traditional linguists, the word “like” crept into “Frozen” when Prince Hans used it several times in “Love is an Open Door.”
“Frozen” explored new frontiers, but it also stuck with some of Disney’s traditional themes. Similar to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tangled,” the main character sings a song about escaping from imprisonment and interacting with the rest of the world. Similar to “Bambi” and “The Lion King,” parents die early in the film. However, Disney switched up many of its usual tactics and was rewarded with an original masterpiece that remains No. 1 in the box office and in many of its viewer’s hearts.