With Frozen getting a 4K re-release on Monday, Daniel White takes a look below the cosy surface at the icy heart of the film.....
Like it or loathe it, Frozen is here to stay. Since the film was released at the back end of 2013 you would have to be, well, frozen not to have noticed it. Frozen movie merchandise adorns every shelf and that damn song can be heard everywhere. Whether you are a Princess in waiting or a parent that was dragged kicking and screaming to the cinema you will have experienced the impossible hype around the film. The story is a modern take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Snow Queen, with added musical numbers and a breath-taking landscape. So far so typically Disney you could say! Well, actually no! If you take a look behind the swishy dresses and talking snowman there is a darker heart that beats within this story. When you actually think about it, Frozen has a lot more in common with the classic fairy tales of old than it has with Disney of yesteryear.
When I was growing up I was, like most children, a huge fan of all things Disney. From the frolics of Tigger and Winnie the Pooh in the 100 Acre Woods to the fantasy worlds of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty you could always count on one thing. No matter how dark things got, the Prince always got his girl and Heffalumps and Woozles never, ever really won the day. Even with Aladdin, which boasted ground-breaking CGI scenes and an amazing comic turn by Robin Williams, the format was still the same. People sing stuff, sweet addictive stuff, fought a few enemies and eventually triumphed. Things changed with Enchanted (for me anyway) in 2007 as Disney seemed to have woken to the idea that the window on childhood naivety was narrowing and that they needed to update their format. Enchanted poked fun at the well-worn Disney format, yes there were still the annoyingly catchy production numbers, but it was very self-effacing. John Lassetter, Disney VIP and champion, had been interested in Disneyfying the Snow Queen for some time. But it was Chris Buck returning to the Disney fold that was to prove to provide the origins of Frozen as we see it today. Buck had wanted to tell a different tale from the one told in The Snow Queen as the Queen herself was the villain in the original story. Buck wanted to tell a different story than just simply another Prince and Princess one. This is evident with the twists and turns that are produced in Frozen.
Frozen shows its icy heart very early on as we see Anna and Elsa orphaned as a result of a tragic loss at sea. The heart wrenching desperation shown during the song Do You Want to Build a Snowman encounters wildly against the playful words sung. Anna does not understand why her sister no longer has any interaction with her and is desperate for a reunion with her sister. As her memories have been altered and Disneyed by the troll king. Mind alteration? Death and grief. These are subjects that have more a place within original (scary and disturbing fairy tales) Hans Christian Andersen stories and are normally glossed over with Disney. The main villain is not The Snow Queen (Elsa) it is Hans and his manipulation of the events told show a blood thirsty hunger for power. Hans mimics the actions and behaviours of the heroes we are all so familiar with in previous Disney films. The joking around during the song Love is an Open Door show a careless disregard for Anna and her search for true love. Here is a character that will destroy all that stand in his path to power and the throne of Arendelle. As Elsa becomes accustomed to her cryokinectic powers (Let It Go) she also dooms Arendelle to an everlasting winter. The confrontation in the ice palace between Elsa, Hans and his bodyguards alludes to a darker and heartless denouement. Hans implores Elsa not to "become the monster everyone thinks you are" effectively distracting her from the arrow that threatens to pierce her heart.
Yes, there is still the desire to find love and Anna's blossoming relationship with the oafish and reindeer loving Kristoff (a little bit out of nature’s laws) is very typically Disney. But there is no fairy tale wedding and choral raised voices as the credits roll. Hans Christian Andersen and his ilk told dark tales that have enthralled children down through the ages. In our modern age and with the ever growing access to technology children are more self-aware. They are also more aware of the cold world that they inhabit. Love Disney all you like but in order for it to survive as a successful production company it must appeal to the children of this age. The dark traits and return to the original source material that are demonstrated within Frozen may prove that the higher ups have seen this. However, I wouldn't rule out the odd "A dream is a wish your heart makes" moments in future films. Personally I applaud a more true to Fairy Tale approach and, after all, everyone needs a wolf to be scared of.
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Image - IMDb