Disney's Audience Problems Prevented Frozen from Being Great

**The review below contains spoilers. Please read at your own peril.

Disney's new animated film Frozen is an enjoyable, somewhat-groundbreaking movie with one major flaw. The story is about the tumultuous relationship between two sisters, a relationship that Disney does not flesh out enough to make the movie the best it could have been. The older sister Elsa is born with powers over various forms of frozen water; her inability to control her magic drives the plot of the movie once Elsa accidentally freezes the entire kingdom of Arendelle and runs away in fear. Her younger, optimistic, romantic, bubbly sister Anna teams up with wilderness sweet guy Kristoff and the purely-for-comedic-relief animated snowman Olaf to convince Elsa to reverse the eternal winter. Anna and Elsa must battle their own demons and fight external forces to save the kingdom.

The Bad

The main issue with Frozen is the reluctance of Disney to actually focus on the two sisters. The story's backbone is Elsa and Anna's relationship  yet a screening of the movie reveals that most of the scenes focus on comedy and the perils of adventuring, along with a little romance for Anna. Once Elsa flees the kingdom and has her victorious solo, the middle 80 minutes of Frozen is entirely about Anna and Kristoff to the point where some may even forget that another sister exists. And just by watching the trailer, one would hardly even know there is more to Frozen than mad dashes through the snow. Disney probably emphasized the adventuring scenes in an effort to attract more boys into the audience, because Frozen holds less of an appeal if it centers around an emotional drama. At any rate (despite societal advances in this department) kids are still bred to believe that emotional drama is for girls and physical tussles are for boys; it's more acceptable for girls to like action than for boys to like romance/relationship stories. 

Disney is scared to declare that Frozen centers around two female protagonists  one of whom doesn't even have a love interest  despite putting in loads of effort to make the chemistry between the two sisters authentic and relatable. Disney's trepidation is a shame, because a further fleshing out of Anna and Elsa's relationship would have given the story even more power. The movie does not even resolve a vital plot point why Elsa hides from Anna for thirteen years showing Disney's carelessness to fully develop the sisters' relationship. The cowardice of Disney to not advertise female-female relationships as making up the central plot also appears in Brave, where the trailer focuses more on archery and changing fate in Scottish accents than on the actual story: a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship. What's up, Disney? Are you scared to declare something?

Come on Disney. Give these two the story they deserve.

Due to Disney's audience problems, the first and last thirds of Frozen move quickly along because they contain actual plot. Actually those parts may move too quickly: the few scenes between Anna and Elsa, although emotionally jarring and relatable, seem rushed. The middle third lags behind by comparison; Disney could have cut a good fifteen minutes out of Kristoff and Anna's romp through the perilous tundra without deleting any vital plot points. The comedic relief of the middle section seems like a well-intentioned attempt to lighten up an otherwise dark story, an attempt that feels forced at times.

A smaller issue is the lack of explanation with regards to Elsa's powers. She was born with them; okay, that's an axiom. But why is the kingdom afraid of Elsa's magic? Are her powers hereditary? The only explanation I can find is that because the royal family's symbol has snowflakes, the power must run in the family. However, the power has not shown itself for many years and thus most citizens do not take well to the magic. It is shown in Frozen that sorcery is feared, but at the movie's end the townspeople seem too quick to accept Elsa's powers. Was their fear just superstition and ignorance? An explanation of this pivotal element of the story would have gone a long way to make the story seem more believable. Perhaps I'm asking too much from Disney.

The Good

So to cover up its yellow belly, Disney takes praiseworthy steps in other directions.


The days of one- or two-dimensional Disney characters are hopefully gone forever, because the people of Frozen are lovable, relatable and satisfyingly complicated. Elsa is a very complex, multifaceted character who is written so well that she seems as puzzling as an actual flesh-and-blood human. Perhaps the most special characteristic of Elsa is her ice powers because her magic serves as a metaphor or a means of projection for the viewer's own struggles for individual and societal acceptance: being gay, gifted, mentally disabled, etc. Disney did a great job making a very relatable, sympathetic character. Elsa is also the oldest princess yet at 21 years old. Perhaps Disney is willing to make the ages of its characters more realistic.

Some viewers say that Disney uses Hans merely as a tool to turn the Prince Charming trope on its head, without taking the time to flesh out Hans into a believable character: at first he is charming and rules the kingdom with a kind hand, but suddenly he wants to kill Elsa and rule over Arendelle, and he will betray Anna to do so. Hans's actions are believable since a) he is motivated by a very human need for money and power, and b) his kindness towards the citizens of Arendelle has little to do with his treatment of Anna and Elsa, since he merely wants to get rid of the threat the two of them pose to his future reign. There is little evidence to suggest that Hans will rule Arendelle with a cruel hand; he is villainous only because he wishes to dispose of the protagonists.

Girls and Food
To combat accusations of always producing girls with skinny, barbie-like bodies, Disney has Anna stuff her face with chocolate; her appreciation of food continues the trend of Belle sipping breakfast with the Beast, Mulan downing porridge, and Merida devouring an apple. Apparently a healthy princess-food relationship helps young girls not become anorexic, or so worried mothers claim.

Animation and Voicing
The CGI animation of Frozen is stunning: the hair and frosty elements are beautiful and realistic, facial expressions dynamic, scenery breathtaking. Computer-generated animation is certainly taking a turn for the better and more detailed. The voice acting and singing is incredible, with Frozen's song numbers reminiscent of a Broadway production in execution, style, scale, and talent.

The widely-praised song Let it Go combines incredible artistic talent with a sense of independence and power through isolation, a message that defies the traditional values of Disney fairytales.

Exploration of Love
The most revolutionary part of Frozen is its treatment and portrayal of love. Disney seemed to be going the Ariel route when Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with a curse to be lifted only via an act of true love. Kristoff's family is convinced that a kiss between Anna and Kristoff is the only way to lift the curse, a sentiment the audience mainly agrees with since everyone is so used to the Prince Charming/kiss of true love trope. So Anna seeks out Hans, the man she thinks is her true love, to kiss him. Yet Hans turns out to be a selfish, greedy man who wants to kill Elsa, marry Anna, and rule the kingdom himself. Hans's betrayal is a nice play on the traditional fairytale story since it wags a finger at the aforementioned trope, although the shock may be jarring for little kids.

During the climax of the movie, Kristoff and Anna run towards each other to kiss and break the curse while Elsa nearby collapses from grief as Hans informs her that Anna has died from the curse. As Hans prepares to kill Elsa, Anna turns from Kristoff and sacrifices herself for Elsa. Anna's act of true love breaks the curse. This move is revolutionary for three reasons. First, the true love is sororal instead of romantic. Second, Anna removes her curse of her own volition and thus breaks the damsel in distress mold. Lastly, the implication that Kristoff could have saved Anna with a kiss confirms the validity of numerous types of love; that is, having Anna kiss Kristoff would be just as valid a curse-breaker as Anna dying for Elsa. The climax of Frozen says that all types of love can be true love.

Another refreshing change is the ending of the movie asserts that one can be a feminist and still have romantic love. Anna punches Hans off a boat; Kristoff asks if he can kiss Anna instead of just going for it; Elsa is crowned regent very matter-of-factly without any talk of boys and heirs, which aside from being unrealistic is rather unusual for Disney. Clearly in all these ways, Disney is trying hard to be more than just a peddler of traditional tales and values.

And the Ugly

As always there is controversy surrounding Disney's handling of "hot button" issues such as sexuality and race.

So far there are no claims of Elsa being a lesbian due to her lack of romantic love interests. Merida was a better candidate for being gay; clearly Elsa is too feminine to be a lesbian, as dress sense and attitude are clear indicators of one's sexuality. Elsa dating another woman could have made Frozen the most revolutionary Disney movie in history (although some take Anna and Elsa's relationship into the romantic realm due to the act of true love, a viewpoint I addressed earlier). But the world will have to wait for an explicitly LGBT Disney protagonist.

With regards to race, many people are angry that Frozen's characters are all white.

If the land is cold and snowy then people biologically are lighter-skinned in those areas, so the skin color makes sense. It wouldn't make sense to have a dark-skinned race in an area that is so cold. Perhaps next time Disney can have more African or Latina/o or Indian or other non-European characters. However I agree that Disney needs to add some racial diversity to its collection.

But in the End

Overall, Frozen is a beautifully executed drama and coming-of-age story. Clearly the makers were meticulous with regards to animation, casting, and positive messages. Disney's cowardice to focus on the two sisters both slows the plot down for the sake of somewhat forced comedic relief and reflects badly upon the company itself; yet, somehow even this vital flaw does not destroy the value of Frozen as a nontraditional, enjoyable tale whose values at last reflect modern Western society. The movie is definitely worth seeing.


  1. Loved your review! I wonder if the pandering to boys thing will really play since teen kids might also be a huge draw for such movies so Disney can afford to ignore one segment of the audience altogether...


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