There were a lot of years where it was hard to call yourself a Disney fan. Despite occasional knockouts like "The Emperor's New Groove" and "Lilo and Stitch," the House of the Mouse never really managed to reach up to the heights it had during the years of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Films like Dinosaur, Brother Bear, Home on the Range and Chicken Little were acceptable, but Disney seemed content to leave the films that would change little kids' lives to Pixar and just pump out whatever they wanted. Even their final attempt at a traditional animated princess movie, The Princess and the Frog, seemed like it was reaching for something it never quite achieved.
Then, four years ago, they dropped this little film on us.
Full of great music, realized characters, an interesting take on a frankly kind of one-note fairy tale...it was the first Disney animated movie in a very long time that felt like a Disney movie. They followed it immediately with Wreck-it-Ralph, which isn't a traditional Disney flick by any standards but was such a fun and heartfelt love-letter to the video games we all grew up on that it was hard to dislike. The excellent plot and characters, and the incredible feat of making Sarah Silverman not annoying, didn't hurt.
Still, when Disney announced their next venture, I got a little concerned.
Frozen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen." Without spoiling too much, that's not a happy tale. (Almost nothing by Mr. Andersen is.) And while Disney has previously made depressing as all hell stories into more Disneyfied ones without taking away their impact (The Little Mermaid, the Hunchback of Notre Dame), Frozen seemed to be taking almost nothing from the original story, which was just a smidge worrying. Add that to the fact that the art style was exactly the same as Tangled, the first commercial was a throwaway piece of physical comedy...it seemed like this might be a trip back to Brother Bear territory.
As I sat through the first third of the film, I thought I would be wrong. The set up to the main story of Frozen is strong as hell, with two main characters in Elsa and Anna that have a ton of pathos built in. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez (Robert is one of the co-creators of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) range from hilarious ("Love is an Open Door") to heartbreaking ("Do You Want to Build a Snowman") and uplifting ("Let it Go"). From the very beginning, this film seems like it's going to be something special.
Then these guys get involved.
For some context, keep in mind that apparently the original script for Frozen just featured Elsa and Anna, and both the handsome leading man and the snowman comic relief were added in later. And while they make some sense in the story, and the script has been re-written to make them "important", they still come across as shoehorned in. The strong world being built in the first third of the movie screeches to a halt to make sure we pay attention to these guys, and the much stronger story of Elsa and Anna's relationship suffers for it.
Libraries worth of articles could be written (and have been) on the problems with unnecessary comic relief in film, and Olaf the snowman fits the bill. Thankfully, he never descends to Jar Jar level, and his one song is pretty darned funny, but otherwise he adds absolutely nothing to the film, and the one major lesson for him to learn is learned and dismissed too quickly. Kristoff, on the other hand, seems completely unnecessary at the beginning of the film, due to this guy:
Hans is the Prince that Anna falls in love with at the beginning of the film. He's a typical modern Disney Price - daring and brave and just a little awkward, and most importantly, he's willing to watch the home base and let Anna go off and have her own adventure. By the time the movie gets around to revealing that it's him who's unnecessary, it just feels like a cheap plot twist to make Kristoff the star.
It's a shame Frozen felt the need to include Kristoff and Olaf, because a film about Anna going on an adventure to find her sister while Hans tries to hold off the sinister machinations back home would be really interesting, and kind of feminist. And while the ending certainly isn't your typical Prince-Swoops-in-to-Save-the-Day thing, Kristoff's added subplots take away time to develop Elsa's interesting personal revelation that saves everyone.
It's not that Frozen is a disappointment. It's a decent, possibly even good, film. But it's another example of a film that needed to not be meddled with. By taking the original, really interesting, story and adding too many extra characters, it's missed a chance to make a truly great film and let us say Disney is finally in another Golden Age. Still - the music is utterly fantastic. If you don't believe me, finish this review by listening to Idina Menzel's ballad "Let it Go" - which is so good that Disney put the whole thing on Youtube to make you go see the movie.