When I was a kid there was Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White. Those were the only princesses you had to worry about. Now we have Elsa and her little sister Anna. Every time I go to the department store I see their pictures everywhere. Elsa/Anna backpacks. Elsa/Anna puzzles. Elsa/Anna toys. I decided to find out what I was missing so I bought this two-disc set. Princess culture has changed since I was a kid, for the better. Elsa and Anna retire the outdated and sexist portrayal of princesses as delicate damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by some knight in shining armor. Princesses are still all about kindness and love and sharing, but Elsa and Anna are feisty and strong-willed and you'd have to be a fool to want to mess with them. Elsa has a hard time fitting in and is uninterested in boys. Anna means well but can be a bit overbearing as she tries to do what she thinks is right for her sister. They live in a faraway land where the Aurora Borealis shine brightly at night.
Frozen and Frozen II are the story of Elsa, the beautiful young princess turned queen, societal outcast, and renegade hero. I was so afraid the Frozen movies wouldn't live up to the hype and am glad to have been proven wrong. All of the movies I had seen lately, especially the high budget ones, were formulaic. Frozen, however, is fresh and original. Through no fault of her own, Elsa finds herself as a pariah in her own land. The harbor freezes and ships are stuck in ice. Can Anna, the reindeer Sven, and the mountain man Kristoff help Elsa save the kingdom as the bad guys conspire against her? Can the princess Anna find true love? Or do Elsa and Anna give into despair and the kingdom plummets into an eternal ice age? It's a bit heavy for a kid's movie but fortunately the snowman Olaf provides some much needed comic relief.
Frozen is too short. You wish it was ten minutes longer to answer some lingering questions about Elsa's past. A friend at work told me the sequel is too dark and not as good as the original. I'd have to disagree. Frozen II doesn't work if you're expecting another princess movie meant for little kids. Parents, be warned. Elsa struggles with survivor guilt, just like Simba struggled with survivor guilt in the Lion King. I'll spare you the details. I guess it was the only way to make the plot work. In Frozen II Elsa is a complex character who tries to fit in but finds she can't change. She must confront her past to find out who she is. Frozen II really is a character study. The plot isn't nearly as important as the human energies the movie examines. Elsa is a lot like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Fate has dealt Elsa a very cruel hand. Is she too headstrong? Should Elsa give into Anna's pleas to slow down? Or does she take responsibility and make the most of a difficult situation she never asked to be in? Frozen II excels as an epic and a chick's flick but it's not really what I would call a kid's movie. About halfway through Frozen II you realize that poor Elsa is so conflicted that you wonder if it's even possible for the movie to have a happy ending. Frozen II isn't too scary for little kids to watch, but it's PG rated for a reason.
Elsa's story affirms that "it's okay to be different" which is a message I think a lot of pre-teens and teens might need these days as they are inundated with cultural messages of how they're supposed to look and fit in. Elsa is played primarily by Idina Menzel who is such a strong actor that you can't even tell she's acting. Menzel doesn't seem like someone playing Elsa's voice. You practically forget it's someone acting and you could swear that Menzel is Elsa. There really is no sorcery or wizardry in either movie. The writers only use magic as a symbol or archetype for the mystery of the human heart and the beauty of nature, which makes it easier to empathize with the characters. A lot of people will see a little bit of themselves in Anna and/or Elsa. The animation and special effects are first-rate. Frozen is a kid's flick. Frozen II is a true epic on a par with Titanic and Gone With the Wind. Everyone will like Frozen. Not everyone will like Frozen II. But in this age of predictable, formulaic movies I'm glad to see there's still filmmakers out there willing to take risks.
The real-life magic of the world of Frozen is subtle but consequential. By introducing Elsa, the princess genre acknowledges that they are sympathetic to the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community and don't want them to feel marginalized or excluded by the princess genre. Don't worry, parents of young kids. Frozen I and II still leave open the possibility that Elsa is so pure and regal that she's unconcerned with all romantic desires, like a virgin of Vesta. But the symbolism is hard to ignore. Look at the midnight sea scene where the horse considers Elsa's worth. Did Elsa fail the truth test? We know she has a heart of gold, so what could she be lying about? If the horse thinks that Elsa is hiding something deep in her heart, we are left with a glaring question because no explanation is provided. When Elsa is young, her dad lectures her to not draw attention to the royal family and treats her differently than Anna. There is a minor character who's a pretty young woman (skillfully played by the very talented Rachel Matthews) and the mature viewer will wonder if Elsa has a crush on her. But they never get very far if that's the case, because Elsa wears a beautiful flowing white dress at the end of Frozen II so we know that Elsa is still a virgin at age 24. By avoiding sexist stereotypes, Frozen I and II are probably the most socially responsible princess movies ever made. There is a thinly-veiled environmental message in Frozen II that tells us we have to take better care of the planet. And all of you macho tough guys out there who never cry in movies, be warned. Even the toughest truck driver will shed at least one tear in both of these movies. So all you macho guys, man up and buy the Frozen movies and watch them. Everyone will think you're sensitive and caring. Highly recommended.