Walt Disney Animation Studios has a rich history of feature film characters. From Winnie the Pooh to Stitch, many strong protagonists highlight this library. However, the scratched side of the coin is just as wonderful with villains like Jafar, Cruella De Vil and Scar. When it comes to villains: Disney delivers… well, almost always.
2013 saw the release of Frozen, the latest animated film from Disney, based this time off the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen. It’s good, it’s very good. Building off the fun but predictable film, Tangled; Frozen delivers a unique story of sisterhood highlighted by magic and gorgeous animation. I’ve already sung “Let It Go” to myself more times than I would care to admit so the movie also has at least one song that’s really worth remembering.
Overall I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend Frozen to anyone seeking some animated fun, but I wish I could recommend the movie more. Frozen has a flaw, a big one. For most of the film it keeps it off screen, which is a good thing. Warning: minor plot spoilers to follow… for a Disney movie… do I really need to give plot disclaimers?
Anyway, Frozen follows two sisters: Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). Elsa has magical powers, the ability to freeze things and create snow. Anna is normal, without any magical powers whatsoever. Magic is fun but also dangerous so Elsa hides her powers. This plan works until both girls are of marrying age (at least I hope they are) and Elsa is getting crowned as the new queen. Needless to say things go wrong and the kingdom ends up a little… frozen. Get it? I’ll move on.
But that pun is besides the main point. At Elsa’s coronation, Anna meets a prince, Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and they fall in love… well they decide to get married. Ah young love. Unlike every other Disney Princess movie in existence, Elsa vetoes the marriage:
And so the kingdom gets frozen and Anna goes off to find her sister to put things right. Along the way she meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Hans is left in charge of the kingdom. He does his best, even going so far as to foil the Duke, a comical satire of the usual Disney villain voiced by the always hilarious Alan Tudyk. Hans is set up as a good guy, clearly not Anna’s true love but a good guy nonetheless. In other words: it is an interesting character development, something more unique than the average animated film.
Then comes the turn, the big turn. Anna is injured and only a kiss from her true love can save her. Does Hans save her: no. Does he remain the good guy and just admit that he isn’t in love with her: nope. Hans reveals that he hates both Anna and her sister and will take this opportunity to kill both of them and take over the kingdom. He also mentions that if Anna had a dog or cat, he would run it over in his truck (okay he doesn’t say that but it would fit with his declaration of evil). If all that sounds out of left field, that’s only because it is.
There is no set up, literally nothing to suggest to the audience that Hans is a bad guy, nevermind a murderer. The turn is nothing short of awful. Frozen was a story about two sisters struggling to maintain a relationship while one struggles with magical powers and the other went on a journey of self-discovery in a frigid wonderland. That doesn’t sound like a story that needs a Prince Dirtbag to make it interesting.
Also: it’s Disney, their villains usually rock. And remember Fox and the Hound, proof that Disney didn’t use to shy away from telling a complex story without a needless villain. Sure the hunter is a dick to the Fox but… that’s kind of what hunters do.
The “reveal” of Prince Hans comes off as a cheat. A way to move the story to more expedited resolution instead of the natural ending it was heading for. One wonders what the morale of Prince Hans is for young women watching the film: remember girls, just because you meet a boy and he seems cute and fun – don’t get into a relationship because he probably just wants to kill you and your sister. That’s it: that is the only reason you shouldn’t rush into a relationship.
So while Frozen is still good, it never gets great. Before I saw this film, I heard it compared to Beauty and the Beast. Not even close. Beauty and the Beast has more than one song worth remembering… and, you know, a villain who isn’t the dumbest thing since George Lucas thought to explain the Force in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.