Disney’s latest Princess movie, and merchandise vehicle for Christmas, is something actually surprising and transgressive for them. It skews their own genre conventions and delivers something sorely needed. I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler free as I can but I’d suggest going to see it without any knowledge of what happens, it’s a lot better that way. Also don’t trust the marketing; it tries to ignore the main selling point of the film in favour of trying to make it look like a bog standard Disney or Dreamworks film.
That main selling point is that instead of the regular coming of age Disney tales where the princess finds a man and true love this is about two sisters. It’s their story about reconnecting that is central and not a love story. The plot is that in the Nordic land of Arendelle princess Elsa has magical powers and can create ice and snow. When she was a little girl she accidentally injured her younger sister Anna, in order to cure her they needed to magically remove all memories of the event and magic from her mind. Elsa, now fearful of her powers hurting people, let’s herself be shut in by her parents till she can control it. Then their parents are tragically killed, this is Disney after all, so Elsa must come out of her isolation and take on the mantle of the Queen. Things don’t go well and her powers are revealed forcing her to flee and accidentally blanketing the kingdom into eternal winter.
There’s a lot more going on and a lot of moving parts that I can’t get into much detail about, but the movie never feels bloated or bogged down by all of it. The pace is nice and we’re expected to pick things up easy enough because it’s a Disney movie so we don’t need a lot of introduction to the magic, just enough to grasp what’s there in this world. Such as the casual mention that Elsa was born with her powers and not cursed was a good enough explanation for where they came from.
The great thing about the film is that it’s first and foremost about the two sisters. It’s their story. Elsa is coming of age, dealing with her changing body and new responsibilities; Anna’s trying to help Elsa through it but also meeting the love of her life, the very sweet Hans. Because it’s a Disney movie there’s a certain level of unpredictability in it. Elsa may turn evil, she was crowned a queen after all and that’s Disney code for Evil. Anna may fail to win her back till the very end when a dramatic sacrifice is needed to save the kingdom. Kristoff, an ice salesman Anna meets travelling to stop Elsa, might be a love interest for Elsa to show her the error of her ways. Or none of those might happen, because this movie likes to take a left turn where a traditional Disney movie would go right.
The big thing people are talking about and trying not to spoil is act three, and the revelation that happens. It is brilliant and a big swerve that shouldn’t be spoiled. There was a large “whoa” from half the audience when I saw it. It’s something very cleverly done that isn’t out of left field and makes sense. Definitely not something done just for the sake of having a twist. As part of the large Disney mythos this takes a stab at something that needed re-examining for modern times.
The songs in this are also incredible. Idina Menzel as Elsa was perfect casting as she does not just fantastic singing but some great acting. More importantly the songs flow with the narrative rather than feeling lumped in there. All of them serve to move the plot along or inform us about the characters. Nothing feels wasted or out of place. Very well done on their part for that feat.
The marketing for this has been atrocious. Either focusing too much on the side comic relief characters or making it look like a below average animation movie. Those comic relief characters aren’t nearly as intrusive as it seems. Olaf, a snowman brought to life by Elsa accidentally, is actually very funny. His one goal is to experience summer, not realising what that means for him. The reason why he works so well is that he’s not in it a whole lot. He’s there just enough to be funny without being annoying or wearing out his stick. Again the movie knows how to keep its focus.
So even though I’m reluctant to say exactly why it’s a great film it’s still one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Go watch it and tell others to do so; good word of mouth can beat crappy marketing. The animation is gorgeous, the story is spectacular, it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and if you’re like me you’ll want to cheer that it’s punching some old fashioned Disney concepts in the face. Also go in as unspoiled as you can, it’s worth it.