How Did ‘Frozen’ Become so Popular?

[2 April 2014]

By Ben Travers

We all know having a high box office doesn’t a good movie make, just as procuring a large bank account doesn’t mean you’re a good person. Yet when you’re smashing box office records on a global scale, besting films with long-standing statistical marks, there has to be a meaning. People don’t simply go to see films for no reason (well, some do). They have to be told why, whether through trailers or—as is the case with Frozen—good word of mouth.

How Disney’s blockbuster original animated picture earned such positive word of mouth is actually beyond my reasoning. I equate it to a similar, recent feat: Alice in Wonderland. Now, Frozen isn’t nearly the auteuristic tragedy of that Tim Burton/Johnny Depp pairing. But I could nevertheless explain how either climbed to their epic grosses. Alice in Wonderland may have simply coasted off a lack of children’s fare in theaters, familiarity of story, and Johnny Depp, but Frozen? It had none of these advantages, and every story I’ve heard from families and friends involves their children being obsessed with the tale of two princesses learning to find each other’s love again.

Everything about Disney’s unofficial sequel to the far superior Tangled—don’t even get me started on the film’s similarities and how Frozen fails to imitate its predecessor at every turn—is completely mediocre. The premise starts out original enough, focusing on two sisters separated by secrets. A Disney film focusing on two women sounds like an excellent, progressive, 21st century idea. If only it was executed with equally excellent pizzaz.

Instead, the screenplay becomes a muddled mess, failing to convey who our protagonist is, what we should be hoping will happen, or even what relationships to care about. By the time the film ends, there’s little attachment left for any of the characters, especially if you’re not a fan what/who many are calling the film’s scene-stealing side character (more on the off-putting Olaf later). On top of all this, we see bland visual interpretations of humans—character designs with little imagination and few distinguishing features, let alone Pixar-level CGI magic. Sure, there are a few dazzling snow and ice designs, but nothing to truly stick in one’s memory.

Sadly, Frozen looks like a video game. When watching the Blu-ray on my Playstation 3, I kept forgetting I wouldn’t get a turn to play along, as opposed to the stunning art on display in Toy Story 3. While these could be forgiven and are rarely the reason children flock to a film (it’s certainly not for the hideous Madagascar franchise), the music isn’t addictive enough to save it. Frozen is a step up from Les Miserables when it comes to musicality, but that’s not saying much, considering that these characters aren’t forced to sing literally every line. And, come to think of it, the show-stopping number in Les Miserables, “I Dreamed a Dream”, is far better than that of Frozen—the admittedly catchy, if flawed “Let It Go”. The Oscar-winning song is the best of the bunch, but really a lesser lyrical gem than its competition in this year’s Academy Awards, “Happy” by Pharrell.

I can’t even remember a chord from the rest of the numbers, and I’ve seen the film twice now. They were forgettable and less than stimulating during the show, and another inexplicably adored element of the Frozen fan base. They, however, seem like treasure compared to the other oft-defended, most cherished element of the film: Olaf, the talking snowman. 

The cheery, oddly shaped lover of warm hugs is a vomit-inducing, stumbling contradiction. “Oh, a snowman who loves ‘all things hot.’ What an idea.” I can hear a Disney exec telling himself (or herself) this very thought after stealing it from their six-year-old. While Maximus, the arrogant horse brought to life with vigor and creativity in Tangled—and half-assedly copied in Frozen as the silent moose, Sven—is a whole character, Olaf is a one-note joke, voiced with such a high level of self-aware cuteness by Josh Gad it’s impossible to find him half as cute as he so obviously wants.

Or so I thought. As I’ve admitted, Frozen and its characters are much-loved. Families worldwide are eating up the film again and again on its Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Sporting standard special features like deleted scenes, music videos, a teaser trailer, and a making-of, I’m guessing most owners will keep watching the movie over and over rather than spend time with these equally average extras. T

hen again, if you love the average film, you may love the average extras, as well. The animated short film, Get a Horse is also thrown in, as is a seven-minute featurette on Disney’s journey from its origins to, well, Frozen. “Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Anderson to Frozen” is sweet, touching, and provides rich images and insightful interviews. I doubt many kids will jump to it, but adults may find a few moments of nostalgia to cherish.

Honestly, though, Frozen has put me in quite a quandary. Not knowing why it became the success it did, it’s hard for me to recommend with any confidence anything about it at all. So see for yourself, if you haven’t already. Perhaps you’ll discover what it is that I’m missing.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/180470-frozen/