Disney’s Frozen Get Chilly Reception (From Some of My Favorite Critics)

“There’s nothing I’d like more than to tell you, at the end of this year of relentlessly disappointing family fare, that Frozen — very loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen — is a musical fairy-tale triumph: a throwback to the days of Beauty and the Beast, like many critics are saying.”

That’s how the great Steven Greydanus begins his review of Frozen.

Can you sense the pending “But…”?  Here it comes.

After carefully considering the film’s correlations with Disney’s Rapunzel tale Tangled, Greydanus says:

For a while, it looks like Frozen might turn out to be a breakthrough for male heroes as well as females. Yes, female protagonists are rare in contemporary Hollywood animation, but so are strong, heroic male leads (more on this in a moment). To have two viable romantic leads, either of whom might make a worthy love interest, is as unheard of as having two female protagonists.

And here’s where we get to Frozen’s biggest problem. Which of Anna’s three key relationships — with Elsa, Hans or Kristoff — is the movie ultimately about? Is it a traditional fairy-tale romance? Or is it a story about sister love? Either would be fine, if only the filmmakers could pull it off.

Fatally, by the time Frozen decisively answers this question, it’s too late. The movie is over, and there’s no time for the characters to actually have the relationship the movie is ostensibly about. It’s a movie more about the idea of a relationship than about an actual relationship between characters. Rapunzel had two important, complex relationships, with Mother Gothel and Flynn Rider. Anna has none. For that matter, no one in this movie does.

Meanwhile, in one of the most depressing twists of any recent animated film — I’ll try to be vague here, but I can’t avoid spoilers entirely — the filmmakers …

Whoa, whoa… I’d better not repost the whole review. If you want to brave the spoilers and find out about the film’s “most depressing twist,” go straight to the source.

Looking around at other reviewers I respectfully consult, I find other discouraging reports.

Keith Uhlich at TimeOut New York writes:

Sad to say, the magic is missing here: The songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are admittedly catchy, notably Menzel’s showstopping, self-actualizing ballad “Let It Go,” but the story—aside from a climax that plays like a too-knowing rebuke to Disney formula—goes tediously through the motions. It isn’t only Papa Walt’s head that’s been put on ice.

Josh Larsen weighs in, saying Frozen is:

… well-intentioned, but something’s off. It feels like you’re either watching the first draft of a classic Disney animated musical or the 347th one.

And Scott Renshaw of City Weekly sighs:

Frozen drifts through a generally pleasant, well-performed final 80 minutes full of solid songs, effective action beats and decent laughs—a safely entertaining piece of work by committee. By the time it reaches its big emotional payoff—which could have provided a fascinatingly daring twist to the echoes of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast sprinkled throughout the film—it simply falls a little flat, never quite managing the punch that could have been realized in a story that was willing to commit fully to being about the relationship between two sisters who don’t know how to be sisters.


But Ken Morefield at 1 More Film Blog — while noting a few flaws — is still enthusiastic.

I adored Frozen. It’s my favorite Disney film since Beauty and The Beast.

The last act felt less like a celebration of the film’s different-ness and more like a failure of nerve. Nevertheless, by that time I had already bought into the film. The ending dinged it but didn’t ruin it.

One of everyone’s deepest desires is to be loved in spite of our imperfections. Siblings, sisters especially, are one of the first people that did that for many of us. Frozen reminded me that I should celebrate my own sister and appreciate the relationship my friends and family have with theirs.

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  • kennethrmorefield

    Jeff, I think your headline is somewhat misleading. The film is currently 85% fresh at RT and 75% at Metacritic. Right about the same as Catching Fire.

    We all have our critics whom we respect trust more than others, perhaps even more than the consensus, but Steven himself has admitted he is in the minority opinion on this one. (Which is not the same as being wrong.) In terms of overall reception, it is scoring higher than Monsters University, Brave and the dreadful Planes and equal to Wreck-It Ralph. and within a percentage point or two of Tangled. Or, if you prefer another comparison, it is tracking a point higher than Tree of Life.

    Am I saying Frozen is better than Tree of Life? Of course not, but I could find three critics I respected who gave ToL a bad review. That wouldn’t mean it would be accurate to say the film got a chilly reception, would it?

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Fair enough. I wrote that headline after reading five or six reviews, and they were very mixed to negative. Having seen more now, I’m convinced to update the headline… slightly.

      I’ll see the movie eventually, I’m sure. But life is demanding too much right now for me to have much time for movies… or for more important things like reading and writing… so it’ll have to wait.

  • I’ll have my review up at some point this week. It certainly is flawed, and I recognize some of the weaker elements of the film, but I love how the storytelling twists a lot of the traditional Disney film tropes. I think it’s the weakest of Disney’s latest 4 films, but I think it’s the most ambitious as well. I say it’s worth seeing. I’ll also say it’s much better than anything Pixar has done recently.

  • Ben McFarland

    Greydanus is a little too hard on Frozen. For example, he doesn’t mention a song by the trolls that’s almost as good as something Ashman/Mencken would write. That said, the jarring note that the supposed “hit song” “Let It Go” evokes is exactly my reaction, and that misstep overshadows the whole movie. On the whole, even if the climax doesn’t have an effective hero, at least he TRIES to be effective, which is in my view enough to change the tone and feeling of it all. The biggest problem is that Disney’s trying to have it both ways with the evil Snow Queen character, having her cause eternal winter but still be essentially good at heart. She should have been more of a villain instead of just misunderstood — after all, her actions have clearly evil consequences despite her intentions. Ultimately, I think Tangled was richer but there are some ways in which Frozen was more finely crafted (the lighting, in particular, is exquisite). So it’s worth seeing (and Get a Horse is too, even more so).

  • Jack Start

    Your go-to film critics sound like crotchety nit-pickers- they are
    talking about the Disney movie for little girls, right, and not some
    other Frozen? The elements of the movie they (grudgingly?) admit work
    will be enthusiastically appreciated by the target audience. Seeing as a
    bunch of “old guys” are not enthused, my 11 year old daughter should really like Frozen!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      So, by your logic, 11-year-old girls are the most reliable critics regarding films made for 11-year-old girls?

      Then I suppose 5-year-old boys are the best judges of what a balanced diet for 5-year-old boys should look like, as well, and needn’t listen to “crotchety” parents who care about things like… oh… well-cooked food, or nutrition, or an excess of corn syrup.

      I don’t turn to “crotchety nit-pickers.” I turn to critics who are paying attention to what stories are really about, what ideas they’re condoning, and whether or not the storytellers are to be commended for excellence. As a storyteller, and one striving to write well for children, I are very much about these things. I “liked” a lot of stories when I was a kid that I certainly wouldn’t give to kids of my own… because now I see what they were really celebrating.

      And besides, if you saw nits crawling around on somebody you cared about, I suspect you’d become a nit-picker too. The picking of nits has a lot to do with caring about hygiene and health… in art as well as in self-care.

    • Evan

      Why is FROZEN a movie for little girls? A great work of art should appeal to a wider audience than that. Most Disney classics (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, PINOCCHIO, SNOW WHITE, LION KING), whether you like them or not, appeal to a fairly wide audience, which is why they have achieved a canonical status. I don’t think it makes someone a “crotchety nit-picker” to evaluate a work of art by higher standards than that of a supposed target audience.

      And for the record, as a mid-20’s man, I loved FROZEN. And as thoughtful and well written as I always find SDG’s reviews, I disagree with him here. I think Ken Morefield described the film very accurately: http://1morefilmblog.com/wordpress/frozen-buck-and-lee-2013/

      • jeffreyoverstreet

        Thanks, Evan. I hadn’t seen Ken’s review. I’ll update my post to include it.