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10 Ways In Which 'Frozen' Was Saved From Being Just Another Stupid Princess Movie

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | December 2, 2013 | Comments ()


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As we’ve already reported, Frozen absolutely crushed it at the box office this holiday weekend. And though I heard a few anecdotes and ran into a few tearful children who were a little scared by Frozen’s more adult moments (trade embargoes and snarling wolves, I imagine), found this film such a return to the classic Disney musicals of my youth (Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin) while also breaking new ground. But it wasn’t always the case that Frozen was going to be so delightfully unconventional (and appealing to both boys and girls). Here are 10 ways in which Frozen was saved from being just another boring princess movie. Careful, you’re on thin ice. Spoilers ahead.

Elsa Was Originally A Hardcore Villain: It’s pretty obvious from the trailer that Elsa is our “antagonist,” but the creative way in which she’s portrayed as a nuanced woman who’s afraid of her own power and was told to suppress not out of hate but misguided parental love is ground-breaking. That is some sophisticated villainy right there. Because, of course, Elsa isn’t actually the villain. In the original concept, however, she was much more conventional and it’s not until the songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote “Let It Go” that the whole idea behind her changed. They said “She had really been more of the villain of the movie up until that point and we weren’t looking to reverse that. But, I think it was because we really got into the mind of the character and found a little bit of vulnerability in her. Elsa was the villain before that. Before ‘Let it Go.’ Elsa had gone evil.” (Source)
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In fact, Megan Mullally was originally cast as Elsa which should give you a taste of what kind of cartoonish villain we could have had.
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The Love Song Is Actually The Villain Song: If the soundtrack reminds you of early 90s Disney it’s because the Frozen composers, a married couple, met at a Broadway Songwriting Workshop called the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. That’s where Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid) met as well. So while Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez talk about following the typical Menken/Ashman structure ( “I Want Song” “The Charm Song” “The Comedy Song”), they also admit to flipping “The Love Song” on its head. When Prince Hans talks about “searching my whole life to find my own place” he’s not talking about falling for Anna, he’s talking about putting the moves on her kingdom. It’s a “The Villain Song” disguised as “The Love Song.” The explain, “Normally that’s the villain. The villain is singing a tango about his evil plan. Instead, we wrote this like karaoke-meet-cute ‘Love is an Open Door’ kind of thing….It’s a misplaced song. It’s too early in the film for a love song. And, It’s unsettling in a weird way, but really it kind of sucks you in. And then when the turnaround comes later. That song really creates the whiplash effect. That guy? That guy that was so cool and boppy?”
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Kristen Bell Helped Build The Character of Anna: In interviews, both he composers and the directors attribute Anna’s warmth, spunk and humor to Kristen Bell who was the first actor cast and the only person to stay attached to the project over the years and through many iterations. Her push was always for more human and more “real” in the Princess Anna character. Plus, Kristen Anderson-Lopez says, she gets all the pop culture references.
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The Pop Culture References: In a post Shrek world, pop culture references aren’t unknown in animated kids movies. But so often they have an expiration date and the cheeky contemporary nod can feel stale and dated. That’s why, in my opinion, something that tries so hard to be hip, like Shrek, will never achieve classic status. Frozen, on the hand, has a few pop culture jokes here and there, but they’re subtle. You hardy notice them. They’re not tricks, they’re allusions, Michael.
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Not Afraid Of Undignified Princesses: A Disney animator got in a lot of trouble this Fall for saying the following: “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ‘cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very - you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to - you can get them off a model very quickly…Having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the same scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.” Those who reacted poorly might be a little comforted by the fact that our princesses here are in no danger of having their hair braided by blue birds. Anna was originally designed as a blonde and though hair color isn’t the most telling character feature, I much prefer her Anne of Green Gables freckles and braids.
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These are not your typical princesses. They’re gassy! They stuff their faces with chocolate! They look like this in the morning! (Still good.)
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In fact, one of the songs that ended up on the cutting room floor was written for the two girls when they were younger all about not doing what princesses are expected to do. Here’s a demo of the composer’s daughters singing the song. One of them ended up being the voice of young Anna in the movie.

Kristoff Was Orginally Gruff And Very Macho: That’s right the affable snow salesman who was raised by trolls and talks to reindeer. Begging your pardon, croons to reindeer, was originally a gruff and macho mountain man. That all changed when Jonathan Groff came in and read and the females in the studio swooned over his voice. Director Chris Buck compared Groff’s voice to butter. They rewrote Kristoff to make him sweeter. The Peeta to Anna’s Katniss. Groff recalls, “It changed so much over the year and a half we recorded it. At one point I was a hoarder with my sleigh and all the relationships were different.” (Source)
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The Setting Is Anchored In Reality: This is obviously a fairytale. There are magical powers and trolls and talking snowmen. But the Scandinavian setting is faithful rather than fantastical. In fact, the most outlandish set, Elsa’s ice castle, is based on a real ice hotel, the Hotel de Glace near Quebec City, Canada.
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They Even Managed To Un-Dumb The Dumb Sidekick: The thing I was most worried about in this movie was the dumb snowman played by Josh Gad. And while Olaf was originally supposed to be a runty, misshapen guard that Evil Elsa created to protect her castle, that plot went out the window with Evil Elsa. So we get the MUCH better plot tying Olaf to the innocence of the girls’ early friendship. (You’ll notice he gets created thoughtlessly with a wave of Elsa’s hand. Animation is much easier to rearrange than live action.) Another reason, of course, that Olaf worked so well is that Josh Gad was given the freedom to improvise. Most of Olaf’s scenes are a result of Gad’s sound booth riffs. You can tell in this introductory scene.

They Never Once Lost Their Sense Of Fun:The composers wrote this fun little end credits song for Jonathan Groff when they realized that he only had one sad little duet with himself. It didn’t make it into the film, but you can tell they had a blast writing and recording it.

The Kristoff character does get his moment in the credits, though. You may have spotted the following disclaimer:

The views and opinions by Kristoff in the film that all men eat their boogers are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Walt Disney Company or the filmmakers. Neither The Walt Disney Company nor the filmmakers make any representation of the accuracy of any such views and opinions.
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There’s also a fun hidden cameo from another Disney princess.
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Most Of All, They Kept The Kissing Stuff To A Minimum: One of the directs, Jennifer Lee, explains, “Our original pitch was much more about romantic love, and this is much more about fear vs. love thematically.” To recap, the original pitch pit two women against each other, one good and wholesome, one evil and the solution was True Love Conquers All. Does that not sound like the worst, most boring movie you could imagine? To be fair, the ending was always there. The Heroine Saves Herself ending is what landed director Chris Buck his pitch. But they wrote and re-wrote their way to get there and make it much more about these two sisters and familial love. Which is a much more interesting and universally relatable story anyway, isn’t it?
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Joanna Robinson has spotify:user:128899670:playlist:5NtjgKz4doejP5HJtKXFcS">literally been listening to the Frozen soundtrack all weekend.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • synapticflow

    That snowman was the Jar Jar Binks of the movie. yuck.

  • I felt turning away from Elsa's initial role as the film's villain was one of the most disheartening missed opportunities and disservices Disney could have done to the narrative of Frozen. What could be a more dynamic conflict than two sisters who love each other but are forced to face another? I can understand the intent to make Elsa empathetic, considering the character's own plight, yet it's one thing to make a villain nuanced; it's another to take one of the more interesting aspects of a character and essentially gut it. The Elsa we got was a stale remnant of a more interesting concept.

  • Sarah Weissman

    I see your point, but Elsa's change gave way to a much more modern plot about non-romantic love, which was entirely refreshing.

  • How is that modern, even by Disney standards? We've seen plots that involve sibling and platonic love long before Frozen. Granted, however, these films (i.e. The Jungle Book, Brother Bear, even Up) lack main female protagonists, but the idea that "non-romantic love" central to the plot is novel to Frozen is inaccurate.

  • urkel

    I have to agree with this. I saw the movie late so I heard a lot of stuff about how unique and different this story was, but in the end it seems like making them both innocent sisters was the easy way out of making a deep story.

    Lets face it. the parents were the true villains of the story for locking their children in a castle and isolating them from each other with memory-erasing and implanting disgusting life rules like "Conceal, don't feel".

    Ending the story on the same note would've been fine and allowing them to reunite would've been fine. But there was a huge missed opportunity for not pursuing the "Evil Parents" storyline and allowing us to watch them become enemies that were pitted against each other before having a change of heart. But what we got instead was a VERY pedestrian story that was hidden in some fantastic songs.

  • Uriah_Creep

    The Internet just keeps giving me more reasons to love Kristen Bell, as if I needed any.

  • chanohack

    Can we please talk about the "Fixer Upper" song in which the trolls say that Kristoff's no prince, but all he needs is a little love? To make him an acceptable husband? Did that strike anyone else as sort of... not the message that we want the little girls and boys to walk away with? I know they sing at the end that we're all fixer-uppers and we all just need a little love, but that song weirded me out.

    Maybe I misinterpreted it. I need to watch the movie again to sort out my feels.

  • Jasper Anderton

    I completely agree. There were a few subtext issues in that song that made my skin crawl.

    Did you notice how in the previous scene Kristoff berates Anna for getting engaged to a guy she just met, and then his family tries to marry them on the spot?

  • Sarah Weissman

    I thought the point was that the trolls saw the chemistry but I never interpreted the audience as being supposed to agree with the trolls.

  • Rain

    Well not really since now technically the trolls know that they haven't "just met" anymore...you think it takes just a day to travel through all that snow? xD Plus they know Kristoff's a good guy. Known both of them since childhood after all. Anyway, I think the real subtext was that they were foreshadowing about the sibling relationship as well.
    Lyrics:
    Cliff: Father!
    Female Troll 3: Sister!

    Male Troll 6: Brother!

    All Trolls: We need each other to raise
    Us up and round us out.

  • Guest

    I completely agree. There were a few subtext issues in that song that made my skin crawl.

    Did you notice how in the previous sing Kristoff berates Anna for getting engaged to a guy she just met, and then his family tries to marry them on the spot?

  • e jerry powell

    Okay.

    "In a post Shrek world, pop culture references aren’t unknown in animated kids movies."

    Warner Brothers cartoons from back in the forties set the standard for pop culture references since, though technically the Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes were never primarily intended for children. The line of descent certainly goes through to 1993 with (Warner Brothers') "Animaniacs," so it certainly wasn't much of a new thing in 2001.

    Disney is another matter, of course. I'm glad that fun things musical are back in the mix.

  • foolsage

    Or take Aladdin, for that matter, which predated Shrek by 9 years. The genie was a constant stream of visual and spoken pop culture references.

    But Warner Bros cartoons did it all along, you're quite right.

  • e jerry powell

    For me, Aladdin was a chicken or egg kind of situation. I don't know how much of Genie was written and how much was Robin Williams riffing, but still, the end result was the same.

  • chanohack

    OMG. I love "Amimaniacs" forever for the pseudo-parody they did of A Hard Day's Night. It makes me so happy to know that other people know about the weird nerdy things that I love.

  • Sassy Pikachu

    I'm late to see this comment, but it took me years to realize how Animaniacs managed to sneak in really raunchy jokes. Like the episode where the Warner siblings were investigating a theft on a cruise:
    Yakko: Dot, you go check finger prints.
    Dot: Got it. (holding Prince the artist in her arms)
    Yakko: No Dot, finger PRINTS.
    Dot: Ooooo. (looks at Prince, Prince raises his eyebrows)
    Dot: Not happening.

    Didn't get that joke till a few years ago when I was baby sitting my younger brother.

  • emmalita

    Ha! Yesterday I used the Animaniacs "Meatballs or Consequences" as an example of cultural literacy.

  • Jifaner

    To be fair, an evil Elsa was closer to the inspirational material. The Snow Queen was one cold bitch.

  • pengwinpiper

    I think that's why this was so refreshing. They were going to rip off another old fairy tale, but instead turned it on it's head and came up with an original and delightful new story. I went in expecting Elsa to end up evil (because I'd only seen old sketches and ideas) and was blown away by the finished product.

  • DominaNefret

    i found that most of the stuff that is being praised about this movie was done in Tangled too, but in my opinion Tangled was a significantly better movie. And I liked Frozen. I'm not sure why this is getting so much better a reception. The music in Tangled was far superior, the princess was undignified, her sidekick was clever, her love interest was a complex and sympathetic character and they had one of the most genuine relationships portrayed in any Disney movie. And Sven the Reindeer is very clearly inspired by the horse in Tangled. And Tangled was stunningly beautiful.
    I liked Frozen a lot. It was a solid 7. Tangled was a 10. (On the Disney Princess Movie scale.)

  • Evan Grantham-Brown

    Frozen had better music and prettier scenery. Tangled had a tighter plot and more interesting characters. Both excellent movies, though.

  • DominaNefret

    I have listened to the music from Frozen again since, and have decided that I like it more than I did when I first watched, but I also identified what my issue with it is. It sounds like it was written for a Broadway show instead of a Disney movie. Clearly the songs were written for Idina, who is amazing, and they work very well as singles to belt along with in the car, but they were awkward in the actual movie. I was taken out of the film every time a song started.
    Alan Menken actually did the music for Tangled, and he is just the master.

  • Strangely enough, I loved Tangled and loved its music when I first saw it...but I can't remember a single track a week later. I've seen Frozen a few weeks ago and I'm still humming the songs in my head. The first time I heard its music, I felt like I was back in the time of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.

  • Clay J Pena

    Hi, when you said the sidekick in Tangled is clever, you mean Pascal right? Can you please explain why you think he is clever. Because I love the character (it's pretty unique to use a chameleon), but I think they did not give him enough dimension. His personality is not very unique (Flick in Pocahontas already has that suspicious streak), he does not have a scene of his own, he doesnt have his own motives, and I think they could have done a lot of cool things with his camouflage skills to help Rapunszel, but they didnt. Sure he tripped Gothel, but she's gonna die anyway from accelerated aging.

    P.S. I still like Pascal though, that's why I'm so desperate in looking for reasons why he is special in how own way. :P

  • Uriah_Creep

    On Rotten Tomatoes, at least, Tangled is rated higher. (89% versus 85% for Frozen.)

  • DominaNefret

    I meant more that it seems as though Frozen is going to rake in considerably more money than Tangled. It seems to be doing a lot better with audiences.
    I have seen a number of critics say it is the best Disney Movie since The Lion King, which I highly disagree with. Mulan, The Emperor's New Groove, and Tangled were all better.

  • Uriah_Creep

    You're absolutely right about how each has been received, and now I'm anxious to see Frozen.

  • I don't disagree that Tangled is the better movie. But in regards to the praise Frozen is getting, I think a lot of that could be attributed to the music.

    Idina Menzel beats out Mandy Moore any day of the week.

  • DominaNefret

    I found the music in Frozen pretty disappointing. Idina absolutely has a better voice than Mandy Moore, but I thought the songs themselves were pretty forgettable. The only one I have any sort of recollection of at all is Jonathan Groff's fake duet with the reindeer. The Tangled soundtrack, on the other hand, I own and listen to on a regular basis, and sing along with every single song.

  • Remember a while back when they had that clip with Olaf and Sven on the ice competing for Olaf's carrot nose? That was the first sense of what to expect with Frozen and it wasn't even in the movie.

    I *hated* that little scene. It put so much emphasis on Olaf, it really turned me off. When I learned Josh Gad played Olaf, I was prepared to write it off entirely (I'll never forgive him for 1600 Penn).

    But Frozen is SO MUCH BETTER than what we were first presented with, it seriously makes me wonder if Disney has forgotten how to market their films.

    The bungled the marketing on Tangled in much the same way - Tangled being one of the most joyful and effervescent Disney films in a decade. How do you screw that up?

  • sass

    My biggest worry was how, especially after seeing the Olaf/Sven scene as the trailer, they were going to absolutely demolish one of my favorite tales growing up as a child. My mother gave me her extremely old copy of The Snow Queen by HCA when I was five and it had a hologram photo on the front cover - an OLD hologram, ridged and everything. I knew right away that Disney was going to twist this into something absolutely different, regardless of the trailer, but the trailer didn't help matters.

    But then I read a few reviews and decided to check it out. I LOVE it. I love it more than Tangled, and I loved Tangled. My own five year old daughter loves it as well - in fact specifically requested, nay, BEGGED to watch it today. For me it's on a par message-wise with Brave (some people dislike Brave but despite a shallow plot line, the mother-daughter relationship and Merida's fight for independence is a great message for young girls as compared to, say, Cinderella).

    I agree with your statement - Disney's marketing department needs to step it up. Enough with the cheap goofy trailers and give us something epic and inspiring in those 30 seconds. We all know you can do it. You did it with Lion King, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and a whole host of others.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I was with you on that. When I saw the trailer, I thought, "nope". But my husband really wanted to see it because he has a weird reindeer thing. I was so pleased he talked me into it, I really enjoyed the movie and was totally surprised by the content.

  • Emily Hall

    "His thing it with the reindeer, that's a little outside of nature's laws!"

  • Uriah_Creep

    But my husband really wanted to see it because he has a weird reindeer thing.

    He should probably see a shrink.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    It's ok, we live at least 200 yards from the nearest Reindeer.

  • Uriah_Creep

    That sounds suspiciously like a restraining order distance. That reindeer must be scared stiff.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Not anymore...

  • Uriah_Creep

    Should I call the SPCA on Mr. ZbornakSyndrome? HE BETTER NOT HAVE HURT THAT POOR REINDEER!

    Or did you mean... oh, that's awkward.

  • Zoe1078

    Maybe I'm alone, but I enjoyed the little clip. I thought it was a standalone short the first time I saw it, though, and once I realized it was attached to a movie, I thought it was something I could take my 4 year old to see (he loved it).

  • DominaNefret

    Tangled is one of the best movies they have ever made, and I am utterly baffled by how comparatively poorly it did. Was it the marketing job?
    I have also been wondering if the audience for Tangled was too old. It may not have appealed to little little kids the way that most Disney movies do; it almost seemed like a Disney movie for teenagers instead of kids. Tangled was the first of the Disney movies to get a PG rating, right? Could that have turned parents off?
    Frozen also has a PG rating, but it was definitely made for a younger audience than Tangled.

  • Joseph

    Technically, The Black Cauldron, perhaps Disney's darkest film was the first animated Disney movie with a PG rating. Treasure Planet, Lilo and Stitch, and Atlantis scored PG ratings. The first 3D animated movie to get a PG rating from Disney was The Incredibles. Tangled did come after that, so I guess it was the first "Disney Princess" Movie to get a PG rating. But after Tangled, Disney seems to stick in that range for its animated movies. Brave, Wreck-it-Ralph, Planes, and now Frozen are PG.

    -Someone who is driven to correct people on the internet

  • DominaNefret

    You are correct, and I should have been more specific; I meant that it was the first of the Disney movie musicals/princess movies to garner a PG. My fault for leaving off the qualifier, I shouldn't have assumed that would be inferred just because I was talking about Princess Movies at the time.

  • emmalita

    Tangled has been the favorite princess movie in my house for the last two years. My almost 5 year old niece loves it!

  • Uriah_Creep

    I loved it, and I'm just slightly older than 5. I may be getting old, but I'm still a princess.

  • emmalita

    "If you want to be a princess you can be a princess, and if you want to be a prince you can be a prince. Girls can be princes and princesses and boys can too." My niece.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Words to live by from a 5-year old.

  • emmalita

    You have to choose with care from her words of wisdom. She also advocates never leaving the house because you might fall down and scrape your arm, and that we should all wave goodbye with our butts.

  • chanohack

    I LOVE HER.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I stand by my statement. In fact, I may want to subscribe to her newsletter.

  • emmalita

    Probably a good thing. We suspect she has been plotting to become Earth's Overlord since she was 10 months old. Her rule will be benevolent, but her justice will be swift and fearsome.

  • Uriah_Creep

    It's been said: "And lo, in her prettiest princess dress will she lead the princes and princesses into the new land, where they will be happy under the firm but benevolent jackboot (or maybe ballet shoe?) of her oppression. And they shall wave goodbye with their butts."

    It's in the Bible somewhere. *

    * Probably in Corinthians or somewhere else no one ever looks.

  • emmalita

    I tip my hat to you, sir.

  • Uriah_Creep

    That's high praise coming from you, Emmalita.

  • Berry

    Are you trying to say that waving goodbye with our butts isn't the most brilliant idea you've ever heard? Because I, for one, am fully on board the goodbye butt movement.

  • emmalita

    I'll be honest, we do wiggle our butts at each other in the privacy of our own home.

  • Berry

    Well that's okay then.

  • BAM

    This^. Every time I saw a 'Frozen' trailer I always asked if anyone knew what it was about (because generally all they showed was: the snowman, the reindeer, and the snow monster). Who knew it was animated film full of character, depth, and richness?

  • Sarah Weissman

    It's better to think of Gad for Tony nominee for Book of Mormon :)

  • And Avenue Q! Both of which I love!

    Which should indicate how much I hate, hate, HATED 1600 Penn. UGH.

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