For Disney fans, it is hard to believe that “Frozen” (2013) was released just six years ago. The tale, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” has permeated pop culture in a way that even Walt Disney Pictures couldn’t have predicted when it was released. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, “Frozen”’s themes of family, love, isolation, and finding yourself have resonated with people across the globe. And of course, “Let It Go” became such a hit that it was almost impossible to avoid hearing it for many months. In addition to the film making it onto In Their Own League’s Top 50 Female Directed of the Decade list, now is an appropriate time to look back at the first “Frozen” film as its sequel has just been released.
Six years after asking, “Do you want to build a snowman?” Elsa and Anna return in Disney’s "Frozen 2", this time facing change and the fear of uncertainty. That’s a more philosophical antagonist for the sisters of Frozen, which earned $1.3 billion worldwide, and a journey that doesn’t entirely feel necessary or without plot holes. But credit director Chris Buck and writer-director Jennifer Lee with crafting an ultimately satisfying story of more mature themes for an audience that’s grown out of the dress-up stage.
A young girl has extraordinary skill in the defensive arts. She is independent, smart, humorous; in short, everything a mythic heroine should be. “Brave” (2012) captures the lush countryside of ancient Scotland in vibrant tones of green, brown and blue. We anticipate an epic journey for our heroine worthy of Joseph Campbell in the great tradition of Celtic folklore but are ultimately disappointed by a pedestrian plot that was clearly so much more at some point but has been reduced to clichés and confusion. At the heart of the film is the relationship between teenage Merida (Kelly MacDonald) and her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson). Like so many others in a Disney/Pixar production, Merida is a princess on the cusp of being married.
"Maleficent" still stands out as something of a black sheep within Disney’s recent live-action catalogue. Instead of a simple remake or sequel, the film instead presents a revisionist retelling of Sleeping Beauty from its villain’s point of view whilst also turning the narrative into an allegory for sexual assault and abusive relationships. The final result was admittedly ambitious but sloppy and ill-conceived (you can read my recent reappraisal of its botched metaphors here), but it did well financially so a sequel was always on the cards. After covering the entirety of the original tale, where exactly Mistress of Evil has to go from there seems a bit nebulous on first thought but, and this is an especially relieving shock to me, the final results are far beyond what anyone would reasonably expect.
Maleficent" stands as a bit of an outsider in Disney’s recent glut of animated classics repurposed as live-action nostalgia fuel. Neither a straight-up remake of "Sleeping Beauty" nor a postmodern commentary on its animated counterpart, it’s instead essentially just "Wicked" with the fairy tale mythos swapped out. Upon its release in 2014, it ended up as one of the highest-grossing films of the year and now has a sequel "Mistress of Evil" coming this October. The critical reception, however, was far more divisive, particularly for one crucial scene.