• Michael T. Christensen

Disney's “Frozen” Soundtrack, and the Disney Songs it Ripped Off

This blog was originally published on June 4, 2014:

Like many people, I saw Frozen when it came out in theaters, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. But I also thought the film was very flawed, and the music especially left something to be desired.

After listening to the soundtrack and thinking about it further, I realized what my primary issue was – the music in the film all seems to be aping other songs from previous Disney films. Sometimes it’s a song with the same vibe, or that serves the same function in their respective film, but they all seem to be styled after a better song from the Disney soundtrack pantheon.

“Vuelie” / “Circle of Life”

This is probably my favorite track from Frozen – I love how it set up the film, and seemed to establish a very distinct voice for the sound of the movie (which did not actually pay off). However, it’s hard to deny that it’s not reminiscent of the most famous opening song in Disney history.

With the chanting in a foreign / native language, it’s a pretty overt reference to “Circle of Life”. And it’s affecting to be sure, but it also sets itself up for comparisons with one of the most iconic Disney songs of all time.

“Frozen Heart” / “Virginia Company”

This song is much more in line with what I was expecting from the film’s songs – Nordic-sounding chanting integrated with ice metaphors. Instead, it’s indicative of the upcoming songs in a few other ways – mostly nonsense lyrics and very heavy-handed foreshadowing (they even drop the phrase “let it go” in their chant).

But while both songs serve to set up the story and deliver exposition, apparently integrated as a song the workers sing, “Virginia Company” stands on its own as much less obvious foreshadowing – plus, it’s just catchier. We’re also actually meeting important characters during the sequence – while we meet Kristoff and Sven in “Frozen Heart,” we don’t get their names, and they don’t pay off until later – but “Virginia Company” introduces us to John Smith, Governor Ratcliffe, and the entire motivation of the colonists (along with some unsettlingly casual racism towards Native Americans). True, the exposition is a bit more obvious in Pocahontas, but there’s also forward momentum of the story, while “Frozen Heart” is just a thematic introduction more than anything else.

“Do You Want To Build a Snowman?” / “When Will My Life Begin?”

This is the first of the soundtrack’s songs that the fans have become completely enamored with, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s adorable. The lyrics are a bit simple, but it works in the context of a being sung by a little girl. And the way the sequence plays out on screen, especially with the progression of Elsa’s powers and her loss of control, is really powerful. The brief interlude where they lose their parents is also well-done, but by and large it’s just an adorable song about a lonely girl who is just trying to fill the hours. And it is very well done, especially the way Kristen Bell sells the end of the song.

It’s hard not to see the comparisons to the other song about lonely Disney girl just trying to kill the hours in a CGI Disney movie that came out within the last 5 years. But the advantage of “When Will My Life Begin” is that it’s also the song where we get Rapunzel’s longing and motivation established. Frozen, on the other hand, gives Anna two “I Want” songs back-to-back, and it reduces the impact of both.

Also, sorry Frozen, but Tangled has a cute chameleon by her side during the whole thing, so it wins on that count alone.

“For the First Time in Forever” / “Out There”

This is a song about a shut-in who is just giddy beyond belief that she’s going to actually get a chance to talk to people. And the song actually does a nice job of summing up the charming awkwardness of Anna. But as I said earlier, this is Anna’s second “I Want” song in 10 minutes, and it reduces the impact of both.

It’s also another example of the lyrics being fairly surface-level. Meanwhile, we get the counterpoint of Elsa’s reluctance to open the gates overlaid over the second half of the song (with lots of “Let It Go” foreshadowing lyrics) – but the two themes don’t really ever reconcile. And it doesn’t really feel deliberate or thematic – it just feels like two separate songs mixed together.

“Out There” from Hunchback of Notre Dame is also about a shut-in who is just ecstatic about the concept of leaving his tower, but it opens with the point-counterpoint, and does a better job of integrating the two parts of the song. Then we get into the main body of the song, and this one has a much more melancholy sense of longing, mixed with the excitement and nervous energy that “For the First Time in Forever” shares. And while both feature visuals of the main character leaping around their home, it’s hard not to give it to Hunchback for the stunning visuals of Quasimodo bouncing around the bell towers of Notre Dame.

“Love Is an Open Door” / “True Love’s Kiss”

This is a song about a deliberately unrealistic whirlwind romance, and it’s fun, but the issue during the film is that it’s more or less played straight. As an audience member, you’re not sure if you’re meant to be laughing along with the film or taking the romance seriously – even when he proposes, it’s outrageous, but the fact that they address it as being “crazy” means they’re hanging a lampshade on it, but that’s usually how you get the audience to go along with something. If you call attention to how weird this should seem, you’re sort of letting the audience know, “It’s okay.” But it doesn’t really pull it off. It’s sort of a shaky sequence, all told.

There’s never any question of whether “True Love’s Kiss” from Enchanted is meant to be taken seriously – it’s not. The first 10 minutes of the film play like a classic Disney movie in fast-forward, and this song is a very deliberate parody of old-school Disney. However, the thing that really sets it apart from “Love Is An Open Door” is that “True Love’s Kiss” sets up a major theme of the film, which recurs all the way to the climax – the idea of the titular “True Love’s Kiss.” While “Love Is An Open Door” is fun, there’s no major metaphor at play past the scene (it’s more of a callback to “First Time In Forever” than it is a call-ahead), and that definitely gives “True Love’s Kiss” the advantage from a storytelling perspective.

“Let It Go”

There’s no way you haven’t heard this song. It is absolutely everywhere.

I actually like this song quite a bit, and it’s definitely the strongest song in the film. I’m particularly happy with the way the meter changes on “The storm never bothered me anyway.” There’s still some by-the-numbers / on-the-surface lyrics here, but it’s clear this song got the lion’s share of the effort put into it. (There’s also the eye-rolling line, “kingdom of ice-olation,” which, fine. It’s your song, you can put as many puns in there as you want, I guess.)

Probably the best thing about this sequence is the visuals – the way she gets to really use her powers for the first time, explore them and cut loose, is just fantastic. That, plus the obvious “screw the haters” subject matter, makes it a fantastic supervillain origin sequence. Yeah, I’ve seen the movie, I know she’s not evil – but that’s what this scene is. She goes from a deposed regent living a life of repression to a warlord in a palace of ice with absolutely no inhibitions in the course of 3 and a half minutes.

This is basically the one song that doesn’t have an equivalent – it’s not exactly a villain song in the vein of “Be Prepared,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” or “Friends on the Other Side,” but it’s also not quite in line with something like “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” – it really does stand out as unique to this film.

“In Summer” / “When I’m Human”

“In Summer” is about a goofy sidekick who wants something he can never have, and his completely unrealistic ideas of what he’d do when he gets it. And it really is a funny song, but it’s funny because we get the joke and he doesn’t. From a songwriting perspective, it doesn’t really have too much going for it – it certainly doesn’t stack up to other great sidekick songs like “Hakuna Matata.” Mostly, it’s just a series of puns, but it’s still a funny sequence..

It feels like everyone went pretty cold (pun?) on Princess and the Frog in the past few years, and in all fairness it’s neither the strongest Disney film of recent years, nor is “When I’m Human” the strongest song in the film – but I think it serves a stronger story purpose than “In Summer” does for Frozen. Rather than just being a funny, light little song about a snowman who basically wants to kill himself accidentally, it’s a song about three characters’ primary desires, and ends up setting up a lot of the story for act two.

Also, it has a line where a frog talks about how he’d like to be in what is either a three-way or possibly a full-blown orgy. So, you know, that’s out there now.

“For the First Time in Forever (Reprise)” / “I Won’t Say I’m In Love”

Boy, this is kind of a rough one. I appreciate the effort, and the attempt to reuse “First Time In Forever” to represent Anna being there for Elsa, but (A) “First Time In Forever” is not a very good song, and (B) the lyrics in the reprise completely fall apart at exactly one minute in, where it just becomes really awkwardly-sung dialogue for some reason.

There are more than a few fantastic reprises in the Disney musical lexicon (“Belle,” “Street Rat,” “Part Of Your World,” “Go the Distance,” etc.), but most of them don’t feature two characters singing to each other. And what’s interesting is that, in Frozen, this song is also the closest we get to a love song; it’s much more earnest and heartfelt than “Love Is An Open Door.” But the song isn’t really in line with the classic love songs like “Part Of Your World,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” “A Whole New World,” or even “Evangeline.”

However, as far as Disney songs about a character trying to help another character who absolutely does not want their help, and having two characters arguing through the music, it’s hard to do better than “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” from Hercules.

“Fixer Upper” / “A Guy Like You”

Remember how there are randomly trolls in Frozen? And how they don’t really serve any useful story purpose other than to drop some cryptic lines about ice and love? Well, they also have a really weird scene where they try to pitch him to Anna and also totally no-sell him. It’s also frustrating because it comes at the worst time, when the characters are trying to get something very important done (namely, make sure Anna doesn’t die of magic pneumonia). The one thing I do like, upon re-listening to the song, is how it sets up the end of the movie pretty well, but it also does that in the completely unsubtle way that characterizes the entire soundtrack / film.

There’s another Disney song where a group of stone sidekicks talk about how great the main male character is, and how the girl should totally get with him, but it works a lot better in the context of the story, and is more entertaining overall. Outside of “God Help the Outcasts,” Hunchback doesn’t get a lot of credit for how great the songs are, but it really does have a lot of gems.

“A Guy Like You” works in the story as a well-needed break in the action, pausing for levity before things get dire – and boy, literally the moment this song ends, things get dire and don’t let up until the end of the movie, so it comes at the perfect time. Yet unlike “Fixer Upper,” which pauses for levity at the worst time from a character point of view, it makes sense that the gargoyles would try to cheer Quasimodo up when things get rough, especially since there’s nothing he can do to help anyone at that moment – so why not just take a minute to tell the guy how nice he is?

That’s the last song on the Frozen soundtrack with lyrics, other than a “Vuelie” reprise when Elsa thaws Arendelle. But I will leave you with Kristoff’s ballad to his reindeer, Sven.

I didn’t include it earlier because I couldn’t really find an analog for it – this might be the only Disney movie where a dude performs a song exclusively for his non-speaking animal sidekick. But since it’s a song where the characters are actually singing to each other in-story apropos of nothing, there’s one song that does seem to match it:

NOTE: I wrote this before Frozen 2 came out. All I can say about that movie is that the songs are more unique to the film, and the Kristoff song is by far my favorite.

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