In Praise Of Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’: A Worldwide Hit, Coming Out Anthem, And Potential Oscar Winner
Movie soundtracks are long dead, making the global success of this Disney song even more spectacular.
In the 12 years since Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! can-canned its way onto the big screen, live-action movie musicals have gone through so many phases of “They’re in!” and “They’re out!” that it’s impossible to keep track. Their hit-and-miss status over the last dozen years — hit: Broadway adaptation Les Misérables (2012); miss: Broadway adaptation Rent (2005) — has fans of the genre worried over a 2014 slate that includes such high profile and easily screwed up titles as The Last 5 Years with Anna Kendrick, Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, and Rob Marshall’s big screen take on Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (coincidentally, also with Anna Kendrick).
Unlike the genre’s live-action counterparts, Disney’s return to the world of animated musical fairytales has struck critical and box office gold. Following the enviable hot streak of The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994), Disney are once again producing blockbusters that fly in the face of the conventional Hollywood wisdom that you need superheroes and explosions of testosterone to break records in this day and age. With The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), and now Frozen, the animated musical appears to be hot (seasonal pun intended) for the first time since a meerkat and warthog strutted across the African savannah.
Building a Leg-icy (Sorry.)
It’s with Frozen that Disney has really struck a global chord. Not only have they made nearly one billion dollars, and assembled a haul of prestigious awards including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, Producer’s Guild Award, and five statues from the International Animated Film Association, but Frozen’s soundtrack has done the unthinkable and produced a genuine iconic song in the form of, ‘Let It Go’. It’s become an instant karaoke hit thanks to its emotional lyrics and big notes, and a surprise coming out anthem because of its defiant message of non-conformity and take-no-prisoners belief that you’re better off being yourself than somebody else just to fit in. The song is also an odds-on favourite to win an Academy Award next month.
Performed in the film by spurned ice queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel of Rent, Wicked, and Glee fame), it is already a Top 20 hit in the US, UK, and Australia, and one could literally get lost for hours in a YouTube wormhole of foreign renditions, explicit and baby-voiced parodies, gender twists, and impassioned amateur covers. Idina’s original has proven so popular that we’ve all conveniently and blissfully forgotten that the ‘Mouse House’ hired nondescript pop singer Demi Lovato to record a ‘pop’ version, something highlighted in this incredible performance by the divine vocal impersonator, Christina Bianco.
The Soundtrack Blues
Try and name the last soundtrack you purchased? Hard, isn’t it? We’re so far from the days of a film being sold on the strength of its best-selling soundtrack like The Bodyguard (1992), and the downturn in record sales plus the rise of iTunes and Spotify have all but put the kibosh on pop culture landmarks and era-defining mixtapes like Empire Records (1995), Waiting To Exhale (1995), and Romeo + Juliet (1996).
As if to bold, underline, and italicise this disconnect between film music and the public, ‘Let It Go’ — if it were to win the Oscar in March — would be only the third chart hit to win the prize since the turn of the millennium after ‘Lose Yourself’ from 8 Mile (2002) and ‘Skyfall’ from Skyfall (2012). Nowadays, even the likes of Coldplay’s ‘Atlas’ from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Taylor Swift’s ‘Sweeter Than Fiction’ from One Chance, and U2’s ‘Ordinary Love’ from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom can’t muster much chart support.
The Recipe For a Hit Song
In the face of all this, the success of Frozen and in particular ‘Let It Go’ is even more spectacular. As well-made and as Oscar-nominated as recent ‘Disney Princess’ songs were, they never sparked a hit as huge as this defiant self-help tune. Its success is more in tune with that of 18-year-old ‘Colours Of The Wind‘, an Oscar winner and chart-topping smash hit for Vanessa L. Williams, albeit from the mostly-forgotten Disney animation, Pocahontas (1995).
Could the success of ‘Let It Go’ have anything at all to do with the quite obvious fact that it sounds almost exactly like a remake of ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked? The comparisons are hardly surface deep and there are plenty, what with their similar structure, theme, narrative placement, and even performer. Disney should send the producers of Wicked one hell of a thank you fruit basket for dawdling so much in adapting their show to the big screen (‘Idina 2.0’, aka Glee’s Lea Michelle, is likely still waiting for her agent to give her the news); if we had Wicked: The Movie, there’d likely be no Frozen.
Regardless, the song is a perfect blend of show tune fieriness, diva theatrics, and wicked one-liners. Just wait until winter rolls around and “the cold never bothered me anyway” will become as inescapable a catchphrase as it has been in the northern hemisphere. As if it wasn’t obvious already, it’s Disney’s world and we’re just living in it.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.