The Medium Mashup of the Frozen Franchise

Instead of watching Frozen 2 for the millionth time, I decided to nurse my #Frozenfever by cracking open a book. A Frozen Heart, by Elizabeth Rudnick, is a plain and simple novelization of Frozen. But it is made more interesting by having alternating POV chapters between two characters: Princess Anna (my girl) and Prince Hans…of the Southern Isles.

Since the book was written for a YA audience and much of the base dialogue is shot for shot taken from the movie, this was a rather easy read.

Does Medium Matter?

Recently, I watched a really great video essay, Why is Cats by Lindsay Ellis. While this video is nearly an hour-long, I found it less of a waste of time than the hour and fifty minutes I will never get back after watching the train wreck that is the 2019 film adaptation of Cats. Yes, the 2019 film has flaws, many of which Lindsay examines in glorious detail. But one flaw most fatal is the one that could never have been CGI edited away: the medium.

Medium does matter. In the case of Cats, they took a stage show and threw it up on the big screen. And while this may work for some musicals (I’m looking at you Chicago), Cats is something unique. Simply said, Cats is weird. But when put in an intimate theater setting with an audience who has a high suspension of disbelief, it works. By distancing the theatrics from the audience in film format, the story falters.

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan

We see musical film adaptations all the time. Heck, I am still crossing my fingers for a Hamilton movie release. But there definitely is a shift in how we experience the story when viewing it from stage to the screen. In the case of Frozen, they did the opposite. Because the medium is flipped, The Frozen on Broadway stage show changes the way we experience the story.

Hans and Anna are discovering that love is an open door in Disney Frozen on Broadway

However, the much more common medium adaptation is to take a book and turn it into a movie. Since the very first adaptation from book to film in 1900, “Sherlock Holmes Baffled,” thousands of films have been made based on a book or book series. Even Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ice Queen.”

What if the movie comes before the book?

In the case of A Frozen Heart, the movie Frozen came first. Most likely, a reader has picked up this book because they have enjoyed the movie, and already know the characters, setting, and plot. I can probably guarantee the songs are rolling around in their heads while reading… not that I speak from personal experience.

The important question is: why read the book if you already know what is going to happen? Simple answer: we can’t get enough. I still lined up for every midnight premiere of the Harry Potter film franchise even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. As an audience, we crave to see the stories we hold dear told in a different format. We want to experience them in a new way. And then we love to tear it down when they get it wrong.

In reading A Frozen Heart, I journeyed back to Arendelle to revisit a story that I love and to see what more I can learn along the way.

Things that I picked up in the book vs the movie

I didn’t want to call this section ‘the differences between the movie Frozen and the book A Frozen Heart‘. The author does a very good job keeping the story true to the movie, and rarely did I have to yell into my book “THAT’S NOT HOW IT HAPPENS!”

What you do get, especially in the case of Hans, is much more descriptive character thoughts and motivations. What you don’t get is the chart-topping, award-winning musical numbers. But if you are willing to let it go, reading the novelization of one of the highest-grossing animated films might be the right choice for you.

In A Frozen Heart, you experience the dynamic of reading from the point of view of the protagonist and the antagonist. This is interesting both in scenes where they are interacting together or, like in most of the book, when they are separated.

What we learn about Hans

By knowing Hans’ motivations the whole time, we lose the dramatic twist that he was really the bad guy all along. This is a vital reveal in the film because the audience feels just as blindsided as Princess Anna when it happens. Since the majority of readers would have seen the movie already, the twist isn’t necessary. Which is why I didn’t feel a need to caveat this paragraph with a spoiler alert.

Instead, we learn more about Han’s life on the Southern Isles before coming to Arendelle, which I found interesting. The Southern Isles seem to have a little more grit to it than the peaceful Kingdom of Arendelle. It kind of makes me want to see some Game of Thrones-style drama get thrown down in the islands to the south. We learn about what Hans had to do to convince his father to send him to Elsa’s coronation, which was questionable at best…

“’The other… payment…I disposed of.’ Bile had risen in his throat as he thought about the ‘payment’ Still, he had done what he had to do.”

Prince Hans
A Frozen Heart

This quote regards Hans providing an update to his father, the King, after collecting overdue taxes from the people. Dang, Hans. The book doesn’t go into the dirty details of what he did, but it is clear that Hans has a record that isn’t exactly clean.

The reader gets to see a bit more what is happening behind the scenes, which provides new information to the reader. This largely relates to character motivation.

With Hans, we see his upbringing and how he seeded his plan to claim the throne in Arendelle. His plan started with trying to woo and marry Elsa, then continues to evolve pretty much every other minute of the story. Since the twist ending isn’t necessary, the reader gets to enjoy a bit more of a character arc for Hans.

What we learn about Anna

Anna, on the other hand, has a SUPER positive character arc. We obviously still see this happen in the film. But getting to hear all of her inner thoughts when reading her story, we get to feel her loneliness in beginning, we experience the sting of Han’s betrayal, but we also get to hear her give herself one of the worlds greatest self-pep talks.

“I know that I’m a better person despite him, not because of him. I’ll never let him take that from me. Ever.”

Princess Anna
A Frozen Heart

Some of the other things we learn from the book are the names of dignitaries and side characters in Arendelle, which is fun if you are a nerd like me who wants to know every piece of world-building. You also get more context on Anna and Kristoff’s budding relationship. You even get to see Anna doubt whether or not what she feels for Hans is true love before he betrays her. See, she does know a little bit about love!

We learn Hans’ (actual) last name

This is the answer to the biggest question no one ever knew they had. I sure didn’t. But the author includes a surname for the royal family of the Southern Isles. It is a fun detail that the author adds in that once again rounds out Han’s character. Now if only I was able to find out if Hans really had a best friend named John.

Which is better?

I definitely have to give the award to the original Frozen film. The book is great for a fan who wants to peel back the onion of this story, but otherwise, the movie provides the same story with stunning visuals, award-winning music, and fantastic voice talent.

This does not mean that the same would be true in every scenario. Medium makes a difference as it changes how we experience the story. In most cases, a book allows us to create scenery and images in our minds, connect personally with a character’s conflict, and discover a level of context that is nearly impossible to convey in film.

As both a cinephile and bibliophile, I just have to say… keep ’em coming! I love experiencing how aspects of a story can shift based on the medium. Having a story be told through a different medium adds some extra dimension, which is nice because we don’t live in a 2D world.

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