Disney's Frozen has already taken in a billion dollars at the box office and it's no wonder; it truly is a great movie with catchy music, lovable characters and a message that resonates with kids and adults alike. But is this the greatest Disney movie of all time? Let's not be too hasty.
It's time to put Frozen up against what has long been held as one of, if not the, greatest Disney animated features: Beauty and the Beast. Though it never cleared one billion at the box office, it's important to remember that tickets were about half as expensive when Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991 ($4.21 then vs. $8.38 now). With a lifetime box office gross of almost half a billion dollars, that just about makes up the difference. Keep in mind that Beauty and the Beast was made for $25 million dollars, while Frozen's final numbers place it around $150 million.
Box office numbers aside, here are some categories to put the movies head to head.
1. Opening song
Disney movies are known for powerful opening songs that bring the audience in immediately and lay the groundwork for the movie to come. There are great opening songs ("Circle of Life" comes to mind) and forgettable ones ("Arabian Nights" from Aladdin is just so-so), and ones that make you wonder why it was even added. Beauty and the Beast has this category locked; "Bonjour" is a great song that tells us everything we need to know about Belle and even Gaston just a few minutes into the movie. It sets up the major conflict of the movie and has a great reprise after Belle rejects Gaston's proposal.
And then there's "Frozen Heart." Sure, there are some great lines, ultimately ending with the prophetic "beware the frozen heart," but other than setting up Christoph as an orphan and ice salesman, it's a pretty lackluster scene. Random men harvesting ice and taking it back to town is hardly something to rally around. Viewers forget about it quickly after we finally meet Anna and Elsa, but it's just not worthy of the movie to come.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast
2. Supporting characters
Disney sidekicks have a long history of being the scene-stealers throughout the movie starting with the seven dwarfs. Add the Genie from Aladdin, Timon and Pumba from The Lion King, the mice from Cinderella, etc., and it's clear to see just how important these characters are.
Frozen has Olaf (the snowman who loves warm hugs) and Sven (Christoph's reindeer friend), who are both funny and very necessary characters for the movie's development. "In Summer," the song that Olaf sings, is just as good as "Friend Like Me" and "Hakuna Matata." Beauty and the Beast also does well in this category with Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and Chip helping Belle along her way and delivering three great songs (four if you include "Human Again" which was cut from the movie, but added to the Broadway show).
3. Leading characters
Everyone keeps talking about how Anna and Elsa are these great new princesses who go against the tradition of the stereotypical Disney princess. Have we all forgotten Belle, who is just as much an outsider as Elsa is simply because she is smart, likes to read and wants more than her provincial life? Sure, Elsa and Anna are terrific role models for young girls, but don't forget that Anna agrees to marry Hans less than 24 hours after they meet.
Belle gives up her freedom to save her father, while Anna offers up her life to save her sister. Belle does find herself in a few more damsel in distress moments, and ultimately does end up marrying a prince at the end while Anna and Elsa's ending is based on sisterly love. This one is a tough one to call.
Winner: Frozen, but just barely
This one is just simple math. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In total, it racked up six nominations and won two, picking up statues for Best Score and Best Original Song (it was nominated three times in that category with "Beauty and the Beast" beating "Be Our Guest" and "Belle"). It was also nominated for Best Sound. The category of Best Animated Feature did not yet exist, but if it had, Beauty and the Beast would have won three awards that year for sure.
Frozen was nominated for only two awards, both of which it won. "Let it Go" won for Best Original Song and the movie picked up that Best Animated Feature statue as well. Though both movies won two awards, the number of nominations and opportunity for nominations is an important factor here.
Winner: Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast truly is a tale as old as time. Love and attraction based on outer beauty has been a recurring theme in stories forever. The film has several messages, in fact, teaching us to be ourselves no matter what people say, rely on friends to get through any obstacle, and, of course, that true beauty is found within.
Frozen offers several great messages as well. Like Beauty and the Beast, it reminds audiences to be themselves and let go of the past. However, the song "Let it Go" is a bit of a conundrum when it comes to message. While it's great that Elsa is finally declaring her freedom from shutting herself up inside a room, she is essentially running away from a problem instead of trying to fix it. She does come to learn that love can thaw a frozen heart, though, so it all works out in the end. The movie also has a strong emphasis on being selfless (Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister), optimistic (both Anna and Olaf are adorably positive), independent (Anna punches Hans herself and the film doesn't end with her marrying Cristoph), and brave.
Based on these five categories, it looks like Beauty and the Beast is the better movie. After the hype surrounding Frozen dies down (did you know the average wait time to meet Anna and Elsa at Disneyland is 5 HOURS?), perhaps everyone will remember a movie that has managed to endure in our hears for 20+ years despite being released before going "viral" meant something other than disease. Had Beauty and the Beast been released in the age of Facebook and YouTube, our newsfeeds might be full of elaborate "Be Our Guest" flashmobs, mashups, lip syncs and more.