Editorial Notebook

Why Frozen is a more culturally impactful movie than Citizen Kane

For the 81 years since it first opened, film buffs have been gushing over the brilliance that is Orson Welles’s debut flick. This internationally renowned feature is the recipient of eight major awards including the 1942 Academy Award for Best Writing and the 1999 ​​Village Voice Film Poll for Best Film of the Century. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Citizen Kane is tied for first on their list of the “Top 100 Movies of All Time.”

A movie that failed to make the list—but not into our hearts—is Disney’s Frozen (2013). How could this animated film of trolls and talking snowmen possibly stack up to a motion picture powerhouse and critical darling like Citizen Kane?

Frozen boasts a memorable score that children and adults still have seared into their minds. These days, every movie is released with soundtracks that feature the most prominent artists of our time. And yet, while the melodies may seem familiar if absently heard over a supermarket sound system, they’re not as dynamic as those from Frozen’s discography, or reach as large of an audience as they did in 2013. If you claim not to know every word of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let It Go” then you’re lying to both me and yourself.

The argument for Citizen Kane is that it revolutionized film as we know it today. BBC Culture verbalizes this innovation as a “genre bender,” spanning multiple genres. It’s true. One moment, you’re watching what feels like a drama and, the other, Welles is pushing for a comedy. An additional revolution was the inclusion of overlapping dialogue. I can understand why this movie is widely referenced in filmmaking classes, for it provides a plethora of genre examples in one convenient location. But that does not afford it the luxury of being a good movie.

Breaking barriers is something that I can heartily agree Frozen accomplished upon its release. Until that point, Disney princess movies were chock-full of overplayed “damsel in distress” and “true love’s kiss” tropes. Disney included a devastating plot twist that even OG Hans haters never saw coming. Like Elsa, I wasn’t sold on the whole “love at first sight” angle, but the dastardly conspiracy took me by complete surprise on my first watch-through. Frozen turned the public’s expectations on their head by baiting us into believing that Anna would be saved by one of the men in her life. Instead, it was the love of her sister that won the day.

But if it isn’t Citizen Kane’s “groundbreaking” cinema techniques that make it iconic, then it must be its exceptional plot, right? Not exactly. If you’ve actually seen this movie, then you know it’s 119 minutes of nothing. The entire thing can be summed up as follows: Boy loses sled and grows up to be a jerk. His dying word is the name of the sled. [Fade to black on a burning sled.]

Frozen features parents who—after one of their daughters injures the other—decide to isolate their children to keep them safe. The king and queen failed to prepare their children for the outside world. One trusted too easily and one didn’t trust at all. After the death of their parents and in the wake of a changing kingdom, the sisters have to navigate a world they have never before been privy to. They each seek freedom, but freedom has a strikingly different definition to the two. To one, it’s a life of isolation, and to the other, it’s the life she never had with her sister in it. But freedom to the latter would be a prison to the former. Citizen Kane could never come close to the complexities of Disney’s Frozen.

We must abolish the notion that Citizen Kane is somehow a “perfect” movie or a template for all other films. Those who think so mainly do it out of nostalgia and a cycle of societal pressure. When the faults are broken down and analyzed—as done to all other movies—they’re clear as day. Disney’s Frozen is far from peak cinema, but if a sound argument can be made against the “greatest film ever made” using an animated flick featuring a snowman who wants to experience summer as comic relief, then it may be time to reevaluate.

Oh Citizen Kane, if only there was someone out there who loved you.