I’ll be perfectly honest: when I first watched this movie in theaters back in December 2013, I was almost ready to hate it. And the first act-and-a-half made it easy for me to do so.
When I saw the Duke of Weselton mumble to himself how he wanted the Kingdom of Arendelle to “open those gates so I may unlock your secrets and exploit your riches!”, only to become self-aware of his actions and and ask, “did I say that out loud?”, I rolled my eyes and replied, “obvious villain is obvious!”
When I saw Anna accept Hans’ spur-of-the-moment marriage proposal, after spending an entire musical number singing about how the two were meant for each other, despite either of them only knowing each other for less than five minutes, I had to hold back my vomit at what I assumed was yet another love-at-first-sight trope that Disney has been infamous for.
When I saw Olaf make his first appearance and introduce himself as the loveable dopey side character who “loves warm hugs”, I was ready to reach for the nearest hair dryer and melt that dopey smile off of his frozen face. I knew an annoying Disney side character when I saw it.
After all of that, I had assumed that I knew how the rest of the movie would play out and was ready to turn off my brain in order to enjoy the remainder of the film.
But then something major happened: the rest of the movie.
What I had initially assumed were annoyingly Disney clichés were really slight-of-hand illusions designed to set up my expectations during the first one-and-a-half acts, only to knock them over in the third act like an elaborate domino display—and it played out just as spectacularly!
Yes, the Duke of Weselton’s hammy “obvious-villain-is-obvious” shtick was supposed to be obvious, but only to serve as a distraction from the real villain, making his reveal all the more shocking and revealing!
Yes, Anna falling head-over-heels in love with Hans and accept his marriage proposal within only five minutes of screen time was supposed to be as sickening as it was saccharin, but only to allow the schadenfreude of seeing every other characters’ dumbfounded reaction to the situation all the more satisfying.
And yes, Olaf initially came across as yet another annoying Disney side character, but as I mentioned earlier, it's so that the rest of his performance proved him to be otherwise.
Never before had I seen a Disney movie subvert its own formula while, at the same time, following it to the letter. To be sure, there have been plenty of films before, from Shrek to Enchanted, that have mocked the Disney formula; but while those movies made the subversion as painfully obvious and heavy-handed as possible, to the point of absurdity, this movie did it in such a subtle manner that it still came across as a genuine Disney movie—albeit a very self-aware one!
The Nostalgia Critic said it best in his own "Disneycember" review when he mentioned how the genius part of the movie was its “ability to break certain clichés while still holding true to others that made Disney so popular.” The end result is a genius subversion of a Disney movie that gave you the satisfaction of watching a Disney classic while having a collective chuckle at its obvious clichés.