• Remember: Another way to spell 'Animation' is S-T-O-R-Y.

Tangled vs. Frozen: Which is the Better Movie Indeed?

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Today’s article is a complimentary piece to the recent post at Rotoscopers.com on the topic of Tangled vs. Frozen. The films are easy to compare, so let’s take a look at how they stack up against one another and finally put to rest the debate!

If you’re not a visitor of Rotoscopers.com, it’s a great animation fan site that covers a lot of animation news and reviews from a very fan-centered perspective. Where as over here at Animator Island we analyze things from the perspective of animators (sometimes perhaps more severely than we should!) the crew at Rotoscopers goes into the industry with a wider-arm approach based on a passion for the entertainment of it all. And their positive presence is a great addition to the Web, where things can tend towards the negative side much too often.

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Their conclusion (spoiler alert!) is that it’s a draw when Tangled and Frozen go toe to toe. They break things down into four categories- Animation and Visuals, Story and Writing, Characters, and Music- and then hand out awards to either film at the conclusion of each section. While I commend the effort, I think it’s in our best interest as filmmakers specifically that we take an even closer look, once again with that Animator Island Animator’s Eye, and really pull things apart to see if we can’t come to a clear winner for “which is the better movie.” Mr. Wright at Rotoscopers claims it wouldn’t be fair to award the top prize to one over the other, but films can (and should) be judged from a detailed objective standpoint and then, based on that full set of observations, the final outcome is perfectly fair. And that judgement is important, because we can gain insight into what makes a great film by doing such a comparison.

Of course, keep in mind that just because one may be objectively better, personal admiration of either of the two films can’t ever be wrong. Your opinion of any film is your own, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Animation

Where as the Rotoscoper team combined Animation with Visuals, I think the two are so important to we as animators that it would be a disservice to combine the categories. Instead let’s take a look first at just the animation of the two.

Tangled, as you may know, took an interesting approach to 3D animation. Scenes were roughly animated in 3D and then legendary animator Glen Keane did draw-overs using the principals first established in traditional 2D animation for the 3D animators to expand to. You can see an example of it right here. The end result is a quality of animation rarely (if ever) seen using 3D models: Full breaking and manipulation of characters to take advantage of the medium.

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It was also a lengthy and exhausting process, which is likely why it was done less with Frozen. Frozen stuck much more strictly to its three dimensional foundation, and as a result the animation- while in no way bad- lacked the same charm and flow that Tangled contained. It’s something that audiences wouldn’t be likely to notice, consciously, but really makes all the difference in the world. The attention to detail of movement in Tangled has yet to be equaled in a 3D film. Frozen also suffered from some strange staging and composition choices that left some of the animation flat in some very important moments of the film.

Winner: Tangled by a landslide

Visuals

If there’s going to be an “unfair” category, it would be here. But we’re not pulling punches, so we have to apologize to Tangled for the simple fact that technology advances and Frozen had the benefit of coming out later, still giving credit where it is due. The visuals in Frozen are fantastic. In their comparison, the Rotoscopers state “Snow and ice are the stars of the movie” which I think is a spot on observation. The technical feats they crafted even outweigh the hair effects in Tangled. The scene of Elsa creating her ice palace from thin air rivals that of feature film effects, let alone those of previous animated films. It’s extremely clear that where Tangled focused incredible attention on character movement, Frozen poured their top energy into the brilliant effects of the world of Arendelle. The lantern scene of Tangled was dazzling and beautiful, but it simply can’t compare to the effects of Frozen.

Winner: Frozen

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Story and Writing

Both Tangled and Frozen have a decidedly “fairy tale” approach to story and writing, and both do a great job of getting the audience to invest in the world and characters they introduce. Frozen certainly feels more “epic” as the fate of an entire kingdom- if not even farther- is at stake, where as Tangled keeps things a bit closer to home and the stakes revolve around a few characters. The kingdom Rapunzel is from is clearly still functioning without her, so the danger is less to the masses and more to the royal family, Flynn, and Mother Gothel.

And it’s really this focus on the few that I think gives Tangled the edge here. Frozen introduced a large cast, continually adding more throughout the film, and as a result few of the characters developed in as meaningful a way as in Tangled. Certainly lessons were learned by all, but it wasn’t felt as much because there was so much to do before the credits rolled. Not to mention Tangled was clear when it came to heroes vs. villains. Without spoiling Frozen, the antagonist was dropped out of nowhere and given no time to evolve in any way. Tangled told a complete story in just the right amount of time. Frozen tried to tell too many stories and as a result the whole film suffered from a lot of pacing issues. That’s without taking into account the numerous plot holes and logical missteps of Frozen. Because the scope of Tangled was smaller, it likely allowed the writers and creators to hone the story in a way Frozen just wasn’t able to.

Winner: Tangled

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Characters

Judging characters as objectively as possible is likely the toughest challenge we’ve yet to face in this debate. How does one analyze this? Is it by very subjective aspects such as the ability to relate to their plights? Character growth throughout the film? Connection to one another? Connection to the audience? We are wading through murky waters here, so it is going to be much harder to declare a victor in this category.

For many, the characters of Frozen were likely preferred, as the theme of “Expectations vs. Who I Want To Be” is something many people at this period of history can associate with. We live in such a prosperous time that who we want to be is an option for us, where as throughout history duty was far more important than individualism. Yet there’s an underlying selfishness that should really be more in the spotlight. Elsa is treated in a very poor way by her parents early in the film, no one will deny that. “Conceal don’t feel” is a horrific lesson passed on by her family. However the stark opposite is hardly any better. When Elsa flees to the mountaintop and sings her ballad of “Let it go” it is just as extreme in the mirrored perspective. She literally speaks of not caring how her actions affect anyone else because “the cold doesn’t bother HER” specifically. The song, which has become a battle cry to many young teenagers who want to hear exactly what is being preached, is extremely self centered and just as negative as the advice of her parents just in the opposite way.

The other lead of Frozen, Anna, is much more upbeat, however there are some serious issues in the way she acts as well. I can’t possibly say it any better than esteemed Animation Acting teacher Ed Hooks already has right here. It’s a terrific look at just why there’s a lack of truth to the actions of the characters in Frozen, and truth is where the best in characters can be found.

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With Tangled it’s much harder for most to relate to the characters. Rapunzel has spent her life locked in a tower, which few people have experienced. Flynn is a bit more relatable, but only after his back story comes out far into the film. Still, the characters have an air of truth about them. Their actions make sense, and because of that become much more believable.

It’s also important to note character from a design standpoint, specifically in relation to voices. The characters of Tangled fit their voices well, yet the same can’t quite be said of the whole crew of Frozen. Elsa simply did not fit the voice provided by Idina Menzel, as lovely as the singing was. It was a case where the character clearly had been designed, instead of fitting with the voice attached to her. Consider some characters that really took advantage of their voice actors from a design perspective: Phil in Hercules, Genie in Aladdin, and Scar in The Lion King. Here the design of the character fit the voice to perfection. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the cast of Frozen.

Winner: The hardest category to judge, but the nod has to go to Tangled because of the grave missteps of the actions/performance of the cast of Frozen.

Music

From the hardest category to judge to the easiest. I’m no musician, so anyone with a better grasp of this should definitely chime in below, however in my eyes Frozen walks away with this category without question. The songs in Frozen are memorable, epic, and fit into the film well. Though there’s nothing wrong with the songs of Tangled, they can’t compare to the music of Frozen. The songs of Frozen feel pulled from a classic stage play, and a good one at that.

Winner: Frozen

The Verdict

The nice thing about having an odd number of categories is you’ll never have a tie at the end. However I think it’s vital that when we are analyzing and discussing films we remember than not all categories are created equal. Animation (as much as we as animators adore it) simply does not pull the same weight as Story. Story is absolutely essential, as are a cast of compelling characters. Without these key foundations, no beautiful animation, visuals, or music will ever produce a great film.

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It’s because of the story and characters, coupled with the fantastic animation that bring those things to life, that Tangled IS the better film of the two. Though the box office may disagree, Tangled is more complete from a film-making standpoint. That, of course, brings up the question “Why if Tangled is better was Frozen so much more of a financial success?” That will be a question for another time, and one that will certainly be extremely interesting to dive into.

Do you agree with the analysis above? What about which film you like more, whether it’s “better” from a technical standpoint or not? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear what you think!

Big thanks to the Rotoscopers for sparking this intriguing topic!

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26 comments

  1. Ranting_swede says:

    Firstly, compliments for writing something. It’s more than my lazy ass would have done. You’ve also put yourself out there by creating something which my uncreative ass would not have done.

    I was mildly disappointed that your article reminded me of every other knee jerk Buzzfeed/Reddit article on the same topic. Very little dealt with the specifics of either movie. What are the themes in Tangled, for instance, and how did they approach it? Optimism vs cynicism? What is the role of men and why do so many male characters in Tangled feel unable to achieve their dreams? A relationship between an abusive mother and the daughter who tries to achieve her independence? Why then does the movie end with Rapunzel throwing away her independence to save Eugene? How does that achieve an ending for that character arc? What symbolism did they use effectively and how did the character arcs resolve?

    Why is this important? Because then you can compare it to how Frozen achieve its own themes. Elsa is selfish during Let It Go. Is that the extent of it? Or does one notice how the movie doesn’t end there? That Elsa has to face her problems and return to her responsibilities to achieve happiness. That selfishness is not the final answer that the movie advocates and it actually advocates for the balance between loving yourself and being there for everyone else. Elsa learns something. Anna learns something. Eugene learns something. Does Rapunzel learn something? That her dreams are ultimately bound up in a worthy man? These are the details I’m looking for but they just keep being skipped over by so many articles.

    I guess my bar for detailed and objective analysis was set by this: chezapocalypse.com/episodes/s4e2-man-of-steel-revisited/ I recommend taking a look at it. But it does take a lot of work and this may have been too much expectation on my part to dump on you. Cheers.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Wow, thanks for such an in-depth comment!

      It’s funny, I thought I went on too long in my analysis, ha ha, so it’s a surprise to me to have someone call it a knee-jerk article! I can understand what you mean, though, when compared to the compelling and deep questions you raise here. I’d love to spend some time to go into more depth with it too.

      I will definitely check out the link you posted soon. I want to give it my full attention and am in the middle of a few other things this week, so I will bookmark it for as soon as those wrap up. Thanks again, this sort of feedback is extremely appreciated! :)

    • J.K. Riki says:

      I went to check on the link you gave me but it appears broken! Do you have another version anywhere?

  2. Sorista says:

    Well, from a film-making standpoint I would expect Tangled to win, but keep in mind that it had a much larger budget than Frozen’s (heck, SECOND LARGEST for any film) and about double Frozen’s time to produce. Tangled had six years. Frozen only had about two to three years.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      True too, and we also need to keep in mind for the first four years or so of Tangled’s production (when it was still “Rapunzel”) it went through a huge time of turmoil and rewriting. It’s very possible that the difficult challenges they faced during those very years are what allowed it to pull ahead in story and character and such! Great point to bring up.

  3. Phillip W. says:

    I was reading a lot of the comments at the Rotoscoper website and I was surprised how many people called themselves “Team Frozen” just because they liked something or other about the film. It seems to me the topic was about which was better, no? Very few took a look at the topic from that perspective and jumped straight to which they LIKED better. I think that those are two very different things. A person can like something that isn’t very good and also hate something that is very good. I love watching South Park but no one is going to pretend the animation is anything but sh*t. That works for them because they don’t care and it is still entertaining. But that is the difference between liking something and something being well made if you ask me.

    I would agree that Tangled was the better of the two films but I liked Frozen more because of Olaf, hah! What can I say I’m easy to please. :P

    • J.K. Riki says:

      I agree, Phillip. I feel there are two sides to the coin as well, and that it’s possible to look at film making from a quality standpoint and not just “did I like it?” Still, I understand the people clinging to their opinions too. It can feel like a personal attack sometimes if someone says they think something you like is inferior in some way! I didn’t mean it like that, of course. Everyone should enjoy the animation they enjoy, no matter what other people say about it or even if the quality isn’t great. It’s all about being entertained, after all!

  4. FG says:

    I agree that Tangled>Frozen (except in my case Tangled>>>>>>>>>>>Frozen), but for me, even the music in Tangled beat out Frozen’s music. I could find maybe 3 songs that I liked (not loved) in Frozen.
    Great comparisons though! I enjoyed reading it. :)
    As for the person who said that Tangled took 6 years to make while Frozen only took 2 or 3, Frozen’s story has been “in development” multiple times. Even Walt tried to tackle it. Maybe that’s what makes the movie such a disappointment for me, because even all that effort in creating a good story, it just fell flat. Also, I saw NO parallels between the movie and the Andersen’s fairy tale besides the fact that there was a snow queen. On the other hand, Tangled’s creators evidently made a huge effort to keep the original Rapunzel a part of the movie (the pregnancy cravings, the “blindness” of the male lead, the healing tear, etc.).

  5. Katlyn says:

    Excellent article! I don’t think there’s really any question at all that from a film creation standpoint Tangled has the edge. It isn’t about which is more liked by people but about the rules of film making that have been more than well documented in hundreds of books. As a film major (third year) it’s great to look at it from this angle.

  6. Quinn88 says:

    Everything is in our heads and there is nothing better or worse than anything else. Even things we think are set in stone are not like the value of money. Money is just paper and the only reason it is worth anything is because a lot of people say that it is. If we stopped thinking it was worth actual useful services then it would be meaningless. We should trade useful services for useful services not for meaningless worthless pieces of ugly paper. Then we would eliminate a lot of the trash that is ****ing up the planet and people who did not deserve to have any money or power would be poor and useless because they offer nothing of real value.

  7. I must say from a filmmaker and storyteller point of view I think there are huge problems in both films that keep them from being something really new or timeless. They are decent films, no doubt, I just think they have some bumps in the storytelling that are only there because even Disney became very unwilling to take risks.
    Of course, as an animator I am all excited about Glenn Keane’s influence that makes the animation in Tangled really amazing and it might be the best Disney style CG animation yet. But I somehow find the stories in both films really unnaturally forced in many places. Sure, there are serious topics and they might have come from somebody who really deeply connected to the characters initially, but what’s left in the final product just feels like the makers themselves got disconnected or did not trust the more difficult sides of their content. And that keeps both films from being throughly authentic (something that Wreck it Ralph did successfully despite doing some story leaps as well). It might even not have been the artist’s fault and just have been some producers looking at charts and trying to charm target groups.

  8. Sorista says:

    Now that I think about it, it may not be fair to compare Tangled’s animation to that of Frozen’s. As I mentioned earlier, Tangled had a much larger budget and may (I said MAY) have had more room to add a lot of expression to the characters. However, the area I think Frozen covers is probably the graphics and technical areas. That’s just my two cents.

  9. Andrea N. says:

    I will right away agree off the back. To say Frozen is better would be flat out wrong. Thanks.

  10. Wow, superb analysis!

  11. Bhenry says:

    Online the winner would be Frozen if you ask people.

  12. Calisse says:

    I’m not so sure. If we added another category like “voice acting” I think that Frozen would probably win, in my opinion and Tangled and Frozen would be tied.

  13. Takashi D. says:

    After I initially watched Frozen because of all the hype surrounding it I just started laughing out loud as credits rolled in theaters. What a mess the film is! I understand why so many people have flocked to it (brainwashing) but there hasn’t been a worse animated film in decades. It showers the audience with whats popular right now instead of making a classic film that would stand the test of time. Tangled, on the other hand, IS that sort of classic film that will stand with the likes of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. We need more like Tangled and less like Frozen, but just you watch thanks to the billions of dollars in profit all we’ll get now is more things like Frozen. What a world.

    • Calisse says:

      Thank you for your incredibly cynical comment. So I’m supposedly an idiot for enjoying Frozen? I’m brainwashed? Thank you SO very much.

      • Calisse says:

        As a side note, NONE of Rapunzel’s hobbies added to the story whatsoever. They’re just sprinkled on her. Belle’s love of reading books added to Beauty and the Beast because the Beast gave her the castle library as a gift. Ariel’s interest in human things got her interested in Eric and wanting to be a human herself. Rapunzel’s love of knitting, ballet, and chess added to Tangled in what way again?

        • Sorista says:

          I agree with you, Calisse. As much as I like Tangled, it reeks of unoriginality and I find Rapunzel to be a very poorly written character. Her isolation had NO affect on her leaving her tower and is shoved aside to make way for the floating lanterns and to bond with Flynn Rider/Eugene. Despite being convinced that people are EVIL, she takes out a thief, sings with thugs, and opens up to people in the kingdom square. Aside from that, I found Tangled’s story to be a bit forgettable, but that’s just me.

    • Calisse says:

      Thank you for your incredibly cynical comment. So I’m supposedly an idiot for enjoying Frozen? I’m brainwashed? Thank you SO very much.

    • Sorista says:

      You’re joking right? Frozen is in no way shape or form one of the worst animated films in decades. The visuals ALONE could keep it from being that quality. You’ve obviously not seen enough animated films.

  14. Sorista says:

    As much as I like Tangled, it reeks of unoriginality and I find Rapunzel to be a very poorly written character. Her isolation had NO affect on her leaving her tower and is shoved aside to make way for the floating lanterns and to bond with Flynn Rider/Eugene. Despite being convinced that people are EVIL, she takes out a thief, sings with thugs, and opens up to people in the kingdom square. Aside from that, I found Tangled’s story to be a bit forgettable, but that’s just me.

  15. Sorista says:

    Personally, I don’t think that Idina Menzel’s voice is the only problem here. I think that Mandy Moore as Rapunzel is pretty poor. Her voice (personal opinion) is more bland than any other Disney Princess’ voice. I can’t remember anything about it except that it is girly and sweet. It also has poor comedic timing and the voice acting (the performance, not the voice) is below Disney standards. So, I can’t exactly give Tangled the nod.

  16. Lithia says:

    I actually looked at an IMDb page that covers some “plot holes” I’m Frozen. http://m.imdb.com/title/tt2294629/board/reply/228201739

    That aside, what’s the big deal? There are MANY holes in Beauty and the Beast, yet its looked at as one of, if not THE best Disney animated film. It’s even the first animated film to be nominated for “Best Picture” in the Oscars. Useless songs, pointless scenes, poor development, weak pacing, and plot holes is nothing new in Disney, so I don’t know why it is now.

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