“Frozen” **** (out of 5)
Starring (the voice talents of): Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, and Santino Fontana
Written by: Jennifer Lee, story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Shane Morris, inspired by the story The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
For nearly twenty years now, Pixar has dominated the animated scene by making far superior films than the competition, including their mouse-eared partner’s in-house efforts. Now that Pixar creator John Lasseter appears to be in charge of Disney’s animated projects, it is clear that a changing of the guard is taking place. Old is colliding with new at Disney, and the culmination of this event takes place with the stunning “Frozen”, a beautiful, touching film with better than average musical numbers, and an unfortunately bland title. If this is where new Disney begins, amazing cinematic experiences lie before us.
The symbolic merging of old and new begins before the film itself in the form of a new film short starring, of course, Mickey Mouse and friends. What appears at first to be an old “Steamboat Willie” cartoon quickly comes to life, going from black and white to color and three-dimensional characters. The short is clearly representative of what has made the company great in the past, and what is expected to come. As a bonus, children today may be familiar with these old characters due to the popularity of the newer “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” show. Seeing them rendered in 3D isn’t a shock to their system like it is for us; conversely, they may be shocked to see the 3D characters in black and white. This interesting amalgamation of technology and nostalgia not only gives us some laughs, but sets a specific tone for “Frozen”.
The film itself begins with a montage of melancholy. Young sisters (and princesses to boot) Anna and Elsa are playing in the palace, when younger Anna prods Elsa to ‘use her powers’. It appears that Elsa can make and manipulate the cold from her fingertips, and in a freak accident, Elsa harms her sister to the point where Anna needs ‘magical’ treatment, and cannot remember the injury. These events lead to an understandable, if not shortsighted overreaction by the king and queen to isolate their ‘dangerous’ daughter until she can learn to ‘control’ her power.
Unfortunately, they can’t control turbulent seas, and they perish- leaving Elsa and Anna alone to mourn their parents and grow up separate from each other. The distance between them becomes exaggerated over time, until they barely know each other by the time Elsa becomes the queen. Perhaps the original story by Hans Christian Andersen tells us (I haven’t read it), but there is no mention in the movie of a curse put on Elsa, or an evil witch, or some poisoned fruit she eats that causes her to have powers. It simply exists, meaning Elsa transfers all of the blame to herself. She’s been isolated and riddled with so much guilt, self-doubt, and angst that you can’t help but feel for her. Keeping that in mind, when her bubble bursts (and it does), it’s frightening and gratifying all at once. She escapes the kingdom, retreating to the mountains to be alone. Her ‘outburst’ turns into one of the most magnificent animated spectacles you’ll ever see; exquisitely beautiful, yet strikingly dangerous as it covers the kingdom in ‘eternal winter’ (it’s called ‘eternal’, but how do we arrive at that conclusion? There is no explanation)
Anna goes after her sister, meeting the rugged yet approachable Kristoff (an ice salesman) and his pal reindeer Sven along the way. Naturally, they join the search. These two have an interesting relationship as it pertains to animated films- Sven doesn’t talk, but Kristoff holds a conversation with him nonetheless. As other critics have pointed out, a Disney movie of yore would’ve given Sven the ability to talk; shifting the way that it’s presented gives the film a different, and dare I say better, dimension. Another character joins the fray on the way to confront Elsa- a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who can talk. Olaf is a memorable character, in the same vein as Donkey from “Shrek”- a silly yet endearing sidekick. The movie’s biggest laughs come from him.
The inevitable confrontation between Elsa, her sister, and the frightened citizens of the snow-covered kingdom resolves itself soon enough. The conclusion is satisfying, sure, but more important is the way in which it concludes. The heroines, one a queen and the other a princess, are allowed to persevere without first securing a ‘Prince Charming’, or tying their fates to the procurement of a love interest. I love that the filmmakers respect their audience, children and adults alike, enough to give their female leads a different solution. What results is far more powerful and satisfying.
Again, we can see the changing of the guard clearly through the lenses of “Frozen”. It’s not a perfect film- in particular, I’d say some of the lyrics in the musical numbers are downright comical, and the title is particularly lame (why not just go with “The Snow Queen”?). On the whole, however, “Frozen” strikes a near-perfect balance between emotion and comedy that brings traditional Disney storytelling into a new age. It’s by far the best animated film of the year, and although it may not sit at the head table with other Disney heavy-hitters like “The Lion King”, I think it’s fair to say it’s not far behind.
*note- I saw this in 2D, and instantly regretted it. The natural way that snow and ice looks in this film would have seemingly popped off the screen had I seen it in 3-D. That isn’t often something I clamor for.
*** Feel free to listen to me talk about this review as I make another guest appearance on the “I Hate Critics” podcast with host Bob Zerull and professional film critic Sean Patrick. The website is http://www.ihatecritics.net, and you can find the podcast link there, or search for it on iTunes. Thank you for reading and/or listening. 🙂 ***