– Summary –
Director : Chris Buck + Jennifer Lee
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Goff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Williams, Maurice LaMarche.
Approx Running Time : 108 Minutes
Synopsis: When her sister exhibits the power to freeze everything she touches, and is banished from the kingdom of Arendelle, Anna must trek through the snow and ice to find her and somehow get her to bring back Summer.
What we think : Top-line Disney feature is brilliantly animated, has a terrific voice cast and perfect performances, yet can’t quite muster the spark of the old days of Disney’s iconic classics. The story is near faultless, yes, and the technical wizardry on display here is at times breathtaking, but for whatever reason, the story didn’t engage me like I’d hoped it would. The songs are great, though. A good film, just not a great one.
Cold as ice, willing to sacrifice her love.
That old saying, “they don’t make ’em like they used to”, is probably never more true than it is with animation. The days of teams of animators sitting in hot shed, with a Californian sun beating down on Disney’s famed animation studios, are long gone, leaving behind the scrawled brilliance of Snow White, the lustrous coloring of Pinocchio, or the swiftly slick Peter Pan. What we have now is a different animation beast entirely, one borne of both traditional and modern methods – the use of computers and technology to enhance modern films has snagged a major partner in animation, given the technology is virtually limitless with what it can achieve on-screen these days. Frozen, the second film to come from Disney using Tangled’s visual style and technology (albeit modified in the years between) is a striking example of what can be achieved in modern animation today. Mind you, just because it looks amazing, doesn’t always mean the film itself is great – *cough* Avatar *cough*. Does Frozen manage to recapture the magic Disney is aiming for in their modern work, or is it just another also-ran at the kiddie-fare cinematic trough?
Plot sysnopsis couresty Wikipedia: Elsa (Idina Menzel), princess of Arendelle, has powers the power of snow and ice. But one night, while playing with her little sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa accidentally injures her sibling. The king and queen seek help from trolls, whose leader, Grand Pabbie (Ciaran Hinds), heals Anna and erases her memories of her sister’s powers. Deciding to keep their daughter’s dangerous gift hidden until she learns to control it, the royal family lock themselves away inside their castle. Elsa, scared she’ll hurt someone again, spends most of her time alone in her room, creating a rift between the two sisters as they grow up. As teenagers, their parents die traveling across the sea during a storm. Anna, believing herself to be the reason Elsa isolates herself, tries to regain her sister’s affections, to no avail. Three years later, the people of Arendelle prepare for Elsa’s summer coronation. Among the visiting dignitaries is the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk), a tradesman who wants to exploit Arendelle for profit. Excited that the castle’s gates are open to the public for a day, Anna explores the town and meets Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) of the Southern Isles, with the pair quickly developing a mutual attraction. After an incident free coronation, during the reception Hans proposes to Anna, who hastily accepts. Elsa refuses to grant her blessing, setting off an argument between the sisters, which leads to her abilities being exposed to everyone. Panicked, Elsa flees, inadvertently unleashing an eternal winter on the kingdom in the process. No longer held back by her fear of being discovered, she celebrates her powers, building herself an ice palace and unknowingly bringing to life her childhood snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad). Anna sets out in search of Elsa, determined to return her to Arendelle, end the winter, and mend their relationship. While getting supplies, she meets mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven. Anna convinces Kristoff to guide her to the North Mountain in search of her sister. The group meets Olaf, who leads them to Elsa’s palace, where Anna must plead with her sister to bring back summer.
Most of the time, writing reviews about films is a fairly easy job. You either love the film, like the film, or hate it. In any case, putting one’s thoughts into a reasonable order enough to give people an idea on what one thinks about said film is – at least for me – typically an easy task. Not so for Frozen. I’ve written and re-written this review several times now, each time trying to accurately convey my thoughts on Disney’s ice-bound flick, although these thoughts aren’t all that clear and my muddled mind seems intent on making this task harder than it ought. In trying to remain succinct, I end up waffling on about all manner of things that either annoyed me, or that I enjoyed, about this film. Frozen’s critical reception from the majority of online and print journalism, and from bloggers whose opinions I trust, has been one of the Instant Classic variety – Frozen has been labelled as the best Disney film since it’s renaissance during the early 90’s, which is high praise indeed if you’re a fan of their work.
Honestly, though, I found Frozen somewhat disengaging, even though the critical part of my brain was applauding the company and the storytellers for their brave decision to eschew the traditional Disney-Princess template, and strike out in a different (and fresh) direction. Even now, I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t partially to do with my expectations being so high, but for whatever reason, I didn’t like Frozen as much as I hoped I would. It’s still a fantastic movie, but I wasn’t utterly blown away. The film’s story involving two sisters, and their fractured relationship, is so utterly un-Disney; the mold is typically an attractive young girl/princess falls for a handsome dude/prince, overcomes an obstacle and live happily ever after, yet here in Frozen that template is swept aside by a complete aversion to the “happily ever after” moments throughout. Sure, there’s a bit of romance (Hans and Anna’s whirlwind courtship and engagement is largely played for laughs, at least for me it was) but the primary arc for both Anna and Elsa was overcoming their estrangement, rather than love-smacked infatuation.
Based (extremely loosely) on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen fairy story, Frozen is filled with characters that come to life fully thanks to terrific scripting, wonderful voice casting, and dynamite animation. Anna, the primary character, is prototypical Disney female material – strong willed, determined, easily smitten with hot guys, and able to sing with virtually no training whatsoever. I jest, but not really. Voiced by Kristen Bell, Anna has the task of conveying the sorrow and (for Disney) rather adult motivation to rekindle the relationship with Elsa, who (to her) seems intent on keeping them apart. Bell traverses the comedy and the dramatic weight of the role well, imbuing Anna with an impish humor and sparkling humanity – is she impossibly perfect? Yes, she is, but this is Disney after all. Can’t have a heroine with too many flaws, can we?
Elsa, voiced by the older Idina Menzel (Aussie fans will recall her from small parts in Glee and Disney’s 2007 effort, Enchanted) is a darker Disney female than we’ve come to expect, at least for someone who isn’t The Villain. Elsa’s powers provide the crux of the story’s dramatic edge, with her seen as something of a sorceress by the ignorant and the easily frightened; she’s as close to the films’ villain as we get, at least up until the final act reveal of someone else as a traitorous cad (a twist I just didn’t buy, frankly, and more on this later), even though she’s a sympathetic, innocent victim in the whole scheme of things. Jonathan Groff plays a wonderful male lead in Kristoff, opposite Anna, and he brings that now-ubiquitous Disney leading man template to life with ease. Kristoff is obviously Anna’s real romantic interest, regardless of her infatuation with Prince Hans (a terrific Santino Fontana), and as much as the film-makers might try otherwise, there’s no hiding it. Much like Tangled’s Flynn Rider, who wasn’t initially interested in Rapunzel at all, Kristoff doesn’t see Anna as anything other than a bothersome girl who bribes him to taking her to the North Mountain. There’s a sense of familiarity to Kristoff, inasmuch as his character never really deviates from the traditionally Disney-fied “handsome prince” cliche, but Groff brings a nice touch of humor and wounded pride to the role that made me chuckle.
Easily the funniest character in the film – and the one who seems most out of place, really – is Josh Gad’s Olaf, the magically-alive snowman. At first, a talking snowman seems at odds with the more realistic world of Frozen, and at times Olaf’s inclusion does tend to feel a little forced (exactly why is he in this film, after all, other than to bring some mild comedy relief?) but Gad’s winning vocal delivery and perfect comedic timing more than make up for this most jarring of characters. Also a comedic character, Kristoff’s reindeer Sven, a voiceless-yet-still-anthropomorphic creature with eerie parallels to Tangled’s Maximus, elicits more than a few guffaws with his antics. Now that I think about it, the basic similarities between Tangled and Frozen are rather sharply defined when one considers the characters and their traits in both movies.
Frozen’s animation is (and it’s getting rather tiresome repeating myself for each new animated film coming out) absolutely stunning. The level of detail, from the smallest snowflake to the movement of clothing and hair (watch the epaulette’s on Prince Hans’ costume, that move even only slightly when the character shifts his weight – that level of minuscule detail is astonishing!), there is no fault to be found with Frozen’s visual acumen. The character design on this film is typical Disney – the princesses are all gorgeous, with enormous puppy-dog eyes and long flowing hair, while the leading men are square jawed and “handsome”; minor characters tend towards being that Disney-centric hodgepodge of short fat men, short fat women, and dumpy, weirdly shaped, completely inhuman-bendable avatars that are utterly unrealistic (and obviously designed to be “unlovable” so that the main characters look better against them). A towering snow-monster unleashed by an angry Elsa at one point is fun, and the effects used to render Elsa’s powers are stunning.
Equally as stunning are the films many songs, some of which are actually said-sung throughout the movie. Frozen used the talents of husband/wife songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who pulled the same duty on Winnie The Pooh, to bring the story to life in song, and for the most part they work superbly. The film’s title track, “Let It Go”, is magnificent, a freedom-and-exultation ballad that Idina Menzel powers out with relish. Olaf gets a funny tune as he imagines himself experiencing “summer”, in “It’s Summer”, while my personal favorite “For The First Time In Forever” evokes all the loneliness and new-found excitement Anna has in finally meeting new people. Even “Fixer-Upper”, sung by the trolls, is jaunty and sweet, although the only real weak-spot of the film’s music in my opinion. The songs, coupled with Christophe Beck’s amazing orchestral score, complement the film superbly.
Aside from the aforementioned problem I had with why Olaf was even included in this story, is the issues I had with the latter third of the film. Especially the final act “twist” which sees an initially nice and sweet character, Prince Hans, suddenly turn into a complete asshole for no real good reason. The laws of improbability with Prince Hans’ arc and his designs for Princess Anna (and Elsa, for that matter) are both profoundly illogical and highly unrealistic, leaving an adult viewer second-guessing themselves and wondering if maybe there was some cosmic joke they missed at the start. Kids won’t care, but grown adults will. The final act tends to get rather thematically dark (even for a Disney flick) in the graphic depiction of Anna even turning into an (apparently) dead statue of ice, which is beautifully rendered but will probably give the young girls watching this nightmares for a week. Where the opening half of the film followed its own logic and never tried to skip across plot holes (there were none), the last act finds typical animated film tropes trotting out – the smackdown of the Bad Guy, the change in allegiances of the local townspeople within two seconds of the plot swerving around inconsistently, and and the eventual romantic entanglement playing out to its natural, “shut up and kiss me” conclusion.
I know I sound like I’m ragging on Frozen, and that I didn’t like it. I did like it, I liked it a lot, and as a film it has heaps of cool stuff going for it, but I didn’t find it as memorably entertaining as, say, Tangled, or even some of the studio’s older stuff like Aladdin. The voice cast are excellent, the humor and animation entertain equally, and the story is largely enthralling, but it just didn’t grab me like I had hoped. I felt unengaged with the story, as if I was just watching a film and not investing in a story (if that makes sense). I’m sure in time (and plenty of rewatching with my daughter) Frozen will grow on me, but the film’s initial impact is one of above average entertainment, not outright brilliance.