After seeing Disney Animation’s latest offering, Frozen, the movie seemed almost too perfect. Of course it’s not, but it speaks to the film’s confidence and clear vision that such thoughts would even occur. So while there are a few chinks in the armor, Frozen stands as a grand piece of entertainment. There will be many comparisons to Disney classics and they will be technically accurate. This film is aiming for that same stratosphere and mostly succeeding. However, as someone who considers Tangled to be a new classic, it was that musical update of a classic fairy tale where I found the most similarities. It’s almost a companion piece really. They both have complementary character designs, heroically hoofed sidekicks, solitary rogues, and so on. The locations within each film feel like neighboring kingdoms. Despite what the marketing has led you to believe, Frozen has less humor and slapstick than Tangled, but a little more heart.
The adventure begins with two sisters, one a princess, Anna (Kristen Bell), the other the queen, Elsa (Idina Menzel), and their attempts at reconciliation after an unfortunate childhood incident. Elsa also happens to have the power to create ice and snow and she grows more powerful everyday. The film also finds time for Anna’s blossoming and her dual love interests Hans (Santino Fontana) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). There are sleigh chases, ice monsters, rock trolls, and a hilarious talking snowman. It seems like a lot but directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (also the screenwriter) keep it balanced by maintaining their focus on the ladies and their special relationship. Few films are this much about sisterhood without involving traveling pants.
The film is stunning to look at. The animation is gorgeous but also sophisticated. Where other films might use voiceover as a shortcut to hit certain story beats, Frozen lets carefully chosen images convey the information instead. An ocean set shot near the beginning is a great example and it’s devastating. I had feared the talking snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad), would be grating comic-relief, but he punctuates the action without being a drag. It helps that he’s not introduced until halfway in, and even then used sparingly. Having the funniest song doesn’t hurt either. Which, this is a full blown musical. Wisely, the filmmakers cast voice actors with Broadway backgrounds over bigger names for the marquee. Not every song is a slam dunk, but the casting pays off majorly during the big showstoppers. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “For the First Time in Forever” are sure to be favorites while Menzel brings down the house with “Let it Go”. I can just see the American Idol auditions now.
Some of the second half does feel a bit rushed. The songs and everything else take a brief backseat so the film, which eschews a lot of traditional plot turns, can introduce a rather uninspired villain. It’s not a bad note, just an unnecessary one. Frozen is surprisingly progressive. It sports a thinly-veiled LGBT message at its center about acceptance, fear, and the dangers of staying closeted. Miraculously it doesn’t feel heavy handed but rather refreshing. Disney films have always tried to impart some kernel of wisdom on its audience. Old-fashioned themes about telling the truth, or believing in oneself are messages that are still meaningful, but not nearly as relevant as Frozen’s statement. While emulating the past, in more ways than one, Frozen feels like the future.
Note: I watched a terrific 3D presentation of the film. I would recommend this. Every shot felt like the stereo space was considered and not just for the big set-pieces.
Second Note: A very fun short film, Get a Horse!, is attached to the feature. It begins as a black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon before literally leaping out of the screen. It’s a clever idea that’s not exactly hilarious or next level. It’s merely eye popping and pleasant. One day all the new crazy tech will yield another landmark like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but until then this is a nice diversion.