The Walt Disney Company, one of the biggest, and ever expanding, media conglomerates in the world never stops its steady walk towards world domination, and so, while I try to make my way through the Disney Canon of Animated Movies, the studio releases a brand new movie in theaters.
Frozen, fans will be glad to know, is the latest fairy tale in the style of the Company’s most beloved movies. Of course you wouldn’t know this looking at the trailers or other promotional material for the movie. Just like with the studio’s previous fairy tale movie, Tangled, the material has tried to make the movie seem like one more of the hundreds of comedic talking animal mediocre animated movies we get every year. Does Disney feel like it has to con people into watching these movies? Tangled was a huge success (it grossed close to 600 million dollars worldwide) and Frozen is bound to make a gazillion dollars too. People saw Tangled and they loved it. They love Disney movies, and there is no financial reason to pretend Frozen is a spiritual descendant of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, because not only is it that, but damn good movie too.
The movie’s closing credits say it is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which is correct, since they do share general similarities. Basically, the general idea of a girl having to venture to find the “Snow Queen” that has set a curse of eternal winter to her homeland. Frozen, however, changes a lot of the original story’s plot, including the crucial detail of making the girl at the center of the story and the “Snow Queen” sisters. In the movie, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) has to grow up hiding the fact that she has the powers to generate and control ice in order to protect her sister Anna (Kristen Bell). The fallout of Anna discovering her sister’s powers is pretty much what sets the story off in Frozen. From then, Anna teams up with a young man named Kristof (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) in a quest to end the eternal winter cast by Elsa.
If you think about it, there are not many Disney movies that deal with relationships between siblings. I think Lilo & Stitch might be the only one. I guess you could count the relationship between Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King, but that is far from the main focus in that film’s plot. Anna and Elsa are the heart and soul of Frozen, what makes it such a great movie. Disney, which has received a big amounts of flack for the depiction of its Princess protagonists, kind of turns the table on their classical image in this movie. There are romantic elements to the plot of Frozen, but from beginning to end, the movie understands that it really is the story of two sisters and their love for each other. It’s not only a refreshing and innovative concept for the studio, but an incredibly powerful relationship and the most valuable part of the movie. I’ll just say I’m king of jealous, but also really happy little brothers and sisters will have this story to accompany them as they grow up.
These are two great characters, and the movie soars whenever it focuses on them. Anna manages to be interesting and fun to watch while being a very earnest and inherently good character, which is something Disney’s struggled in the past. She is a little awkward, but also completely delightful (in quite a similar way Rapunzel was in Tangled). Meanwhile, Elsa, is not a very common Disney character, feeling trapped by the power she holds within and standing on emotional crossroads for most of the film. The animation used to characterize the two of them is practically flawless. The way Anna clumsily makes her way through her journey, and Elsa’s transition from feeling deeply uncomfortable to owning her power both work fantastically.
Frozen is, in the tradition of Disney’s animated classics, a musical, and one very heavenly influenced by Broadway. I’d say it has the biggest theatrical influence since the one-two-punch of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. The songs were composed by Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who previously worked for Disney on 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. Their songwriting is very much influenced by stage musicals. Many numbers are very comedic and on the same level as Lopez’s previous stage work, but there are also all-out high-belt stopping numbers, most specifically Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” (very much inspired by Wicked, something I find appropriate considering the similarities between these two). Most notably, though, there are moments that have Anna and Elsa dialoguing to each other in song, a very popular musical theater device that I think we hadn’t seen in any previous Disney movie before. Most the songs are great, not to mention the beautiful score by Christophe Beck.
The sisters are the highlight, but it doesn’t mean the rest of the movie isn’t great. The banter between Anna and Kristoff, as in the best relationships of this kind, is very amusing. So is the presence of Olaf, who being a talking snowman, always seemed like the most dangerous character. He could have very well be one of those obnoxious supporting characters (like those unbearable Minions from Despicable Me), but he is very much the complete opposite of that. He is so endearing, so enthusiastic, so well-hearted that he fits the tone of a movie that is very serious about its main themes, while still being pretty hilarious. I would point to him as a great example of finding the most appropriate comic relief for your movie.
I can only find one weakness with Frozen, and it is that the movie feels a little oddly paced. The first five to ten minutes of the movie, in which a lot of the groundwork for the relationship between Anna and Elsa is laid, feels very rushed. It is followed by a pretty slow moving first act that sets up a lot of characters and relationships that don’t necessarily pay off later in the movie. Or they do, but not in particularly meaningful way (I am mainly referring to a character named the Duke of Weasletown). It feels like there are a lot of ideas that were developed but had to be cut out of the movie, which makes for a couple weird shifts in the movie’s pace. Just wondering what the other ideas the guys at Disney might have thought of is going to keep me awake many nights, but it won’t keep me from enjoying Frozen, which is, again, and I won’t tire of repeating this, at least for the foreseeable feature, a movie that deserves to rank amongst Disney’s greatest. If you have children, or nephews, or better yet, a little brother or sister, take them to see Frozen. You won’t regret it.
Grade: 9 out of 10 (Great Movie)