Movie Review: Frozen
…and I thought those days were gone forever.
Continuing with my reminiscences of the past, many of us who were kids in the late 80’s/early 90’s, can’t help but remember “The Second Golden Age” of Disney Animation. This was the time period, when the men who had come of age from 1940-1980, finally turned the keys to the (magic) kingdom over to a bunch of young kids. However, these weren’t kids wanting to go hog-wild: they wanted to live up to the legacy that had been set by their peers, as well as the man whose name was on the company.
And boy, did they do well! Those times created stories and characters that have stuck in our subconscious for years. Little girls leaned on couch cushions while pretending to be mermaids, and boys pretended to be fearsome beasts, skulking in their dark castles.
And then…came “the Dark Times.” The stories that captured our imaginations were subjected to scrutiny by executives and marketing people. They became safer, and less memorable. Many of us were beside ourselves: where was the great house that had taken us under the sea, to enchanted castles, and into Arabian nights of fantasy and whimsy?
The latest rebirth began in 2006, when after acquiring PIXAR Animation Studios, The Walt Disney Company welcomed John Lasseter and Ed Catmull through the doors of the company’s Feature Animation Studio. I remember it was too late to save Chicken Little by the time John arrived, but this scene at the end of Meet the Robinsons brought a tear to my eye:
To me, that quote was a promise: a promise that what we would be seeing from this great studio, was going to once again be material that would not just entertain us, but also make us “feel.”
I didn’t have long to wait, as the studio’s films over the next several years would continue to escalate in story quality. However, it wasn’t until 2012’s Wreck-It-Ralph, did they finally blow my socks off. But, there was another film that was waiting in the wings to 1-up Ralph.
For years, rumor had been swirling that the company was working on an interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. The eventual result would end up becoming the film we know today, as Frozen.
My first encounter with this film’s material, happened at a Destination D event in Anaheim, in 2012. We were introduced to myriad concept art, along with a small hand-puppet of Olaf. But, it was in the performance of a demo of the song Let It Go, that I began to take notice. The song was a”declarative lament,” and haunted me long after the event was held.
For the next year, many of us were stunned by what happened. In the normal “rules of engagement” known to marketing, we should have been blessed with a teaser trailer for Frozen when Wreck-It-Ralph appeared. However, months passed…and nothing. Toys were not even shown at that February’s Toy Fair in New York! Rumors swirled that the production was in serious trouble, and this had led to a bottle-neck of any information coming out of Disney.
And then in June, we got our first teaser trailer, which featured…a snowman, battling a reindeer for a carrot. Many of those who were keeping the faith were caught with our jaws open: what was going on here!? It looked like Disney’s marketing team was shooting themselves not just in the foot, but in both feet!
Needless to say, I approached 2013’s D23 Expo with some trepidation. Would the cutesy trailer footage we saw a few months ago be swirled around our heads? In two words: heck no! We saw moving images that made our eyes pop open! And, in a showstopper to the first day’s main festivities, Idina Menzel sang the final version of Let It Go, which only made me (and hundreds there) love it even more!
There are often a few things that I will believe in very deeply, and in something like Frozen, I was willing to throw aside the marketing that was being shown to the myriad of common American audiences, and believe that what The Walt Disney Studios had created, was something that would cement my faith that they were continuing, to “Keep Moving Forward.”
And last night…they proved my faith rightly!
This is the animated fairy tale story many of us have been waiting for for years! The Princess and the Frog came close, as did Tangled, but Frozen is magic: the kind that feels familiar, yet also moves us into new territories of storytelling!
Taking place in the Kingdom of Arrendelle, the kingdom is eager to celebrate the crowning of Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel). Also in attendance, is her younger-yet-more-playful sister, Anna (Kristen Bell). The ceremony should be a time for celebration, but it is during these events, that a power within Elsa manifests itself, plunging the kingdom into a wintry peril. After her sister flees the kingdom, Anna volunteers to find her, and end the wintry events that are plaguing the land.
Regarding the story’s plot, that’s all I dare tell you, as the film is far too grand for me to spoil any more.
One of the most surprising features of the story, is that the filmmakers have created “Princess Sisters,” albeit estranged. While Anna seems a little more free-spirited, Elsa is moreso regal and “bottled-up.”
Many have eagerly awaited more information on Menzel’s Elsa, who has a more subdued, yet important role to the story. Given her powers and nature, she may seem “cold” and uncaring, but once she is given the chance to unleash herself, she begins to come alive. I think those of us who have had our creativity bottled up, may see a little of ourselves in her.
I must admit that as the story went on, I was more captivated by the character of Anna. While socially awkward and a little naive, the film feels moreso like it is her story. She may seem a tad ‘girlish’ in the beginning, but we see that when the chips are down, she is more than willing to roll up her sleeves and try and set things right. As well, Kristen Bell endows Anna with a personality that is very hard to forget.
Speaking of hard-to-forget personalities, I defy anyone who sees this film, to walk away and NOT be moved by Olaf, the snowman. With Olaf taking up the brunt of marketing material images, I’ve heard many figuring him to be an annoying sidekick. But, if we’ve learned anything from Maximus the horse and Vanellope Von Schweetz, we know the current filmmakers at Disney are not going to overplay their hands.
Olaf is a sidekick that is not only funny, but doesn’t overstay his welcome. Created by way of Elsa’s magic, he is a little naive and childish at times, but never grows as annoying as one would imagine. In fact, he provided several of my biggest guffaws during the film. I’m chuckling right now remembering my favorite one.
In my earlier paragraphs, you may have heard my hope for this film stemmed on a song, and I’m sure by the time this film is over, many will have sought out the film’s soundtrack, along with further information on Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. This husband/wife duo crafted the memorable songs for 2011’s Winnie the Pooh (anyone other than me see it opening weekend?), and have proven their mettle with Frozen, as a dynamic duo that can stand alongside Richard and Robert Sherman, as well as Howard Ashman & Alan Menken.
The songs in Frozen run the gamut from syrupy young love (Love is an Open Door), to a declarative lament (Let It Go), and even a shanty-style work song (Frozen Heart). To me, it’s been ages since I wanted an entire soundtrack to a film, and the Lopez family shines through in all the different endeavors they have provided.
The songs are quite catchy, but a few may throw the audience, such as in a reprise of For the First Time in Forever. The song starts out as spoken-word, and juxtaposes into song. I have a feeling this may sit well with several of my “theater-nerd” friends, but I’m not so sure about the majority of the public.
Given how much was great about this film, it is not without its flaws. There are a few areas where it feels like the story “stops,” and then quickly ramps back up to speed. But aside from these few moments, the rest of the film works in a way that I have not seen these days. I kept myself away from as many spoilers as I could for the last few months, and going into the film pretty much blind, I was grateful that the story gave no indications just where it was heading. I always appreciate a story that is able to keep me guessing until the very end.
Ever since the last movie trailer, a few have scoffed at it being called one of the best animated musicals since The Lion King. To me, it falls closer to my favorite animated feature, Beauty and the Beast. Both deal with characters that seem more fully-realized and even emotionally complex at times, and it manages to play to both children and adults, with things that the little ones will pick up on as they get older.
While I did enjoy the theater experiences with Tangled, 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and Wreck-It-Ralph, those films felt like they were in the high “B+” range regarding ratings. With Frozen, the newest generation of Walt Disney Studios production staff have finally, given us their first “A” picture, since they rose from the ashes of the mid-2000’s.
I could probably write another 2000 words regarding Frozen, but I implore you, if you are pining for filmmaking that was dramatic, comedic, and musical, this film is what you have been waiting for. I’m sure we’ll be talking about this film long into 2014...and maybe, beyond!