"Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway."
I've documented the bizarro flip-flop that occurred between Disney Animation Studios and Pixar right around 2010 in my reviews for Wreck-it Ralph & Brave, so I won't dive into it again here, other than to say that after the lackluster Monsters University this summer, expectations were high that Disney could save the studio that once saved it with their fall offering Frozen. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, Frozen was being touted as a return to the musical extravaganzas that Disney churned out with regularity for most of the 1990s. So could it possibly live up to these outrageously high expectations that people has placed on it, even going so far as to deem it the front-runner for the Best Animated Feature Oscar some eight months before it's release? Read on to find out...
The kingdom of Arendelle has two princesses, the elder of which, Elsa (Idina Menzel) has the powerful ability to create snow and ice from her fingertips. When playing together as children, Elsa nearly kills her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), and a powerful spell revives her, but erases her memories of Elsa's powers. Elsa is convinced by her parents to keep her powers secret from her sister, and therefore Elsa grows distant and cold, protecting her sister by avoiding her altogether. After a shipwreck kills their parents, Elsa is to be crowned the Queen of Arendelle, and at her coronation, Anna falls in love with a handsome prince, Hans (Santino Fontana) from a nearby kingdom.
When Hans and Anna seek Elsa's blessing to marry, she refuses as they've basically just met. When Anna pushes her sister, Elsa inadvertently reveals her powers to everyone, and retreats to the mountains, blanketing her kingdom in snow and ice. Hoping to make things right and save the kingdom, Anna sets out to talk to her sister, and enlists the help of an ice merchant named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to reach the ice castle that Elsa has created. They're joined on their journey by a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), a relic of Anna & Elsa's pre-accident childhood, and proof that Elsa may not be the evil person everyone is painting her to be. Anna must try and convince her sister to end the curse she's put on her kingdom before everyone freezes to death.
The film that Frozen has the most in common with of all the Disney Animation Studios films since The Little Mermaid is Tangled, and if that statement is taken as the compliment I intend it to be, you'll have a good sense of what to expect from this film. Frozen and Tangled are incredibly similar in their structure, story, plot devices and romantic lead characters, but Frozen has a slight edge in my book for one major reason, and I may lose some of you when I say this, but bear with me. Frozen is by far the greatest screen parable ever created as a metaphor for someone dealing with their homosexuality. Now, I don't know for sure that the filmmakers ever intended this to be exactly what I just said that it is, but the points of comparison when looking at the character of Elsa are just far too many for me to ignore, and it deals with the issue in such a way that those too righteous to ignore the similarities can easily write them off.
Elsa has a secret that from a young age she is forced to suppress. Her parents go so far as to erase her sister's memories of her secret, and Elsa is forced to grow up in shame, learning to "conceal it, don't feel it," from her parents. So scared is she of the person that she is becoming that she hides away from the world, and when she does "come out" so to speak, she's immediately shunned by society and forced to retreat from the world altogether. Those who seek to understand and love her for who she is are eventually gotten the best of by those seeking to destroy her and what she stands for, causing more shame and humiliation for a person who cannot change who she is no matter what. This is heady stuff for a kids' film, and reminds me of Happy Feet, another masterful film that dealt with a similar subject matter.
For all that Frozen ultimately does, it succeeds most when it shirks convention and plays out in surprising ways that you won't be able to predict. It's a flawed film in that it still consolidates its narrative to fit into a neat and tidy 100-minute running time, but it manages to pack enough twists to what you think is going to happen to feel fresh despite its often woefully ordinary narrative predictability. These may sound like backhanded compliments, and in a way they are, but this film feels like the farthest any filmmaker will be able to push the boundaries in a Disney animated film. Every step forward is followed by the slightest, most hesitant half-step back. But even a horrendously contrived character like Olaf has enough genuinely great moments to make him a welcome addition to the film, and my daughters (along with every other kid at the screening we attended) absolutely adored his antics.
The voice work is superb, and if Idina Menzel weren't already a nouveau gay icon, her work as Elsa would cement her status as such. Her soaring ballad "Let it Go" is by far the highlight of the film, and will likely reduce many an audience member to tears with its lyrical fleetness and brash delivery. Kristen Bell is also good in her role as Anna, managing to turn an fairly run-of-the-mill princess character into one with a bit more depth than you might expect. Josh Gad & Jonathan Groff also deliver top notch work that allows them to call on their training as stage actors to great effect, and Alan Tudyk is clearly having a blast voicing another character of dubious morals, The Duke of Weselton.
The songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez (who also created the fantastic songs for 2011's Winnie The Pooh) are wonderful, displaying a classic show tune sensibility infused with the clever wordplay that Robert displayed a gift for with his Broadway compositions for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. The score proper by Christophe Beck is also very good and calls to many of the song's melodies in a solid way. The film is also gorgeously animated, and although I did not see it in 3D, I could tell that the compositions were framed with 3D in mind, and if I see it again, I will most assuredly shell out the extra money to see how well they used the technology.
Frozen is a very good film in a year that's seen a dearth of originality in feature length animation. It's theme of being yourself in spite of what the world thinks basically ensures that it will remain a vital film for generations to come, and I think I will only grow to love the film more over time. While it's not the masterpiece I had hoped it would be, it's still got much more going for it than against it, and I feel that it will play well to just about every demographic out there, and will have a long shelf life after it leaves theaters. I can't think of any reason not to recommend Frozen, and if you are concealing or have concealed a secret about yourself, this film will speak to you in ways I cannot imagine.
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]