For months leading up to the release of Frozen, there has been much said about the changes made from the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, the outrage from many different sources for a myriad of reasons. I made a conscious effort to put that all out of my mind as I watched the film and tried to watch it as a self contained tale outside the pre-release conversations.
First the good, and there was a lot of it.
I was very impressed with many of things about the film. First off, it was beautifully rendered. I saw it in 3D, and I highly recommend seeing it that way. So many of the snow effects took on an extra depth because of the very well done 3D. The snow and ice looked quite good and the frozen creations of the Snow Queen are dazzling in their detail and beauty. The pacing is good and moves along swiftly enough to keep the attention of adults and kids alike. The story is well laid out, but not overburdened with back story. There are a few things I would have liked to have had explained a bit better, but I’ll get into those later. I was surprised, several times, as the writers set up what appeared to be the typical Disney Princess tropes that have been railed against by feminist groups, time and time again. Each time I thought they were on the path to a “traditional” plot point, I was happily surprised at the twists I was thrown. Some were subtle, some were bigger, but, all in all, there were a lot of great messages for girls.
For example, and without giving away any big spoilers, when the Snow Queen, Elsa (Voiced by Idina Menzel) stops trying to be what she feels others want, and begins to be the person that she wants to be, she discovers the joy of her own self. She also gets her own happy ending, but that is another surprise that is a welcome twist.
The writers did a very good job of giving us characters that we become attached to and care about. While the bulk of the narrative follows Anna, Elsa’s younger sister, (Voiced by Kristin Bell.) the Snow Queen is well written and is painted as a sympathetic and misunderstood person who is made out to appear evil to those who don’t know the full details of what is going on. It is nice to see the “baddie” given a more human treatment and to see how easily misunderstood appearances can become.
As far as Anna goes, she is just as well explored, and just about everyone knows someone like her. She is a naïve shut in, knowing little of the world outside of her castle, and that lack of knowledge leads to some very poor choices and real consequences. As with Elsa, Anna is set up with, what appear to be, routine story points that diverge from the norm and leave a good message.
With all of that, there is still enough fairy tale, happy ending, warm and fuzzy to the tale to not make it heavy or preachy. This is, after all, a Disney movie, and it delivered in most of the ways that a good Disney movie does.
That being said, the places that I was disappointed in the movie were a bit of a surprise, since they are staples of Disney fare. These two areas for me were the music and the anthropomorphic snowman, Olaf. (Voiced by Josh Gad.)
I still can’t believe that I was let down by the music in a Disney feature film. We have Idina Menzel and Kristin Bell singing, so how can this be? The songs were very well performed, as one would expect from two such talented vocalists. The problem came with their placement; they felt forced. It was as though they had made a really good movie and someone said, “Hey, this is a Disney animated feature, shouldn’t we put in some songs?” and a scramble ensued to pack in some music. The songs were awkwardly placed and really distracted me from the film. I thought that I might be judging it too harshly, but in the days after I saw Frozen, I caught The Princess and the Frog on TV, as well as watching the Lion King and Aladdin with the kids I worked with. In all of the other films, the music was very organic and added a layer to the story. The songs were catchy and they stuck in your head. With Frozen, I was hard pressed to remember any tune even an hour after watching the movie.
The other Disney staple, the non-human side-kick/comedy relief was also jarring for me. Olaf is established as an imaginary invention of the two sisters early in their childhood, and he comes to life (Sans magical top hat.) when the Snow Queen embraces her powers over the frozen world. Again, this seemed like they were trying too hard to make another character that they could market. (Olaf is center in many of the promotional materials from posters to lobby display stands.) He has some funny lines, but he seems like that one friend that is trying too hard to be liked and comes off as annoying and intrusive instead. Again, this is an area that Disney has done exceptionally well in other movies. (Think of the carpet in Aladdin.) Here it is just not needed. We already have a reindeer, Sven, voice by his best friend Kristoff. (Who is in turn voiced by Johnathan Groff.) If you have ever been around someone who talks to, and for, their pets, then you will understand the dynamic behind Kristoff and Sven. And it is done very well, so there is no reason at all for Olaf, really.
There was one plot hole that niggled at me at the beginning, but was forgotten as the story kicked into the action. Even in this castle, locked up tight, there were many servants; How did Anna not have any friends among them? She’s had to have had some kind of education. Especially being second in line to the throne. And why, after over ten years of her sister ignoring her through the door, is she still trying to connect with her? They’ve now spent twice the time apart that they did together.
In the end, the things that were well done with the film were VERY well done, and make the movie worth watching. They make it worth watching more than once, actually. The bad was distracting, but not enough to make the movie unbearable. Top that off with positive messages for the girls watching it and Frozen is certain to become another Disney classic.
I’m just not buying the soundtrack.
8 out of 11
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Synopsis: In “Frozen,” fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey – teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven – to find her sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.
-Written by Walt Disney Animation Studios
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Shane Morris (Inspired by “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen)
Stars: Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Santino Fontana
Rated: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Runtime: 108 minutes