Sunday, November 24, 2013

Disney’s Latest Animated Musical Is Almost Entirely Frozen.

The Good: Decent voice acting, Generally good animation
The Bad: Obvious plot progression, Pretty predictable character development
The Basics: Disney’s Frozen is a lackluster animated musical that unsurprisingly was stuck in development hell for years and is now released with little chance of being an enduring Disney classic.

Today is a big milestone for me: my blog just got its 1,000,000th hit and I couldn’t be more excited about it! To celebrate, I was eager to review one of the new films of the season. My thoughts on Disney’s new animated musical, Frozen, come on the heels of my getting momentarily excited about an indie film that bore the original name of Frozen, The Snow Queen (reviewed here!). Fortunately for Disney, their beleaguered production Frozen is better than the ridiculous independent film The Snow Queen. Unfortunately for Disney, Frozen is such a typical Disney animated film that offers so little in the way of surprises, thrills, or genuine enjoyment for adults that it is impossible for me to recommend it.

Frozen is, at best, uninspired, at worse, unambitious. The film lacks a real spark. While there are plenty of Disney films that make musicals out of fairy tales, like this year’s big Disney Blu-Ray release, The Little Mermaid (reviewed here!), the success of those movies hinged on great music and animation that had a realism for the world it created. As ridiculous as it might seem, Frozen suffers as much from not having an obvious hit as it does from having a more stylized sense of animation than the truly classic Disney hits. The cartoonish quality of the physics of Frozen might seem forgivable given that one of the main characters is the sidekick living snowman, but the look and feel of the film is often more ridiculous than fantastic, which undermines the longterm viability of the movie.

In the kingdom of Arendelle, the princesses Elsa and Anna grow up together. Elsa, rather incredibly, can manipulate the cold and she has the ability to freeze objects and water almost effortlessly. Anna appears to be a normal girl and they play together like normal sisters. While playing, though, Elsa hurts Anna by accident and to prevent her from ever hurting Anna (or anyone else) again, her memory of the incident is wiped and the two are separated. They grow up the rest of their childhood apart and following the death of their parents, years later when Elsa is to be installed as Queen of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna briefly reconnect. When that happens, Elsa’s powers are revealed again and when she flees, Arendelle is cast into eternal winter. Anna, having had something of a magical night with Prince Hans, leaves him in charge of Arendelle and strikes out to find where Elsa has fled to.

Anna must go on a quest to restore spring to Arendelle and melt the snow. To that end, Kristoff and Anna meet in the frozen wasteland on the way to the mountain refuge Elsa has taken. Accompanied by a musical, wisecracking snowman, Olaf, the pair journeys across the snowscape to try to find Elsa, while finding themselves drawn more and more together. When they encounter Elsa, the Queen puts ice in Anna's heart and Kristoff finds himself racing to get the Princess back to Hans so love's kiss might restore her heart. But everything is not as it seems and Anna's return to Arendelle does not solve all the kingdom's problems and an unexpected villain rises to attempt to take over.

Frozen tells a predictable story that uses all of the obvious Disney conceits without truly presenting anything fresh and incredible. The story focuses more on the familial love between Anna and Elsa, with the Anna and Hans and later Anna and Kristoff acting very much as a b-plot. Anna’s sense of determination to restore life and color to Arendelle is clearly motivated by a love she has for her sister. Given the years Anna and Elsa spend separated following the childhood incident, Anna’s love for Elsa seems much more abstract than realistic and that undermines her willpower. Sure, she’s a plucky Disney Princess, but the pluck appears on the page more than as an organic manifestation of her character: she loves her sister because she is her sister, not because of the intense years of bonding they shared growing up (whatwith spending their more recent years separated).

So, Anna bears some feelings of guilt across the snowy expanse as she and Kristoff try to find Elsa and bring her back. Kristoff is a generic Disney love interest and he is easily overshadowed by the charisma of Olaf. Olaf is goofy and gets many of the good lines to set up the big moments, which is largely what one expects from a Disney sidekick. The wisecracks from Olaf come pretty much when one expects to keep the pace tight and that acts against the film in some ways; if you’ve seen any three Disney films, you can pretty much call when Olaf will intervene to say the right thing to Anna or Kristoff to keep the quest going and the movie flowing.

Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, is presented as an enthusiastic, goofy sidekick that fits into the usual pantheon of Disney sidekicks. Gad is vocally expressive and he was perfectly cast to play Olaf. But even Gad illustrates just how troubled Frozen was as a Disney production: sidekicks in Disney films have had a tendency to be runaway parts sought by well-established performers. While I like Gad, he doesn’t have the recognizable quality of, for example, Gilbert Gottfried when Aladdin was released or Eddie Murphy (from Mulan!). Any critique of Gad, though, is divorced from the on-screen content in Frozen. Gad might not have the star power, but he plays Olaf wonderfully.

The vocal cast of Frozen might not be trying to capitalize on a-list actors to present itself, but the performers do an excellent job. Kristen Bell plays Anna and she is so vocally expressive in Frozen that it is surprising how few voiceover jobs she has on her resume. Bell and Idina Menzel (Elsa) play off one another well and have similar vocal ranges, so they sound like they could easily be sisters. The cast is rounded out by Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Ciaran Hinds, and Alan Tudyk who all managed to act wonderfully with only their voices.

Despite the performances, Frozen is way too predictable and obvious to be worthwhile. It is not horrible, but it feels so familiar that it manages to come across entirely as stale, making one wonder why Disney pushed forward with the project as opposed to just letting it go.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Monsters University
Wreck-It Ralph
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Princess And The Frog
The Incredibles
Lilo & Stitch
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Monsters, Inc.
The Lion King
Beauty And The Beast
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
The Aristocats
Sleeping Beauty


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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