It’s worth visiting Frozen’s musical winter wonderland.
Disney made a lot of smart moves with Frozen, the new animated family film being released just in time for the holiday season. With snow/wintery elements at the core of its story, Frozen’s release is not only timed well at the beginning of the holidays, but is thematically (and seasonally) relevant. Also, Disney had been toying with an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen for over a decade, and rather than rush it out the gate, it appears that the studio took careful consideration for a worthwhile script and stellar musical accompaniment. Finally, speaking of the music, Disney made a brilliant move by bringing in Robert Lopez, the Tony award winning composer behind the music for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. With a Broadway style of musical energy driving the story along (at least for the first three quarters), Frozen is heartwarming fun with a very powerful feminine voice…one that would pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Chris Buck, who also directed Disney’s Tarzan (1999) and the underrated Surf’s Up (2007), does an adequate job handling the blend between the traditional fairy tale elements of the story with the elements intended for modern mainstream audiences. We are treated to familiar themes of true love and magic spells, but with the youthful energy reinvented for Disney audiences with 2010’s Tangled. There are many similarities between Tangled and Frozen, mostly due to the involvement of the same producers/animators/editors/etc. The character animation is similar and the animal side characters are nearly identical (swap out a dog-like horse for a dog-like reindeer). Frozen also carries over Tangled’s modern day language aesthetic, with the jokes coming fast and frequent and at other times with a laid back “informal” approach, featuring characters stumbling over their own words and using American idioms. These forms of humorous dialogue were practically non-existent in animated films ten years ago, and, although they can contradict the time period of the film, they also elicit a lot of laughs…
… And casting Frozen‘s top notch voice talent doesn’t hurt. Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) leads the pack as Anna, the younger of two princess sisters. Idina Menzel (Enchanted) plays Elsa, the older sister who’s in line to become the Queen. Elsa’s magical icy powers, unknown to the rest of the kingdom but a wondrous “play toy” for the two loving sisters, are the cause of an accident which, in turn, identifies her powers as dangerous and to be kept secret. Of course, her powers end up returning at an uncontrollable level upon her coronation. Josh Gad, an original lead from The Book of Mormon, voices Olaf, a lovable snowman created by Elsa’s magical blanket of winter across the kingdom. Jonathan Groff (C.O.G.) plays Kristoff, a young handsome chap who sells ice and serves as Anna’s “woodsman” aide. The cast members sing their songs wonderfully, with Menzel’s “Let It Go” taking the top prize for catchiest, most inspirational number.
Audiences may ultimately be caught off guard by Frozen’s musical nature, or its focus on the relationship between two sisters. Luckily for everyone, unsuspecting or not, these are Frozen’s strongest attributes. Three quarters through the movie, Frozen unfortunately devolves into a stereotypical action-adventure cartoon and loses some of its emotional pull, but (thankfully) regains its uniqueness in a powerful finish. Like Pixar’s Brave, girl power is the film’s underlying strength, and Frozen may have barely missed hitting this message right out of the park. As it is, the sister dynamic combined with a few elusive plot turns provides a refreshingly original feel to an otherwise basic fairy tale.
Frozen opens in Bay Area theaters today, November 27, 2013.