Jan 27, 2014

[Movies] Frozen (2013)

Things have been shifting around at Disney in recent years - something I'd like to attribute to the creative leadership of Pixar's John Lasseter. He was named Disney's Chief Creative Officer back in 2006 when Disney acquired Pixar. And yet despite this shift, there's still a difference between Pixar movies and Disney animated features that keep both distinct and entertaining in their own ways.

Frozen is the latest feature that was released during the 2013 Thanksgiving season. I initially wasn't expecting too much from the movie since the core story didn't particularly excite me for one reason or another. However, the movie's popularity, as uniquely driven by how viral the song "Let It Go" has become, reached a point where I couldn't ignore the movie any longer.

Okay, maybe ignore is too strong a word. More of the movie's success forced me to bump it up in my movies-to-watch queue quite significantly - which proved a wee bit of a challenge given the fact it was no longer showing in local theaters. But hooray for the internet!

Synopsis: Frozen is a 2013 animated musical movie and marks the 53rd movie in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series of films. It is very loosely based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Snow Queen". The movie was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee with a screenplay by Lee and husband and wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez responsible for the songs.

In the movie, Princess Elsa (Eva Bella) of Arendelle somehow possesses the power to create ice and snow. This is a delightful power to have when it comes to playing games with her younger sister Anna (Livvy Stubenrauch) - at least until she accidentally injures her with a stray ice blast. Her parents seek the help of the trolls to cure Anna, and their only solution is to take out all memories of Elsa's magic from Anna's mind. Thus Elsa then avoids Anna for the rest of her days out fear that she may lose control and cause Anna's affliction to return.

In the present time, the two girls have grown up as orphans after their parents were lost at sea. The castle has remained closed to all visitors in order to further hide Elsa's secret. But today the gates must open as Elsa (Idina Menzel) has come of age and is due to be crowned Queen. With the gates open for the day, Anna (Kristen Bell) goes out and happens to meet Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) of the Southern Isles, who has come for the coronation. The two quickly become infatuated with one another (in classic Disney fashion and soon commit to be wed). But Elsa disapproves of this hasty decision and eventually looses control of her powers once more. Now Anna must pursue her sister and get her to stop the endless winter that she is inadvertently causing.

Frozen certainly has a lot going for it that really sets it apart from a lot of prior Disney movies. Similar to Tangled, you can tell that there was a conscious effort to break out of the "damsel-in-distress" mold that has dominated many past Disney Princesses and create strong role models for young girls. In this case, the movie was quite literal about things given the differences between Elsa and Anna. Anna initially represented the classic Disney Princess model - falling in love with the first guy she meets and committing to get married shortly thereafter. Elsa is a different female character all together - one who is not afraid to call out her sister's naivety and of course is determined to find her own place in the world.

The music was definitely a lot of fun - and credit has to go to the likes of Robert Lopez, whose past works include the likes of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. Thus the music feels a lot more in line with contemporary Broadway musicals instead of your "typical" Disney musicals. I hold total respect for the likes of Alan Menkin who have shaped a lot of more recent Disney musical history, it's nice that the studio is open to trying out different artists to see how things come out.

That said, to have Frozen to be more like some of the more popular Broadway musicals out there plus casting Idina Menzel as Elsa (a name that's not too far from Elphaba) felt like a bit too much. Talk about type-casting, here we have Menzel once again playing a person with magical abilities who first must repress them and later embraces them. Comparisons to the stag.e musical Wicked are pretty much inevitable and I kind of wish that the writers had not brought the narrative so close to that story. In the end it slightly cheapens the end result.

Still, the movie had a lot of funny moments, most of them centered around the magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and to some extent with the alternate love interest Kristoff (Jonathan Groff - who doesn't get to sing). I loved the silly bits which had Kristoff essentially talking to himself by voicing what he thinks his reindeer companion would say - an obvious jab at the many, many talking animals in Disney's movie history. This willingness to somewhat pick on past Disney tropes was rather refreshing and shows growth in terms of the level of humor exercised at the studio.

Given all that though, Frozen still had some narrative issues that left the ending feeling a little rushed and sometimes confusing. I guess it didn't exactly help the movie to take the path of the secret antagonist since most of the movie is just Anna trying to get to Elsa. The bit involving the trolls wasn't particularly inspired and I think we could have edited them out of the story entirely.

But this is not to say that Frozen isn't entertaining nor am I claiming it's a bad movie. It's still a step in the right direction for Disney in their efforts to remain relevant and we all just have to accept that we'll never get that song out of our heads. Thus the movie gets a 3.5 CGI snow creations out of a possible 5.

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