Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle


Grade : A+ Year : 2013 Director : Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee Running Time : 1hr 42min Genre : , , ,
Movie review score

It’s hard to imagine having missed a Disney animated feature in theatres being someone who loves movies, but that’s exactly what happened with “Frozen.” I had a lot going on that holiday season, and even as it was getting ready to win Oscars, I just never got to it. I eventually did see it, and thought it was good, but by that point, the phenomenon had run into its backlash. Eventually, I would have to sit down proper and watch it, because time will reveal the truth about a film. What would time do to “Frozen?”

The film is based on the story, The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen, and follows in the studio’s animated musical tradition that began with another Andersen adaptation, “The Little Mermaid,” back in 1989. Here, the story centers around two sisters, Elsa and Anna, who are as close as any siblings can be while growing up. The eldest one, Elsa, has magical powers, however, where she can summon ice and snow. It provides them a lot of fun when they are kids, leading to the first musical number, “Do You Want To Build a Snowman?”, until an accident occurs, and Elsa knocks Anna unconscious with an ice blast. Their parents, the king and queen of Arendelle, take her to the trolls to be cured, which they are able to do, with a warning that the head is easier to fix than the heart, and also, wiping away Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers, and imploring Elsa not to use her powers. Several years later, their parents die in an accident, and Elsa and Anna are alone in the castle, with Elsa isolating herself from her sister. Three years later, Elsa is of age to be named queen of Arendelle, and for the first time in forever, the castle gates are opened. While Elsa (voiced now by Idina Menzel) is anxious about what may happen, Anna (Kristin Bell) is excited about the possibilities, especially when she meets Hans (Santino Fontana), and falls in love. When she tells Elsa of her plans, however, Elsa gets angry, and her powers come out, leading her to bring on an eternal winter as she goes into exile. Will Anna be able to get through to her?

As it did with “Titanic,” the primary target of the “Frozen” backlash was the song that came to define the film, “Let It Go.” Performed beautifully and boldly by Menzel, the song, in the context of the film, is about how Elsa finally feels free to be herself now that her secret has been revealed, even though it means everlasting winter for her people. It’s the sort of power ballad that always works in a Disney film, and this one was everywhere after the film became a smash. Even though I never saw the film in theatres, I could not escape “Let It Go.” It was the obvious choice for the Best Original Song Oscar that year, and make no mistake, the song, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, is one of the best in Disney’s musical history. But focusing solely on “Let It Go” means ignoring the rest of the great songs this film has to offer, with “For the First Time in Forever,” sung by Bell and Menzel, “In Summer,” performed by Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman and “Fixer Upper” (sung by the trolls when Anna is brought back by Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff) being the highlights. The backlash also means minimizing the film as a whole, which is a mistake, since this is one of Disney’s finest films. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, it follows very closely with the studio’s 2010 film, “Tangled,” in bringing their “princess film” formula into the 21st Century with less focus on a romantic story and for attention paid towards a more impactful narrative about how the characters in the film relate to the world they live in, which was something first really explored in “The Lion King,” and was later a part of films like “Atlantis,” “Treasure Planet” and “Big Hero 6.” It’s like the studio finally realized, “Hey, our ‘princesses’ don’t have to be looking for love. They can be just like the male protagonists we’ve done!”, and the culmination of that realization came in this past year’s “Moana,” which has nothing in the way of a romantic story. Welcome to the millennium, Disney.

If success breeds contempt, then it makes sense that “Frozen” experienced backlash after audiences, and kids especially, loved it, but that backlash clouds all the things that are genuinely great about the film. The story, which has just enough of the Disney formula to reel you in, but leaves just enough out to be something new from the studio. The animation quality, which, admittedly, feels almost like an afterthought given the “state of the art” we’re spoiled with now, is some of Disney’s most beautiful in the realm of CGI. The music, which also includes some important underscore by Christophe Beck to go with the songs. And the performances, which hit all the right notes for everything “Frozen” is, and elevates it to the upper echelon of what Disney is capable of in its animated film legacy.

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