Movie Review: Frozen

I've been thinking about my blog and wanting to add more content than my trip reports.  I used to keep another blog at one point and did reviews of the Disney films as they came out and enjoyed writing them.  So, I thought I might go back to giving my reviews, especially since everybody always asks me what I think of the latest Disney film.

I thought the first movie I'd review is Disney's Frozen. Yes, I know it's a few weeks late, but, since I just posted pictures from my trip to see it at the El Capitan Theatre, I thought I'd share my thoughts.

Given the fact that I've seen Frozen five times in the theater, it's fairly obvious that I enjoy the film.  The film is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen."  And, it is very loosely based on the original tale.  Yes, one could argue that the Disney films have not really closely followed the original stories, but the bulk of the original narrative is there.

Frozen, instead of telling a tale of a young girl named Gerda rescuing her childhood friend Kai from the Snow Queen, tells the story of two sisters and princesses of the Scandinavian inspired Kingdom of Arendelle.  The two sisters could not be more different.  Elsa (Idina Menzel), the eldest of the sisters, is mysteriously born with the power to control snow and ice.  While she enjoys these powers as a child, due to an unfortunate accident while using her powers, she spends her lifetime trying to control them but ends up becoming overcome by her fear of hurting people.  Anna (Kristen Bell), on the other hand, is impulsive and a bit socially awkward from the lack of contact from the outside world after her father, the King, orders that the gates be closed so that nobody find out about Elsa's powers.  Regardless, her good hearted nature, optimism and love of her sister never waivers.

Eventually, Elsa comes of age and she is to be crowned queen.  Anna is excited to not only have the gates to the kingdom open for the first time since she was a child, but also to be able to spend time with her sister who she used to be "best buddies" with.  Unfortunately, Elsa, while also excited to see her sister, is still governed by fear, ends up driving Anna into the arms of the handsome Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Santino Fontana).  This, in turn, ends up causing a confrontation between the two sisters that ends up revealing Elsa's powers to the world.  In terror, Elsa runs away from the kingdom but, at the same time, sets off an eternal winter.  Anna, feeling responsible, goes off after her sister and, along the way, joins forces with a "bit of a fixer-upper" ice dealer named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer Sven, a lovable snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and a bunch of trolls.  And, oh what a fun adventure it is, complete with a couple of twists that set the classic Disney Princess film narrative on its ear.

I have to admit that I was afraid about what I'd actually think of this film.  Like the marketing for Tangled, the initial marketing of this film left me scratching my head as to what Frozen would be about.  Was it about a snowman and a reindeer or was it about something else?  Because, my initial thoughts was that it was going to be a slapstick comedy based on the marketing.  I'm not sure if Disney just doesn't have faith in Princess movies or what.  I get that The Princess and the Frog flopped.  Honestly, though, at the end of the day, the film flopped because the main characters were rather bland and not because it was a Princess film.  So, I just wish Disney would stop fearing Princess films...especially since, merchandise-wise, it is a cash cow for them.  That alone should show that Disney Princesses are still popular and that if you build it well, they will come.

Thankfully, just like Tangled, I was very pleasantly surprised by the outcome.  First of all, visually, it is just a beautiful film.  In the opening number "Frozen Heart," the ice looks so real you can almost feel the texture and the coldness of it.  But, at the same time, there are so many wonderful artistic flairs.  When Elsa steps on the ground, the stylized snowflake patterns that form are just amazing.  And, when Elsa builds her ice castle, it's simply one of the most glorious sights to see.

I absolutely fell in love with Anna.  I just know so many women like her.  She's got an awkwardness to her and can be goofy.  I, personally, like characters like Rapunzel and Anna who still have an innocence, yet are still very strong.  And, I thought Kristen Bell was perfect for the role.  I remember taking my mom to see the film and she was so impressed with her mainly because she would never have known it was her.  And, when I'm watching a movie, I don't want to think about who is doing the voice.  I want to be swept into the world.  And, who knew that Kristen Bell could sing like that?  I mean, she held her own up against Idina Menzel who is a Broadway diva.  Just listen to the reprise of "For The First Time In Forever" where the two of them are singing at the same time.  At no point did I think one voice was weaker than the other.

The character that I was most surprised at loving so much is Olaf.  I had feared, based on the teaser short Disney released early in its marketing campaign, that he would be annoying or too much.  But, I just absolutely loved Olaf.  Josh Gad brings such an innocence to the character and, at the same time, Olaf's animation, from his little waddle to his wonderful expressions, just make him want to give him a warm hug.  I honestly couldn't get enough of him.

I think the music marks a change for Disney.  Many people say it's a return to the Broadway style musical that Disney was known for in the 90s.  I actually think it's least from that style of musical.  Robert Lopez, obviously, comes from a new generation of Broadway music writers through his experience with Avenue Q and Book of Mormon.  But, this collaboration with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, feels a little more for the Glee generation than anything else.  I don't mean that as an insult at all because I think every film needs to reflect the current times.  While "Let It Go" is supposed to be the crowning song of the soundtrack (and, it is a beautiful song), my personal favorites are both "For The First Time In Forever" and its reprise.  There's something genius in the storytelling in these songs that follows the natural development of the characters.  In the first version of the song, Anna is driven by emotion (joy) while Elsa is driven by control of emotion.  In the second version, we see Elsa driven by emotion (fear) while Anna is the more controlled one.  The only thing that I feel the soundtrack lacks is a song featuring both Anna and Kristoff.  There would have been something very satisfying in hearing a duet between them.  And, it just seems odd that Jonathan Groff only got one song...and a novelty song (albeit fun novelty song) at that.

While I've heard so many people say that this is a "return" to classic Disney and that it's the best film since The Lion King, I don't know if I'd go that far.  Honestly, I love all the films since Princess and the Frog.  Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and the new Winnie the Pooh movie all feel like classic Disney to me.  For me, it's not really a return to anything but a step forward in the evolution in Disney animation.


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