Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Disney's Frozen

****1/2 Another worthy entry to the Disney Animated Canon. A well-made blend of action, humour, pathos, and the old Disney Magic. The songs are good, too.

After last week, I figured that we needed a breather, and what better breather than the latest Disney movie? I recently watched Frozen with my family and–oh, boy. I mean–wow. I'm not ready to declare the 2010s a new Disney Renaissance or anything crazy, but gee, that was good. The animation, the acting, the characters, the songs–Frozen is my new favourite Disney movie[1].

Frozen is the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa. They're the heirs to the kingdom of Arendelle [2], and Elsa has the power to create ice and snow. After a freak accident nearly kills Anna, Elsa is sequestered, isolated from humanity to keep a recurrence from happening and to control her powers. All goes "well" ("well" here meaning no-one is seriously injured but that Elsa is deprived of human contact and Anna grows up with no memories of her sister's powers), until Elsa's eighteenth birthday[3]. That's when:

  • Elsa is due to be crowned queen, their parents having died three years earlier.
  • To celebrate, there's a big party/holiday/festival, attended by numerous foreign dignitaries and panjandrums…
  • One of whom is Hans of the Southern Islands. He and Anna hit it off, and when he proposes, she accepts. They go to Elsa to get her blessing, but she (Elsa) says no, you can't marry a man you just met.
  • Anna is set on this whole marriage thing, however, and persists in asking Elsa for her blessing. In so doing, she tugs on Elsa's glove…
  • …And here things start to go wrong. Elsa is under a great deal of stress, what with the whole coronation thing and more importantly the ice-powers thing, and her gloves prevent her from touching another person. So–not to put too fine a point on it–
  • She flips her shit. Okay, that's a little unspecific. What I mean is that Anna grabbing Elsa's glove, combined with the strain of taking on the responsibilities of state, causes Elsa to have a nervous breakdown/case of Power Incontinence. She freezes Arendelle and hightails it to the mountains, where she creates an ice castle to test her powers, changes from her coronation gown to an ice dress, and sings about how glad she is that she doesn't have to be around people anymore.

So now it's up to Anna to save Arendelle and talk her sister into ending the eternal winter, assisted only by a surly ice dealer; his best friend, a reindeer; and a snowman who likes warm hugs. Can she do it?

Does the Pope defecate in the woods? Are bears Catholic? Anna's the protagonist of a Disney animated movie; of course she can do it. Disney animated protagonists can do what they need to do–save China from the Huns, get the girl and save Agrabah from Jafar, stop Ratigan from replacing the Queen with a robotic doppelganger, take the Pride Lands back from Scar and the hyenas, whatever. But it's not so straightforward this time: Part one of Anna's plan goes swimmingly until Elsa accidentally freezes Anna's heart, fatal bar an act of true love. This is Hans' role, right? Nope–can't say much about the act; spoilers, y'know. Just that it's not a romantic act [4].

Anyroad, Frozen is a good movie–good technically if a tad generic, well-written, with some very catchy songs. The animation is solid, though I'm not the biggest fan of the new Disney CG house style. Nothing against it, it's just too…plasticky for my tastes. There's less room, I think, for a style to take root and distinguish a film when it's CG humans. I mean, there's still wiggle room with CG to define a film's "look"–as with live-action, a director still has camera movement, depth of field, and colour at her disposal–but the potential to have a style define a film, for a viewer to think, hey, this film looks different from that other film and a lot like the other film! is diminished. Traditional animation is a dying art form in the United States, and I'd have liked to have seen a Frozen which was traditionally animated, at least in part–maybe largely 2-D, with some CG work for the backgrounds, or 2-D characters and CG backgrounds and effects, maybe something like Paperman [5]. What we got is like Pizza Hut pizza compared to Brewery City. It's not bad, per se, but it's not the best.

What's surprising about Frozen is that it's so, well, different. Remember what I said above, that it's the story of two sisters–sisters, not say a mermaid princess wanting to become human, or the love between two outcasts, or a street rat trying to get into a princess's pants, or the love between two dogs of differing social classes. It's refreshing to see romantic love play a side part and the relationship between siblings out front and centre. And the songs! A musical lives and dies by its songs, and Frozen's are excellent ear worms which get stuck in your head for days at a time. "Let it go, let it go/can't hold it back anymore"; "So he's a bit of a fixer-upper/So he's got a few flaws"; "'Cause for the first time in forever/At least I have a chance"; "I mean it's crazy/What?/We finish each other's–[6]/Sandwiches!/That's what I was gonna' say!"; "Elsa? Do you want to build a snowman?"; "Yeah!/People will beat you and curse you and cheat you/Every one of 'em's bad, except you"; "Please don't shut me out again/Please don't slam the door"–I love them all. It helps that the cast are excellent singers, especially Idina Menzel. With a movie like this, you need a legitimate singer for your lead, since she has to carry the thing.

Why this poster? No reason…
And–and this is key to my enjoyment of a Disney movie, a musical, an animated movie, a family movie, or a Disney animated family musical–Frozen is a lot of fun. There's a lot in play–swordfights, impossibly high stakes, True Love. I mentioned the Disney Magic(TM) above, and while I'm not entirely sure what that is[7], Frozen has it in spades. I go into a bit more detail in the footnotes, but it's a very emotionally rounded film, swinging between comedy and pathos with ease. Indeed, that leads me to my only major criticism of the film, from an emotional standpoint: It lacks terror. This sounds weird, I know, but you come to expect at least some terror from a Disney movie; this is, after all, a studio which has its own dedicated Nightmare Fuel page on TV Tropes[8] and a Trope named for its remarkable ability to go utterly bugfuck nuts; Walt Disney Studios do not fuck around.

Nor did its founder. Yes, this is the face which personifies warm childhood memories the world over–but don't let that fool you. Walt Disney was a shrewd and capable businessman operating in a ruthless business and he wouldn't hesitate to stab you in the back, if you were in his way. No-one messes with the Mouse and lives to tell the tale…
To wrap up: Frozen is the best movie Disney's made since Princess and the Frog. I'm not happy with the CG trend, but if this is what we're getting, I'm willing not to shout too loudly against it. All the songs are catchy, the animation is fine, and Disney's back in the groove of the Golden Age and Renaissance. Again, I don't like CG-only and won't declare a second Renaissance, but Disney putting out competent magic and Pixar on all cylinders is better than Pixar on point and Disney flaring out. If nothing else, it's better than Disney's other offering for 2013.

Yeah, let's not talk about this. Ever.

Miscellany and Hodge-Podge

  • I'm sorry, but Wandering Oaken isn't Disney's first openly gay character. That honour goes to (depending on whom you ask) Scar from The Lion King or Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective. I personally prefer Ratigan, because Vincent Price. However, Oaken is the first (relatively) heroic gay character[9].
  • So I'm apparently one of the two people who actually liked "Fixer-Upper".
  • No major changes to the blog's layout this week, as I was preoccupied by this post, a church event, and a severe head cold. However, I'm not fond of the current theme; I like the books, but it's just too inflexible.
  • Now it's time to play a game I like to call "What to Cut?" Basically I talk about what part or character I'd cut from the movie. (Needs a logo.)
    • Character: Hmm. I know that there are those who think that the comedy relief characters could go…or Hans…or Kristoff…or "Weaseltown". But everyone feels at least somewhat important to the plot: Elsa and Anna are the protagonist and antagonist, Kristoff is the romantic lead, as is Hans, Weaseltown is the fake-out villain, Olaf is symbolic of the sisters' broken relationship–I'm going with Sven, Kristoff's pet reindeer. I mean, he's adorable, which is odd given that he's a reindeer–but he doesn't contribute much to the plot.
    • Song: Not "Fixer-Upper". Look, I know that everyone and their dog and their dog's cousin thinks that it's the worst song in the movie, but…I don't. I think, instead, "In Summer". Not that it's the worst song in the movie–it just feels redundant. We get that Olaf loves heat–do we need a damn song about it? And the fact that Josh Gad isn't the best singer in the movie by a long shot doesn't help its case one bit. If not "In Summer", then "Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People", which is out anyway if Sven isn't in the movie, or–God help us–"Vuelie".
  • I think that that about wraps it up for Frozen and this week. Next time, baseball season started up, so I'll be reviewing two books about baseball.

--Alex Adrian, 4/4/'14
[1] Sorry, Aladdin/Mulan/Atlantis: The Lost Empire; I still like you all a lot, but this is just better.
[2] This technically makes them Disney princesses; however, at the time of writing (late March 2014), I've yet to hear anything incorporating them "officially" into the canon.
[3]…I think; the character models make it hard to say. Or else she's twenty-one. I like Elsa being older, as that would make Anna eighteen and thus significantly de-creepify Hans. 'Course, Hans is a creep no matter what, but eighteen's over the age of consent in most jurisdictions, so Hans only has attempted regicide, fraud (or whatever the term is for claiming marriage for the purpose of taking over a kingdom), and entering under false premises on his rap sheet and not statutory rape.
[4] Fine; as Anna turns into an ice statue, she gets between a sword-wielding Hans and a defenceless Elsa. She intercepts Hans' blade and shatters it, saving her sister, restoring her to life, and breaking off the eternal winter. This was after, mind you, Hans refused to kiss Anna, who was close to death at this point, and left her to freeze to death in a poorly-heated castle (I'm not entirely sure when Frozen takes place, but it's before the invention of central heating), claimed he and Anna had eloped before her apparent death and since Elsa was clearly unfit to govern, he was the rightful head of state, and was about to put Elsa to death. Told you he was a creep.
[5] One of these days, I'll have to write a long ranting post about the decline of traditional hand animation and its replacement by the more popular, easier computer graphics, and how this is making American animated films look increasingly samey and generic. I have strong feelings about this topic.
[6] "Satanic rituals!"/ "Sliders!"/ "Star Trek references!"/etc.
[7] My best guess is that Disney Magic(TM) has to do with a tendency for the Studio to jerk the viewers around, creating sympathy with characters, then putting them through the maximum possible emotional range in two and a half hours. The classic example is the death of Bambi's mother, which not only traumatized generations but has done hunting incomprehensible damage. As to the film at hand, I sympathize with Elsa as the introverted eldest of three and Kristoff as a big socially awkward blond guy. I also found myself internally yelling at "Weaseltown" for calling Elsa a monster because of her powers–has the man never read an X-Men comic book?–but that has more to do with my background in comics than any actual sympathy with Elsa's situation.
[8] Caveat lector…
[9] Of course, saying that a Disney character is any sexuality other than heterosexual isn't just opening a can of worms the size of my head (though it is that); it's also the gateway to a debate of epic proportions. For instance, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast is arguably bisexual, and I emphasise the arguably in that statement. I don't think that this debate is easily resolved one way or the other; I refer you to the Nostalgia Chick and Rantasmo's video on the subject.


  1. But without Sven, how do they get anywhere? And how can disney just have a beast of burden stand around and not ham it up a bit? Otherwise I agree.

    1. Er, point. Sven was just the least essential principal. I suppose "Weaseltown", then. It makes the Hans reveal less shocking, but small loss.