Frozen (2013) Review:
Musicals are horrible. They’re full of characters that break out into catchy songs that are juxtaposed with sometimes intense and complex feelings. They are either done in solitude in which ancillary characters ignore the fact that their new governess has taken to address them in melodic rhyme, or said characters are miraculously in sync with the main character’s psychotic break and suffer from the same disposition that allows them to be perfectly choreographed and join the insanity with their own matching lyrics. Both of these can happen in the same movie and no there is never an explanation for it and you would be missing the point if you wanted one.
For years I used to loathe musicals based on that concept alone. While sitting in my misery as I mused over my musings my mind would often go off in the land of wonder that was the vault of musical songs that would slip through the cracks of my stubborn resistance to the musicàl. I would sing along to everything from ‘Rent’ to whatever my theatre loving sister would be blaring from her iPod and I would love every minute of it. I would, of course, hate myself for loving the very thing I had sworn to hate but I couldn’t fight it anymore to quote ‘La Cage Aux Folles’, I am what I am. A dirty filthy musical lover. But why am I talking about musicals? This is a review of an animated movie. Everyone knows animated movies these days only have songs that feature on the latest ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ album that may or may not be featured in a sing/dance off involving all the cute characters at the end credits.
Recently though Disney has been taking back the night. By taking back the night I, of course, mean slowly but surely transitioning back to the days of old where animated movies were recalled most by the songs that made their way into our hearts. I’m talking about Simba and his inability to anticipate hereditary monarchy. Recent gems that have returned to the musical format of animated movies from Disney are ‘The Princess and the Frog’, ‘Tangled’ and the subject of this review, ‘Frozen’ which is my pick for the best-animated movie of 2013. Sorry ‘The Croods’. Though I did have a soft spot for you.
‘Frozen’ kicks off with an ensemble song by ice cutters that’s reminiscent of ‘The Jungle Books’ ‘Colonel Hathi’s March’. It immediately sets the tone of the film with a song about the beauty and harshness of ice. You’re suddenly thrust into this world in which there is a constant battle between man and the natural world of which he does not fully understand. This brings us to our two leads. Yes, as ‘Frozen’ harkens back to Disney films from back in the day it also hides its own little innovation by following two protagonists. The story could very well be said to be about either one of said protagonists at any given point in the movie. The protagonists of which I speak are Anna and Elsa. Sisters and Princesses of the land of Arendelle. The Kingdom serves as an appropriate royal backdrop for the film, submitting Anna and Elsa into the pantheon of Disney Princesses.
The meat of the film, however, comes from the relationship between these two royals. The sisters are introduced as kids, about 5 or 6, and immediately their bond is distinct. Anna attempts to wake her sister at the break of dawn and Elsa simply smiles and tells her to go back to sleep. At this point, Anna speaks the words she knows her sister just can’t say no to and voila fun ensues. It’s very effective and it sells you what would become the crux of the whole film. It also reveals the more fantastic elements of the film as the two girls enjoy their snow day indoors with the help of Elsa’s Iceman like abilities. Of course, as good as things are, only bad can follow, and follow it does. Elsa accidentally blasts her sister with her ice powers and is suddenly forced to hide her accursed gifts forever.
The film has somewhat of a long set up and it takes about a half an hour for the main adventure to get going, but it’s all worth it once it does. I was invested in the quandary of both Anna and Elsa which is complicated when they seem to be so greatly opposed. It’s an interesting twist on the Disney paradigm in that, there’s no moustache twirling villain in the movie. Where the drama lies is within the two sisters. Anna wants the sister she remembers from so long ago. Elsa wants to protect the people she loves. Usually, this kind of familial conflict would remain a subplot to some overwrought romance angle but in this movie, it takes centre stage. It’s reminiscent of the previously mentioned ‘Tangled’ and even ‘Brave’ where the focus is on the relationship of a mother and her daughter. It keeps the story feeling fresh even if it does have a few predictable beats to it.
This isn’t to say that a romance angle doesn’t exist in this film, but even that is played interestingly. The two love interests for Anna in this film are Kristoff, the deranged ice cutter who speaks to his reindeer Sven, and Hans of the Southern Isles, thirteenth in line to the throne. Kristoff is a relatable everyman, a bit of a loner and he helps Anna on her quest to return her sister to Arendelle after she goes into hiding in the mountains. Predictably the two bud a slight romance along the way but it feels genuine due to the fact that it began in friendship. It’s a change to the eye roll inducing way Disney characters used to fall in love after one night at the ball or after being saved by a pack of wild baboons
Hans is less relatable due to his status as a prince, but he is nonetheless written in a manner that makes him feel down to earth. I suppose that contrast makes him even more attractive but the relationship he has with Anna is not quite so credible. The moment she sees him she is overwrought with bliss and blush. When it comes time for the two of them to share a song with which they express their love to one another my eyes were like Tina Turner on the river, they were like the stone that papa was said to be, they were all of what Adele and her ex could have had in the deep. They were rolling is what I’m getting at, my eyes were rolling. But I suppose that was the point of the song.
I called Kristoff deranged because, well, he is. I genuinely thought the character was a crazy person and this is even alluded to by another character, Olaf, in the movie. While in Tangled the characters would regularly refer to the horse as animal owners do (even I talk to my pets), Kristoff is different, to say the least. See, when Kristoff speaks to Sven, he answers himself with what he believes Sven is thinking in a weird exaggerated Reindeer voice. Basically, it’s puppetry but it’s especially creepy when Kristoff seemingly comes to a conclusion as to what course of action to take based on an argument with Sven i.e himself. Aside from the adulation, the film is receiving for its prominent female characters I think the film should be credited with opening the doors for schizophrenia in contemporary media.
The allusion to Kristoff’s insanity is made by Olaf. The happy snowman who likes warm hugs. Olaf provides the funniest parts of the film as his innocence and ignorance is a veritable comedy goldmine. Basically, the conceit of the character is that he is a snowman that has been brought to life by Elsa’s magic. He can talk, he can dance, he can sing. He’s an inanimate object who can talk in an animated movie, nothing special on the surface. What is special about Olaf is that he is at points completely self-aware spewing lines like “I don’t have a skull. Or bones” and “Oh look. I’ve been impaled.” with a hilarious deadpan delivery. Other times he’s the snowman who longs for the warm days of summer. I can understand how people might find this character slightly annoying. He’s very energetic and seems to constantly have something to say but Josh Gad makes the character lovable underneath the nuisance by completely absorbing himself in the character, not holding anything back.
The other vocal stand out is the voice of Elsa, Idina Menzel, who is no stranger to the musical arts but hasn’t lent her voice to a large scale animated feature before. It’s no doubt that she has an amazing singing voice and she can act circles around Anna’s Kristen Bell, but part of the beauty of animation is the credibility of the character’s voice. Kristen Bell has a voice that suits the character, Anna. Small, a bit naive but nonetheless excited. Idina Menzel has a voice that’s too big for Elsa and it’s not uncommon for a performer to change their voice to suit the role. It’s the type of performance that can evoke the “WHAAAA…..yeah, I can see that” effect that happens when I tell people that Craig T. Nelson plays Mr. Incredible. However, this larger than life vocal work is exactly what makes every song with Elsa work beautifully. The Academy Award-nominated ‘Let It Go’ is so electric and addicting largely due to Idina Menzel’s work with it. Because of her ability to work so well with the melody, Elsa’s more emotional songs really hit harder than I think the writers expected them to. Even if when she’s speaking she sounds about 20 years older.
Elsa’s songs are the most emotional of the set but otherwise, the songs themselves are uplifting and work well with the animators and their ability to create fantastic set pieces which is how it should be. Musicals are indeed larger than life. They take everyday situations and turn them into something outlandish and extraordinary. The same can be said for the nature of animation. In an instant, a song can move a character from a snowy wasteland to the seaside in a way that’s quick and alive that can’t be done on the stage and if done in a live action film feels out of place if not done with absolute digital precision. Even when it’s not in song the backdrop of the movie is astoundingly beautiful. It delivers on what the song in the beginning promised by creating an environment that both relishes in the beauty of snow but also cowers at the harshness of it. I truly think Frozen is a fantastic movie that no doubt stands tall against both the musicals and the animated films that preceded it.
Rating: BIG SCREEN WATCH