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Disney In Depth: Movie Review: Frozen
Brett Nachman   |  

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Disney's "Frozen" poster

Frozen
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff and Santino Fontana
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG | 108 Minutes
Release Date: November 27, 2013

Breathtaking, bewitching, and beautiful are among the words that come to mind when I see snowfall. Similarly, these same words can describe Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 53rd feature film. Frozen, perhaps the most winning formula for the studio since 1999′s Tarzan, blends together a flurry of deep characters, compelling storylines, masterfully-written music and stunning animation. Brace yourself for a surprising ride that features more unexpected storytelling turns than you might expect. Let’s dash off into a review of Frozen.

Ever since I first heard an early version of the show-stopping ballad “Let It Go” at the August 2012 Destination D event, I knew this film would be special. This tale, loosely-based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, had potential – at least in its music department. But I will dive into that shortly. Let us first explore the story.

Quirky Anna and her gifted sister Elsa grow up in the kingdom of Arendelle, set against a majestic Norway-inspired backdrop. The two live in harmony, until Elsa discovers that her unique knack to craft snow and ice can cause harm. And boy does it. Elsa realizes this special ability may not be so “special” in the positive sense after all. She attempts to conceal these powers, essentially shutting herself away from the kingdom she must soon rule. Elsa inadvertently pushes herself from Anna, the sister she loves so dearly, but fears she will hurt. A heated argument leads to Elsa’s powers being exposed for all to see. Elsa escapes from society, locking Arendelle in an eternal winter. Only one individual can save the day: Anna. What follows is no ordinary rescue and reconciliation. Frozen veers into dark, conflicting territories that Disney has not explored much in recent animation. But despite the setting’s cold temperatures, the powerful themes are more than warm and comforting.

Other characters join the mix of sophisticated heroines. Among them are: Hans, a dashing prince from another kingdom; Kristoff, an intrepid mountain man; Sven, a dog-like reindeer; and Olaf, the silly snowman who cracks one-liners whenever he has an opportunity. Each of these characters possesses many layers, and that is what makes this action-adventure drama so exciting. These characters are truly three-dimensional – not just in appearance in this computer-generated film, but also in their behaviors and attitudes.

Elsa, troubled since she identified her crystallizing capabilities, possesses such human emotion that you almost forget she is an animated character. Voiced by the incomparable Idina Menzel, Elsa stands out as one of Disney’s deepest female figures to date. Similarly, the authentic, girl-next-door Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, proves that having a heart does not equate to acting sappy. One character commits such an out-of-nowhere act that you might just sit in the theater saying “whoa.” What a twist, you won’t see coming!

Disney's Frozen Header

D23 Expo showed scenes of the film, one featuring Olaf singing the oddly-lovely “In Summer,” and I was sold on its comedy. Anna, Olaf, and Sven are responsible for many of the laughs – some forced, but most are witty – and the character dynamics lend themselves to amusement. But Frozen‘s most solid in one area. Drama. The tense and painfully-real decisions that these characters must settle on are akin to the choices some of our Disney favorites make. Remember when Belle returns to the castle to save Beast? Or when Simba overcomes his fear to reclaim the pride? I would argue there are at least two of those essential and relatable risks in the final act that will both stun and comfort viewers. The sisterly bond between Anna and Elsa, quite understandable and strong, underscores the fractures that threaten to break them apart forever.

The moving opening, which gives essential context to their relationship, allows for them to develop as individuals. I commend Disney’s story department for stretching this section out, as abbreviating the back story would have hindered the way in which we connect with the characters. Likewise, I give props to the studio in shaping Anna and Elsa to embrace the “princess” vibe in a manner that skews more independent-acting supremacy than closed-thinking royalty. They are not all about falling in love and making their dreams come true. Their intentions steer closer to protecting the ones they love and changing false perceptions. Kudos. As Belle redefined the Disney Princess brand during the last animation renaissance, improving even the leaps Ariel made, both Anna and Elsa push that definition to be even further free-spirited. Rapunzel helped untangle certain misconceptions of the Disney heroine, and these contemporary sisters finish the job. Olaf does not accomplish anything new in his Disney sidekick capacity, but your heart will melt – pun intended – after seeing him heat up the screen with laughter and love. Kristoff and Hans defy the traditional love interest types in more ways than you could anticipate.

Disney character Elsa of "Frozen" shapes snow and ice

The ice-covered setting of Frozen, almost indescribable in how well the Disney animators executed this fantastical framework, makes the layout and world a character in itself. Remember how the characters of Wreck-It Ralph utilized the components of Sugar Rush to craft the storyline? In different, but equally-important ways, the leads of Frozen embrace the potential of the physical setting to drive their futures. Cool.

My favorite aspect of Frozen is not the gorgeous animation or even the impressive voice acting, but rather the score and songs. Composer Cristophe Beck, who has emerged in recent years as one of Hollywood’s go-to music men, has developed his most enveloping pieces of orchestration yet. The songs tell the story. Additionally, Broadway sensations Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the duo behind The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, have shaped the songs that will no doubt be staples in the Disney songbook. I plan on detailing the music more in a future edition of Disney In Depth, but needless to say, Frozen‘s tunes comes close to – or might even top – Tangled as the best Disney songs in about 15 years. “Let It Go,” sung by Elsa, is brilliant in its lyrics and musical arrangement. The brute “Frozen Heart,” sweet “For The First Time in Forever” and catchy “Fixer Upper” are all clever and fun to listen to. Olaf’s aforementioned number, featured in the clip below, is a riot.

Frozen not only exceeded my already-high expectations, but convinces me that Disney has entered that long-awaited third renaissance. Recent entries in the Disney canon (Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph) indicated we might have stepped into that engrossing, can’t-help-but-cheer territory we have not seen since the days of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. But we are here. Frozen elevates the strong strides Disney animation has made in its character, storytelling, music and technological areas. Frozen encapsulates practically everything one would expect and want in a smart and sincere animated musical. Frozen is outstanding fun and whimsy wrapped up in a cool package.

Grade: A

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom!

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