Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Frozen (2013)

As far as Disney’s animated films in the 21st Century go they have been very hit or miss. Since the rise of Pixar Disney’s solo efforts haven't reached the pinnacle of success they once ruled over. They’ve made good films (usually ones that were really outside the box such as The Emperor’s New Groove) but they’ve also made some pretty forgettable features and none of them were the same type of smash hit as classic flicks like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The last few years they’ve been returning to the "Disney Princess" formula with varying levels of success. The Princess and the Frog did bad enough that it effectively killed off the concept of cell animated films [Author’s Note: F**K YOU, HOLLYWOOD!!!!!!] and Tangled, which had a ton of marketing problems, did well and was critically acclaimed despite the fact that it wasn’t all that good. Wreck-It Ralph was easily my favorite Disney film in recent years though it does not get the credit it deserves. Also it’s not a Disney Princess movie. Wait, maybe it is.

Anyway here we are at Disney’s latest attempt to justify not just giving Pixar total control over their animation department, Frozen. This movie, like The Little Mermaid, is based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. In this case The Snow Queen. I don’t know why they didn’t just call this movie “The Snow Queen” but I’m sure it was a marketing decision and also dumb and probably sexist. I have a lot of interest in this film because when I was in grade school (So long ago. WHAT HAPPENED TO MY YOUTH!!!!!) we did extensive studying of The Snow Queen even though it’s not the most famous fairy tale in the world. Judging by the trailers Disney didn’t feel a great need to stay accurate to the original story. This film was directed Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (Lee was also one of the writers of Wreck-It Ralph) and written by the two and Shane Morris.

So Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty hard act to follow. Can Frozen continue the trend set by its predecessor or is it just another example of an overrated Disney movie?

Full review after the jump.

Sheer terror or dull surprise; you be the judge!
Elsa, crown princess of Arendelle, was born with the magical ability to create cold and ice. As a young child she was close with her younger sister Anna but after an accident where she nearly froze her to death their parents forced Elsa to hide away her powers and live as a recluse. Years later Elsa is to be crowned queen and opens the castle to the public for the first time since her self-imposed hermitage began. Anna, who has longed to interact with the outside world all this time, meets Hans (a visiting prince) and falls in love with him. She asks her newly crowned sister for her blessing but this leads to an argument between the two where Elsa accidentally reveals powers, covers the land in unnatural winter, and escapes into the mountain. Feeling responsible Anna sets off to bring her sister back and set right the wrong.

So before I talk about Frozen let me tell you that I really don’t see why people like Tangled all that much. It’s a fun trailer aside (most of the original trailer wasn’t in the final film) Tangled felt like an extremely typical Disney Princess affair with nothing at all being particularly memorable. Frozen is better than Tangled in every single conceivable way. Yes, this is a Disney Princess flick and, yes, a major plot point involves the main character waiting for her prince to come BUT Frozen attempts to go against the formula and comes up with something both unique and entertaining.

Superfluous Love Story, Ho!
There’s no real “Disney Villain” in this one; the conflict is more about two sisters, forcibly separated, who really just want to find a way to be together the way they used to be. This is an interesting choice, especially is there’s a pretty solid divide between hero and villain in the original story, but it gives the filmmakers a chance to play around with tropes they normally wouldn’t be able to. And it works and it’s refreshing. The relationship between the two main sisters worked for me very well. As you probably know by now I’m a sucker for stories where the focus is on the relationship between siblings or sibling-like friends, especially when their depicted as positive and not as enemies. Both Anna and Elsa were very likeable and sympathetic so there’s no issue with having bad leads.  Also Anna, who is the protagonist here, is very strong willed and determined despite some bad ideas of what love is supposed to be about. But the girl will stop at nothing to get her sister back and will go to crazy lengths, even moronic at times, to achieve this.

The rest of the cast is mostly fine and they do their jobs well. Special shout-out to Alan Tudyk as the Duke of Weselton, as he continues to show why he is in contention for Hollywood’s greatest character actor. While we’re talking about characters I should point out that while the trailers and commercials made Olaf, the magical talking snowman (…ugh), looks like the most annoyingly stupid sidekick since Jar Jar Binks but in the movie itself he’s mostly fine. Really the marketing for this flick wasn’t very clear but that’s beyond the scope of this review. Cause I’m lazy.

Elsa, performing the villain song minus the "villain" part
The plot is stronger than I was expecting and I really did enjoy it. Like I said the story doesn’t simply go with what’s expected…to a point. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory but the plot progression, despite starting strong, makes terrible decisions repeatedly. The love subplot turns into the main plot at some point and all of the beats are familiar. This was absolutely not a film that needed a “Find True Love” subplot and yet we get one of the most overused arcs I’ve ever seen. Hell, there’s a scene that made me so mad I almost walked out of the theater, all because the movie suddenly turned into archetypical crap that I’ve seen a thousand times in other Disney cartoons. During the first act of this movie I was certain this was going to be my first 5-Panda movie of the year but by the second act I was ready to write it off as Grade A Bullshit. Thankfully the climax is awesome and absolutely flips off the “Damsel in Distress” trope. That saved the film for me and then some.

Because this is a musical I should probably talk about the numbers. Honestly it was all fairly typical stuff with few standouts. The on possible exception is “Let It Go” which was the only song that stuck with me after the film ended. The song was performed by Idina Menzel who played Elsa and she is great. Menzel is famous for being in the original cast of Rent (boooooo) and Wicked (less “booooo” but still not great) which makes some sense as “Let It Go” feels very thematically compatible with Wicked’s signature song “Defying Gravity”. Hiring a veteran of Broadway to play a lead role in a musical rather than an A-List actor who can barely sing? Wow, who says Hollywood is completely run by morons and assholes?

 The big problem with Frozen is that it had the potential to be one of the best animated films of all time. It teases this by seemingly forsaking familiar tropes…but then it starts embracing a bunch of familiar tropes with a straight face. But the ending is great so it all works out. It’s like a taking a bunch of left turns on a road trip when you clearly needed to turn right but you somehow end up at the same great destination; it was just a more frustration journey. But there is a lot to enjoy here; a solid story, good leads, and overall fun. It’s not on Wreck-It Ralph’s level, no matter what some of the critics have been saying, but it kicks the shit out of Tangled.

Also…this movies has f**king nothing to do with the Snow Queen. It’s a completely different f**king story. It makes The Little Mermaid look like a goddamn perfect adaptation. So if you love The Snow Queen and hate when people change stuff you’ll probably need to avoid this one. Everyone else should probably check it out. 

That said Disney's "new princess" media blitz made me want to set fires
Frozen gets 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Strong Female Lead 

-Fun characters 

-Great plot resolution 

-Not afraid to step outside it’s comfort zone… 


-…but doesn’t do it nearly often enough 

-Bares little resemblance to the original fairy tale 

-A frustrating “By the Book” romantic subplot

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