Well, Pixar had a nice long reign as the dominant force of animated movies, but it looks like everybody’s favourite evil empire has finally reclaimed the throne.
Let’s face it. It’s been a bit of a rough decade or so for Walt Disney Animation Studios in pretty much every single aspect of the film-making business that isn’t “making all the money.” The first Disney Renaissance is commonly accepted among people with too much time on their hands to have ended after Tarzan had its way with the box office in 1999. In the couple of years that followed, Disney kind of went through an awkward period, releasing such movies as Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Can you guess which two of those movies don’t suck?
With the exception of Dinosaur (Which was just terrible), all of those movies were box office disappointments, especially for Disney, who, just last decade, had grossed nearly a billion dollars thanks to the masterpiece that was The Lion King.
After the introduction of the Academy Award for best Animated Movie (About a decade or so too late) in 2002, Pixar was bogarting center stage, winning seven Oscars, while Disney was just struggling to keep up, failing to win any of their nominations, especially when he nomination were as puzzling as the ones for Brother Bear and Treasure Planet, two movies you did not even know existed. Even when Disney quietly initiated their second renaissance with the release of The Princess & the Frog, they still remained second fiddle to Pixar. And rightly so, although somebody needs to explain to me why Tangled wasn’t at least nominated.
And then, something happened: Pixar shot themselves in the foot, thanks to a trio of terrible-to-non spectacular movies, and were left in a similar position to the one Disney experienced after the first Renaissance. And from the ashes of Pixar’s run of dominance, Frozen rose like a goddamn phoenix.
Now, despite the Fall Out Boy reference, I’m not a teenage girl, and, despite my complete and utter hatred of my existence on this godforsaken planet, I’m not the parent of a toddler, so I wasn’t exactly part of the main audience that this movie was aimed at. Besides, fuck this movie. It is the duty of a cultured movie critic like myself could easily destroy this cynical effort to feed some Disney execs’ cocaine habit, while singing the praises of some foreign film that nobody outside of Europe has ever seen, right?
Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m reviewing Frozen right now and not The Great Beauty.
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Produced by: Peter Del Vecho
Screenplay by: Jennifer Lee
Story by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris
Based on: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson
Genres: Animated, Musical, Fantasy, Comedy
Voices of: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds
Music by: Cristophe Beck
Songs by: Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Oscar nominations (Wins in bold): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song
Plot: The crown princess of the Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa, was born possessing the power to produce ice, frost and snow whenever she so desires, essentially making her, among other things, the odds-on favourite to win any sort of Battle Royale between the Disney Princesses. Somebody needs to get on that, by the way.
One night, when playing with her little sister, Anna, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with a bolt of, um, ice magic that knocks her unconscious and turns a part of her hair white. Anna is saved from further harm, and remains energetic and fun-loving as ever, but loses all memory of Elsa’s magic. Elsa, on the other hand, is immediately spirited away by her parents, the king and queen, to her chambers, where she is isolated from damn near everyone, including her sister, causing a rift between the two sisters. Elsa is trained as best as possible by her parents to control her powers with limited success, and grows up introverted and constantly worried about her powers hurting somebody else. As it turns out, locking a young girl in her room in order to prevent her from interacting with other people doesn’t exactly make a confident young woman. Who fucking knew, right?
When the king and queen die at sea during a storm, Elsa (Idina Menzel), the heir to the throne, is set to be declared queen once she comes of age. When the castle gates are opened for the coronation Anna (Kristen Bell), excited to meet new people after years of isolation, meets a charming prince from the “Southern Isles” or whatever named Hans (Santino Fontana). After the coronation goes off without a hitch, much to Elsa’s relief, Anna and Hans enthusiastically ask Elsa for her blessing of their marriage. Because she’s not insane, Elsa refuses, much to Anna’s displeasure, and an argument ensues and, in a fit of emotion, Elsa accidentally unleashes her powers and causes an eternal winter in Arendelle.
Horrified, Elsa flees up the North Mountain, and Anna, with the help of a misanthropic Sami ice vendor named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, heads up the mountain to find her sister.
While there are many things that can make or break a Disney movie, at the forefront must be the animation. Since the 1930’s, Disney has been at the forefront of animation, but they’ve been known to slip up a couple of times, which can take a pretty heavy toll on a movie like this one.
Thankfully, this movie surpasses all expectations. It looks incredible. Along with Tangled, Frozen, while still mostly CGI, also blends in elements of traditional hand-drawn animation, and while the former movie looked great, the technique is exploited to its full potential in this movie, especially in scenes where Elsa is using her powers. The scene during “Let It Go” when she’s building her castle is a sight to behold, especially. I don’t think that even the most jaded cynic wouldn’t look at that scene with the utmost reverence for how far we’ve come since the days of Steamboat Willie.
The only quibble that I have with the animation (And it’s more of an observation than an outright complaint, mind you) is that, for some reason, all the female character’s eyes are goddamn huge. Not to take anything away from the animators, because the characters still look amazing, but did they feel like they needed to make the girls look extra pretty by blowing up their eyes or something? Kinda weird for a movie with otherwise relatively progressive themes, but I must admit Id be lying if I said I cared enough to really let it bother me.
Another staple of any classic Disney movie is the great soundtrack, and I’m pleased to say that Frozen doesn’t disappoint… Most of the time. The backing soundtrack from Christophe Beck does a nice job pretty much the whole time throughout of ramping up or scaling down the intensity, even if you don’t really notice so until the end. The songs, written by the married songwriting team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone collaborator Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, do pretty much a great job of setting the tone throughout the movie, and, I’d expect that kids would go pretty wild over them too, since they’re extremely catchy. Hell, I haven’t seen the movie for a couple of weeks, and I still have all of the songs ricocheting through my head at the same time. This is not a good feeling.
“Frozen Heart” kicks off the movie, and it’s a lot more aggressive, and kind of darker than what you’d expect from most Disney movies. It’s not exactly “Circle of Life”, and it wasn’t an integral component for my enjoyment of the movie, but hey, I’ll take it.
“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” is one of the two really fantastic songs in the movie, and it’s also probably the most touching, which you wouldn’t expect from its upbeat beginning. It does a really good job of showing of the two main characters’ emotional states too. “For the First Time in Forever”, while a bit more formulaic, and not grammatically sound as a title, is also a fun listen, and mostly showcases Anna’s personality: Energetic, klutzy, optimistic, yet lonely.
“Love is an Open Door” is a cheesy song that would fail in any context outside of the movie, but gets by here thanks to the charm of Kristen Bell and Santino Fontana, and “Fixer Upper” is just the biggest piece of shit, but pretty much any flaw present in those two songs are immediately made up for in “Let it Go.” The one song in the entire movie that lets only the great
Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel showcase her Broadway-honed talents, and has even people who hate this movie (Horrid as they may be) admitting under their venom-tinged that “this one’s pretty good”. I’m not gonna spend too much time on this song, because at this point, it doesn’t need to prove itself to anyone, so I’m just gonna go ahead and get to the voice cast.
While Idina Menzel gets most of the attention because of her singing (And the fact that Elsa is the most badass Disney Princess ever. Come at me, Mulan.), and Josh Gad is rightly praised for being hilarious as Olaf, the magic snowman, but stealing the show for me is Kristen Bell. I’ve never seen an episode of Veronica Mars, so I can’t really comment on her real-life acting ability, but I feel confident saying that nobody else could have played the part of princess Anna as well as Bell. A character that would’ve been a ditzy mess in the hands of anybody else….
… Kristen Bell injects so much charm and wit into the character that it’s hard to fathom somebody criticizing her performance.
Like I said, Gad is great, and Menzel, Fontana and Groff are fine in their respective characters, none of which seem to only be there to fill some bullshit stock character role, thank God. I guess you could make an argument that Olaf was kind of unnecessary, but come on, the dude’s hilarious. And that “In Summer” song? I love it. It’s so chock-full of not-so-subtle irony. Your seventh grade English teacher would love it.
I think the thing I enjoyed best about this movie is the ending. I’ll be the first to admit that the movie hits specific Disney beats. The “I Want” song, the romance (Although this one did surprise me and didn’t feel forced by any means), and, most importantly, the protagonist, a princess, of course, is helpless and is saved by, what else, true love! Oh spare me Disney, you schlocky asshole of a company! Why don’t you stick to buying every other film studio in the goddamn world, you sexist fucks!
Yes, true love does save Anna from an icy doom, but Disney wisely decides not to have Kristoff save both Anna and Elsa from their respective ends (As most other Disney movies would end) and has the girls save each other, not with the power of romantic love, that weird, undefinable emotion that compelled Prince Charming to make out with Snow White’s dead body, or whatever, but with sisterly love, which is proven, in this movie, to be just as strong. It’s a somewhat subtle touch, but it definitely won me over.
What nominations/wins did it deserve?:
- Best Animated Feature: Boy does it ever deserve that win. Hell, I would’ve lobbied hard for its inclusion on the Best Picture shortlist if I was a member of the Academy. One day, I guess.
- Best Original Song (“Let it Go”): Believe the hype.
Overall: It’s not without some minor flaws, but Frozen easily merits the hype that has made it a global phenomenon (My little cousin is struggling to decide whether to be Anna or Elsa for Halloween this year). It’s not the best Disney movie ever, but it’s certainly the best one since the first Disney Renaissance. If nothing else, it has set the bar really high for Big Hero 6.