Saturday, December 7, 2013

Film Review: "Frozen" & "Get A Horse!"

It seems to be a new rule for Disney that princess movies have to have their names changed to generic adjectives.  When The Princess and the Frog failed to bring in the big audiences Disney was hoping for, they concluded that, apparently, having the word "princess" in the title was to blame.  As a result, the then-upcoming feature film Rapunzel received a name change to the much more gender-neutral Tangled.  And the further upcoming, long in development film The Snow Queen became Frozen, the subject of today's review.

The similarities to Tangled don't just stop with the name change, either.  In the same way that The Little Mermaid felt like the model for which later Disney films Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were based on, Tangled appears to have served as the model on which Frozen was based.  Neither film feels like it belongs to the Disney Renaissance period, but there is a similar sense of continuity between the films.  I suppose Wreck-It Ralph is The Rescuers Down Under in this metaphor.  (But what would that make Winnie The Pooh?)

Very loosely based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale, Frozen primarily follows the story of two royal sisters.  The elder sister Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, possesses mysterious powers that allow her to create and control snow and ice.  Her struggle to accept her visually impressive but potentially threatening powers proves to be the primary driving force for the film's plot, but Elsa is not the main protagonist of the film.  That role falls to her younger sister Anna, voiced by Kristin Bell.  Anna is confident and energetic, if not a little ditzy and naive at times.  Basically, she's Rapunzel.  But it's hard to fault Disney for returning to such a likable character archetype and the story that Anna inhabits is quite different from Tangled, so the film never feels like a rehash.

Anna's main companions throughout the film are Kristoff, a traveling ice salesman, and his vaguely canine reindeer Sven.  A great deal of comedy is derived from the fact that, while Sven does not talk himself, Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff, often "speaks" for him.  It's not as annoying as it sounds.  Speaking of annoying, there's also the character that everyone expected to hate, Olaf the talking snowman, voiced by Josh Gad.  Olaf is wisely relegated to the role of humorous punctuation, usually providing a goofy joke or line at the end of a larger scene.  The result is a character who is much more lovable and endearing than I'm sure anyone expected.  Sven is really the character who provides most of the comic relief.  Also along for the ride is Prince Hans, a character who, for most of the film, mostly exists to poke fun at the Disney formula of love-at-first-sight.  Alan Tudyk returns after his brilliant performance as King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph with the equally hammy Duke of Weselton.

It's a very strong cast overall.  You'll really come to care about the heroes (yes, even Olaf) by the end of the film.  The plot is a bit predictable and delves into cliched territory a few times, but it's in a comfortable fairy tale kind of way that's difficult to criticize.  The pacing is well balanced and it's fun that a few plot points deliberately take jabs at the expected formula of a Disney princess movie.  The film is a bit strange in that it does not feature a true villain, but I'm actually glad that it doesn't.  The stakes are still high enough without one for the audience to get invested in the plot and a traditional mustache-twirling bad guy would have felt unnecessary.

The visuals in Frozen are stunning.  A number of specific sequences were positively awe-inspiring.  More than most CGI films, there were several scenes in Frozen that made me simply sit back and say "wow."  Some of the imagery conjured up by Elsa and her icy powers is extremely beautiful.  It doesn't appear that the technology limited the artistry in any way for this film.  The color palette is wisely kept extremely vibrant and varied to offset the monochromatic nature of the snow that dominates so many scenes.  Ultimately, Frozen is one of the best looking CGI films I have ever watched.

And, of course, there's the music.  As musical a musical to come from Disney in years, Frozen delights in stacking up song after song for the first act of the film, developing pretty much the entire plot of the movie via singing.  It's kind of surprising at first, but not unwelcome given that the songs, written by Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez, are all incredibly memorable and do a great job of advancing the story at hand.  The transitions from dialogue to singing are also handled smoothly, with characters often talking their way into them instead of just spontaneously breaking out into song.  The film has a distinctly modern Broadway feel to it which works well.

The musical numbers conclude well before the third act of the movie, but that doesn't mean the quality of the soundtrack declines.  The score, provided by Christophe Beck, does an excellent job of backing up the musical numbers and is quite good in its own right.  This is one film were you'll be running out to buy the soundtrack album right after seeing the movie.

Frozen is one of the finest animated films to come out of Disney since the early nineties.  Many elements of the film recall Tangled, but not in a negative or distracting way.  If anything, the continuity strengthens the film's atmosphere.  The story is solid, the characters lovable, the music fantastic, and the visuals beautiful.  If you have even a passing interest in Disney films, you'll find lots to love about Frozen.  It has something for everyone.

Maybe there really is something to this adjective-based naming nonsense.  Perhaps The Princess and the Frog would have been more successful had they called it Croaked...

Playing before Frozen theatrically is a new Mickey Mouse short called Get a Horse.  It's incredibly funny and inventive and I can guarantee that it's probably not what you're expecting from a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  Serving as Mickey's first theatrical cartoon since 1995's divisive Runaway Brain and commemorating the mouse's 85th birthday, Get a Horse is just about worth the price of admission on its own.  Don't miss it!

1 comment:

  1. Good review Kyle. Nice to see a family flick that actually is for everybody in the family.