Sunday, January 12, 2014

Frozen


Frozen (2013) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad  Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Screenplay by Jennifer Lee. Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. Produced by Peter Del Vecho. Run Time: 108 Color. U.S. Animated, Musical, Fantasy, 3D.

I will admit right off that based on the commercials for the film, I initially had no interest in seeing Frozen. As advertised, the film seemed to be a slapstick low brow animated comedy; something less than we’d come to expect from Disney. All the ads show is a talking snowman who starts to get annoying after 30 seconds and a reindeer literally dragging his butt across a frozen body of water. Not really enticing me to spend nearly two hours watching it. However, reviews said the film was better than advertised and people seemed to be liking it based on the box office it’s generating.

Finally seeing the film, I was amazed at how different the film was from the ads. Much to my surprise, the movie was nothing like it was advertised. Rather than a silly slapstick film about a reindeer with hemorrhoids, it is a musical about coming to terms with yourself and your family. And the annoying snowman turns out to be a very funny supporting character.

The film is loosely based, and I mean loosely, on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen, published in 1845. From a perusal of the Andersen story, it’s hard to see much basis for this film, other than there is snow in both. Okay, this film has a Snow Queen in it, but I don’t know if Andersen would recognize his creation’s on-screen depiction.

But a movie should tell a story on its own, no matter what the source or how closely the film conforms to that source. And this is where Frozen is a very pleasant surprise. The story revolves around two sisters, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). As youngsters, the two were very close. Daughters of the king and queen of Arendelle, they would often play together even building a snowman indoors, whom they call Olaf, utilizing Elsa’s gift to freeze things. But when things get carried away and Anna gets hurt, her parents take her to see Grand Pabbie, the Troll King (Ciar├ín Hinds) for help. Anna can be saved but the side-effect is that her memory of Elsa’s powers are wiped out.

Elsa, at her parents’ insistence, withdraws from the public and from Anna. This only works, though, until her parent’s death and she becomes of age to be coronated as Queen of Arendelle. Because of the ceremony, Anna is at last freed from solemnity. Excited to be outside, she meets and falls immediately in love with Hans (Santino Fontana), a prince from the Southern Isles.


Anna thinks she's found true love when she meets Hans.

But Elsa refuses her sister’s request to get married, not wanting to expose her gift to others. Angered when her sister won’t take no for an answer, Elsa plunges the entire world into eternal winter and hides herself away in her own ice palace. (Was I the only one to be reminded of the palace Dr. Manhattan built himself on Mars in Watchmen?)


Elsa has a power that she loses control of when angered.

Leaving Hans in charge, Anna goes looking for her sister, running into ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer, Sven, along the way. Kristoff and Sven reluctantly agree to help her.


Kristoff reluctantly helps Anna search for Elsa.

It is during this trek that they run into the recently recreated Olaf (Josh Gad). A byproduct of Elsa’s global winterfication, the snowman is just like the one Anna and Elsa had built in their youth. Rather than an annoying lead, Olaf proves to be a caring and comedic sidekick and turns out to be quite enjoyable.


Olaf the snowman, pictured with Sven the reindeer, proves to be a much
more engaging character than the ads for the film might have led you to believe.

Since this is a musical, the songs, written by the husband and wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, play a large part in the production. A couple of the songs, “Let It Go” and “In Summer” are particularly appealing. Being a fan of the musical Wicked, in which Idina Menzel starred on Broadway, it is easy to draw some comparison between “Let It Go” and that show’s “Defying Gravity”; both songs come at defining moments for Menzel’s characters in their respective musicals.

“In Summer” showcases Olaf who, like everyone else trapped in Arendelle’s eternal winter, dreams about the warmth of summer. The irony of a snowman singing about the joys of heat is only lost on Olaf, which adds to the poignancy of the song.

A couple of the other songs, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “For the First Time in Forever” showcases the relationship between the two sisters. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” speaks to Anna’s longing for her sister’s companionship. The song is sung by Anna’s character through the years voiced by Katie Lopez, Agatha Lee Monn and Bell as they plead with Elsa to come out and play.

“For the First Time in Forever” speaks first to Anna’s freedom once the palace gates are again opened and people are allowed in and she out. There has been so much she hasn’t been able to enjoy for so long it seems like forever. In reprise, the song is sung by both Anna and Elsa about them both experiencing life again.

One of my concerns with movies aimed at children is that they oftentimes go out of their way to deal with topics, like bodily functions, when there is no need to. Unfortunately, Frozen gets into booger eating for some reason. While an offhand remark from Kristoff was bad enough, the film seems compelled to add a disclaimer about it at the end of the film, should anyone be inclined to stay for the credits. But that is really the only blotch on an otherwise family-oriented film.

Also showing with the film, is the short “Get a Horse” which is a marvelous hark back to the earliest days of Disney animation modernized to utilize widescreen, color and 3D technologies. It is nice to have Mickey and Minnie made to seem relevant again, rather than being creatures of nostalgia. Pixar seemed to singlehandedly bring back the animated short before their features and now that Disney animation is run by Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, this studio has been doing the same. “Get a Horse” follows “Paper Man” that proceeded Wreck it Ralph (2012) as another triumph of the genre. Directed by Lauren Mac Mullan, the short features archival voice recordings of Walt Disney.

After having seen Frozen, I wonder why Disney was trying to sell it the way they were. They were not doing the film justice by painting it as a slapstick comedy. Animated films with the Disney moniker coming out at school holidays are almost always destined to do well at the box office. Word of mouth, that the film was better than advertised, helped to keep it at or near the top of holiday film draws.

The teaser poster tried to sell Olaf's silliness.

If you still have reservations about seeing Frozen, then put them aside. As long as you have warm blood in your veins you should enjoy Frozen.

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