Monday, 10 March 2014

New Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

Let it go...

Let it go…

Frozen (2013): ***½

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In very many ways a spiritual successor to Disney’s Tangled, Frozen takes many very similar elements and improves on most all of them. It also does an excellent job of taking many familiar tropes of fairy tales and twisting them in clever and new ways. I don’t like to review movies by comparing them to other movies, but Frozen really does make Tangled seem like a rough draft in many ways.

For starters, the movies both have a very similar set of core characters: the awkward, naive heroine; the loner, unwillingly-involved hero; and the silent but full-of-personality animal mount. Thankfully Frozen has a much better sidekick than Tangled’s chameleon, who I swear serves no purpose in that movie other than to murder the antagonist in cold blood (seriously, watch the end of Tangled and tell me that doesn’t happen).

The heroine of Frozen is Anna (pronounced Ah’-na), voiced by Veronica Mars herself, Kristin Bell. She has a similarly isolated upbringing as Rapunzel in Tangled (and, fascinatingly, also has one strand of discolored hair), but with a much more personal set of goals: Anna wants to hang out with her sister and find true love. An argument could be made that Anna is Disney’s first nerd princess: she suffers from incredible social awkwardness, gets way too excited about things that excite her, and has trouble reading the emotions and wants of others. It’s an incredibly appealing character, from Bell’s phenomenal line readings, to her spastic animation, to her adorable character design (seriously, she has freckles on her shoulders). And Anna’s consistent disregard for her own well-being makes her both a character your root for and a character you want to see protected. Her relationship with her sister Elsa is very well-written and much more believable than most movie sibling relationships I’ve seen.

Christoph is not quite as engaging as Tangled’s Flynn Ryder, but much of that is due to his inherent introversion to contrast Anna’s extroversion. The horse in Tangled and the Reindeer in Frozen are extremely similar, but the Reindeer has a much more loving relationship than the antagonistic one of Tangled’s horse.

Wacky snowman Olaf was the character about whom I was most worried after watching all the commercials and trailers. But he’s not nearly as bad or annoying as he seems. And unlike a certain murderous chameleon, he actually is important in several plot points! Gasp! It’s a major step up in Disney Princess sidekicks of recent years.

The twisting of fairy tale tropes, and Disney tropes in particular, was very enjoyable for me to watch. Disney princesses have a long history of falling in love with the first cute boy they meet, and so early in the movie Anna meets and falls in love with Hans, a prince from another kingdom, almost immediately. An “act of true love” becomes an important plot point in the third act, and it was very satisfying that the twist on this trope is that love turns out to be an active thing; the day is saved by loving someone else, not by being loved.

The villain situation in Frozen also fascinated me. The obvious choice for villain does not qualify because her whole motivation is to not hurt anyone, and her only acts of “villainy” are complete accidents about which she feels consistently horrible. A sneaky, foreign Duke (also voiced by Wreck-it Ralph’s villain, Alan Tudyk, who is rapidly becoming my favorite voice actor) seems to step up into the role until a surprise third-act revelation of the true villain of the movie. Again, good twisting of fairy tale tropes.

The musical numbers are easily the best that Disney has produced in the last, say, 15 years or so. I also appreciated the quantity. There are eight full-fledged songs, and a handful of reprises throughout the course of the film. Interestingly, though, five of those songs happen in the first act (or maybe four, depending on where you think the break between first and second acts happens). The songs get less and less frequent as the movie goes on. Mostly this is because the majority of songs are character introduction songs, and all the characters are pretty much in place by the third act—and, indeed, there are no new songs anywhere near the climax of the film (the last one is the “Fixer Upper” song, well before the climax). There were even two or three very good places to insert songs that were not taken advantage of (the Heel Turn, the Fireplace, and the Act of Love) and it kind of surprised me. I guess they didn’t want to slow down the pacing at that point? But both scenes were full of spoken exposition that might have been very effectively put to song.

The look of the film is gorgeous, and, yes, the snow effects are pretty durned good. So good, in fact, that you don’t really notice them. So I’m going to concentrate on the costume design. A strange thing to talk about in a movie? Not if you’ve seen it. The costumes are absolutely top-rate. Elsa’s cold-generated gown is truly stunning, and a technical marvel with its various layers of mesh and lace and silk all moving and reflecting differently. A gorgeous design. Anna’s party gown is just so adorable and appealing. And Christoph’s winter garb is excellent, with fur sticking out from the shoulders and all. I unconsciously spent much of the time just studying the clothes.

Most importantly, the film is thoroughly enjoyable the whole way through. It is funny. It is occasionally moving. It is frequently breathtaking. And it is fast-paced and exciting. It’s a very well-crafted film, and one of the only Disney Princess movies of the past 20 years that I’d actually like to own.

The film is very, very loosely based on the old Snow Queen fairy tale, but other than a woman who controls snow and some stuff about frozen hearts, there is almost no resemblance to the original story. One thing I really wish they had kept was the idea of “snow bees.” I just think that would have been really cool to see animated.

*Note: this is a review of the 2-D version of Frozen, not the 3-D version.

Categories: Movie Reviews.

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