Walt Disney Animation delivers their latest animated spectacle with Frozen! But is it a return to form for the studio or a disappointment? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee Written By: Jennifer Lee; Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen Runtime: 108 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Featuring the Voices of:
Anna - Kristen Bell Elsa/The Snow Queen - Idina Menzel Kristoff - Jonathan Groff Olaf - Josh Gad Hans - Santino Fontana Duke of Weselton - Alan Tudyk The Troll King - Ciaran Hinds King of Arendelle - Maurice Lamarche Oaken - Chris Williams
Walt Disney Animation continues to create magical experiences, as you’ll find in their latest animated feature Frozen, a story that exemplifies perhaps the greatest CG animation I've probably ever seen in a Disney film. The story, inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fable The Snow Queen, concerns that of Anna (Bell) and her older sister Elsa (Menzel). The girls are also princesses of their kingdom, Arendelle. Elsa was born with powers that allow her to control ice and snow. An accident while playing with Anna leads her parents to erase Anna's memories with the help of some benevolent trolls. Elsa’s parents, seeing no other solution, isolate Elsa in their kingdom, teaching her to conceal her powers to prevent an accident. Unfortunately, this results in turning Elsa into a poor bird in a cage, and Anna is shut out by her sister for years without really understanding why.
In the intervening years, the parents perish at sea. Elsa is to be crowned queen when she comes of age. Thus, Arendelle prepares for a coronation and opens the castle gates for the first time in recent memory. Anna, also cooped up due to Elsa’s isolation, is excited to finally wander out and meet new people. Quickly, she meets and becomes quite taken by the prince of a neighboring kingdom, Hans (Fontana). After a timely Disney musical number, the two decide to get married and ask for Elsa’s blessing. Elsa, not understanding the impulsive decision by Anna to marry someone she just met, refuses the union. Anna grows angry, and the resulting argument causes Elsa to unwittingly unleash her powers in front of the coronation power who now know her secret.
After keeping everything bottled up so long, the prompt release of her powers causes Elsa to turn Arendelle’s summer into a dangerous and perpetual winter that threatens the survival of their land. One of the kingdom’s major trade partners, the Duke of Weselton (Tudyk), believes Elsa is an evil sorceress and wants her eliminated. Instead, Anna offers to find Elsa herself and bring an end to the dangerous winter. Through her journey, Anna encounters the ice farmer and mountain man Kristoff (Groff) and his trusty pet reindeer Sven and makes him her guide up the mountain to find Elsa. Despite Hans and Anna already enjoying a shotgun proposal, there is clearly some real chemistry between the members of this odd couple. Things pick up after they meet Olaf (Gad), a simple-minded snowman brought to life by Elsa’s magic, who is desperate to see summer despite not realizing such an occurrence is deadly to him.
Frozen is a nice progression for Disney Animation after its recent return to a more traditional Disney musical format with Tangled. However, this time around, the female princess characters are much stronger. The animation is even more vivid, dynamic, and wondrous. And the songs by Robert Lopez and Kristian Anderson-Lopez are amazing and even more plentiful than in recent memory.
The film was written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee, who previously earned her Disney stripes after writing Wreck-It Ralph. Much credit should be given to Lee, the first woman to ever direct a Walt Disney Animation feature, for making the female characters such strong personalities with a lot of depth. The story surprisingly bucks typical stereotypes and trappings of the genre with some impressive plot twists. The most important relationship in the movie is not really your typical Disney romance, but in fact a relationship between two sisters, Anna and Elsa. How often does that actually happen in a Disney film, where the main relationship is between two female characters? Brave doesn't count since its Pixar.
Lee and co-director Chris Buck also cast this movie very well, opting for actors more known for their Broadway stage credits than movie star celebrities. Kristen Bell is the most prolific performer, and she’s more than up to the challenge as the bubbly redhead Anna. But the rest of the lead characters, voiced by the likes of Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, and Josh Gad are all experienced Broadway performers and singers. Opting more for a cast of able thespians over celebrity stunt-casting definitely gets extra brownie points from me.
Menzel, well known for her work onstage in Rent and Wicked, imbues a lot of class and integrity to Elsa. She finally gets to cut loose with her highlight song, “Let It Go.” What was interesting about Elsa was that after escaping her own forced isolation, she ultimately casts herself under her own isolation, this time self-imposed.
In terms of drawbacks, there were a couple issues. The film opens with a type of chanting arrangement song that sounds like it was more in line with The Lion King than a story like Frozen. The musical cue shows up again briefly toward the end, but the cue sounds incomplete and out of place, like there should be more of that style to go with it. The prologue scene and musical number, “Frozen Heart,” doesn't really fit well with the rest of the movie. The sequence is nicely animated and has a nice, almost dark and ominous beat, but the sequence in showing young Kristoff and Sven and some other ice farmers doesn't quite fit. The scene comes off as perfunctory, superfluous, and almost like a patronizing studio mandate that the prologue had to show a male character rather than the two female leads.
The animation is without a doubt a high watermark for the studio. The designs and depth the Disney animators have achieved with the character designs and models here are simply outstanding. Visually, the movie looks on par, and perhaps better, than some of Pixar’s best work.
The 411: Frozen, for the most part, feels like a return to form of Disney of old. The story features a rich, beautiful setting, compelling characters, and tremendous musical numbers. There are a couple of sequences that don't really gel with the story that is being told onscreen, but this was a much stronger animated musical comedy than Tangled. Remember to stay after the entire credits.