Monday, December 9, 2013


I'm a bit late to this party, I know.

I've tried to make a habit of mostly reviewing new releases (with the exception of my Redbox Reports and Netflix Nuggets, of course) in the hopes of hoarding my own little pile of cyber-relevance. But every once in a while I see a movie or hear an album that gives me the blogging itch regardless of how long it's been since everyone else has already seen or heard it. Disney's latest - Frozen - is just such a movie.

If the box office numbers are any indicator, most of you are probably well ahead of me on this one by now; that's what I get for letting my blog collect a little dust. But with that in mind, I so thoroughly enjoyed Frozen on so many levels that I'll tell you right now I don't really have anything negative to say about it moving forward.

The story is refreshingly different and unique. Like a number of Disney films, Frozen takes its source material - "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen - and removes all the pesky creepiness and horror that characterizes a disturbing amount of "children's stories." (C'mon, Hans...your target audience is still afraid of the dark)

Princess Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) was born with a special gift; with just a wave her hand she can make snow and ice appear in dazzling and beautiful magic. After accidentally wounding her sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) with that magic, Elsa has to learn to keep her powers a secret - as her father tells her "Conceal, don't feel." When it comes time for Elsa to lead the country as queen, her powers have become too strong for her to conceal any longer and she unwittingly unleashes a devastating winter on all of her country. Ashamed and afraid, she retreats to the mountains in the hopes of protecting her kingdom - and her sister - from any further harm she might cause. But spirited Anna isn't so easily resigned, and resolves to bring her sister back. Along the way she teams up with the handsome Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his trusty reindeer Sven, in addition to Olaf - a dim-witted but warm-hearted snowman. But undoing the damage Elsa has caused is a greater challenge than either of them expects, and Frozen takes us through both of their struggles with narrative aplomb and musical magic.


Right off the bat, Frozen scores major points in my book for hitting all of the familiar (and in some ways, necessary) fairy tale beats without lapsing into cliche. There are princesses and princes, a royal ball, song-and-dance routines that flesh out character motivations and advance the story, anthropomorphic animals - the works. But instead of a pair of female leads who quickly fall into a competitive "good girl"/"bad girl" dynamic, Frozen develops Elsa and Anna in such a way as to bring the audience into their separate worlds at the same time. So while Elsa is doing vaguely villain-y things, we understand her motivations and sympathize with her defensive instincts. It's handled so deftly and subtly that you won't even notice unless you're actively looking for it; the stitches and seams in this story have been masterfully woven.

And this again is where Frozen might have otherwise faltered. Take the on-the-nose, unforgivably weak Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True - where Cindy says saccharine things like "Maybe it's time to start following your heart..." and the borderline bitch-ity boppity-boo: "I have to try this my way." (That's what the original Cinderella was missing - a little Limp Bizkit!) It was painfully obvious what that film was aiming for; trying to put some distance between itself and the whole damsel-in-distress routine and let her flourish on her own as a lead character. Great idea - abysmal execution. Frozen, on the other hand, hits that target dead center. At no point in the movie does Elsa or Anna have to fall back on "strong female character" stereotypes to get their point across or keep advancing the story.

And what's a good Disney movie without some good Disney music? In the tradition of older Disney Renaissance era films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, this movie does a fantastic job of reviving song-and-dance routines that don't put the rest of the film on hold. Towards the beginning of the film young Anna attempts to gain her sister's attention with the sweet-as-it-is-heartbreaking "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" Skip ahead a few years and Anna is bursting with excitement for her sister's upcoming coronation ceremony in "For the First Time In Forever." But my personal favorite is Elsa's theme song, "Let It Go" - a simple but thrilling melody that brings Elsa through her shame and self-doubt into confidence and peace with her powers.

And on that note (pun intended), the voice acting and singing in this movie is pitch perfect (again, pun annoyingly intended). Kristen Bell's voice-work is an absolute joy; not only can she sing beautifully, but she works in all of these subtle vocal inflections and expressions that I didn't fully appreciate until I listened to the songs over and over again in my car. Seriously, her performance is perfect to a syllable. Idina Menzel has already proven her sing-acting chops in Wicked, and her approach is right at home in this film. Another hidden gem in this film is the snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), whose non-sequitur attempts to relate to his human counterparts offer up a good deal of this film's comedic value.


Frozen really doesn't fall short anywhere, at least not significantly. At one point Olaf performs his own song - "Summertime" - about his love for that time of year, without of course realizing the perils associated. The song stalls the film's momentum for a minute or two, but it's also such a beguilingly cute moment that holding it against the rest of the movie would just be silly.


As I mentioned before, I've had this soundtrack on repeat thanks to the glories of my Spotify subscription and returning to it has allowed me to appreciate just how much went into this movie. At first viewing, it's charming and delightful and infectiously sweet. These are all fine qualities, but they don't necessarily impress upon the viewer any aspect of depth or profundity. But when I listened to the opening song - a chorus-type piece that depicts a group of mountain men collecting ice blocks from a frozen lake - I realized that the lyrics to this song act as a kind of overture to the entire film:

Born of cold and winter air
And mountain rain combining,
This icy force both foul and fair,
Has a frozen heart worth mining 

It wouldn't be spoiling anything to say that these words very accurately describe how the movie treats Elsa, and the struggles she faces with her own "icy forces." And elsewhere in the song the chorus shouts "...Let it go!" Again, thematic overture and even a little musical foreshadowing - and we're not even 5 minutes into this lovely little film.

I've had a soft spot in my heart for those classic Disney movies for as long as I can remember, and I rarely go more than a week or so without belting out "A Part of Your World," "Be Our Guest," "Never Had A Friend Like Me", etc. during my commute or as a way to harass my dog Chewbacca before bedtime. So it's a real pleasure to have a fresh batch of Disney songs to add to that habit, and just in time for the cold weather. And with that in mind, I think Frozen will go down in history as another of the Disney "greats." Additionally I expect - with equal excitement - that Frozen will serve as a template for future films aiming to elevate their female characters above the cliches and stereotypes to which they've largely been confined, and it's about time.

Now if you'll excuse me, I don't think Chewie knows all the words to "Let it Go."

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