Disney animation (not to be confused with Pixar, whom Disney owns) has been struggling for what seems like decades now to not only recapture that old Disney magic, but also step out from under the long shadow cast by their very own Pixar animation studio. While the road has been long and the terrain rugged, Disney has been on a hot streak as of late and their latest release Frozen takes them one step further to regaining their former glory. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 Covina
Time: 8:25 pm, Nov. 30, 2013
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime: 1 hr 26 min
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Loves: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King
Likes: The Little Mermaid
Neutral: Classic characterizations in a modern world
Hates: Comedic relief characters made to sell toys
The original title for Frozen was: The Snow Queen
Frozen seems stuck right in the middle of a story that wants to hold true to those age old traditions that made the golden age of Disney animation a behemoth that no one could touch, and that of a story that wants so desperately to break free of tradition and forge its own path. This isn't new, as Pixar's Brave from a couple years back also had a somewhat split personality in regards to its heroine's ultimate fate which was dictated by generations of tradition.
Sometimes though traditions can be a blessing or a curse, which thankfully for Frozen it is the former...but just barely. Here the two different paths seem to have found a more harmonious relationship with one another, while not entirely successful, still manages to trump nearly every Pixar and Disney animated feature released in the past few years. There is just such a good natured spirit to Frozen that seems to have been lost in those other more recent productions where the focus doesn't appear to be on selling toys to kids, but in telling a story with a real heart at its center.
But things do take a while to get going with a plothole ridden pro-logue that seems intent on creating a slew of questions with very little intent on ever providing any answers. Things such as why is only Elsa inflicted with this curse and not Anna, or why only a group of trolls made of rock seem to know anything about Elsa's condition that even her parents aren't aware of, all makes the opening scenes of the film feel oddly rushed and quick to get us to a point where we hopefully will forget those questions and get caught up in the story at hand.
Thankfully, with some gorgeous animation, likable characters and some catchy songs (yes, this is a musical), the film doesn't have to work very hard to convince us to just sit back and get swept up in the magical world of Arendelle and its inhabitants. Both Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), our two main characters, are not exactly your typical Disney Princesses, which in this case is for the better. Elsa, the eldest sister, has a heavy burden to carry that she cannot share with her sister and Anna, who just wants to be around people after being locked away in the castle most her life, she is confused at her sister's reluctance to bond with her and thus goes looking for the first guy she meets to fall in love with.
That lucky man happens to be Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana), a Prince from a distant land who is in town along with countless others from around kingdom to witness Princess Elsa's coronation. But when he runs into Anna (literally), sparks fly and the two fall so deeply in love with one another that they want to get married immediately which leads to Elsa loosing her cool (once again, literally) and turning her ceremony into a disaster as her curse is finally revealed to the people of the kingdom whom then force Elsa to flee into the mountains away from any whom can harm her or vice versa.
That set up alone is enough to set Frozen apart from countless other Disney Princess features as the film becomes more about the sisters working out their differences and learning to be there for one another than it is about a man trying to win the love of either of them...which does happen, but isn't nearly as focused on as the main story of Elsa and Anna. Only when the character of Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) is introduced do we start to see that age old Disney romance formula come into play as he and Anna race off to save Elsa but predictably begin to fall for one another.
This is where the old and the new come into play and mix things up a little bit as we get that classic love story about a nobody who falls in love with a Princess and that of a more modern story about a woman not really needing a man to help her resolve her problems as she stands confident and proud alone, but secretly still yearning for that true loves kiss that her Prince Charming will bestow upon her to save her from the evil that threatens the land.This bit of yin and yang is actually balanced out quite well and not once is there ever the feeling that Anna's growing feelings towards Kristoff betray that self reliance and strength we saw in her earlier.
There are only two moments when that old formula rears its ugly head to throw a wrench in the works, the first of which is the character of Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad). It has been a long running tradition for Disney to have talking critters in their films to provide the comedy relief. While it is impossible to imagine such Disney classics as The Little Mermaid without Sebastian or Beauty and the Beast without Lumiere and Cogsworth, the inclusion of Olaf is a double edged sword that if handled incorrectly could have brought the entire production crumbling to the ground.
However, Olaf isn't nearly as intrusive a presence in the film as one would think and his very late appearance (towards the middle of the film) makes it so that he never outstays his welcome. He is also very reserved for a character clearly written in for the kids in the audience and doesn't have what some would call a broad sense of humor. His longing for the sun and his naive feelings towards heat in general are actually pretty funny, as are his constant reminders of whenever he gets impaled or otherwise taken apart by multiple causes. In short, we get just enough of Olaf to like him and never too much to make us loath him.
The other moment that came very close to pulling the rug out from under the film is during its finale when we see Princess Anna in distress and learn that only true love could save her. This overtly cliche, and admittedly classic, trope of the Disney fairy tale felt out of place amongst the more modern characterizations developed throughout the rest of the film. But thankfully the film handles this expected outcome in a way that will likely catch you off guard and have you never view the idea of true love in the same manner again.
The film in general is full of a lot of interesting twists, almost as though the filmmakers knew that some of their story conceits would be viewed as typical and uninteresting. So they found some new and rather clever ways of delivering those expected elements, such as the film's villain whom remains anonymous until the final act, that makes them feel fresh again. It's a difficult trick to pull off but they were certainly up to the task and made it happen which only strengthens the already splendid core of the film.
Disney's Frozen isn't going to win any awards for originality, but it will most definitely win the hearts of those looking for a film done in the same style as those other Disney classic fairy tales, but with a fresh coat of paint and a new spin on the true love formula that has been the backbone of their stories for decades now. This is not only the best Disney animated film to come out in a long while, but also the best American animated film released this year (although the competition wasn't too steep in that regard). It won't blow your mind, but it will certainly warm your heart.