December 7, 2013 Leave a comment
Princesses Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) had never been closer, until one day — to Anna’s ongoing bemusement — Elsa simply stopped spending time with her sister. What Anna doesn’t know is that her sister has a secret; Elsa has the ability to manipulate ice and snow, but is not yet able to control her powerful flurries. In order to protect her sister from harm, she has chosen to extricate herself from all avoidable human contact. When, during her coronation, she inadvertently curses her kingdom to eternal winter and flees, Anna leaves Arendelle in the hands of a friendly prince (Santino Fontana as Hans) and sets off after her, enlisting the help of ice salesman Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and enchanted snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) along the way.
Like the short that precedes it, Frozen — adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen – takes a few minutes to find its feet; unlike the short that precedes it, however, Frozen has a few minutes to spare. And so it is that, following a brief moment of narrative confusion — some nonsense about treating brain-freeze with amnesia — Disney once again works its magic with a film that boasts the same timeless charm of Snow White And The Seven Dwarves and Beauty And The Beast. After almost a decade of trailing the pack, wrong-footed by the changing face of animation (CGI, 3D), The House Of Mouse is back with the sort of movie that could inspire a generation. Did someone wish upon a star?
Having tested the water with updated fairy tales such as The Princess And The Frog and Tangled, after almost a decade of straight-to-DVD sequels and Tinker Bell movies, the studio here finally dives in with a movie that couldn’t feel more Disney if it tried. That’s not to say that Frozen feels old fashioned or outdated, however, as steps have clearly been made by directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee to appeal to more discerning modern audiences. The name, for starters, is more gender-neutral than that of your traditional princess movie, while after exploring the mother-daughter bond in Tangled the studio here turns its attention to concerned siblings — sisters doing it for themselves.
The female characters may still look like anime-inflected Barbie dolls and audiences are still all but guaranteed a happily ever after, but Frozen is nevertheless gently progressive in its own way. In this post-Shrek age it’s almost expected that animated movies will do something to subvert the norm, and yet it’s difficult not admire Disney for changing things up. Anna is a smart, sassy and complicated heroine who waits for no man, instead setting off without a moment’s hesitation to save her sister, a character who is just as interesting in her own right. Emotionally, their relationship just works, and the film is driven as much by their respective characters as it is by the plot, to the point that when True Love’s First Kiss is floated as a possible solution you feel genuinely — and prematurely — disappointed.
That’s not to suggest that the rest of the cast are any less worthy of mention, however, as Frozen is chock-full of memorable characters. Both male leads are just as compelling, with both Hans and Kristoff each making a huge impression in relatively atypical roles. Regular prince charming Hans’ early scenes with Anna are genuinely hilarious, while Kristoff somewhat breaks the mould for a Disney love interest — he is like Aladdin crossed with The Emperor’s New Groove‘s Pacha. Even the token sidekicks engage: Olaf, a snowman who yearns for summer, is nowhere near as annoying as the trailers made him out to be, while Sven brings out another side of Kristoff that helps to keep him interesting. It’s a relatively small cast, but everyone has something to do and it lends Frozen an intimacy that sets it apart from most.
What you notice first, however, is not the characters or relationships but Christophe Beck’s utterly sensational score. The film opens confidently with ‘Vuelie’, a terrific little tune that was performed by Cantus, an all-female Norweigan choir, before The Book Of Mormon songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez take over what is easily one of the catchiest soundtracks of the year. Highlights include ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman?’, ‘In Summer’ and ‘Let It Go’, the last of which will likely haunt you for weeks. Just as impressive is the animation, which creates snowscapes just as impressive as those seen in last year’s Rise Of The Guardians. In fact, where Jack Frost used his powers to inspire and protect, Elsa ends up using hers to harm and oppress. The animators give her a surprising edge that is at times deliciously dark and dangerous.
Frozen is that rarest of things, a post-modern fairy tale that could nevertheless sit quite comfortably alongside its more traditional forebears. Funny, charming, and with personality to spare, Disney’s latest is comfortably the best animated film of the year, and more importantly the studio’s first shot at greatness in much longer than that.