Movie Review: Disney's Frozen

fr1There’s been a lot of prophesying about the future of Disney animation since the shuttering of their traditional animation unit.  It was primarily discussed as the beginning of the end, a final straw spelling the end of quality animated films.  Well, Disney Animation had a secret weapon to combat this negativity, and it’s name is Frozen.  Proving that a CGI film can be just as effective as anything traditionally animated, this is a film that will proudly stand next to the best of the Disney name, maybe not surpassing them, but equal to Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and even the Lion King.

Loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen has translated the source material into a timelessly contemporary epic of brilliant characterization, music that alternates between powerful and hilarious while always staying memorable, and perhaps most importantly, thematically dense characterization.  While there is a love story (albeit not quite what you’re expecting), this is actually a film about a powerful sibling bond shattered by circumstance, and the shackles this moment places upon their psyches.

Elsa and Anna open the film as sisters and best friends.  They are royalty in the fictional city of Arendelle, and love the life they share together.  Elsa, the older sister, was born with the ability to control snow and ice.  It’s a power that is used for joy while she is young, but as she ages, it becomes more and more difficult to control.  After an incident involving her powers almost kills Anna, it is decided to remove Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers and to begin training Elsa to repress all of her abilities.  Flash forward several years, and Elsa and Anna are barely speaking to each other, and have been forced into isolation.

I don’t want to get too specific, especially as the film’s marketing has been extremely vague itself.  I will just say that Arendelle ends up trapped in perpetual winter, which doesn’t sit too well with the inhabitants of the city.  As a result, Elsa ends up on the run, and the crux of the film revolves around Anna’s quest to find her, save the city, and maybe resolve some long-standing emotional conflicts between the two.  What’s particularly fascinating about this entire setup is that Elsa is not a villain in any way.  I loved the structure of this story in that Elsa has done something horrible as a realistic psychological reaction, and in the process liberated herself in a way that allows her to embrace the person she has hidden away for most of her life.

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This moment of liberation leads to one of Disney’s best musical numbers in many years.  Entitled Let It Go (expect to see this performed at the Oscars), this is a showstopper of a number in which Elsa comes to terms with everything she is leaving behind, and embraces all that is ahead for her.  It is amazing that they were able to pack so much character work into a song that barely runs over 3 minutes.

Which leads me to the soundtrack.  Yes, Frozen is a full-blown musical.  I would not be surprised in the slightest to see Disney attempt to translate this to the Broadway stage someday, as this material would be a perfect fit.  With songs are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the incredibly talented song-writers of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, I just can’t stop listening to the soundtrack.  It’s completely infectious, and fits in perfectly with the Disney pantheon of animated films.

The only thing that really separates this film from the classics that came before is the CGI.  However, while definitely different, that doesn’t make this style of animation worse.  I love traditional animation, and like everyone else, was devastated when Disney shut those doors.  However, this is a beautifully animated film, with jawdropping set-pieces mixed with intimately detailed artistry.  Just in terms of the snow and ice alone, I’ve never seen animation capture the natural elements with such perfection.  As for the people, sure, they look a little more “bobble-head” than Disney characters used to, but it works in the context of this world.  The designs are still perfect for the world they have created, and honestly, I think the CGI actually works in the film’s favor.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Olaf, the comedy-relief snowman that is the center of the entire marketing campaign.  I was really worried about this film going in, thinking it was going to be the Olaf comedy show.  I am thrilled to report that not only is Olaf very funny, he doesn’t overstay his welcome.  Showing up late in the film, he is not there strictly to sell toys and provide cheap laughs.  He is a literal symbol of what was lost between Elsa and Anna.  He may be cracking jokes, but every moment he’s on screen is a reminder of the emotional stakes of the film.

This is one of those films where everything just comes together perfectly.  Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are terrific as Anna and Elsa respectively.  Their musical and voice-over abilities bring so much extra depth to the proceedings.  I dare you not to get choked up as Anna is singing to Elsa early in the film, asking her “do you want to build a snowman?”  This is acting, pure and simple, and even if it’s just their voices, they give two of the year’s best performances.

This is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen.  The world is so expansive, and the detail so perfect, this is a film you want to lose yourself in.  I don’t usually care for 3D, but I found the 3D enhanced the film even more than I was expecting.  In fact, the film needs to be seen in 3D so the short before the film can be seen in 3D.  Entitled Get a Horse, it’s a new Mickey Mouse cartoon that is just genius on every level.  I’m not going to say anything more about this masterpiece other than I was not expecting to love it as much as I did, and I can’t imagine it working as well in 2D.  This alone makes the upgrade worth it.  Just trust me on this one.

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I couldn’t have been more satisfied with Frozen.  The future of the company is looking very bright if this is the output they are capable of right now.  It feels like when Little Mermaid was unleashed upon the world, ushering in a new renaissance of animation.  While Tangled and the Princess and the Frog were fun, they didn’t come close to the levels of Frozen.  Having set a pretty high bar for themselves, I’m very excited to experience their attempts to reach that bar again, even if that bar is animated in a computer.