November 30, 2013
Frozen Review: A Home Run for Disney Animation
There have been a lot of solid, entertaining Disney films in the past couple of decades, including Pocahontas, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, The Princess and the Frog and Tangled. With Frozen, however, Disney returns to form with a heartfelt, confident, full-force musical full of new ideas, wonderful characters and unforgettable imagery. Plus, it's free of the smugness and cynicism that marred 2010's otherwise-great Tangled. Unlike so many other modern animated films, Frozen doesn't mock its fairytale roots and then hypocritically ask you to take it seriously for the final moments: Frozen tells its story with sincerity and heart from beginning to end. For the audience, the payoff is an exhilarating, emotional thrill ride through an unforgettable new fantasy world.
In fact, one really can't discuss Frozen's twisty plot in any detail without giving too much away; I'll simply say it's a tale, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, about two royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, one of whom is blessed/cursed with the power to create snow and ice with the wave of a hand. From there, nothing happens quite the way you might predict as the refreshing narrative romps through scenes of powerful heartbreak, highly entertaining chases and some of the best comedy in Disney's history.
The film never loses track of its central conflict between the two sisters. The likable, optimistic Anna and the frightened, powerful Elsa are believable throughout, and both--in grand Disney tradition--belt out some great songs.
And, holy cow, those songs soar, and each one is indispensable to the story. Elsa's power ballad "Let It Go" is so beautifully staged and powerfully performed that it takes the crown for best animated Disney Princess song ever. It's certainly the most emotionally effective. Also strong is Anna's joyful "For the First Time in Forever" and the heartbreaking early plot-mover "Do You Want to Build a Snowman."
On the musical comic relief side, "Reindeer are Better Than People" is a brief, wonderful bit of character humor for both Sven the reindeer and mountain man loner Kristoff. Olaf the Snowman's song "In Summer" is a little masterpiece: It lightly parodies the standard Disney "I want" song while completely endearing the snow-guy to both the audience and the characters in the film. A fantasy character hasn't so swiftly and musically won hearts since a Scarecrow sang about wanting a brain in The Wizard of Oz.
It's a near-perfect film, stumbling only a tiny bit during the film's last song, "Fixer Upper." It's a pleasant enough tune--and it performs its role in the plot perfectly--but its upbeat pop style doesn't quite mesh with its mystical setting. I'd count it as three minutes of "passable" amidst the rest of the film's on-target flights of wonderment.
No one could ask for a better Holiday surprise from Disney.