By R. David
Viewed December 3, 2013
Released last week, Disney’s “Frozen” is already a huge crowd pleaser. People of all ages love it. And to be perfectly honest, the film will always have a special place in my heart because it is the first movie I took my eldest daughter, who turned four last month, to see in a movie theater. It was an amazing and joyous adventure to experience through her all the wonders of going to the movies that we as adults – having been to so many and being so conditioned to simply await the next major advancement in both theater comfort and filmmaking effects – so foolishly take for granted: The communal aspect of movie-going (sitting next to complete strangers, all enjoying the same thing), the enormity of the room, the screen, the sound (even the chairs when you’re no more than 3 feet tall), and how awesome is this huge bucket of popcorn?!
It was a dizzying (how much popcorn is this kid gonna eat?!), nerve-wracking (Is she going to talk the whole? Is she going want to constantly run around? Will it be too loud or too scary for her? Will she understand we can’t simply pause the movie like at home or fast-forward through the parts that don’t hold her attention?) and supremely proud moment as a father; especially a father who has such a love of film and now knows he can share that love with his own flesh and blood (all of my fears were unfounded, by the way – except the popcorn thing; she crushed two tubs all by herself.).
And for the record, she too is in the Love-“Frozen” camp.
And so, because of all that, it doesn’t really matter that I am not.
I will certainly always love and appreciate this film, but it won’t be because of much in the movie itself. On the one hand I can see why people enjoy it so much: Its colorful, action-packed, has a story meant to inspire and hopes to break the traditional, damsel-in-distress animated-film mold, there are some nice songs and plenty of age-appropriate humor. On the other hand, there is nothing about “Frozen” that feels particularly new or exciting. I chuckled a few times at a clever line or two, but most of my laughter came as a reaction to my daughter’s enjoyment; and I appreciate the writers trying to avoid the clichéd knight-in-shining-armor who saves the day trope and give young girls a strong female heroine who can take care of herself, but that alone doesn’t mean the rest of this tale doesn’t follow all the usual Disney-princess film beats. Which is why there is a silly, talking snowman thrown in for good measure.
“Frozen” is ostensibly the tale of two estranged sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle, who were close as children but become estranged when Elsa becomes a recluse. See, Elsa has the strange and dangerous ability to freeze everything around her. She nearly killed Anna with her powers when they were young and she fears she can not control her abilities well enough to guarantee it won’t happen again. So Elsa severs contact with Anna. When their parents are killed at sea (because this is a Disney movie), Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), being the elder sister is crowned queen of Arendelle. Anna (Kristen Bell), yearning for companionship, agrees to marry a handsome young prince named Hans (Santino Fontana), whom she has just met. Elsa steps in with her objections, Anna calls Elsa out on years of ignoring her and refuses to yield to her authority. In a fit of emotion, Elsa makes her secret known to the shock of everyone in the kingdom. Angry, ashamed, and afraid for everyone’s safety, Elsa retreats to the mountains where she creates a huge ice palace and becomes known to the villagers as the Snow Queen who has plunged their kingdom into a perpetual winter. Anna leaves Hans in charge and heads into the mountains to reason with her sister. Along the way she meets a cranky mountain man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his equally sullen reindeer sidekick Sven, mythical trolls, and the aforementioned goofball snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad), who Elsa and Anna actually created as kids.
“Frozen” is most charming it its early going. The sisters’ innocence as they frolic and play is infectious, as are their sarcastically humorous songs. Their sibling bond conveys some real emotion and humor; and when they become estranged, it is genuinely sad to see Anna pushed aside by Elsa, especially since she has no explanation or understanding of why (though you don’t have to be too cynical to think that a simple conversation would likely have sufficed and saved everyone a lot of torment, especially considering the eternal winter the kingdom is thrust into as an ultimate result of Elsa’s whole silence-for-safety’s-sake approach). But as soon as the typically fantastical action kicks into gear and the more nefarious motivations of certain characters surface, “Frozen” quickly becomes derivative of nearly every Disney fairytale involving princesses and talking creatures. Making Anna a strong-willed heroine who is capable of taking care of herself and doesn’t need rescuing from her prince charming (quite the opposite, actually) is refreshing, though Anna is hardly the first strong female Disney character, so the ultimate distinction that she is never actually saved by a prince doesn’t exactly transcend the genre all by itself. “Frozen” also continues Disney’s steady-slide in the memorable song department. I liked the first song Elsa and Anna sing in the film, but I’d have to Google its title to tell you what its called. And there is certainly nothing as effortlessly catchy and joyous as, say, “Under the Sea” or “Be Our Guest”.
All those – valid, people! – criticisms aside, “Frozen” is effectively cute and entertaining in all the ways it aspires to be and, frankly, needs to be for its intended audience to enjoy it. The animation and shimmering color palates are suitable eye-candy, the voice work is solid, and reindeer Sven, silly snowman Olaf, and those trolls are all admittedly amusing. The film is also refreshingly un-cynical, unlike so many animated films these days that seem to exist simply to see how many pop culture references and satirical gags they can cram into each frame. “Frozen” has more in common with “classic” Disney fairytales and that’s a good thing. However, had I not already been hearing differently, I would warn that despite its charms, there simply isn’t much in “Frozen” to keep adults engaged – nothing they haven’t seen before and no surprises where the plot and story are concerned. I’m not sure what it is I’m apparently missing, but I stand by that critique.
But I know many, including my four-year-old, will beg to differ.
2 ½ Stars (Out of 4)