Frozen (Chris Buck/Jennifer Lee, 2013)
Let’s talk about what works first:
- The 3D animation is stunningly beautiful. You must see this in 3D. The frozen snowflakes that hover in the air are magical.
- The songs are pretty good, some better than others.
- The film has not one, but two female protagonists, and although men figure prominently in the story, ultimately the movie is much more about the relationship between the two sisters at the center of the story, and how they must learn to trust each other.
- The reindeer is cute.
For the rest, well, a lot of it is standard Disney boilerplate stuff, with even less character development than one might hope for. It’s a mixed bag of a movie, in other words, but harmless good fun, and well worth bringing your kids and/or the whole family to see.
Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel, from the original cast of Broadway’s “Wicked“), the eldest of two princesses, has a dangerous (and never explained) supernatural ability to freeze objects around her. As a young girl, she almost kills her younger sister, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell, of “Veronica Mars,” and much more), and so her parents, the king and queen, convince her to hide her power from the world (and to wear gloves to help limit its use), and have the local troll wizard wipe Anna’s memory to keep the power secret. As a result, Elsa withdraws into herself, spending most of her time in her room, avoiding Anna. Years later, the now estranged sisters suddenly find themselves orphaned when the king and queen die (a scene showed with great restraint) in a violent storm at sea. On Elsa’s subsequent coronation day, the sisters open the castle to the general public for the first time in years, much to Anna’s delight and Elsa’s trepidation. When a young prince, Hans (Santino Fontana), shows up at the party, he and Anna fall instantly in love. Elsa disapproves, and when Anna announces that she and Hans plan to marry (yes, it’s sudden), Elsa, in anger and fear, fails to control her power and unleashes a permanent winter over the land. Horrified at what she has done, she flees into the mountains.
The rest of the movie is the story of how Anna tries to find Elsa and reconcile with her. Along the way, she meets a hunky woodsman, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) – who comes with a reindeer sidekick – and a magical snowman, Olaf, who yearns to one day sunbathe on a beach, having missed the memo that heat is bad for snow creatures. It’s the usual fun mix of silliness and song, common to most Disney films, and cute to watch, for the most part. Unfortunately, the story gets moving before we’ve really had much of a chance to understand the two central characters, Elsa and Anna, and so the entire enterprise suffers from the curse of superficiality, which limits the effect of the *spoiler alert* final reconciliation. What is nice about that ending, however – and what makes the film unusual – is that the saving act of “true love” is not what you think it will be. Indeed, this film would definitely pass the Bechdel Test and so, as generic as some its sequences turn out to be, we can count that as genuine progress.
Finally, to repeat what I wrote, earlier, the look of the film is stunning. And not only the feature, but the short film before it – Get a Horse! – both employ gorgeous 3D effects. Visually, this is a masterpiece of modern animation. Enjoy.