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Movie Review: Frozen

A scene from movie, "Frozen". - Courtesy Photo

Publication Date : 17-12-2013

 

The love for your sister can melt hearts; Melting snow – or taking away piercing winter – is not that big a problem

 

Mere moments after “Frozen”, the latest of the 2D-esque CG 3D animated Disney musicals, forebodes of a “Frozen Heart”, the movie contradicts itself by thawing the viewer’s heart with one of the simplest stanzas to hit any screen; the line goes “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”; only “It doesn’t (really) have to be a Snowman”.

Despite the song’s unremarkable demands, making a “Snowman” is emotionally complex business: the layers are made up less of snow and more on distance, love, and simple joys of growing up. In one way the song is exactly what “Frozen” is about: growing up and maintaining familial ties – and not incidentally – the mantra clips easily with Disney’s “family first” philosophy.

Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Snow Queen”, the cast, and the material’s inherent despair, is shuffled around for cinematic benefit.

Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are princess and sisters. One is spunky and raring to go places; the other confines herself in her room because she has a terrible gift – she can freeze things. With powers that can go berserk any moment, Elsa’ best friends become a pair of gloves that keep her away from human touch – an aspect literally placed on-screen in the form of the door separating the sisters.

The king and the queen, compassionate but unwise people, respond to Elsa’s predicament by shutting the castle doors, cutting down the number of help, and storing away expensive silverware. In mid-song, the king and queen’s ship gets gulped by the sea, and Anna, who like everyone else has no idea about Elsa’s escalating powers, is left asking “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

The thing with musical numbers is that it can make time go fast.

Elsa turns eighteen. The day when she is legally crowned as the queen, her powers lash out turning their kingdom into a land of perpetual permafrost and sharp stalactites. Scared by the sudden shift from “poor lonely princess” to “burn the Witch”, Elsa runs away, singing the vocal powerhouse “Let it Go” – aced by  Menzel – after all the “the cold never bother (Elsa) anyway”.

Anna goes after her, giving Hans (Santino Fontana), the youngest of the thirteen princes from a neighboring kingdom, temporary charge, because a) Anna, in a fit of love-rush has announced their engagement to him, and b) because Hans really sounds like a decent, “too good to be true”, find. (Cue the quirky romantic number: “Love is an Open Door”).

Following Elsa’s trail, Anna meets up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) – and of course, with his puppy dog-like reindeer Sven (what are animated movies without melt-your-heart-cute animals) – and brokers a deal to take her to her sister’s place: a lonesome Ice Castle, raised on tilting sides of a mountain top by Elsa.

A dozen or so trolls (the good natured kind, who sing “Fixer Upper” like the opening from “Fraggle Rock”), a snowman who wants to “feel” summer, and a roaring frost giant add themselves to the movie without any actual necessity other than to be faithful to Andersen’s fable, and to support Christmas sales (who wouldn’t want to have a snow man that can fall to pieces on their shopping list?).

A minor nuisance adds itself in as well: an unwelcome stretch in the middle act.

Much of “Frozen” is tagged around Elsa and Anna, and at times, a lot of miscommunication. While “Frozen” juggles the sister’s longing and love part fine, it drops the ball on the romantic bit. Kristoff – who comes in as the second lead to Hans – is never fleshed out from his role as a supporting character, because sometimes heroes to Disney Princesses just have to bow to the awesomeness of girl power (not every movie can match pairs like Aladdin and Jasmine, or Flynn and Rapunzel).

What didn’t it work for me, other than a dipping second half, is Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad). His humor is flat, he gets decapitated a lot – which I think is a little horrific for kiddies – and he’s written as an unoriginal dead weight who bears an unconscious nod to Pablo the penguin from 1945’s short “The Cold Blooded Penguin” (he sings “In Summer” about relaxing in the summer sun, to a roaring crescendo without the oomph).

Olaf’s handicap is swiftly overcome by some sneaky scheming villainy and the incredible songs written and composed by husband-wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The Broadway-esque variety may be a notch too overpowering and ill-fitting at times, but regardless, the Lopez’s remind of a hip version of Alan Menken’s works.

Personally, I am a torn between guessing which one will make it in the Oscars race (or they may both do it, maybe). “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let It Go” are both moving and intense – the kind that chew out the competition. The analyst in me is pegging “Let It Go” to win big time (overcoming personal anguish and setting oneself free are unconsciously appealing factors, as are goosebumps that pop up); the sensitive guy is leaning towards “Snowman”, because it reminds me of “The Bells of Notre Dame” (also composed by  Menken and Stephen Schwartz) from 1996’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.“Frozen” isn’t really a classic like “Tangled”, but it is fantastic seeing Walt Disney Animation seriously head-butt sister company Pixar, even with the restrictions they have to work with. Sometimes though, the restrictions tend to work out for you when new-twists won’t.

Released by Disney, “Frozen” is rated PG for minor scares, often decapitation of an animated snowman.

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; Produced by Peter Del Vecho; Written by Lee (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”); Music by Christophe Beck and Songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

Starring the voices of: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk and Ciaran Hinds.


 

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