Frozen (a film review by Mark R. Leeper) (2013).

December 9, 2013 | By | 5 Replies More

You might not notice it, but ‘Frozen’ has a more complex and interesting plot than most Disney animation films do. The chief conflict is between two sister princesses who love each other even as they do conflict. The real villains in this tale are not people but Elsa’s (super-)power to freeze with a touch and her indecision as to how to use the power. Younger sister Anna searches for Elsa to have her remove the curse of year-round cold winter weather from their kingdom.

Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

A few animated Disney Studio films grab the public’s interest and can be the basis of merchandising and being adapted into live musicals on Broadway. Notably there was Beauty And The Beast’  and The Lion King’. At first brush, ‘Frozen’ could well be headed for Broadway with at least a few good songs. Some of the songs definitely have a Broadway feel.

Frozen (a film review by Mark R. Leeper) (2013).

Frozen (a film review by Mark R. Leeper) (2013).

Nominally, at least, Disney Studios is back supposedly basing films on Hans Christian Anderson stories, though there is little of the original story left. There is a lot going on in ‘Frozen’ but, at the front, is the sister relationship. Elsa and her younger sister Anna (voiced as adults by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell) are princesses of the northerly kingdom of Arendelle. As a child, Elsa discovers to her horror that she has a Midas-like touch, but what she touches turns to ice. She wears gloves to avoid touching anything directly. To keep her powers a secret and to avoid accidents, Elsa hides away in her room and refuses to see anyone, including her sister, a behavior that breaks Anna’s heart. So it goes for several years. Meanwhile, Elsa has to decide is she proud of her powers or frightened. Are the powers good or bad? Should she hide her powers or show the world who she is?

Three years pass. The king and queen are dead and Elsa is to be crowned the new queen of Arendelle. If that were not exciting enough for Anna, who still loves her sister, she meets handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and with love at first sight the two decide on the spot to marry.

But things are going just too well to last. Elsa, now queen of Arendelle, refuses to let Anna marry a man she barely knows. In the ensuing disagreement, Elsa accidentally lets loose her freezing powers. The kingdom is horrified and during the chaos that follows Elsa accidentally dooms the kingdom to the curse of eternal winter. She flees to the North Mountain. There, she finds how to use her powers to build for herself an ice palace. Soon after Anna sets out to find her sister and to get the curse lifted. On the way, Ana picks up a traveling companion, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a burly ice cutter, and his comical reindeer sidekick, Sven. If one comical sidekick is not enough, there is also the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) who longs to be a warm-weather snowman. Kristoff brings in another complication. How does Anna feel about Kristoff, given that she is still in love with Prince Hans?

I cannot remember a Disney musical about two sisters before this. Sister relationships are unusual in general and, almost as a tradition in the first song, the main character tells why she or he is unhappy. (‘There must be more than this provincial life’ or ‘I just can’t wait to be king.’). This film’s first song after some native chanting asks the question, ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ It seems to have escaped that device, but between the lines the song is about how Anna misses her sister.

The days of shoddy animation are gone, at least at Disney. This film is straight Disney animation, not Pixar, but the images feel three-dimensional and particularly in the song sequences it really has the effect that the image really is singing. I am not sound expert enough to explain it, perhaps there is a slight echo, but one feels more that the song is performed on a stage in a way it did not in, say, ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Considering it is a Disney musical, it may well come from a stage soon.

There are some things not very logical that the script asks us to go with. Anna knows her sister can create ice with her touch, but she has no reason to believe her sister can remove ice and turn the winter of Arendelle back into summer. It is just we have to accept the magic I suppose, but Elsa can avoid touching things and turning them to ice by wearing gloves. What stops her gloves and her clothing from freezing? My pet peeve, with the notable exceptions of the films ‘Never Cry Wolf’  and ‘The Jounry Of Natty Gann’, wolves are always ravening menaces in Disney films. Real wolves are really a direct threat to humans. Real-world wolves seem to think/know that attacking humans entails more risk than reward.

The film somewhat loses some of its interest in the second half as fewer new ideas are introduced to the mix. Part of the problem is that this film needed Olaf the snowman about as much as ‘Star Wars’ needed Jar Jar Binks and for much the same reason.

‘Frozen’ is just about as intelligent as Disney musicals get. Both Elsa and Anna are well-developed characters and story has some nice complexities. This film is much more than children’s entertainment, though it is that too. I rate ‘Frozen’ a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2013

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Category: Fantasy, Films, MEDIA

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Comments (5)

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  1. I hated FROZEN. I thought it was extremely pretty, and the animation was superb, but the neverending musical numbers bored me. What they did with the whole concept of rock trolls was an abomination. The whole movie was so damn cute. It may be just the grinch in me, but I hate cute, and I was really sorry that I spent my money to see this movie. It’s the perfect Disney princess movie–perfect for 12 year old girls, that is. Gah! Storybook Scandinavia! Ak, Ptui!

  2. MarkRLeeper says:

    I can understand that opinion. I think for a Disney animated musical film it seemed to be well above average. As I tried to point out, there were interesting ideas in the plotting. Do you tend to like Disney animated films in general and thought this was not up to their standards or were you just comparing it to general cinema?

    I admit I do not know much about rock trolls.

    • Disney movies tend to be a little sappy, don’t you think. I like some, depends on the story more than anything. This story is beautiful but stupid, stupid, stupid from beginning to end. How stupid is it? Let me count the ways. It started with the cutesy rock trolls that the king and queen know about. In real Scandinavian literature dwarves and trolls are not cute–they are fierce and horrible creatures with elemental earth powers. Then let’s terrify Elsa about her powers and lock her in her room forever–yeah that’s going to have good effects down the line. Then let’s leave the kingdom in midwinter on the high seas and conveniently orphan the princesses–that king and queen, no doubt heroes of their own fairy tale a few years earlier, go off and get themselves killed–drowning–that’s pretty horrible. Then there’s the wandering prince, youngest of 13 brothers–traveling on his own–give me a break! There’s Olaf the Snowman–your comparison to JarJar Binks is very apt. Scene after scene piles the stupidity every higher and deeper. Magic has costs, but Elso has limitless powers of temperature control and instinctive ability to make godlike creations out of ice. Putting aside the idea that the whole story is a metaphor from start to finish about the relative effects of Fear and Love, every action taken during the movie is stupid, impossible, and contrary to how anyone would behave. More than anything, stupid movies gall me. And Frozen piles on so much stupid that I could go on longer than the movie itself just pointing out the idiocies. I like smart movies, and Disney seldom produces any. Technically, Frozen is a masterpiece of animation–stunningly beautiful from start to end. Intellectually, it’s so D U M B. So Frozen was a bad movie for me, but I think it might be the perfect film for pre-adolescent girls, especially if the old adult males who concocted this snow-globe disaster and their henchmen want to keep or place those girls in their own unreal fantasy worlds. Gah! I want my money back, but I have no doubt Disney will do quite well with this movie and someday people will be comparing it to other Disney classics like Snow White. By contrast, the movie that might have something going for it, and isn’t out yet, is Maleficent. If they focus on the darkness (even if they have a happy Disney ending and redeem her), and don’t turn it into a Broadway musical, Maleficent may be, imho, a cartoon movie worth seeing.

      • MarkRLeeper says:

        Disney movies aim at a wide swath of the audience, shotgun style, but dead center is adolescent girls. That is a demographic that most filmmakers don’t even hit. Yes they can be syrupy. That is what that audience likes. I have no special interest in marble, but I am interested to see what Michelangelo did in that medium. For a long time when I was growing up Disney was making movies like THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES. Now those were bad. Making films like LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is not really serving me as an audience, but I am interested to see what they are doing. Some have better stories than others, but this time around we have two potentially deadly opponents who love each other and a woman with a love-hate relationship with her own talent. There are all kinds of interesting character devices in this story. That is not my idea of stupid. The two sisters may be have the most interesting relationship of characters in any story I have seen this year. The glass is half empty and half full, but what it is half full of excuses the half empty.

        Elsa has a very dangerous power that even after her coronation she cannot completely control. Earlier it was not stupid to lock her away–it is a regrettable necessity. It may be a mistake to make the wolves horrifying and the trolls likeable. I would have preferred it the other way around. But Disney Studios does take liberties with source material.

        As for orphaning the Princess, that is a standard vehicle. LION KING did it. ICE AGE did it. It is standard to take away the protection of a child making the passage to adulthood. If the king and queen are still around making the decisions then you have no story or at least the story is about them. If the wandering prince brought a parent then that part of the story would not be about him. That does not seem like a stretch at all to me. He seems old enough to take care of himself. Princes young than he went off to the Crusades without supervision.

        Elsa does have great power. That is the premise. And she does not know how great or what her powers are. That is interesting. She is learning.

        Stupid movies gall me also, but we may not agree on what is a stupid movie. Frankly I thought this film beat HUNGER GAMES I four ways to Sunday. 88% of critics on RottenTomatoes give it a positive rating including several (at least) who know film better than I do.

        If I may presume to say so, what you should be doing is not disagreeing directly with one review, you should be writing your own review and let it stand for itself. Leave it out there as a guidepost for others who may want to know if they should see the film or who already have seen the film and who would want to know what you thing.

        • Well, I didn’t say it was a bad film. I said I hated it, and thought that most of the people in it behaved stupidly. It’s perfect for the adolescent girl demographic. I shouldn’t have gone to it, but let myself get talked into it. And locking Elsa up was, imo, terminally dumb. She should have been surrounded with love and the parents should have found a wizard to teach her–perhaps even taking her out to spend lots more time with those cute, wise little rock trolls. I understand about the needs of the plot and the fairy tale formula. They worked the formula very well. I just hated it.

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