Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana
I have been looking forward to Frozen ever since I heard about it. One, it is based on The Snow Queen by my favorite fairy tale author, Hans Christian Anderson. Two, it boasts an amazing cast, including Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. And three, this is another attempt to recapture the magic Disney seems to have lost. Also, please note that I am a Disney nerd. I’m not just a fan, mind you, but a NERD! I can quote nearly any Disney animated movie from the 1990’s verbatim, voices included. And you should NEVER try to go toe to toe with me on Disney trivia. You will fail- every time. Plus, I know my way around Disney World better than my hometown of Nashville. And so, with all of that in mind, let’s pick apart the newest animated Disney film, Frozen.
Frozen is a sister story. Not a step sister story, not a story about a princess finding love, or even a young man finding his destiny, but a sister story featuring two strong, but different heroines. We are introduced to the princesses in a scene all too familiar to me. A young redhead bounces on her platinum blonde sister’s bed, and says “Play with me!” My little sister still jumps on my bed on our days off and says “Play with me, sissy!” These two are the princesses that the story is centered around. The youngest is the feisty, optimistic, redheaded Anna (Bell). The eldest is the platinum haired, caring but fearful Elsa (Menzel). They obviously love each other very much and are best friends. This is where the waterworks started for me; sister stories get me every time. We find that Elsa has magical snow and ice powers, but must keep them a secret, as she cannot control them and almost killed her little sister. Elsa and Anna eventually become orphaned and become isolated from each other. This culminates in a beautifully crafted song called “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” The song has a great melody that still rings in my ears, and enough laughter, tears, and heart to make Broadway composer, Stephen Swartz, jealous. Yes, Frozen, yes- I’m with you now.
As much as I would love to compare the sisters to other Disney characters, I actually drew upon another fairy tale, sort of: Wicked, which tells the tale of The Wicked Witch, Elphaba, and Glinda the Good Witch, before Dorothy lands in Oz. Of course Anna is Glinda, being plucky, sweet, bright-eyed, optimistic, and Elsa really favors misunderstood Elphaba with her powers that she can’t control. And I find it either a stroke of genius or insanely ironic that Elsa is voiced by the original Elphaba on Broadway, Miss Idina Menzel.
When the girls grow up, we see the different paths that life has taken them. Elsa is bent on becoming a good queen who can control her powers and protect the ones that she loves, and sweet, naive Anna just wants to be loved. That’s when Anna literally bumps into Prince Hans (Fontana), who reminds me a little of a sweeter and smarter Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. They then share a hilarious duet “Love is an Open Door.” Another great thing about this film, is that it is a very self aware musical. Nowadays, you can’t really get away with singing for no good reason at all. You either have to be retro, campy, or self aware to do so, like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or The Producers. These are musicals where you break the fourth wall to mock yourself and the musical genre. There are several moments, especially in this song, where we clearly see that the composer felt the need to poke fun at musicals and love at first sight.
Another high point in the movie is the jaw dropping animation. They went through painstaking lengths to make the vibrations in the throats of the singers look incredibly real, but also nail down the texture of the fabric each character wears. You can tell quite easily who is wearing tapestry, velvet, or leather. After being run out of her kingdom like a Frankenstein Elsa runs to the top of a neighboring mountain and begins her big number, “Let It Go.” I guarantee that this will be the new “it” song for belters to sing for auditions now. It’s chock full of beautiful melodies, clever lyrics, and rides that ridiculously thin line between melodrama and real emotion. Top it all off with Menzel’s gravity defying vocals and the breath taking graphics of Elsa creating her ice palace, and you have on of the most stunning clips in film from ALL of this year. Literally, my jaw was on the floor the entire time. Think about when you saw the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast and add ice and Idina… yep, if you’re a Musical Theater/Disney nerd like me, you’re wetting your britches right now.
We soon meet the other integral characters in the story. Kristoff (Groff) is a handsome, young ice cutter who agrees to take Anna up the mountain. He has a pet reindeer named Sven. This man and beast relationship reminds me a lot of Hercules and Pegasus, from Hercules. Kristoff is a great addition to the film, as he and Sven lend some gross out, sight gags that will have little boys wanting to come and see the film. And then we have Olaf, a walking, talking, singing, dancing snowman. Olaf is by far my favorite character in the whole film. He has the absurd hilarity of the Genie from Aladdin mixed with the sweet heart of Pumba from The Lion King. His song called “In Summer” was one of the top three of the film! He dreams about what the summer would be like, and in his sweet, sincere, and naive heart he truly believes that the summer will be a new and great adventure for him. This is another part of the film where we see that although Disney is serious… they are serious about their silliness. There is one line in this song that goes:
Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle
But put me in summer and I’ll be a– happy snowman!
All in all, this was truly a well made film. I am so happy that Disney is back on the right track to making good musical movies again. Part of what helped was getting an great cast together. Bell, Menzel, and Groff are simply amazing Broadway singers who are also perfectly cast in this film. But then you add the hilarity and musical talents of the crazy, amazing Gad, and you have a bang up cast! But a great cast is nothing without a good script, and Frozen finally has it. There were times where you could almost feel the stereotypical studio audience “Awww” come through, but then it was usually stifled by some hilarious quip or some gripping action sequence to keep the story from getting too saccharine.
The music in this movie is on par with Stephen Swartz (Pochohontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame), Alan Menken (Little Mermaid, Aladdin), and Elton John (Lion King). I researched Frozen’s composer, Christophe Beck, and I now understand why I’m in love with his music. He got his start composing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer… which means that he’s BFFLs (Best Friends For Life) with Joss Whedon. And clearly, genius loves company. He has also composed for Pitch Perfect, The Muppets, and has just finished Muppets Most Wanted. He’s a man after my own heart. His music teeters from heartfelt to gut busting with a single chord change. But sadly, just as I think that Beck is one of the best parts of the movie, I also think that he brought down the film as well. This is going to sound weird coming from a Musical Theatre graduate, but I thought that there were too many songs! This soundtrack boasts 9 original songs (not including scored, non-vocal songs). The Little Mermaid had 8 songs; Aladdin had 7; and The Lion King only had 5 original songs. I think it would have served the film way better to have cut at least one of the songs. Not only because the movie felt a little fat in the middle, but also because not every song was memorable to me. I just wish that Beck wouldn’t have spread himself so thin and would have dedicated more time to focusing on just 6-7 songs.
I will be going to see this movie again. Heck, if for no other reason than to catch the delightful short before the film called “Get a Horse,” which I enjoyed just as much as the actual film. It’s a reimagining of an old (and I mean “Steamboat Willie” old), Mickey Mouse cartoon. They even pulled audio from the original, and added spectacular, state of the art graphics. My only regret is that, I didn’t see it either in 3D. Although this is a classic Disney film with elements of magic, love, and heart, this one takes a turn for the better by truly empowering not only one, but two heroines. Little girls need these strong women to look up to. Elsa and Anna did not wait for a man to come and save them, they saved themselves. Girl Power!