Richard Morgan, ’14
I didn’t want to like this movie. My inner snob wanted to strut through it with lips pursed and nostrils flared, but my inner winter fetish shut that down – and I’m glad it did. Frozen is, in many ways, a fine film, though it still commits a few cardinal sins along the way.
Frozen follows the story of two sister princesses, Elsa and Anna, the former of which possesses magical powers based around – you guessed it – ice. After Elsa accidentally injures her sister with her powers, she is sequestered away to protect Anna, to protect the people around her and, allegedly, to protect herself. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this isn’t the best way to raise your daughter, and naturally things come to a head and spiral out of control, sparking a curse of eternal winter and sending Anna on a quest across the whole kingdom with a handsome young man, his reindeer and a magical talking snowman in tow.
On paper, this seems like standard Disney fare – female royalty figures that have to overcome some sort of adversity, a dreamy male love interest with luscious blonde hair, a trusty four-legged mount and an excessively silly sidekick intended to appeal to the toddlers in the audience. All of these are present, and the tried-and-tired formula of fairytale meets musical meets true love lives on still. That being said, there’s more to Frozen than just that, and it pulls some rather tricky business along the way.
First off, the film is gorgeous. I mentioned at the outset that I have a winter fetish, and Frozen is a cornucopia of decadent winter imagery, rife with palaces of ice and snow-strewn hills and cerulean skies scintillating with specters of dancing light. It follows the precedent set by Tangled in the way it utilizes computer-generated animation in a pen-and-paper style, and the result is nothing short of splendid.
As breathtaking as the aesthetics are, though, Frozen would amount to no more than mere spectacle if it had nothing else working for it. Thankfully, it has heart – and characters bursting with it. Elsa, Anna and Kristoff (Anna’s male travel companion) are all exceptionally crafted, sensitively handled and remarkably developed with the relationship between the two sisters comprising much of the film’s emotional core. A girl so accustomed to isolation that she perpetuates her own loneliness, a girl so accustomed to liberty that it leaves her a little naïve and a man so steeped in his solitary persona that he repeatedly reinforces and justifies his lack of human contact – these three characters all emerge and develop in organic, satisfying and sometimes surprising ways, sustaining sympathy and interest throughout Frozen even as other aspects of the film start to falter. This surprising attention and dedication to character is what ultimately carries the film; it keeps Frozen feeling fresh, even going so far as to hijack the emotional climax of the film and completely subvert the audience’s expectations (in a good way, of course).
The superb character work of the three main figures allows Frozen to transcend typical fairytale shtick; unfortunately, it also makes the weaker aspects of the film feel far more disappointing by comparison. All the musical numbers are entirely forgettable with the exception of “Let it Go,” which is easily one of the film’s finest moments. Furthermore, despite the richness of Elsa, Anna and Kristoff, there is one figure in the film that is nothing short of atrocious, his very presence capable of sabotaging the tone and pathos of the film. I’m referring to Olaf, the magical talking snowman who accompanies Anna, Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven, on their journey, doubling up with Sven for the film’s comedic relief. Whereas Sven is used sparingly, appropriately and with restraint, Olaf has the capacity to slather entire scenes with a slick, sugary coating of slapstick and silliness. Granted, the film has some surprisingly dark undercurrents, so some respite is needed to keep the tone from turning too bleak (and keep the younger viewers interested). The best way to do that, however, is to punctuate the intervals between emotional moments with timely bursts of levity; what you don’t want to do is take a critical emotional moment and give it a golden shower of goofiness because Captain Cornball of the Doofus Brigade hasn’t said anything in a while. And the worst part of it all? Olaf isn’t completely superfluous. He actually serves to progress the plot in some instances, and he is, in some ways, supposed to be the incarnation of Elsa and Anna’s lost childhood, friendship and innocence. My objection to Olaf is not that he is unnecessary — it’s that he is completely misappropriated. Had he been handled with some restraint, he could have at least been passable, maybe even amusing at times. As it stands right now, he’s just nauseating.
That being said, though, I still enjoyed Frozen quite thoroughly, even if some of its components can’t match up to the brilliance of the others. It’s a fresh twist on an old formula, though at its core it is still that formula, and therein lies the real problem. While Pixar had a golden age with culinary rats and balloon-borne houses and the misadventures of two robots amid a world wrecked by environmental degradation and mass consumerism, while DreamWorks told a daring tale of Vikings and dragons, while Miyazaki achieved that impossible masterwork of imagination that is Spirited Away – while all these other people were exploring the creative liberties of animation, Disney has continued to cling to that old template of princesses, musical numbers and unnecessarily silly sidekicks. And while Frozen toys with that template, it never reinvents the template. Frozen is, as I initially said, a very fine film, but I can’t help but feel that it has been held back in some way. Admittedly, it is a step in the right direction for Disney. Now let’s see them take the next great leap.
Photo via Disney.com