Movie review: ‘Frozen’ can warm your heart

November 13, 2013

Disney_Frozen_snowman_posterC Notes. A blog by George C. Wilson. 

Greetings.  It has been a while.  I’m going to jump right in and post a movie review.   I attended an advanced screening of the new Disney movie with my 7-year-old son.  Frozen has enough strengths to be yet another Disney success story.  It certainly has the potential to put not one but two princesses into the pantheon of Disney royalty.  It is the cynic in me that identified that dynamic very quickly in this movie.  Two Disney princesses means twice the marketing potential and a corresponding bump in merchandizing profit. Yet even with my cynicism red flags at full mast I walked away entertained.

Let’s take a look at what the movie lacks – but not necessarily in a negative way.   For those who grew up with the boo hiss inspiring villains of Disney lore this movie is somewhat a change of pace.  There is a comic foil villain and there is a stealth villain but they don’t really propel the story.  This movie presents the story of two royal sisters, Elsa and her wide eyed adoring younger sister Anna, who love each other but because of a fundamental difference they are pulled apart. One princess ends up injuring the other both emotionally and then physically – not out of hate but out of love. This is hardly the evil queen or the wicked stepmother trying to crush our plucky heroine story that Disney can always fall back on.  This is a story of absent parents setting children up for failure despite having the best of intentions.  This is a story of sibling devotion undermined by fear.  It is a story of the pitfalls of a whirlwind romance capturing a heart but also clouding good judgment.  The story isn’t so much about the conflict between good and evil as it is about good people trying to find truth obscured by ambiguity and doubt.  That is a fairly adult and sophisticated story arc for a movie intended to capture a juvenile audience.  As an adult I appreciated the attempt but I don’t think the seven-year-old sitting next to me was attuned to the ambiguity in the story.

But don’t worry a great deal about the mature themes of some of the story.  There are many elements to this story that are sure to capture the imagination of both the 7-year-old child in you and your 7-year-old child who attends the movie with you.  There is a stand-up comic of a magical snow man named Olaf with an innocent devotion to the truth and love.  There is a goofy yet heroic reindeer named Sven who has a puppy like energy and a passion for carrots.  There is a reluctant and somewhat doltish blond haired hero, Kristoff, whose rough charm shines through in the end.  And if that isn’t enough there is a tribe of adorable and frenetic stone trolls who belt out comic Broadway quality show tunes about hidden romance and the potential of totally mismatched people to fall in love.    All of that is more than enough to keep the wonder in the eyes of a seven-year-old.  Even if the child is a little boy who generally wouldn’t be into a princess movie.

And then there’s the ice.  Seeing this movie during the first really winter like days of November underlined what a presence ice is in the psyche of people who live in northern climates.  The loss of summer is something I keenly felt during the movie and then walking through the wind and snowflakes in the parking lot.  The elder princess, Elsa, becomes queen and through no fault of her own her repressed and terrifying magical power for creating ice, snow and cold is exposed and proves to be uncontrollable when she is under duress.  Plunged into a winter at the height of summer causes her kingdom to fall into chaos and it leads her into self-exile.  The awesome power of the new queen’s unleashed magic at first causes her to panic but during her exile she masters the powers and then revels in their icy beauty and her isolation.  Younger sister Anna rushes to find her sister pluckily braving the bitter icy mid-summer winter the young queen has created.   Along the way Anna finds a magical Snowman accidentally brought to life by her sister and she crosses paths with Kristoff  an ice cutter and delivery man whose summer business has been destroyed by the queen.  The ice on screen creates a perfect backdrop for a story of loss and regret.  The ice’s eventual thaw frees hearts of characters on screen and a few hearts in the audience as well.

Of course this being a Disney princess movie music plays a big role.  To my ear there isn’t any song in it that sounds like a crossover top 40 hit.  There is no “A Whole New World” or “Under the Sea“from the Little Mermaid or “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King.”  However, there is a fun show tune sung by the stone trolls.  And the two princesses engage in duets that unleash the power of young female voices brought to a high point by emotion and angst.  The young queen’s solo song entitled “Let it Go” highlights the character accepting her isolation and embracing her power as a woman.   Idina Menzel, the voice actor playing the newly crowned Queen Elsa, sings a bravura performance that matches the icy tour de force her onscreen character orchestrates in the scene.   The song would make the late Donna Summer shout out in recognition.  So there are songs in this movie which will become standards for adolescent girls in show choirs across the country.

Finally I will end with the opening.  Before the movie we were treated to a Disney short entitled “Get a Horse.” It is both fun and a bit of an animation technical marvel.  The public is now accustomed to 3D film magic. Even so this short is clever and well done. The short features 2D renderings of classically drawn Mickey and Minnie Mouse with their stock supporting characters from the early Disney days like the villain Peg Leg Pete and Clarabelle Cow the rubbery pratfall artist.  The short begins in black in white and captures the herky jerky style of early Disney animation complete with tinny 30’s style jazz music.  Even Mickey and Minnie sound like their original high pitched selves. During a musical hay ride Minnie is imperiled by Peg Leg Pete in standard fashion but after about three minutes into the short the modern color and 3D effects begin to disrupt the proceedings.  Eventually Pete suffers through the worst sort of Three Stooges inspired comeuppance to great humorous affect.   It is nostalgically charming and with the tricks of 3D and screen busting effects it excites a modern audience of action oriented kids.

Is Frozen a must see?  If you have a preteen girl in your life that would be a yes.  And preteen boys will be enthralled by the action and humor. If you are an animation loving adult like this reviewer you will be rewarded by some classic Disney animation and a story that may not approach the best of what an animation studio like Pixar has been capable of lately but is still a worthy effort.  Frozen will be good family fun for the Holiday season.  It opens Thanksgiving weekend and will likely dominate family movie spending through the first of the year.

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