Thursday, November 28, 2013

Frozen: Fun, Sweet, And All Around Fantastic

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee 
Produced by Peter Del Vecho 
Written by Jennifer Lee 
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures 
From Walt Disney Animation Studios 

(Warning: This Review Contains Some Mild Story Spoilers!!! Read NO Further If You Haven't Seen The Movie!!!)

After a few efforts that seemed a little too closely resembled to the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks, Disney Animation seems to have found a a unique, fitting, and relevant identity. Starting with Meet The Robinsons in 2007, Disney has seemed to have found themselves in a new Renaissance under the wings of John Lasseter. Does Frozen continue this trend? I'm happy to say, it does just that. 

The film opens with two young sisters playing in their spacious residence. Elsa, can create ice, frost, and snow from her bare hands, a power that keeps her younger sister Anna entertained. But their fun innocent recreation goes awry when Elsa accidentally strikes Anna with some of her magic. Their parents, the king and queen of the kingdom Arendelle, bring the wounded Anna to some stone trolls, who think it's best to remove any memory she has of her sister's powers. The only remnant of this is a white streak in Anna's hair. The two girls eventually grow up with more of a distance for either of them would like, to keep Elsa's powers hidden from the kingdom and Anna restrained within the castle. 

A few moments later, their parents die in a vague shipwreck, setting up the coronation of the now presumed late-teenaged Elsa. It's clear this early in the film that the platinumed-haired queen is not out film's protagonist. That honor belongs to Anna, her down-to-earth, friendly, slightly clumsy younger sister. On the day of Elsa's crowning ceremony, Anna meets Prince Hans, a sweet, handsome, mutton chopped young man whom Anna immediately takes a liking for. Within a few hours, Hans proposes to Anna, who immediately accepts. When they bring their marriage plans to Elsa, she refuses to give them her blessing since she doesn't believe her sister is wanting to marry a guy that she just met. In the process, her long-kept secret is revealed to the entire kingdom at the reception. 

Elsa's unintentional ice-slinging puts the entire kingdom of Arendelle into an eternal winter. She storms off, prompting Anna to go out on a quest to find her sister, while leaving Hans temporarily in charge of the kingdom. Before Anna can reach her sister, she encounters a hunky blonde ice vendor Kristoff and his loyal trusty reindeer Sven, and Olaf, a largely indestructible and upbeat snowman who tag along for the adventure. 

The film's story is very well-crafted. In a nice twist, instead of starting off in eternal winter, and have the flashback scene in the second act, like I imagined at first, which I thought told a better story. While the parent's death feels a little too cliched, it's still very sad. The morals and messages told here were great; the thing about not falling in love instantly and letting it blossom was an anvil that really needed some dropping. The atmosphere was great too and how it conveys the emotions of the characters; the scene where Anna gets frozen solid, with the silence only broken by Elsa's sobbing and the howling wind, was like a punch to the gut. I think the moral of love and family was really presented well during that scene. Disney knocked it out of the park with the fairy tale story told here. 

The characters are equally as memorable as the story. Anna is atypical Disney princess; she isn't incredibly smart or proper, she's goofy, she's quirky, and she's silly. But Anna has such strength of heart that comes out so many times in the film and you can't help but love her for that. Her strength of character and convictions is what drives the plot forward and I loved seeing her encounter all the turmoil that she faced during the journey. Elsa is someone who I'm able to relate with. I can emphasize with someone who has been forced to hide their true selves from others because of what's deemed as "right". That's totally understandable, as you could go a little overboard after you unleash your true self. Elsa feels the most human out of any of these characters.

Then there are the other characters. Hans is the "perfect" or "ideal" man, especially considering the Disney princes of yore, and Kristoff is, well, kind of the male version of Anna, funnily enough. Both characters are both utilized well and serve as appropriate foils to our heroines. Olaf was always going to walk the thin line of being funny or just incredibly annoying. Luckily for Frozen, Olaf works in every way that counts. He has some of the best one-liners in any Disney film, helps keep a lighter tone in some of the film's more dramatic moments (and there were quite a bit of those), and is given some honest to goodness emotional lines. That also never happens with the comic-relief sidekick. He is a pure delight. 

Something that the typical movie-goer probably won't know about Frozen is that it's a musical. The songs are written and composed by husband-and-wife team Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, whose past collaborations included Disney's Winnie the Pooh and Tony Award winners Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. The songs as a whole are fantastic for the most part. 

Frozen Heart is a very nice introduction piece to the story and the chorus reminds me much of Happy Roundabouts from Dumbo. The lyrics are nicely done and the orchestrations captures the essence of the Norwegian culture. Do You Want To Build A Snowman is a great song and one of Disney's more emotional ones. Kristen Bell's performance on that last verse is very teary-eyed to listen to. Lovely music though it tends to get emotional later on. First Time In Forever is the traditional "I Want" song that this film does right what Tangled and even Princess and the Frog to an extent did wrong. Both Bell and Menzel did a great job with the duet finale, foreshadowing the later reprise. The song sounds very Menken-esque, as his influence does appear to be permanent on the studio. Love Is An Open Door is probably my least favorite of the musical numbers. The song feels a bit too over-the-top and the lyrics are strange, but I assume that's the point of it. Do appreciate how it's supposed to be a tongue and cheek parody of classic Disney love ballads. Let It Go is the film's best song and definitely the highlight of the movie. The lyrics and music are very personal and powerful, and expresses a great message in forgetting about the past and starting anew, stronger than ever. Menzel literately has a voice to die for! The stunning visuals also help elevate the song. Reindeer Are Better then people, while short, is still a a sweet little piece. Groff's performance is very lullaby and smoothing, and his reindeer voice is hilarious. In Summer is a funny little song, and this is where the Lopez's strike the funny part with their talents. The puddle line was absolutely brilliant. The reprise to FTIF is fantastic, and very powerful. The actresses have great chemistry during the song and the ending is quite striking. Fixer Upper is one of the more funner of the Disney songs, and the lyrics are very catchy. I loved how the song gets all crazy energetic at the very end from the Gospel sounding chorus. 

A lot of the critics seem to point criticism towards the twist that occurs during the movie's third act. I've read some reviews stating that it "wasn't earned" by the critics. I haven't quite made up my decision on that, though I currently don't agree with that sentiment. If their goal was to shock the audience, I say it worked. The audience at my screening where quite shocked during the reveal.

This shouldn't be surprising, but the animation here is absolutely gorgeous. From the falling snow, to the blizzard frozen lake, and especially Elsa's ice palace, everything here was incredibly detailed and polished. When it comes down to animation techniques, I'm a huge nerd, so when I was watching Elsa build her ice castle, I got goosebumps and started to welled up. It was that stunning! I love the attention to detail that doesn't matter in the scheme of things but are still there. Anna's dress is an example of this. The embroidery designs could of have been solid colors instead of the individual threads with black fabric peeking out between them if the animators wanted too.

A+ In short, Frozen is a great mix of warmth, sadness, and great laughs. Not only is it my favorite animated film of the year, but it's also quite possibly one of my favorite Disney films of all time. Definitely check it out! 

Trailer Recap: 

The Boxtrolls: Laika's next animated feature. It's really astounding how much effort that they put into their features, and this is no exception. It was awesome to see how the film was made and how each little detail had to be handcrafted. Opens September 26th, 2014 

The Nut Job: To be honest, this looks to be a disaster. Nothing about the trailer was remotely funny and the animation looks very subpar. Also, does the design of the rodent character remind you of anyone? Opens January 17th, 2014 

Muppets Most Wanted: This was a hilarious trailer, the badge gag involving Sam Eagle cracked me up. Here's hoping for a great sequel to a movie that I absolutely adored. Opens March 21st, 2014 

Walking With Dinosaurs: Looked pretty meh to me. Expected much better CG to come from a major studio like Fox. Opens December 19th 

The Lego Movie: Really excited to check this out. You can really see the Lord-Miller styled humor from this trailer. Opens February 7th, 2014 

Maleficent: I'm currently on the fence about this project. Looks like another episode of Once Upon A Time from ABC. Opens May 30th, 2014

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