Monday, December 9, 2013

Frozen: Is it Worth Braving the Cold? by Mike Fatum

There were a lot of years where it was hard to call yourself a Disney fan. Despite occasional knockouts like "The Emperor's New Groove" and "Lilo and Stitch," the House of the Mouse never really managed to reach up to the heights it had during the years of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Films like Dinosaur, Brother Bear, Home on the Range and Chicken Little were acceptable, but Disney seemed content to leave the films that would change little kids' lives to Pixar and just pump out whatever they wanted. Even their final attempt at a traditional animated princess movie, The Princess and the Frog, seemed like it was reaching for something it never quite achieved.

Then, four years ago, they dropped this little film on us.

Full of great music, realized characters, an interesting take on a frankly kind of one-note fairy was the first Disney animated movie in a very long time that felt like a Disney movie. They followed it immediately with Wreck-it-Ralph, which isn't a traditional Disney flick by any standards but was such a fun and heartfelt love-letter to the video games we all grew up on that it was hard to dislike. The excellent plot and characters, and the incredible feat of making Sarah Silverman not annoying, didn't hurt.

Still, when Disney announced their next venture, I got a little concerned.

Frozen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen." Without spoiling too much, that's not a happy tale. (Almost nothing by Mr. Andersen is.) And while Disney has previously made depressing as all hell stories into more Disneyfied ones without taking away their impact (The Little Mermaid, the Hunchback of Notre Dame), Frozen seemed to be taking almost nothing from the original story, which was just a smidge worrying. Add that to the fact that the art style was exactly the same as Tangled, the first commercial was a throwaway piece of physical seemed like this might be a trip back to Brother Bear territory.

As I sat through the first third of the film, I thought I would be wrong. The set up to the main story of Frozen is strong as hell, with two main characters in Elsa and Anna that have a ton of pathos built in. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez (Robert is one of the co-creators of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) range from hilarious ("Love is an Open Door") to heartbreaking ("Do You Want to Build a Snowman") and uplifting ("Let it Go"). From the very beginning, this film seems like it's going to be something special.

Then these guys get involved.

For some context, keep in mind that apparently the original script for Frozen just featured Elsa and Anna, and both the handsome leading man and the snowman comic relief were added in later. And while they make some sense in the story, and the script has been re-written to make them "important", they still come across as shoehorned in. The strong world being built in the first third of the movie screeches to a halt to make sure we pay attention to these guys, and the much stronger story of Elsa and Anna's relationship suffers for it.

Libraries worth of articles could be written (and have been) on the problems with unnecessary comic relief in film, and Olaf the snowman fits the bill. Thankfully, he never descends to Jar Jar level, and his one song is pretty darned funny, but otherwise he adds absolutely nothing to the film, and the one major lesson for him to learn is learned and dismissed too quickly. Kristoff, on the other hand, seems completely unnecessary at the beginning of the film, due to this guy:

Hans is the Prince that Anna falls in love with at the beginning of the film. He's a typical modern Disney Price - daring and brave and just a little awkward, and most importantly, he's willing to watch the home base and let Anna go off and have her own adventure. By the time the movie gets around to revealing that it's him who's unnecessary, it just feels like a cheap plot twist to make Kristoff the star.

It's a shame Frozen felt the need to include Kristoff and Olaf, because a film about Anna going on an adventure to find her sister while Hans tries to hold off the sinister machinations back home would be really interesting, and kind of feminist. And while the ending certainly isn't your typical Prince-Swoops-in-to-Save-the-Day thing, Kristoff's added subplots take away time to develop Elsa's interesting personal revelation that saves everyone.

It's not that Frozen is a disappointment. It's a decent, possibly even good, film. But it's another example of a film that needed to not be meddled with. By taking the original, really interesting, story and adding too many extra characters, it's missed a chance to make a truly great film and let us say Disney is finally in another Golden Age. Still - the music is utterly fantastic. If you don't believe me, finish this review by listening to Idina Menzel's ballad "Let it Go" - which is so good that Disney put the whole thing on Youtube to make you go see the movie.


  1. This might be obvious, but SPOILERS!

    I agree with this -- although I will also say that I didn't mind Hans turning out to be a bad guy because I liked the message of "getting to know someone before you fall head over heels," which I think was enforced by the lack of a wedding at the end. I also think that "Let it Go" was probably the strongest song in the show. The rest of the music was pretty good, but certainly not at the level of Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Lion King. I also didn't mind Olaf, but maybe because I was so so very frightened of that hideous teaser that my standards were pretty low ;) Actually! I thought that when Olaf holds Anna next to the fire to warm her and starts melting, I was kinda hoping that HIS sacrifice for love was going to be the thing that broke the spell! How cool would that have been? :)

    1. That would've been a neat idea, actually, and made Olaf more important. I really wanted him to figure in somehow, especially since, as the snowman, he's so important to the beginning of the piece.

      I didn't mind Hans's transformation either as a function of making Kristoff important, but since there was a bad guy RIGHT THERE in the tiny bald dude, it seemed a smidge silly to have another one pop up.

  2. So, I have to say I was prepared to hate this film, the snow Queen is one of my FAVORITE super tragic stories. I think they did a good job with it and I agree with pretty much everything Mike said. I especially liked that Hans turned evil, but anyone with an ounce of genre sense knew that was his gimick the moment he mentions he has twelve brothers. Here's what I felt was missing from the film:
    Elsa - she has a wonderfully tragic backstory and no where to go. I wanted to be with her as she prepares for the coranation, see more of her angst of being isolated after her parents death. I LOVED the song "do you want to build a snowman" Makes me tear up.

    No romantic subplot between Kristoff and Anna (the original lovebirds from the story). And really what was the point of the trolls besides a nod at the scandanavian background of the story.

    Again more Elsa - she didn't even get a chance to be remorseful at covering the town in snow.

    I understand why Olaf is there, it is an energy generator for the Monsters Inc. and the little 'ittles got a kick out of him (Merch, man.) I was suprised how upset I was getting as he was melting, but when it didn't happen I felt manipulated. In Princess and the Frog, I cried like a little baby when the firefly died even though he was the comic relief character. And I really broke down at the two stars. (when you see it you'll understand). That was a comic relief character that had purpose. I think there must have been a scene of Elsa building Olaf again and breathing life into him. There should have been some connection between them.

    Overall I enjoyed it. It is a BEAUTIFUL movie, bring a sweater, cause all that snow made me cold. the songs are great and Disney is getting closer to getting it back, I think they need to just tighten the story departments up.