Sunday, 12 January 2014

Frozen (A Review)

Gosh darn, Disney!! You do not know how to market your own shit!!

This movie isn't about the snowman...if you can believe it...
I was all set to hate on this movie. I had a whole "Disney doesn't know what they're doing no more" rant prepared and everything! The previews looked dumb, the characters looked bland, the tone felt like it was trying way to hard to be "hip" (that's what the kids are saying nowadays, right? "Hip?") I just had a bad feeling about Frozen. Hell, even with the one word adjective title, it felt like I've seen all this before. I even referred to Frozen as "Tangled on ice" for the longest time leading up to this film. Well, as it turns out Disney still knows what they're doing... but Disney's marketing department doesn't know how to market this movie at all. Which is weird, cause you'd think this would be an easy sell. It's a classic Disney formula, involving huge influences from the "Broadway sensibility" that the 90s "Disney renaissance" era brought to animation, but with some awesome twists and turns that make Frozen stand out on it's own and actually ends up being a truly unique fairy tale flick. In other words: DON'T TRUST THE PREVIEWS GUYS! THIS FILM IS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD GUYS! REALLY!

Elsa also gets a sweet ice dress that shows off her legs... damn grrrl!
The film is loosely adapted in typical Disney fashion (in other words, incredibly loosely) from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen. In Frozen, the plot follows the characters of Anna and Elsa, two sisters who are princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. The older sister, Elsa, is born with mysterious powers to create ice and snow. One day while playing with Anna as a child, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her magic. The King and Queen are able to save Anna's life, but as a result they had to remove any memories of her sister's power, and keep the two sisters separate until Elsa can controls her powers. Unfortunately (and since this is a Disney movie) the parents die in a storm, leading to Elsa to become the queen. At Elsa's coronation she looses control of her ice abilities, takes off into the isolation of the mountains, and covers the kingdom in an eternal winter. This leaves Anna to go on a Wizard of Oz-like quest, meeting up with fun side characters along the way, to eventually try to meet and talk to her sister and hopefully find a way to bring back summer.

What could possibly go wrong! ...oh powers...
And that's only the first act! The script does a great job introducing all of this backstory in a entertaining way. But more importantly, it in no way feels forced. What's even more impressive is that once Anna starts playing the "Dorothy" role in their quest, things still don't go as predictably as you might think from a Disney flick. It's not a typical fantasy quest, as there's no dragon to slay, no evil kingdom, no big baddy at the end. There's just two sisters trying to patch things up between them.

And there in is the biggest change to the Disney formula: this is a story about two sisters. That's kind of a big deal. (And not just cause Disney can add not one, but two more entries into their highly profitable "Disney Princess" lineup.) It's amazing because the focal point for this whole story isn't about finding romance. In a Disney princess movie! It's not about romance! That is just crazy!! I mean, there is love interests in there, and they play a part in the plot, but it really takes a back seat to the true focus of this story. This film is about family. The familial love is what pushes the story forward, and the complex sister relationship is something that is not only not seen in a Disney animated feature, it's a relationship that isn't really prevalent in Hollywood movies in general. So kudos on that call Disney. Ya did good.

Professor X recruits Elsa in the Frozen 2...hopefully...
That leads me to talk about my favorite part of the film: Elsa. Oh man, do I love this character. It's wonderful to get a Disney character who is not good, not evil, just a confused shade of grey. She's far and wide the most interesting personality in this film as she's in a position where she wants to be a good sister and ruler of the kingdom, but bad things happen because of her and her uncontrollable powers. She lives in a world that hates and fears her (just like the X-Men!) and she doesn't even know how to stop what she's doing (just like the X-Men!) It's a coming of age super-power metaphor for puberty (just like....ah, you get it...) In fact, as Elsa finally lets loose her powers during her big power song "Let It Go," you can really feel her happiness and freedom in what is probably the best musical number in the film both thanks to the jaw dropping effects animation of Elsa building her ice castle, and the singing power of Broadway star Idina Menzel (who you may know as Elphaba from, just clueing in that there's a lot of Wizard of Oz similarities going on in this film...neat.)

Oh yeah. And by the way, this is a musical. Surprise! Didn't know it was a musical because the previews didn't even mention this fact? Well...yeah! This is a musical. In fact, music is a huge part of this film. Kind of a big thing to sweep under the rug, Disney marketing! And maybe if you embraced it, more people would be inclined to see this frickin' film! Because, surprise-surprise, the songs are pretty awesome. But whatever, Disney marketing, I'm sure you know what you're doing. ...aaaanyway...

Did someone ask for an EPIC SONG CUE?!

The music is terrific. Much like 90s Disney films employed Broadway familiar employees of the time, here we're treated with some fun musical numbers with a very modern sensibility. Along with getting Wicked flashbacks from Idina Menzel's performance, the songs are penned from Robert Lopez, known for his comedic writing from Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. And while of course writing for a Disney movie means no raunchy or inappropriate comedy like in those musicals, there's just a huge sense of fun, excitement and at times epic scale to the musical numbers. They're big, loud, exuberant and the centrepieces for all the major plot points. And in my opinion, that's exactly what I want from my Disney flick.

They got different hair! ....that's...somethin'...right?
Now, you might think I've pulled a complete 180 degrees on my opinion of this movie compared to my opinion of its previews, and truth be told, that's not entirely the case. I was in awe with the amazing background designs (especially Elsa's ice castle,) but the character designs...meeeh. There's really no denying the character designs play it a little on the safe side, in that the style is very similar to Tangled. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, but I felt at least in Tangled we got more of a variation between characters, with more unique personalities just from the designs. Elsa and Anna's faces have only tiny variations between that of Rapunzel's (and each other's for that matter.) And while I enjoyed the moose character, Sven, acting like a dog, there's no denying that he was trying to fill that animal sidekick role that the horse in Tangled already did so well (as well as having a much more unique personality.) All in all, most human characters I think could have been designed more interestingly, or with a dash more creativity. True it's a safe design choice, and it's not that bad, but I just kinda wish they'd push the envelope design-wise a bit more.

Graduate of the Lindsay Bluth school of dance 
On the animation side, it's looking good, but I think could've been better. There's a couple of standout character animation performances, one of which being the charmingly clumsy Anna, whose movements are absolutely beaming with personality. Other characters I kinda wished for more animation to convey more of a personality, such as the lead males, Kristoff and Hans (not bad animation mind you, just a little bland.) Then way on the other hand, there's this random Duke character, who is waaaay over the top and cartoony. It seemed like this character was forced in order to get some comic relief in there with his quick pace and awkwardly spastic movements. I know he was trying to be funny, but this character's cartoony animation didn't really fit in with the other, more realistically, animated human characters. But with that said....the effects! Oh man! The effect animation on this flick is just frickin' amazing. The snow looks amazing, and you can really tell they did tests and research on the stuff to make sure this icy wonderland looked brilliant.

Damn it've warmed my icy heart...
Now I know what you're thinking: "you're almost finished your review, and you didn't even mention the snowman!" Yes, the snowman. Olaf. That oddly designed, obvious comedic relief that Disney has been forcing down people's throats as the main icon in their ad campaign for this movie. I thought I'd talk about Olaf last because, in many ways, he kind of embodies perfectly how I felt about this film. Going in it felt like he was forced. Really forced. Like Disney said, "you're going to watch this snowman...and you're going to love him...LOVE HIM DAMN IT!!" And I was all set to "stick it to The Man." I was totally going to reject this false snow icon! Here I thought I was gonna hate the snowman, but upon seeing him...damn it. I kinda love him. True, sometimes his antics were a little irritating, but mostly I found him charming, funny, and even a little heartwarming. And that, in and of itself, is how I see Frozen as a whole: charming, funny and even a little heartwarming. I admit that, like the townspeople who judged Elsa harshly because of her powers, so too did I judge this movie before I saw it. So please, ignore how Disney markets this movie. Ignore the fact that they're awkwardly trying to hide Disney's musical roots, or how they're not showing that this is a unique story about two estranged sisters. Just go see it for yourself and be the judge. For me, it was a great example of classic Disney storytelling tackling a new type of fairy tale for a new audience in a new age.

I guess that'll teach me to judge a snowman before I get to know him.


- Moo