(directed by Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck, 2013)
****+ (out of 5)
> Rarely has such a good film looked so terrible in the publicity shots and coming attractions trailer. The look of the poster is goofy and plastic in that empty TV way computer-generated character animation can often be. It does not inspire optimism…
. Every time I see a new bit of Disney animation, I can’t help but wonder what old Walt would have thought of it. There’s absolutely no doubt, many of the 34 animated features the studio made after his passing (not counting the Pixar flicks) would never have gotten the green light from the great, domineering storyteller. Disney had pretty rigid ideas about what constituted his brand and what did not. I have little doubt he’d have hated ALADDIN for example, and felt outraged and affronted by Robin William’s improvised wisecracks as the sly genie- a character that was wildly popular with American audiences. The problem? ALADDIN is jam-packed with timely cultural references which may have been a hoot when the film was released in 1992 but may well be close to incomprehensible to future audiences who have no clue, for example, who Leona Helmsley was. It was very important to the exacting taskmaster that his films stand the test of time. He was making art, not just commerce. And I have no doubt he’d have bristled at the base, lowbrow humor in both films.
. Additionally, FROZEN is a packed with slick, highly-produced pop music that, despite being part of the formula that made it Disney’s most profitable film ever, may not sound so good a decade from now. It feels like a commercial gamble that appears to have paid off in spades. But the music runs the gambit from the stirring (“For the First Time in Forever”) to the insipid (“The Trolls”). The big show-stopping number (“Let It Go”, this year’s Best Song winner), did not appeal to me in the slightest when I heard it at the Oscar telecast, despite the fact that it was on the lips of every seven years old girl in America! Nonetheless, in context, it worked beautifully.
. Despite a wonderfully artful opening sequence about burly Nordic outdoorsmen harvesting ice from the surface of the frozen fjord, it took me a while to warm to the considerable charm of this truly wonderful film- probably because so much of it was clearly aimed at the younger set. (The dreadful Troll’s Song seemed aimed at the Care Bears set.) Wonderful scenes are followed by scenes that are so stilted and cardboard as to be completely uninvolving, finely crafted songs followed by hackneyed tripe. But the good news here far outweighs the bad, making FROZEN Disney’s best animated film since THE LION KING.
. The story is freely (and well) adapted from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, and once it gets into gear it works a charm. There is some stark tragedy in the first reel that surprises us for a Disney film, (think: BAMBI, whose mother is killed in the first reel), but the darkness is summarily pasted-over as the plot plows on at breakneck speed. It’s the story of two royal sisters: Elsa, a princess with amazing powers of cold and ice, and Anna: her younger sibling who is easily among the most pleasantly quirky heroines in the Disney cannon. Theirs is an unabashed tale of female empowerment. I really loathe the exaggerated features used in commercial computer animation these days- the huge, fat heads barely supported by all but nonexistent necks, the ridiculously huge anime-style eyes that make every character look like a freakish mutant, the impossible shapes and sizes of the hyper-feminine female bodies and the puffed up machismo of the musclebound men, the facial profiles that look like no human face I’ve ever seen- but the characters are so well-developed here that I was usually able to ignore the package and appreciate the contents. And the content here is as strong as any Disney toon that came before it.
. There is just so much to enjoy here, I hardly know where to start.
. The production design is so flawlessly executed, that it threatens to upstage the characters and story. Stunning to watch, breathtaking to experience, this film is that true oxymoron: commercial art. FROZEN is certainly art as much as it is commerce. The colors are rich and vibrant, the snowstorms and ice effects are awesomely rendered. And even though the central conceit is so predictable and overused, (the heroine and her world are in grave, existential danger and they can only be rescued by a selfless act of True Love), the final reel is so perfectly crafted, that any one of four characters could be her savior- so we are kept guessing until the end. (In a fascinating bit of plotline sleight-of-hand, each represents a different type of “True Love”- romantic love of course, sisterly love, the love of a compatriot sharing a quest or the selfless, self-destructive love of a friend- in this case a magically living snowman who has some of the best quips in the script.) Fine work!
. And do stay put for the first half of the closing credits. Like the rest of the film, they are simply awesome: a gorgeous mix of color and design as mesmerizing as anything that came before.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.