Movie Review: Frozen

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When Queen Elsa’s magical ice powers are let loose on her coronation day, her sister Anna travels through the snow to find her and save the kingdom from eternal winter.

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Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee, 2013

Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) were happy children who enjoyed playing together in the snow that Elsa’s magical powers created. One day, however, there’s an accident while the children are playing, and Elsa hurts Anna. She’s taught to conceal and control her magic, fearing all outside contact, and Anna’s memories of the magic are erased. When their parents die, older sister Elsa is next in line for the throne, but on her coronation day she and Anna fight and Elsa unleashes her powers. The older sister heads into the mountains to hide, and optimistic Anna follows her, with the help of an ice merchant called Kristoff (Jonathan Groff!), a reindeer called Sven, and an enchanted snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad). Danger follows in the form of foreigners who are fearful of Elsa’s power, and Elsa and Anna must work together to save the kingdom.

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This is an interesting Disney effort with a lot of great ideas that never quite seem to get off the ground. There’s magical snowmen, trolls, two protagonists on different paths, princes, uncontrollable powers, a last minute twist…it seems like the writers threw everything in the mix without settling on how it all fits into the story. There are two great heroines in this film (although at one point it becomes very difficult to tell them apart), but they’re separated for most of the film, leading the writers to throw obstacles at both of them before getting to the point. Olaf the talking snowman was funnier and less irritating than I expected the Jar Jar of the piece to be (which is to say, still irritating, occasionally funny), but the magical rock trolls were strange and underused, as was their relationship with Kristoff. Also, if you get Jonathan Groff to do a voice in a Disney movie, make him sing a proper song! The songs are middling, although Idina belts the crap out of “Let It Go”, which is absolutely the highlight of the film. There’s a lot of great references in this movie too, although they’ll go way over children’s heads. I’d be interested to see how much kids take to this movie, with its muddled storyline; I imagine they’d enjoy the male characters. Elsa is hard to like, although she’s got a good heart, and Anna is fun in her boundless optimism, but gets fewer fun things to do than Kristoff and the anthropomorphised sidekicks. Visually, the snow looks great but the character design isn’t anything to write home about (I’ve been spoiled by Cloudy with a Chance now, I expect other 3d animators to lift their game). Even Wreck-It Ralph had a more interesting, unique visual style.

Elsa’s story is an intriguing one, and it’s something I wish the film had focused more on. There’s more than a hint of Wicked’s Elphaba Thropp in the character; one imagines the creators thinking “we want someone like Idina Menzel to play this role” and then having Idina sign on as a coup. There was a strong undercurrent of fear of women’s power and keeping them under control that could have been better fleshed out, and its resolution was better than I’d expected, if abrupt. She’s kept isolated, first by her parents and then by her own fear, out of concern for other people’s safety. When she finally learns to embrace her powers, the results are impressive but terrifying; it takes time for her to accept love as well. Splitting the narrative between this powerful story and Anna’s confusing one hurts the film. Anna has two love interests in addition to her hero’s journey to find and help Elsa, along with several detours that seem entirely unnecessary to the script. It’s great to have two female characters be the centre of the story, with love interests more of a side quest. The last minute twist was not unexpected, but it works. Alan Tudyk’s voice acting as the Duke of Wesselton is excellent and unrecognisable, because he is awesome in all the ways, and getting to hear Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel sing together is a rare treat. All in all it’s a weaker outing from Disney, but it’s mostly enjoyable, the ideas are fascinating and the voice cast is tops.

Frozen on IMDb

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