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Review: Frozen – Starts cold, ends warm and fuzzy

Posted by on November 27, 2013 – 7:45 am

FrozenIt took a little while to warm-up to Frozen, Disney’s new computer-animated film that is loosely based on the nineteenth-century fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, but once it gets going this is a fun family film with a lot of laughs, though not the greatest primary characters.

As a young girl, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) finds out that she has powers over the ice and snow, and her abilities make for great play time with her younger sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), until one day the little sorceress accidentally zaps her sister in the head with a bolt of her cold power.

After almost killing her sister, Elsa hides away from her family so that she won’t inadvertently hurt any of them again; but her young sister Anna feels shunned and doesn’t understand why the older girl has become so cold. It’s another one of those movie plots where if the two characters had just bothered to speak to each other for thirty-seconds then there would have been no story and no film.

The girls’ royal parents meet an untimely end and the siblings grow up separated by the door to Elsa’s room until her coronation as Queen, where she accidently lashes out at revelers with her powers and then goes into hiding in an ice castle of her own making high in the mountains above the kingdom, which she has accidentally cast into an eternal winter.

Anna, together with her new mountaineering friend, Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff), his trusty reindeer, Sven, and Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), a weird walking/talking snowman created by Elsa, tries to reach the Snow Queen in her castle and convince her to turn off the cold. Along the way they learn lessons of friendship and the meaning of true love.

If Taylor Swift was a mutant with Iceman like powers in Victorian era Norway, she might resemble Elsa the Snow Queen in Frozen. During more than one of the too many musical numbers in this film I thought I was watching an animated episode of American Idol rather than a fairy tale. For me the pop music and Broadway influenced tunes were the weakest part of this movie and felt out of place in an otherwise timeless story.

FrozenThere has been some controversy tied to this film in that a lot of people were upset that Disney has once again made the star of their show a beautiful white princess instead of attempting to show some diversity. (I’ll stay out of that argument, but if you are interested in all the fuss you can learn more about it on Tumblr.) I think the bigger issue is that these characters, despite their ethnicity or race, are just plain boring and underdeveloped. It takes more than singing some goofy songs to create a character.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved the non-human comedic relief characters of Sven the reindeer and Olaf the snowman, and without them this movie would have been just an avalanche of apathy. Even the snow monster that Elsa creates to protect her lair is more entertaining and interesting than the two lead parts. There is also a clan of trolls that play awkwardly into this film’s plot and on top of being the lamest creatures since the Ewoks, I don’t really get why they were even necessary.

Frozen was written by Jennifer Lee, who also wrote the much better Wreck-It Ralph screenplay, and it is co-directed by Lee and Chris Buck (who directed Disney’s animated Tarzan film.) The movie also stars Firefly’s Alan Tudyk as the voice of the Duke of Weselton, who is another boring character that is thrown into the mix as Anna’s love interest.

How would I make this movie better? I’m glad you asked! Cut the musical numbers by half (at least) and instead add some fairy tale type narration, preferably voiced-over by the humorous Olaf, providing some much needed backstory on the characters; like how did Elsa come by her powers, what do the trolls have to do with it and how/why did Kristoff get mixed up with them (or better yet, cut-out the stone trolls altogether.) I believe this would have struck a much better balance and helped the story stand stronger.

FrozenI suggest you avoid the 3D showings of this film. Much of the movie is dark and the 3D glasses will add an extra layer of muddiness to what, in all likelihood, will be an improperly illuminated projection in the first place. The 3D effect is not worth the loss of color clarity.

On the plus side, this film begins with the Mickey Mouse short, “Get a Horse,” which is a fun mash-up of old school and computer animation. It’s great to see Mickey on screen again, the first time since 1995, and the short film even incorporates old voice recordings of Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse. Pretty cool for old fans, but the kids might be wondering, “What was that?”

Ultimately, Frozen is good for some laughs, a couple of adventurous action sequences and some decent animation, but it is equally mundane and often nonsensical. Young kids will probably be bored with a lot of this, but Sven and Olaf are so good that they make the journey bearable for kids of every age. Grade: 7/10

Photos © 2013 Disney