With a legacy spanning decades, Walt Disney Pictures has made some of the most beloved, iconic, and memorable animated features in history. Like any company, they’ve had their ups and downs, but when they got it right, they got it right. Any kid who grew up in the nineties is already familiar with their Renaissance era, which gave us their wonderful musical hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. This signature formula wouldn’t be revisited until years later with the release of The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, and then again with the subject of today’s review, Frozen.
In what has been a weak year in animated features, Frozen was always that one glimmer of hope that I held onto so tightly. After releasing to enthusiastic early reviews, what was my verdict upon seeing Frozen? Not only do I think this is their best animated feature since Lilo & Stitch, and their best musical since The Lion King, it’s one of their all time greatest animated efforts. From the second it began (marked by graceful Norwegian choir), I was in love with Frozen.
The setting is Arendelle, where sisters Anna and Elsa spend their days playing together as children, mostly through Elsa’s ability to create ice at her command. After an accident that hurts Anna (one that she doesn’t remember, along with the knowledge of Elsa’s powers), Elsa spends most of her time concealing herself from her own sister and trying to control her abilities, and Anna spends most of her time wandering around the halls of the castle, wanting to mend the broken relationship. Years later, Elsa (Idina Menzel) is ready for her coronation as queen, and Anna (Kristen Bell) finally takes her opportunity to explore the outside. Through a series of events, Elsa accidentally causes an eternal winter to take hold of the kingdom, and retreats to isolation in the north mountain. Anna sets off to find her sister, eventually gaining the help of a no-nonsense ice salesman (Jonathan Groff), and an oblivious, summer obsessed snowman of Elsa’s creation (Josh Gad), so that this winter can be stopped.
I could not help but adore the storytelling. Nostalgia may play a slight part in it, but even putting that aside, I still found Frozen’s writing excellent. One of the reasons the film succeeds so well is that it follows through with the classic mold of the Renaissance, but creates a vision of itself that still feels wholly original. It pays just the right homage to classic traditions, but also plays with audience expectations by throwing in genuinely surprising twists (and successfully at that). The laughs are frequent, the emotional scenes are genuinely heartwarming, and the laws and logic of the film’s world are very well established. However, there are a couple of elements (such as the origin of Elsa’s powers, as well as the existence of magical trolls that live in the land) that I kept expecting them to go into detail about, but that weren’t covered. However, once you accept the reality of the world, those things are easy enough to overlook.
I especially love these characters. All of them are so memorable, so perfectly established, perfectly voiced, and they all have great scenes to shine in. Of course, one of the best elements about Frozen is in building the strained relationship of the two sisters, and it makes you empathize with what they feel throughout the film. You can feel for how Anna desperately wants to have a close relationship with her sister, and you can feel for how Elsa regrets the actions that she’s committed. Overall, the film does a great job at explaining how much these two sisters depend on each other. Kristen Bell is lovably energetic and hopeful as Anna, and Idina Menzel is sincerely conflicted as Elsa. Due to Menzel’s involvement, it also shouldn’t come as a surprise how the film shares slight similarities to the musical Wicked.
The character who shines the brightest, despite initially being hated based on the film’s advertising, is Olaf the snowman. What can I say? From the moment this character is introduced, he quickly becomes the star of the show. He’s completely oblivious at times, but always means well. He may not always be the smartest person in the room, but he’s always so helpful and upbeat. On top of that, HE’S JUST HYSTERICAL! Josh Gad is a likable delight, and is the reason for much of the movie’s biggest laughs. When he makes me laugh, he makes me laugh hard. Certainly far from the annoyance everyone feared he would be, Olaf is one of the most lovable Disney sidekicks.
This brings us now to the stellar animation. The work on the characters, environments, and the effects are simply flawless. So much of the reason that the characters are so great, aside from the great writing and performances, are through their facial expressions and movements. Their designs are top notch, looking unmistakably 3-dimensional, but still bearing resemblance to the style of Disney’s hand-drawn features. The production design is also a marvel, with the city of Arendelle, Elsa’s ice castle, and the snowy peaks and icy obstacles all looking fabulous. Another talking point, I should add, is the 3D. Normally nothing more than a gimmick to add dollars to the ticket price, the 3D is surprisingly very thoughtful, with sequences in heavy snowstorms that further immerse you into the world of the film.
Lastly, since this is a Disney musical, it wouldn’t be complete without great music, which Frozen supplies with total satisfaction, and then some. The songs here are written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and they honestly rank among some of the best Disney songs, even among Alan Menken's work. Much like the screenplay, they follow the classic traditions of the Renaissance, but mix things up in their own unique ways, such as in the writing of Idina Menzel’s powerful ballad “Let It Go”, when Elsa creates her kingdom of ice. Also worthy of note is the score by composer Christophe Beck. After a long and unfortunate time being restricted to subpar comedies that never allow him to stretch his legs, Beck is finally given the big, fully orchestral break he deserves. To create a cohesive musical experience, Beck mixes in many of the melodies of the songs with his own writing. He takes full advantage of the film’s Norwegian culture, using the native instruments to strong effect (as well as enlisting the help of the choir Cantus), and the result is, indeed, a cohesive whole worthy of being among the best Disney scores.
I don’t even know what else to say about Frozen without repeating myself. I just adore it. To me, this movie is near flawless in every way, and I couldn’t have asked for a better movie out of this. I know I may sound overly hyperbolic at this point, but something about this movie just touched me in such a meaningful way, taking me back to the feeling of being a kid again. Not only is it the year’s best animated feature, it’s one of the year’s best overall films. I just hope it’ll be able to find a big audience, and won’t have too much of the attention it deserves taken away by Catching Fire.
***** / *****