Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Premise: Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. A young princess (voice of Idina Menzel) copes with a magical power in which everything she touches turns to ice. When she is exposed, the princess flees to the mountains and inadvertently turns the kingdom into a perpetual winter. Meanwhile her sister and a mountaineer attempt to bring her back.
What Works: Frozen is a product of the Walt Disney Animation Studio and it is among the better, and perhaps the best, animated film to come out of the studio in the past decade. This picture is charming and smart and it recalls the kind of family entertainment that the Walt Disney Company has historically been known for. Frozen is a fairytale and a Disney princess story but the filmmakers take a slightly different approach to those genres. In many respects, Frozen is a meta-fairytale, meaning that it knowingly plays on the conventions and clichés of the genre. This self-awareness plays out in virtually every aspect of the movie, including the plot, the songs, and the animation itself, and rather than getting irritating, which can sometimes be the result of meta-textual filmmaking, it makes the movie much more enjoyable. Self-aware movies sometimes come across as condescending, as though the filmmakers regard the subject as beneath them, but Frozen doesn’t display contempt for the audience or the genre. Instead, the picture gives the impression that the filmmakers want the audience to be in on the joke and despite the fun they have at the expense of the fairytale genre, the filmmakers also commit to telling a compelling story with interesting characters. Frozen contains two princesses and it deals with these characters very differently from a lot of other Disney princess films. Very often the female characters of Disney features are basically props for male character to lust after and rescue but the women of Frozen are authentic characters whose choices and actions drive the story. Frozen is also a lot of fun. The story is an amusing adventure with all the elements of crowd pleasing entertainment, its humor is broad enough to appeal to both children and their parents, and it possesses a disarming earnestness that should win over even the most curmudgeonly viewer.
What Doesn’t: Disney’s animated features have gone through cycles, with each phase generating films with distinct animation and storytelling styles. Some of these cycles have been better than others, and it is hard to say where the current phase, which started with 2010’s Tangled, ranks in Disney’s output. One of the most popular elements of Disney’s animated features has been the music but the songs from this cycle of animated features are not very memorable. The music of Frozen suffers from lyrics that are frequently obvious and the musical sequences often lack the kind of showmanship or storytelling function of Disney’s better movies. There is a distinct impression that the songs, rather than advancing character and story, are often just filler. This is symptomatic of a general flaw of Frozen; its story is very thin. Once the elder sister flees to the mountains the momentum of the story subsides before picking up again in the finale. The plot beats of the second act are few and far between and the twists that occur late in the movie are either clearly telegraphed or they come out of nowhere. In order to compensate, the filmmakers of Frozen inject the movie with a lot of wit, but the humor is a tacit admission that Frozen lacks the characterization and narrative sophistication of films like Beauty and the Beast or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is most obvious in Olaf, the talking snowman. Although he is funny, the character serves no purpose except to deliver comic relief and he sometimes treads on obnoxiousness.
Bottom Line: Frozen is a fine piece of animated moviemaking. It is unlikely to emerge as a classic but it is very entertaining.
Episode: #469 (December 15, 2013)