Get a Horse!, the short that precedes Frozen, sums up Disney’s attempt to combine old-fashioned warmness with newfound technology. Get a Horse! applies a gimmick of juxtaposing old Mickey Mouse with a world of 3D; characters fly off the screen, still under the Disney banner, so to an extent maintaining some authenticity. Frozen does the same by adding computer-generated beauty to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen (even if loosely based, it retains a fairytale vibe). And animated snow is somehow more beautiful than real snow. The rest of the visuals are also sensational and take advantage of modern technology – it’s the modern storytelling that sets everything back.
Set in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa (Idina Menzel) is a princess born with the magical power of turning objects to ice, which turns out to be as dangerous as it sounds. She is effectively hidden away in a castle with her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell); as most Disney princesses find, life is lonely. Eventually, the sisters leave the palace for Elsa’s coronation, whereby opening the front doors becomes a homecoming. When Elsa’s icy powers are accidentally unleashed during an argument, she runs away, leaving a snowy path and a neverending winter for the locals.
Now, here’s where the story switches to Anna and a quest to find her sister. (Personally, I would have preferred a film about Elsa’s self-determined isolation, where music provides her only company. Maybe I should revisit Tangled.) Anna’s journey – which I should probably call an adventure – requires the aid of mountain expert Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mute reindeer, and an anthropomorphic snowman. Oh, the snowman. His name is Olaf, he’s voiced by Josh Gad, he’s already all over the film’s marketing, and I wanted him to melt as soon as words came out of his weirdly shifting mouth.
Ice dominates Frozen, where barren whiteness is blurred in the frame’s corners. All hope is lost and strangely beautiful; every icicle and slippery slope is a solemn reminder of Elsa’s sadness taking place off-screen. But to dumb down the film is Olaf: deliberately ugly, unlike the rest of the animation, and full of cartoonish slapstick. To the writers’ credit, he dreams of eternal warmth, and is thus a supporter of his own personal tragedy.
Anna is a feisty and likeable lead, and makes far better viewing than a traditional prince marching through the snow. Kristen Bell’s vocal talents inevitably have a touch of Veronica Mars, and I see no reason why she couldn’t have been allowed more jokes – especially as it would make the snowman unnecessary. She’s also sidetracked by big musical numbers that don’t live up to expectation, particularly one with singing trolls. Some songs throughout adopt a half-spoken tone; jokes interrupt the rhythm, evoking a half-hearted self-awareness. The others I just found unmemorable.
There’s a smarter film somewhere in Frozen, one that can make full use of the glorious animation and melancholic snow. For viewers who aren’t swayed by the musical numbers or Olaf’s groan-worthy gags, the discernible lack of story is sadly noticeable. While the background is icily cool, the dialogue is mundane filler reminiscent of sludge.
United States of America
108 mins approx
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee