For a couple of beats early on Frozen seems to have the potential to be perhaps the darkest animated feature ever from the folks at Disney. One little girl, a blonde, is chasing and playing with another, a redhead, when the latter is knocked cold and unconscious. By all appearances, she's dead - killed by her sister. Mother and father rush in to the vast room where one of their children hovers over the lifeless body of the other. It appears to be a devastating scene that's even more upsetting than the respective losses of Bambi's mother or Simba's father.
Alas, not this time. Trolls, or something like them, revive young Anna as her royal parents and sister Elsa are told that the latter's (unexplained) magical power to involuntarily freeze things must remain secret and hidden behind closed doors. The girls grow up, with Anna bouncing around the palace but lonely and confused as to why Elsa never comes out of her room. After the death of their parents, the film picks up with a coronation day in which Elsa is to be made queen. The gates to the palace will finally open and a grand celebration is to be held. But will Elsa's icy tendencies ruin the event, and how will Anna cope with finally being exposed to the outside world? The film needs 102 minutes to figure it all out, so you can sort of figure something rather disastrous occurs.
The personal bias of this writer is a preference for the bleakly downbeat approach, as it's seen more often than not as a conduit of interesting art. With that in mind, you'll have to forgive the sharing of my initial optimism that Frozen would somehow be anything besides what Walt Disney Animation Studios has done over and over again for decades. Frozen is fantasy and princesses and comic relief non-humans and storybook love and songs. It's inflated conflict with a happy ending, a safe message, and a reminder that the Disney brand will always find yet another way to do what it does best. Wrinkles may be added here and there, but every few years little girls are almost guaranteed to have a new flavor of Disney princess of whom a bevy of toys await to be purchased.
All of that is inherently understandable and lacking in controversy. It just sometimes, maybe, leads to disappointment upon watching the latest and greatest when it almost invariably does little more than continue the formula. Much of Frozen is a bore. It's a bore because the film is relentlessly generic aside from one or two points of inspiration. The voice cast, save for Josh Gad who makes good use of his natural boisterousness as the snowman Olaf, values precision and clarity over invention and distinguishing traits. The animation is coldly efficient but lacking in texture. Just the big-eyed, anime-looking faces of Anna and Elsa creeped me out and looked wrong. The rest of the art is more video game-ish than painterly. The exception, here and everywhere, is Olaf, who looks to have been designed for a different movie entirely.
The Olaf character is actually worth discussing a bit further. Is he out of place or just a welcome respite from what is mostly a rather sad, dreary plot? He certainly doesn't match most anything else in Frozen. This is the humor in a film which otherwise has none. But before he gets Jar-Jarred and feathered, let's defend Olaf as a throwback to all of the comedic Disney sidekicks over the years. These supporting creatures often annoy and entertain in equal parts, but Olaf, shamelessly or not, is pretty great here. As subjective as humor can be, it's difficult to imagine finding someone more displeased with the bouncing snowman than song lyrics like "don't know if I'm elated or gassy." And his strange fascination with summer and warmth, the things which would†theoretically end his existence, makes Olaf an oddly bittersweet character.
Adding medicine, of varied efficacy, to the melancholy are the many songs in what is absolutely a bona fide musical film, for better or worse. Still, an Oscar-winning hit like "Let It Go" may have hidden how largely unmemorable many of these numbers are. As Elsa, Idina Menzel makes the most of her shining opportunity to belt out the movie's signature song. The character is facing a major turning point, and the scene becomes a highlight of the picture. Everything else, though, comes across as inarticulate internal monologuing via singsong. As the plot picks up some speed, the songs seem to become less frequent and Frozen is allowed a little room to breathe. We're treated to a dastardly little twist and a few of those great moments of peril promised by the PG rating. It's a fairly satisfying final half hour or so, even if it's unfortunately mooted by the slog of the rest.
The release of Frozen being reviewed here is the U.S. Blu-ray and DVD "Collector's Edition" which comes out slightly prior to the one in the United Kingdom. †The BD is dual-layered and region-free. A Digital Copy is also included in the package.
Video quality in terms of color and detail is pretty much digitally perfect. The transfer shows no signs of manipulation or error. It sparkles. I'd struggle to think of any possible area for improvement. The only potential oddity is the listed 2.24:1 aspect ratio, which is not unprecedented but still unusual. †A better researcher might be able to discover the exact reason for why it's in this rarely used AR instead of 2.35:1 or 2.40:1.
The main audio track on the Blu-ray is an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio option which is crystal clear and sufficiently robust in sound. The heavy use of music and songs is allowed to breathe fully in this mix. As with the video, it's more or less without flaw. An English language Descriptive Video Service Dolby Digital 2.0 track has also been included, as well as Spanish and French DD 5.1 dubs. The DVD substitutes a Dolby Digital 5.1 default for the 7.1 DTS-HD but retains the other options. There are subtitles available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish. These are actually yellow in color instead of the white previously used on most Disney BDs.
For a release billed as a "Collector's Edition" this version doesn't contain a lot in the way of bonus material. There's the Oscar-nominated animated short "Get a Horse!" (6:00) starring Mickey Mouse, which also preceded the film in cinemas. Its concept and keeping Walt Disney's voice as Mickey both received quite a bit of attention upon release so it's nice to see the inclusion of the short here.
Curiously, "The Making of Frozen" (3:18) is not a making-of at all, but a fairly nonsensical musical number with Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff (and eventually Kristin Bell) teasing a behind the scenes featurette which doesn't exist. Apparently, that's the joke but it's probably less funny to those actively wanting to see such a thing (and not wanting to perhaps later be offered it on a future home video release).
The only real opportunity for insight comes with "D-frosted: Disney's Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen" (7:28). This piece has directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck talk about a couple of past Disney projects which never got off the ground, including a potential tale concerning Andersen's Snow Queen.
The collection of four "Deleted Scenes" (6:51) begin with an optional introduction with directors Lee and Buck. These omitted sequences are not fully animated and actually consist of rough storyboarded images with voiceover.
Music videos (15:42) of "Let It Go (End Credit Version)" can be viewed in four different languages. Demi Lovato provides the English version while Martina Stoessel sings in both Italian and Spanish and even a Malaysian recording is sung by Marsha Milan. The original teaser trailer (1:32), where Olaf and Sven fight over the snowman's carrot nose, finishes up the extras.