Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Frozen: A Movie Review

I started thinking about Frozen again recently.  It's one of Disney's biggest hits in many years and has become the favorite of many a watcher, myself included.  It's also become one of Disney's most polarizing features, drawing ire from as many sides as give heaps of praise.  I figured I could give my two cents as someone who enjoys it, but can also see some flaws.  In this post, I will be going through the plot of Frozen and showing why Frozen is one of Disney's greatest films.  In the next post, I will be facing down Tumblr and saying why Frozen is Disney's most overrated films.

After preparing mentally for my Internet crucifixion, let's dive in.

Frozen opens with the traditional Disney castle opening, followed by the newer Steamboat Willie credit, and a slow, artsy shot of snowflakes panning back to reveal the main title.  The song that plays over it is the beautiful chanting of "Vuelie."  It's a nice opening and helps set the mood, but it does feel disconnected from the rest of the film.  It feels like it's trying to be "Circle of Life," but the rest of the film doesn't have music similar to it like Lion King did.  The next song is a much better indication of the music overall, but "Vuelie" is a better fit as an opener, so it's a bit of a catch-22.  It gives me chills everytime I hear it and pumps me up to watch the movie, though, so I guess it's doing something right.

The next three songs, "Frozen Heart," "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" and "For the First Time in Forever" encompass what I think of as the exposition phase of the movie.  "Frozen Heart" starts this off with very literally.  It establishes the tone of the movie and songs to follow better than "Vuelie," and offers a few subtle clues as to what will come later in the movie.  It's a nice song, but a bit forgettable.  It does what it needs to; it's not superfluous or excessive in any way.

From "Frozen Heart," we get a beautiful pan up to an aurora and down into Arendelle (I'll talk about visuals  at the end, this is more of a plot summary and how well the music works with it) where we find our two main characters, Anna and Elsa.  Cute little Anna pesters Elsa to sneak downstairs so they can play with Elsa's special ice powers.  It's clear that this is a regular occurence with them and something they both enjoy.  They play, in a very adorable scene, until tragedy strikes and Elsa accidentally hits Anna in the head with an ice bolt.  Her mother and father come running and take Anna to a group of trolls who heal her (and adopt a young Kristoff & Sven), saving her life while removing all memory of Elsa's magic.  This scene sets up the primary conflict of the movie: Elsa has to keep an integral part of who she is hidden from everyone, including her dear sister.  The actual ticking clock, Arendelle's covered in a glacier conflict is a direct result of this.

Quick fade from Anna and Elsa being separated and "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" begins.  This song is fun, upbeat and peppy for the first two verses, reflecting Anna's still youthful optimism that she can coax Elsa out of her isolation.  It also serves as a time lapse, showing what the rift of Elsa forcing her magic away from her sister did to their relationship over time, while also bringing the characters up to present day.  Structurally, this song is one of two in the soundtrack without a chorus ("Vuelie" doesn't count because it's just chanting).  This repetition of the same basic phrasing without a REAL repetition like a chorus indicates that this sort of exchange was a regular, perhaps even daily, occurence growing up.  Musically, the tune is simple enough to get stuck in your head with enough complexity that it's fun to listen to repeatedly.

The final verse is a very hard tonal shift from bright and upbeat to sad and slow, reflecting the mourning the sisters are in after the death of their parents.  The shift in tempo and use of lower violin notes and clarinet accent this feeling.  What this does to the characters is interesting as well.  Not only does it give them some baggage to carry around, but, to quote from the Escapist's Bob Chipman's review of Frozen, "offing them [the parents] early instead of later...forces both girls into states of arrested development.  By the time they've reached adulthood...Anna is still a sweetly naive child desparate for affection and human contact, while Elsa...is permanently trapped in puberty; withdrawn, introverted, terrified of uncontrollable forces in her own body and paralyzed by self-conciousness of what people will think of her if she shows her true self."  What this also does for the movie is make the characters much more relatable.  To put it simply, Anna feels much more like she could be one of my friends than the 20-something she's supposed to be, and I know my little sister will turn into either one of them or a combination of the two by the time she's my age.

Frozen's exposition ends with "For the First Time in Forever."  This is where we meet the Anna and Elsa who will be doing most of the action.  We're introduced to the status quo of their lives by how they react to Elsa's coronation.  Anna reacts with excited optimism of a chance to interact with people again and maybe even find a special someone.  Elsa, meanwhile, looks on with fear and anxiety of having to put herself in the public eye, consoling herself with the knowledge that things will be more normal the following day.  The violin and woodwinds play quickly and vibrantly during Anna's verses, capturing her excitement perfectly, while Elsa's verse is softer and more regal, matching her uneasiness well.  Anna's solo choruses are dreamy and happy, while the use of brass and flutes during the last chorus blends both of their emotions together beautifully.  This is my favorite song from Frozen, just barely beating out "Let it Go," as the music is some of the finest in a lovely score.

From here, we are introduced to Hans, Prince of the Southern Isles.  He's an interesting character to say the least, and will be talked more about at that point in the story (you know what I'm talking about).  For now, he's a nice guy, someone who finally connects with Anna.  Like the young child she is inside, she falls pretty much instantly in love with him and, at the after party, they hook up in the peppy "Love is an Open Door."  "Peppy" is the word to describe it.  From the simple guitar and tambourine opening to the light accents of winds and violins in the verses to the massive swells in the chorus, the whole song is a great love song with a nice catchy tune.  As a villain song, (which it kind of is) it's cleverly disguised, but I feel people can read into it too much to make it a villain song.  While it has small elements that hint at some deviousness underneath, some elements people have pulled out seem really far-fetched.  Read this and see how many "villanous details" you agree with.

After this, Elsa rejects Anna's engagement, leading to a confrontation between the two where Elsa's ice powers are revealed.  Every thinking she's a monster, her worst fear, Elsa runs off into the mountains, freezing the sea around Arendelle solid.  Anna rides off after her, leaving Hans in charge.

This leads into "Let it Go," the big centerpiece of the movie and it's easy to see why.  The song swells from a simple yet haunting piano refrain, adding layers of strings as the piano becomes more complex.  The first chorus is nice and light, almost timid.  In the second verse, the piano and strings become more energetic and uplifting, becoming even more so as the second chorus comes.  The bridge seems to build and build, coupled with Idina Menzel's voice rising and rising in pitch until she bursts full force into the final chorus.  The music blasts into the uplifting final strains as Menzel belts out her final notes.  I am shocked she hasn't won a Tony yet and I hope, if she goes back to Broadway, she finally gets her dues.  "Let it Go" also serves a narrative purpose, aside from being the big, flashy "Under the Sea" or "Be Our Guest" of the movie.  This is the moment where Elsa finally loses her inhibitions and accepts herself for who she is.  This is probably why a lot of people, especially older fans, react so strongly to it.  Everyone who has been a teen has at some point felt this way.  They finally feel comfortable in their own skin and enjoy the person they are growing up to be.

After this, there's a long break of songs in the movie.  This section of the movie deals with Anna meeting up with Kristoff and Sven, an ice harvester and his pet reindeer.  Kristoff is a much different character than Hans, our other male lead.  Where Hans was charming and kind, Kristoff is a bit of a jerk.  He's a bit like the big, dumb jock to Hans' polite nerd, to use old stereotypes.  His interactions with Sven, speaking for him and acting as if he is his conscience, are immensely endearing, though.  This decision to leave Sven as a non-talking animal was smart, as it gave Kristoff a lot of personality he would have lost otherwise.

Oh yeah, Kristoff does get a minute long musical number.  It's a bit of a gross-out number and really forgettable, despite Jonathon Groff's really good singing voice.  I don't really like it, and it doesn't add much to the plot.

Kristoff and Anna are joined by Olaf, a talking snowman made in the exact same way the girls made snowmen as kids.  Olaf is introduced with the comedic "In Summer."  It has a simple melody, cute lyrics and some memorable visuals.  This is the only completely comedic song, with the comedy coming from his ignorance over what summer, a thing he desparately wants to experience, will mean for a snowman like himself.  It's cute while it lasts, but not terribly important.  It adds nothing to the plot and doesn't reveal too much about Olaf's character.  As a comic relief character, he might not need as much history as the dramatic characters, but it would be nice to know a bit more about him.

The group travels to Elsa's newly made ice castle.  Anna tries to reconnect with her sister, but Elsa's fears over what happened to Anna all those years ago make her brush Anna off.  This leads into the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever."  It follows the same structure as the end of the song, with different lyrics and one notable exception.  After Anna tells Elsa she accidentally blanketed Arendelle in snow, Elsa freaks out.  She conjures a mini blizzard around her and takes over the song.  Elsa overpowers Anna at the end, eventually leading to a beautiful crescendo followed by Elsa shooting Anna in the heart with ice and conjuring a massive snow monster to kick Anna and her party out.

Kristoff notices that Anna's hair is growing white, so he takes her to see his family; the trolls who long ago saved Anna from a similar blast.  Meanwhile, Hans has gone with a group to bring Elsa back to Arendelle.  Things go wrong when they are attacked by the snow monster that kicked out our heroes and two rogue agents attempt to kill Elsa.  Elsa nearly kills them back before Hans stops her and begs her to see reason.  She lets down her attack long enough for one of the men to knock her out.  She is then taken back to Arendelle and imprisoned.

Kristoff and Anna arrive at the trolls' home where they greet her and immediately assume the two of them are a romantic item.  This is my main problem with the trolls.  In the beginning, they seemed very noble, serious creatures that could have a quirky edge.  Here, they seem to be an amalgamation of every loud, noisy, over-interested family in media.  Either of these could have worked (though the second would have seemed a bit strange in the beginning), but instead, the trolls seem just inconsistent.  Coupled with the overly simple "Fixer Upper" and its awful rhyme scheme, the trolls are my least favorite part of the movie.  The only thing they do to advance the plot is to misdirect the climax, which I'll get to soon.

After informing Anna that only an act of true love can save her, they race back to Arendelle to get Anna back to Hans.  When they reunite, however, Hans reveals himself to be only interested in her to get the throne and that everything is going according to plan.  This twist was well done, revealed with a line that caused theaters worldwide to gasp in shock.  I've seen some criticism leveled at this, saying that the story could easily have been done with the Duke as the main villain and forcing Anna to come to a choice about who she would rather be with.  I can see that, but I think that would be putting too much emphasis on romantic love, which the story does not center around.

But, does this make the Hans turn bad?  No, and there is an interesting theory about why this might have happened that my friend shared with me.  In Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, which Frozen is inspired by, there is a mirror created by an evil troll which reflects all that is bad and ugly in the world.  Now, perhaps, Hans is based off of this mirror, just more literally.  He reflects Anna's excitement and love in "Love is an Open Door," the strength of Arendelle's people when he tells off the Duke while Anna is away, and Elsa's fear when he visits her in jail.  It's just a theory, but it seems to make sense.

After Hans leaves Anna to die, she is saved by Olaf and the two of them realize that Kristoff would be her true love.  Olaf tries to get Anna to Kristoff while Elsa breaks out of jail, causing a brutal blizzard.  Hans chases after her and the four struggle to find each other in the raging snow.  There's a great action scene here as Kristoff and Anna race to each other.  Meanwhile, Hans confronts Elsa and lies to her, saying that the ice magic finally worked its way through Anna's heart and killed her.  Distraught, Elsa falls to her knees, freezing the blizzard in place.  Kristoff and a nearly-frozen Anna see each other, but, in one final act, Anna runs to save Elsa from Hans' sword, blocking the blade but freezing in the process.  Elsa looks up to find her dear sister frozen solid.  She sobs next to her statue-like sister as the othe heroes gather around to mourn.

But Disney doesn't kill off a marketable princess yet.  The misdirection I mentioned with the trolls happens here.  Instead of the act of true love being a standard kiss, Anna's sacrifice out of love for her sister thaws her heart and revives her.  With this power of love, Elsa thaws all of Arendelle and our heroes live happily ever after.  Curiously, she does this to a reprise of "Vuelie," which ordinarily would call back to that number, but as "Vuelie" doesn't do too much with the story, it feels out of place.  Maybe they were trying to bookend the film, but there are still a few minutes after this, and the film ends with an instrumental reprise of "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman," another slightly odd choice.

Frozen looks absolutely gorgeous.  The animation is unlike anything else Disney's done; at once cartoony and realistic.  "Let it Go" is the visual splendor of the movieThe locations draw heavily from Scandinavia, particularly Norway, and they could not have picked a more beautiful setting.  The fjord used for Arendelle's inspiration is apparently Naeroyfjord, a beautiful fjord and what most people think of when they think Norway.  The movie is littered with small homages to Scandinavian and Sami culture, which give it a unique style.  The effects are stunning, especially Elsa's magic and her ice castle.  The way the light reflects and refracts inside it are simply stunning.

The voice work is equally as impressive.  Kristen Bell plays Anna wonderfully sweet and awkward, Idina Menzel capture Elsa's emotions very well, Jonathon Groff keeps Kristoff likable while staying the straight man, Santino Fontana plays both sides of Hans extremely well, and Josh Gad is fun to listen to and laugh at.  The minor characters are all memorable too, with props going to Alan Tudyk for making his Duke of Weselton both hilarious and despicable with each line.

If you've made it this far, congratulations!  You just read 2,866 words of some random guy on the internet's opinion on a children's movie!  (Shut up, I had to write it all!)  In all seriousness, thank you for making it to the end.  I hope you enjoyed it and maybe found something interesting to think about.  I really do like this movie, and would put it in one of my top movies of all time.  However, no movie is without it's flaws and I hope I've addressed some major ones.  Next time you see me, I'll be discussing some of the many reasons why Frozen is Disney's most overrated movie.  See you then!

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