Thursday, February 20, 2014

Frozen 2013

Personal Overview: once again Disney mined the Hans Christian Anderson well. Frozen is based on The Snow Queen, and like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Tangled the idea of filming the story had been kicking around for a long time, it was just a case of when and how to best use it.

Just as with The Little Mermaid I didn’t know a whole lot about The Snow Queen legend other than what I had read in Fables and Jim Hines’ Princess series. Somehow I managed to miss reading a lot of Hans Christian Anderson. Probably just as well, because I don’t think Frozen really shares a lot with the original.

I saw this on a warmish day, so the whole snow and ice theme was appreciated.

The characters of Anna is just so cool. Elsa less so and I had the feeling that her ‘ice power’ was in some ways a metaphor for depression. The character is still very well done, but she’s just less fun than Anna is.

The story delights in wrong footing the viewer. Anna meets and gets engaged to Prince Hans of the Southern Kingdoms the first day she meets him and in a clever inversion of what seems to happen in every Disney Princess film, spends a lot of her time after explaining exactly how she can fall in love with someone on the day they first meet.

The act of true love that saves Anna is not something from Hans or the doughty ice salesman Kristoff, who is the real male lead, but from Elsa, Anna’s much loved, but distant sister.

They did originally plan to call the film The Snow Queen, but Frozen works better, because it’s really not about Elsa, but Anna.

The casting was spot on: Kristen Bell as Anna (she can sing! I may not have mentioned it here, but I am a huge Veronica Mars fan, so anything that advances Kristen's career is a good thing as far as I am concerned), Idina Menzel as Elsa and Jonathan Groff as Kristoff.

There were a couple of small plot flaws, one was they took 3 years to crown Elsa, but accepted Anna’s authority in seconds and even more accepted it when she put Hans in charge, a foreigner with no actual credentials and a dubious background who had only arrived earlier that same day. The other was the reveal of Hans as a bad guy. I picked this quite early, because that’s how the films work, but there was no hint of it before and it was just ‘oh hey, I’m bad, because I have to be. Sorry to all those viewers who thought I was good.’

Other than that Frozen consolidates Disney’s reputation for sterling animation.

Hero/es: definitely Anna, plucky, bright, brave, she ticks all the boxes, a little na├»ve maybe (the whole you got engaged to a guy you just met that day thing). Then there’s Kristoff, he’s a lot less harder on the inside that he tries to appear on the outside, and he does fall head over heels in love with Anna. Kristoff’s loyal reindeer Sven is a hero, they would have died on a number of occasions if it weren’t for Sven. I have to also nominate the summer loving snowman Olaf, although more about him in Cuteness Factor.

Villain/s: strangely enough there are a few. Elsa is both hero and villain, although I think it’s her power more than she herself who is a villain. The Mayor of Wesselton (often mispronounced as Weaselton) is one, especially when he sends a couple of henchmen to kill Elsa. Of course Hans. Viewers spend most of the film thinking that he’s not so bad, then his true colours come out and he’s revealed as a power hunting opportunist who is willing to stab anyone in the back to get what he wants.

Cuteness Factor: this is partially filled by Sven the reindeer, who like many Disney creatures that aren’t actually dogs behaves like one all the same. He doesn’t talk, he makes sounds. They very cleverly had Kristoff voice what he thought Sven would say in a goofy reindeer voice. The real Cuteness Factor however is Olaf the Snowman. Anna and Elsa originally built him as kids and Elsa animated him. When her magic kicked in a big way he came back to life. Olaf is also comedy relief with his love of summer (he doesn’t realize that sun melts snowmen) and warm hugs. Unlike some cute comedy relief in Disney films Olaf is never too sweet, nor does he become unfunny. The other thing that rates high on the Cuteometer are the rock trolls. These are rocks that turn into trolls. They heal the young Anna after Elsa’s magic accidentally injures her, they adopt Kristoff and Sven and they tell Kristoff how to heal Anna after Elsa again injures her, this time the heart, not the head. When they first appeared on screen in the showing I was at I think every kid in the cinema sat up straight in their seats and whispered: ‘Want!’.

Animation: I didn’t think they could improve, but they have. You know that the characters are cartoons because of a few things, the overly large eyes are one telling factor, but that aside they look real. In Tangled characters could look a little plasticky, that doesn’t happen Frozen. Anna and Elsa’s faces look real. Anna has freckles, her eyes change colour slightly depending on the light. Elsa becomes almost ethereally beautiful when her powers really kick in and she gives them full rein. The backgrounds, although they’re predominantly white, being snow and ice are still bright, they have depth and hints and shades of colour. It is astonishing.

Final Words: Like Rapunzel in Tangled, Elsa has a ‘super power’. There’s a lovely little cameo early in the film at Elsa’s coronation where we actually get to see Rapunzel. It’s from behind and she’s still got her brown pixie cut, it is a blink and you miss it moment though. I didn't think the bar could be raised any higher, but they did it with Frozen. The way it’s been received by audiences indicates that I’m not alone in that view. 

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