Before we get started, I wanted to take moment to discuss Get A Horse!, the animated short featuring Mickey Mouse accompanying Frozen in theatres. An energetic jam of old-school hand-drawn and modern computer-generated animation, it’s more than a witty modernisation of classic cartoon tropes, it’s a bold statement to everyone mourning classic Disney cartooning in this saturated land of uninspired celebrity vehicles. Get A Horse! proudly announces that the same magic is possible in this new era of animation; that it’s just a newer, more dynamic canvas awaiting the classically inspired. The cheeky title exclaimed in the short’s climax, shouts to the industry and demands they ponder what would be possible if they looked back at what was special rather than giving way for the flashy and cosmetic. Which brings us to our feature presentation…
Frozen marks the return of the Disney we all remember. While Pixar have done an admirable job carrying the torch as the premier animation house for family entertainment, it’s fair to say we have been largely starved for the musical whimsy that was Disney of old. No, it’s not the 2D cartooning we get all nostalgic over, and it’s certainly easy to overlook the trailer amongst the dozens of other CG flicks on offer (we’ll leave the discussion on Disney’s increasingly apparent marketing problems for another time), but you can rest assured that Frozen is as joyous and memorable as any of the studio’s greats. A wonderful story of familial love and isolation that’s unafraid to bid farewell to tired conventions, Frozen may be the most exciting animated film since Wall-E.
Very loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson (also behind The Little Mermaid), Frozen is the story of princesses Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). Born with seemingly limitless winter-themed powers, Elsa nearly kills Anna when the two are playing as children, only for her to be saved by mystical means that require Anna’s memory of the event be removed. Fearful of her powers, Elsa locks herself away, leaving Anna to grow up alone and confused as the most important person in her life suddenly wants nothing to do with her. Honestly though, that doesn’t even cover all of Frozen’s setup, which is a testament to the brisk pacing it maintains from start to finish. There is never a moment the film treads water, instead we skate along (ice-pun) from point to point as the writers find new and inventive ways to keep the story fresh and the characters interesting.
This is largely thanks to excellent song-writing that helps elevate Frozen to the top-tier of the studio’s catalogue. While perhaps a little less catchy than your favourite songs from Aladdin or The Lion King, each track is intricately written and oozing with subtext. Modern musicals frequently wear viewers down with uninspired songs, but here each one gives us important revelations, relevant insight or just a fun comedic reprieve. A special mention has to go to the heart-breaking “Do You Want To Build a Snowman”, gentle yet oh-so powerful, this is Disney at their most lyrically masterful. And kudos for keeping each sequence visually interesting, so often in musicals a director uses the singing as a chance to sit back and let the actors or choreographers do all the work (*cough* Les Misérables *cough*).
In Olaf the talking snowman, Josh Gad showcases his charisma as a voice actor. What could easily be yet another obnoxious Donkey clone, actually proves quite the boon to the film. Olaf provides some of the film’s better comedic beats and rarely hogs the camera as creations of his ilk often want to do, though he does occasionally shove some truly unnecessary exposition down the audience’s throat. Anna’s traveling companion Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), while a warm addition to the cast, is still the most undercooked. In truth, giving him more complexity may have detracted from what’s revealed to be the film’s thesis, but it would have been nice if they could find a way to differentiate him from the archetype we’ve seen countless times before.
Luckily the stars of the show are much more realized. Both Anna and Elsa are well-rounded and empathetic leads. Bell’s expected charm and energy flourishes with the extra whimsy this more theatrical role affords her, but Menzel is perhaps the film’s biggest get. No stranger to musicals, she is right at home as the re-imagined Ice Queen, bringing down the house with the film’s signature song “Let It Go”. Admittedly, it’s a little unclear why the secret that forced their isolation had to remain untold for so long, but it’s a waste over-thinking it when the strain it puts on their relationship unfolds so beautifully. Frozen’s strongest message is its statement on what real love is, and that the very Disney ‘love at first sight’ concept is a dubious one. ‘True Love’ becomes the film’s McGuffin and twice over we are fed red herrings on what Frozen defines that to be. In the end it’s something much more banal than romance, but infinitely more meaningful.
It’s always more rewarding to see plot driven by real relationships rather than moustache-twirling villains. Yes, there are a few baddies in Frozen, but they are purely opportunistic, accentuating the conflict rather than catalysing it. If there is something lacking in the film, it’s perhaps that the world of Frozen is a less imaginative setting than Pride Rock, Agrabah, or even Candyland. What the gimmicky winter-themed posters don’t tell you though, is that this is a film bursting with earnest characters and inspired writing. Frozen brings the classic Disney feel to this new era of animation, lovingly ditching the tropes that have become antiquated but keeping everything that was special. I won’t waste your time digressing about the magic of Disney (we have Saving Mr. Banks for that particular job), but it’s hard to contest there hasn’t been something missing from the world since Disney hung up its crown as the king of animation and removed itself from the forefront of family entertainment. Well ladies and gentlemen, at the risk of quoting an anthropomorphic baboon, I’m happy to announce that with Frozen, “The King has returned”.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10