Frozen Has Serious Frostbite
2013 hasn’t been a good year for animated features. Planes, Turbo, Monsters University, The Croods and Escape to Planet Earth were all mediocre. Despicable Me 2 was delightful while Epic was severely underrated. So it was with great anticipation that I sat down to screen the latest Disney computer animated feature, Frozen. Reviews were often raves. It’s doing incredibly well at the box office, so it must be good. Right? I must have seen a different film than the rest of the country as I found Frozen to be a bleak, depressing and largely unpleasant movie from start to finish. Disney Masterpiece? Ha!
Frozen concerns the kingdom of Arendale, where two sisters reside. 8-year-old Elsa discovers by accident that she can spontaneously freeze anything she touches. One fateful day, Elsa accidentally hurts her 5-year-old sister Anna while playing. Her parents are horrified and lock Elsa away in isolation. Fast forward twenty years. Elsa is crowned queen of Arendale. At a regal reception, Anna falls for a young prince named Hans. After a mere 20 minutes, the two announce their engagement. Elsa takes exception, the sisters argue and in the ruckus, Elsa accidentally reveals her powers. The townspeople are aghast and Elsa runs away, but not before placing Arendale in a permanent winter. Feeling guilty, Anna goes to look for her sister. She enlists the aid of a simpleton named Kristof and the two embark on a journey that will only end one way.
For a fantasy, Frozen suffers from severe frostbite. The mistake was hiring Jennifer Lee to write and co-direct this movie. Lee was partially responsible for the awful Wreck-It-Ralph a few years ago. That was a sloppily constructed movie and Frozen is no different. Lee wanted to do a variation of the traditional folktale The Snow Queen. The fatal mistake Lee makes is that she thinks that the normal sister makes a far more compelling protagonist than the sister affected by awe-inspiring powers. Anna is bland and about a century too contemporary for the time period the story takes place in. I understand Disney’s reluctance to make Elsa a full-fledged villain. In fact, I like the concept of the Snow Queen being good of heart but cursed. A very intriguing picture could have been made by exploring what it’s like for this young woman to have the power to spontaneously freeze things. Elsa is the most interesting character and she’s largely an enigma. Bad move.
There are other issues with the script. Midway through the picture, Elsa accidentally stabs her sister in the heart with an icicle. It is clear Anna is dying via a slow freeze. She is told that an act of true love can melt the icicle and save her. Lee’s script is so sloppily written that if you apply simple logic, the act of genuine love occurs long before the anointed moment! It would have been nice to see the comedy relief Olaf the Snowman be the hero, but not when Disney prefers the routine route. Speaking of routine, is it a shock anymore that the ideal prince turns out to be rotten or that everything will end happily on cue?
Frozen didn’t need to be such a bleak and dark experience. Elsa is a tragic figure from the start as after she accidentally hurts her sister, she’s locked away in a room in the palace never to come out. Her parents treat her as a freak. They die a violent death at sea. Frozen is soaked in death, murder, attempts at regicide and traitorous actions. Not to mention sibling estrangement, paranoia and pettiness lurk about. I was left aghast at what passes for kiddie entertainment these days.
Normally songs are a highlight in Disney animated features but Frozen is stuck with third-rate tunes that are overblown and over-sung. You can tell that Disney is aiming for a future Broadway stage version. The songs are sung at top volume, as if they are trying to be heard all the way in the back row. That technique may work on stage, but in the intimacy of film, it is overkill. Another problem is that the songs aren’t memorable or even entertaining. They fail as storytelling, entertainment or even time filler. I can guarantee that twenty years from now, none of the songs in Frozen will be whistled on the street.
There are some good things to find in Frozen. The CGI animation is absolutely stunning; this is a very handsome looking film. Elsa’s ice palace is a marvel of design and execution. The snow laden backgrounds look awe-inspiring. Even the smallest details are richly textured, from the crisp clarity of icicles to the fine grain of hair follicles. It’s the finest animation money can buy but too bad the film is stuck with a 99 cent script.
Also a delight is the sole comedy relief in the picture: a talking snowman named Olaf. He serves the same function Zero Mostel’s seagull did in the Watership Down (1978): a respite from the unrelenting depression and bleakness. As voiced by Josh Gad, Olaf is a riot, spouting out silly but funny jokes and one-liners left and right. Too bad he doesn’t appear until halfway through the movie. The voiceover work is good overall. Disney aimed for largely lesser known talent, with Kristen Bell as the sole star on board. I prefer this approach, an antidote to the recent trend of packing only all-stars into the recording booth.
But such pleasures are far and few between in this icy cold movie. I may be in the minority, but for this avowed Disney fan, Frozen is a major disappointment. I’ll be generous and give Frozen 1 and 1/2 out of 5, mainly due to the stunning animation and the comedy relief of Olaf. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sit in front of a warm fire.