Back in 2009, Disney released The Princess and the Frog, its first “princess” movie in over ten years with the last being Mulan in 1998. The film was a big deal for two reasons – the first African-American Disney Princess and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ return to hand drawn animation. The success of The Princess and the Frog started a chain reaction of hits for Disney with Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, and Wreck-it-Ralph. Now comes Frozen, Disney’s 53rd animated film and one that has been touted as “the best Disney musical since Beauty and the Beast.” Frozen, loosely based off of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Snow Queen, is about Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), the fearless and optimistic sister to Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), the future Queen of Arendelle who was born with the mysterious and magical gift of creating ice. After Elsa mistakingly puts Arendelle in an eternal winter, Anna sets off to help her sister with the support of Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, as well as a snowman that Elsa created and brought to life – Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad).
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the song-writing team behind Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and Broadway hits “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q,” composed 8 songs for the film including “Let It Go,” the stand-out song of the film sung by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel which was performed live for the first time at the 2013 D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. Christophe Beck worked alongside Anderson-Lopez and Lopez to create a musical score that blended with the songs to creative one cohesive piece. Disney fans will know Christophe Beck from his work on Paperman, the 2012 Academy Award winning animated short. All these elements come together fluidly to create what John Lasseter described as “truly a magical, amazing film.”
Disney’s Frozen “That Happened” Clip
The most important thing I can say about Frozen is that I was entirely surprised the film held up to the hype. Frozen didn’t just appear out of thin air though. In fact, Walt Disney first planned on animating the Hans Christian Andersen work The Snow Queen back in the 1940s (along with another Andersen piece The Little Mermaid), but those efforts never produced any content. In the 1990s The Snow Queen surfaced again at Walt Disney Animation Studios, but more roadblocks were hit along the way. After Tangled was released, The Snow Queen came back into the limelight, but this time as Frozen and a new director and crew would be taking over the project. The story was revised, characters were developed in different ways, and the team was on track to produce another hit.
Frozen triumphs on three fronts – music, animation and characters. Like most Walt Disney Animation classics based on fairy tales, the story we see on the screen is different than the original. In the film, Elsa the Snow Queen (Menzel) is born with a mysterious power to turn anything to ice with the touch of her hand and she has a sister, Anna (Bell). In the Andersen story, Anna closely resembles the heroine “Gerda” who has absolutely no relation to The Snow Queen. However, changing this aspect in the film adds a new dynamic that Disney has not really covered before – true love surfacing in ways that aren’t necessarily romantic. The supporting cast delivers as well, especially “Olaf the Snowman” (Gad) who steals the show in most scenes.
The score and original songs for the film are by far the best Disney has done since Beauty and the Beast, but it could be argued that it even surpasses the 1991 Academy Award Nominated movie. The success is in the flawless transition between the score and Broadway-style songs (the best being “Let It Go,” “In Summer,” and “For the First Time in Forever”) in the same vein that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman perfected starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid. The music is also supported with the outstanding animation mastered in stereoscopic 3D, a change from the original intention to hand draw the film. It is apparent that the animation team spent hours studying the landscape of Norway, but the real “WOW” moment comes when the 3D snow seems to just hang on the screen.
The movie is not perfect by any means though. Without spoiling the film, there are a few plot holes which are pretty evident and one song that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the bunch. That being said, Frozen is an animated fairytale that includes a talking snowman and a reindeer that behaves similarly to a dog. Anyone who expects this to be a completely serious film is way off base. The minor issues with the film don’t even make a small dent on the strengths of Frozen. I have no doubts that Frozen will go down in history as one of Disney’s finest animated films and will be prevalent every winter season in homes and in Disney Parks.
I actually went into Frozen with fairly high expectations, especially given the quality of the past couple “princess”-related films from Walt Disney Animation, The Princess and the Frog and Tangled. Both movies, and its leading characters, have more or less integrated seamlessly into the strong Disney legacy and I had high hopes for the same with Frozen and its heroines, Anna and Elsa. I was also really drawn to the idea of having such strong Broadway talent involved with the film, in both the writing team of Robert Lopez and Karen Anderson-Lopez, and the vocal talents of Idina Menzel and Jonathon Groff. All this led to high anticipation for the movie, despite some goofy choices in regards to trailers and commercials on Disney marketing’s part.
Even with expectations so high, I can say that Frozen completely blew me away with its beautiful imagery, well-developed main characters, and an adventurous and emotionally-connected plot that kept interest high while weaving wonderful songs and music into the film. Early in the film, the young princesses Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) grow up completely different and develop very unique personalities that work extremely well together. Anna is more outgoing and adventurous than her sister, dreaming of adventure – getting out in the world and meeting new people. Elsa, forced to hide her secret powers, must be removed from the outside world – even from her sister Anna – and develops an introverted and cold exterior, however she is still likable and relatable to the audience.
The other characters in the film are just as enjoyable as Anna and Elsa, and often-times bring with them much needed comic relief throughout the movie. Anna meets Kristoff (Groff) and his reindeer Sven, who help her along her journey to find Elsa after she runs away. They also meet the absolutely fantastic snowman Olaf (Gad), created by Elsa with her powers. While I worried that Olaf would be the cheesy sidekick he seemed to be portrayed as in the trailers and commercials, he turned out being one of the best parts of the film and was the reason for multiple laugh out loud moments in the theater. His musical number “In Summer” was by far one of the highlights and will surely go down as a classic Disney song.
The other music in Frozen is amazing overall, and will definitely appeal to Disney music fans as well as fans of traditional musicals. Robert Lopez and Karen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, created the perfect balance of catchy fun songs, like “Love Is An Open Door,” and more dramatic songs like “For The First Time In Forever” and Elsa’s show-stopping ballad “Let It Go,” sung by Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked. The “Let It Go” number is one of my absolute favorite parts of the movie and will fit perfectly in the Disney legacy with “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast and “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.
The storyline of Frozen is compelling and steers away from the predictable “Disney Princess” plot. While there are love interests in the film, the emphasis normally placed on “the prince” is shattered and the end of the film focuses on the love between Anna and Elsa. This is a nice change from the normal “prince coming to save the day” plot line that Disney is often times criticized for including in their animated films. While there is adventure and exciting moments in Frozen, there is no true villain in the film so there aren’t really any “scary” scenes aside from a few jumpy moments involving a frozen snow monster and a scene toward the end involving a prince from a neighboring country.
I think Frozen is a fantastic addition to the Walt Disney Animation Studios catalog and will be a hit both with kids and adults who grew up with the classic Disney films. With its lovable characters, adventurous plot, and addicting songs, Frozen is a hit!
In Theaters November 27, 2013 in Disney Digital 3D
Images © Walt Disney Animation