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New Review: Frozen (2013)
Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Ciarán Hinds, Alan Tudyk, Chris Williams
(Note: I don't think this review spoils anything, but it does (sort of) hint at some possible story turns. I don't think I spoil the twists, but just to be on the safe side, proceed with caution.)
Frozen is a gloriously entertaining Disney spectacle: enchanting, funny, yet surprisingly unpredictable. It opens up with a pre-movie Mickey Mouse cartoon called Get a Horse, which starts off as one of those old 1930's black and white shorts before Mickey and his gang get knocked through a theater screen and transform into CGI animated characters. It's a marriage of the old and the new, which is a perfect description of the feature film that follows it. Frozen not only captures the spirit of the late-80's/early 90's Disney animated musicals like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but it also features some of the most gorgeous CGI animation of recent memory. This is truly one of the year's best films.
Inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen, the movie takes place in the kingdom of Arendelle, and focuses on royal sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa, it seems, has been blessed with the power to conjure up snow and ice at will, a gift that nearly claims little Anna's life in the film's opening scene. As a result of the near fatal accident, their parents turn to a band of friendly mystical trolls to not only heal Anna, but to also erase her memory of the incident and of Elsa's powers as well. Elsa, meanwhile, locks herself in her room and drifts apart from her adoring sister.
Many years later, three years after their parents die at sea (which we see happen in a hypnotic and visually poetic shot), Elsa finally comes of age and is ready to be crowned queen of Arendelle. Anna, a genial soul, is excited about the upcoming coronation because it means finally opening up the castle gates and meeting new people. Elsa, on the other hand, still hasn't been able to fully control her powers, and is terrified of accidentally revealing them during the event. When Anna meets the seemingly good-natured Hans (Santino Fontana), a prince from the Southern Isles, and agrees to marry him the very same day they meet, Anna goes to her sister and asks for her blessing. Elsa loses it, inadvertently revealing her powers and freezing the kingdom in the process.
The people of Arendelle grow frightened of their new queen, and Elsa flees to the mountains and builds an ice fortress for herself where she can be alone. Anna, who feels responsible for her sister's outburst, teams up with the hunky blond ice hauler Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his trusted reindeer Sven, and a goofy snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) to go after her and bring her back. Their first encounter is not a successful one, as Elsa has another emotional breakdown and accidentally zaps Anna in the chest. Kristoff takes Anna to the trolls who helped her before. They tell him that Anna's heart has been frozen, and she will die unless an act of true love intervenes. The "act of true love" in question isn't what you think it is, and it leads to one of the film's biggest and best surprises.
Frozen is one of those movies where you want to sit as close to the theater screen as possible, if only to better absorb the breathtaking visuals. From the absolutely fantastic scene where Elsa creates her ice castle, to the film's climax, which takes place on a frozen lake during a blistering blizzard, the movie is filled to the brim with visual wonders. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (the latter making her directorial debut) crafts each shot with imagination and care, creating a lush wintry landscape that isn't just a pretty backdrop, but rather a fully realized world filled with wondrous possibilities.
Inhabiting this world are two compelling and lovable leading characters. Anna is not unlike some Disney princesses from other movies, but she's such an adorably naive and awkward character that it's impossible not to smile whenever she's on screen. Just look at the scene where she demands that Kristoff take her up the North Mountain after her sister, or the way she "allows" him to keep going with her after an action scene that leads to his sled blowing up. Actress Kristen Bell's voice acting is so spirited and energetic that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. The character is already well written; Bell's performance is just the icing on the cake.
The heart of the movie, however, is the character Elsa, who represents anyone who has ever felt like they didn't belong. Her character is perhaps the easiest to relate to. People are quick to judge and ostracize her the second they learn the truth about her. She feels like she can truly be herself alone, not having to worry about being judged and condemned for being different by others. Who hasn't been through something like that? Menzel is remarkable in the role. You can truly feel the pain in her voice when she coldly tells her sister early on to leave the castle if she's so unhappy, and when she sings, it's nothing short of spell-binding (the song she sings when she builds her ice castle, titled "Let it Go," is so catchy that I actually bought the song on iTunes shortly after seeing the movie).
The other characters fit the Disney princess movie archetypes, but screenwriter Jennifer Lee has so much fun subverting our expectations about them that there is hardly a character that can be called generic. Kristoff may be Anna's eventual love interest, but the guy is such a goofy character (he engages in conversations with his reindeer, where he provides the voice over response for Sven) that he never comes across as dull. Hans, on the other hand, plays the part of the typical dashing and handsome prince for much of the movie, until he reveals a dark side of himself in a scene so heartless and mean that it got a verbal reaction from the audience I saw the movie with. Olaf is pretty much just the comedic sidekick, but he's so endearing and so funny that he wins you over either way (he dreams of experiencing summer, which apparently involves him sitting in a hot tub drinking hot chocolate).
I honestly can't think of a single fault in Frozen. The musical numbers are vibrant and wonderful, the action scenes are wildly entertaining (the highlight involves an abominable snowman Olaf nicknames Marshmallow), and the film's theme of sisterly love is so richly developed that, by the time the movie reached its ending, I had an honest to goodness lump in my throat. The title of the movie may be Frozen, but it's unlikely you'll see a 2013 release as heartwarming as it.
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on Frozen (2013) :D
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