Quick, someone tell me what Disney’s new animated movie Frozen is about. If you said, “a wacky, slapstick adventure through a snowy place that somehow involves a woman who can freeze things, a lunkhead with a sled, and a talking snowman called Olaf,” congratulations: you’ve seen any/all of the ads that Disney has made for the film. Those ads also have absolutely nothing to do with what Frozen really is.
An animated Broadway musical.
Yes, it’s a musical. What, you couldn’t tell from the commercials that pretty much everyone in the film sings? Also, it’s a story of two sisters, one of which is cursed with an almost uncontrollable ability to cause things to freeze that wreaks havoc in a small vaguely Scandinavian country called Arendelle dependent on shipping…something, to survive. The sisters in question are Anna and Elsa, with Elsa being the elder sister and heir to the throne with the freezing powers, and Anna being the younger, somewhat more impetuous sister. As kids, Anna and Elsa loved playing around with Elsa’s powers while their parents do their best to hide those powers from the rest of the country. Things take a bad turn when Elsa accidentally injures Anna during a play session, leading to Elsa being locked away from the world until she can “control her powers.” Somehow, by the time her coronation day comes, this isolation produces a person who is only somewhat socially awkward rather than a complete lunatic. This being a Disney movie, the parents also leave the scene quite early.
Throughout all of this setup, everyone sings. Sings sings sings sings sings their hearts out everywhere. Duets, solos, full cast — it’s singing as far as the ears can hear. Eventually Elsa loses control of her powers on her coronation day when Anna (a bit of a shut-in herself due to the castle gates being closed for years on end) announces her engagement to a prince of the South Isles that she met…that afternoon. This is as silly as it sounds and not really in character, but dangit the plot wouldn’t work without this twist. Elsa’s, er, meltdown/freeze up leaves Arendelle and all of the invited guests locked in ice and before long, Elsa’s on the run in the mountains, ultimately setting up her own ice palace guarded by snow monsters at the very top of the highest peak in the land. Elsa turns out to be so content at this change of pace that she sings a song about how awesome it is to be alone in an ice palace where she can be as cold and vampy as she pleases.
In what can only be described as a fit of blithering idiocy, Anna runs off into the freezing, snow-bound mountains without a shred of warm clothes. Seriously, no could have said “Hey, wait five minutes so we can get you some clothes that won’t result in you freezing to death in the snow”? It’s in the mountains that Anna finally meets the third main character, Kristoff the ice hauler and his reindeer. Yes, he sings, too. As I said: Every. Body. Sings. Kristoff is a bit of a standoff oaf for a while, but he does eventually come around a certain liking of Anna. There’s also something involving magic singing trolls, but they aren’t even characters, just plot points. Well, what plot there is anyway.
There are number of plot holes so large you could drive a ship through them. Why did no one in the palace think “Hmmm, maybe we should ensure that the princesses get some measure of socialization so the people know who they are?” Where the heck is Kristoff’s family? What’s with the trolls? Are there any farms? What does Arendelle live on? Is magic a known thing throughout the country, or a secret known only to a few? Granted, some of those are minor things, but some of them aren’t. Kristoff in particular is very thinly sketched out, as we see him with what appears to be his family early in the film, but then they just disappear. He’s a loner with a reindeer for a friend, but we have no idea why. If the characters weren’t so endearing, it would be more than just a problem.
As is, it’s more than a little distracting, which is still a shame as the main characters themselves are quite well done. The villains are entirely superfluous, so the less said about them the better. Seriously, you could write all of them out of the story and it would actually be better for it. The main characters, Elsa, Anna and Kristoff (though I suppose Kristoff’s reindeer, Sven, counts too) are all very easy to like, even when they’re being kinda dumb. And heaven help us they can be dumb, even beyond Anna’s “warm clothing?” brain fart. That also ties into what I think may be the film’s biggest problem. I imagine someone in the marketing department said, “Well, Tangled sold well as a wacky slap-stick adventure with comic relief. We can make a musical look wacky and slap-stick.” When they were told, “It’s a musical with maybe five slap-stick moments in the whole film, and no comic relief,” marketing’s immediate response was to demand comic relief.
It’s not so much that Olaf’s a bad character, but he’s utterly superfluous and sucks up a lot of screen time being “heehee, funny” without adding anything particularly worthwhile to the story. Given that the film runs almost 2 hours, it shouldn’t feel like they’re rushing through such a small plot, but the first half especially is very badly paced. Once things slow down a little bit in the mountains and it’s just Anna, Kristoff and Sven, things get a bit more interesting till Olaf gets shoved onto the scene and becomes a distraction. The story between Elsa and Anna is gripping and entertaining enough without “wild comic relief guy.” For that matter they could have either dropped or drastically rethought everything involving the trolls, and things would have been a lot more interesting.
I will say the film looks really good. Maybe not quite as good as Monsters University, but it’s no slouch. The world certainly looks quite homogenous, without the “some things look great, some things look bad” syndrome that can affect some films. All of the ice scenes in particular look amazing. I can’t fault the cast either. Kristen Bell does a wonderful job of giving Anna a personality that is both regal and ditzy. Idina Menzel is also wonderful as Elsa, infusing a badly underwritten part with a lot of life. The rest of the cast does perfectly fine work, even when the script and plot lets them down. The rest of the cast are all Broadway vets, so you know the singing is good. The screening I was at was in 3D, and it certainly looked very good, though I can’t imagine there would that much a difference seeing it in 2D.
I suppose in the end Frozen is one of those good-but-should-be-better films. I do feel sorry for any parent who brings their kids to this thinking they’re going get one thing and end up with something very different. That could make for some rather icy car rides home.