With over a billion dollars made, tons of merchandise, and lots of little girls replaying “Let it Go” incessantly (much to the annoyance of their parents), Disney’s Frozen is a phenomenon now. It almost feels pointless to review a movie that virtually everybody has seen, but I know some of you are interested in my opinion, so here we go.
I’ll tell you what I like about Frozen. First of all, much like Tangled, it takes an existing fairy tale and very loosely adapts it, but it could be argued that the changes work in its favor, at least for movie storytelling purposes. Rather than the ice queen, named Elsa, being a straight-up villain, she’s reimagined as a misunderstood young woman who is hesitant to connect with anyone after an accident as a child nearly kills her energetic sister, Anna. Elsa’s rationale is very understandable: if she doesn’t get close to anybody, she can’t hurt them. This relationship strain reaches its peak on Elsa’s 18th birthday, when the two host an open palace gala, but Elsa’s powers are revealed to the shocked public. Scared, Elsa flees to the high mountains and carves out an ice palace for herself. It’s up to Anna to find Elsa and try to convince her to return home, hopefully mending their distant relationship in the process.
What I like most about Frozen is that it subverts our expectations of Disney movies. Elsa isn’t your typical “I hate everything just because” queen, but someone we pity and hope will come out of her shell. In fact, without giving too much away, the person who is actually the antagonist is not who we suspect. On a second viewing, I’m impressed that the movie is well-directed enough that the villain’s reveal is unexpected but doesn’t feel like a contrived and arbitrary plot twist either, because they keep this person just undeveloped enough to make their reveal a surprise. The motif of “true love” is also nicely subverted here in more ways than one. Early in the film, Anna courts Hans, a prince she’s convinced is her true love, but upon joining mountain man Kristoff in her journey to rescue Elsa, he makes her realize how hollow her relationship with Hans was. Without giving anything away, the finale also presents a unique take on “true love,” something which ties in nicely with the story’s theme.
As usual for Disney, the movie is eye candy in more ways than one. The kingdom of Arendelle, with its sprawling mountains, looks lovely, even during the scenes when it’s covered with snow (a nasty side effect of Elsa’s stress). It would be easy for a mostly white landscape to look bland, but they kept it varied enough. The ice effects and resulting reflections are similarly well-done, and we get to see them at work numerous times in the film. Great character animation rounds out the package, continuing the trend from Tangled of cute, expressive female leads (especially the plucky Anna) that make you forget you’re watching a CG cartoon and just let you get immersed in the character’s mannerisms and personalities.
Also like Tangled, Frozen combines a number of moods successfully. The infamous teaser trailer, where a walking talking snowman named Olaf and Kristoff’s moose Sven fight over a carrot on slippery ice, made the film look like a wacky Ice Age-style comedy, but the actual film is really more of a drama with infrequent comedic and action elements. It also introduces the non-dramatic moments without feeling disjointed or schizophrenic. Above all, though, what matters most is: Did I care about the characters? Yes. I wanted to see Elsa and Anna reunite, I wanted to see the villain get their comeuppance, and I stayed interested in the story throughout.
Most of my criticisms of Frozen are nitpicks and personal opinions. For one, the movie tries a little too hard to be a musical; a couple musical numbers felt superfluous and could’ve easily been spoken in dialog instead. And the song styles feel tailor-made to a future Broadway show. A cynical viewer could point to this and say, “Ugh, a movie just isn’t enough, is it Disney? You have to conquer musical theater too? I bet they designed it that way on purpose.” While some of the songs are indeed pretty memorable, there are others that I’m hard-pressed to hum even after seeing the movie twice. Didn’t really have that problem with Tangled.
Unrelated to the songs, a case could also be made for the Elsa/Anna relationship being repetitive. There are quite a few instances where Anna tries to convince Elsa to be warmer, but is rejected. Obviously, reluctance to change one’s personality is very true to life, but from a storytelling standpoint it does give that feel of, “Didn’t we already have a scene like this?” I also wasn’t crazy about Olaf, the comic relief snowman. He’s not really an annoying sidekick, and he has a couple amusing moments, but he adds little to the movie. Yeah, he gives comfort to Anna in a scene towards the end, but for the most part he exists to take up space and provide another tie-in toy for kids to buy.
Finally, if you really want to overanalyze Frozen, the argument could be made that the entire premise of the movie is based on a misunderstanding. I’m not referring to the distant Anna/Elsa relationship, either; I mean that when Elsa is revealed to have these freezing powers, she’s instantly assumed to be an evil sorceress. I know people fear the unknown, but why can’t the townspeople have a different reaction than “She practices black magic! Arrest her!” It doesn’t help that Elsa is forced to use the ice as attacks to protect herself when some soldiers come to her palace later in the film, thus perpetuating the misunderstanding that she’s violent and unpredictable.
However, despite these criticisms, I still very much enjoyed Frozen and was glad I saw it. But enough about the movie itself; what does the Blu-ray set give us?
“Get a Horse”, a brand new Mickey Mouse cartoon that played before Frozen in theaters, runs 6 min. It lovingly recreates the bouncy, rubber hose, full animation style of the ‘30s cartoons, but puts a twist on things after about two minutes by kicking Mickey out of the screen to render him in more realistic CG. Normally, that would be interesting enough, but the 2D and 3D animation keep interacting with each other. For innovation alone, this is a great short, but it also has a few laughs as well. An interesting thing about “Get a Horse” is how the dialog is primarily made of archival vocals, akin to 2011’s “I Tawt I Taw a Putty Tat”.
Unfortunately, any hopes of a comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentary on this release are dashed. “The Making of Frozen” runs a little over three minutes. The title is the most flagrant use of false advertising I’ve ever seen; it’s not a making-of doc like you’d think, but a musical number sung by various staff members. What a letdown. “D’frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Anderson to Frozen” runs 7:39. It’s not really that substantial; it tells us what we already know in some cases (i.e. that Walt Disney had a thing for adapting fairy tales), and a good two minutes is just gushing about the backgrounds. And that’s really it for behind-the-scenes material. Surely there are some more stories to tell about the making of this movie. Why no feature length commentary, at least?
Also included are roughly seven minutes of deleted scenes. In the first, running 1:31, we get a glimpse of Elsa as a villain, before she became a tragic hero. This is what I wish they covered more in the “D’frosted” featurette: conceptual changes. In the next scene, running 2:37, we see Anna trying on different outfits and commenting on them to Elsa. I can see why it was cut. Another nothing scene running 1:17 concerns Anna suffering in the village before deciding to go find her sister. Finally, a 1:20 scene shows an alternate introduction to Kristoff, where he’s mountain climbing. Next to Elsa as a villian, this is the most interesting deleted scene, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing it fully animated.
If you’re into the song “Let it Go,” you’re in luck, because there are multiple music videos of it. The original teaser trailer for Frozen is also included. Finally, the Blu-ray/DVD version of the set includes a digital copy, so you can watch it on iTunes without the disc, or on your favorite mobile device. I myself don’t have a smartphone, but it’s nice to be able to watch the movie without putting the disc in my computer.
Frozen is a good movie with some refreshing defiances of expectations in certain areas. I didn’t love it as much as Tangled, the previous “reimagined fairy tale” Disney movie, but it’s still engaging and represents yet another sign that Disney’s been back on the right track since 2008. Sadly, though, the Blu-ray set is a disappointment, barely offering half an hour of special material. It’s a shame, because Frozen is a movie I would’ve loved to learn more about.