Frozen-4I’m just gonna come out and say this: I didn’t like Frozen. Loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, and I do mean loosely based, Frozen is Disney’s latest 3D animated movie that tries to recapture the magic of Tangled, but ends up with an uneven story with mixed messages about repression, individuality, love, and what it actually means to be sisters.

Set in the Scandinavian-ish kingdom of Arendelle, Frozen is about two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), who become estranged after Elsa’s ice-oriented magic accidentally hurts Anna and their parents, the king and queen, have all memories of Elsa’s gift/curse removed from Anna’s memory via some trolls that happen to live in the forest while telling Elsa to suppress, and yet control, her abilities. They do this in the most caring and loving way, by scaring the shit out of their daughter instead of actually helping her learn to control her powers while keeping the other daughter in the dark. After the typical Disney plot device of the parents dying occurs, Elsa is next in line to rule the kingdom. When Anna meets Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and they instantly fall in love and decide to marry, Elsa forbids it, prompting Anna to push her sister to the breaking point and reveal her powers to the entire kingdom. Condemned for being a sorceress, Elsa flees Arendelle, but inadvertently causes a sudden shift in the weather pattern by covering the kingdom in ice and snow. Anna goes after Elsa to get her to “bring back Summer” with the help of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an ice salesman raised by trolls, and his reindeer, Sven. Along the way they meet a snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad) and hilarity ensues until Anna is cursed with a frozen heart that can only be broken by an act of true love. So the race is on to save Anna while Elsa still deals with her crippling emotional problems that eventually results in the sisters resolving their issues. The End!

Frozen StillOkay, for the sake of fairness, I’ll tell you what I did like about this movie first. Like all the critics are saying, Frozen is a gorgeously animated movie. Texture-wise, the snow and ice are beautiful and some of the establishing shots of Arendelle and Elsa’s ice palace on the mountain really show how far the technology has come in terms of what animated movies can accomplish. There are also some funny lines in the movie, most of them said by Olaf, but Kristoff gets a few in there as well. Plus, you have Alan Tudyk hamming it up as one of the visiting royals to Arendelle, which makes you wonder if he’s going to become Disney’s go-to character actor after this and his delightfully kooky performance as King Candy in Wreck-It Ralph. And, yes, some of the songs from Broadway songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Book of Mormon, Avenue Q), are catchy and wonderfully sung by the cast. Olaf’s “In Summer” is a fun little number made all the more absurd when a snowman is singing about frolicking around in the heat and “Frozen Heart” is a powerful opening number that, unfortunately, gives you a false sense of what the movie is going to be like. “Let it Go”, however, is sure to be the song submitted for Best Original Song at the Oscars, and for good reason. It’s everything a Disney song embodies with a message of freedom and being yourself despite what other people think.

If only the movie could have lived up to the idea.

That would be my transition into what doesn’t work about this movie, which is pretty much everything else. This is a movie that expects its audience to just accept everything that happens for no reason because, if you gave the plot any bit of thought, you’d realize there are holes you could drive a convoy of trucks through.Elsa and Anna

This is supposed to be a movie about two sisters and yet we never get any sense of them actually being sisters. We see them as children, and that works because they actually act like siblings, but the plot takes a quick dive into WTF-land when their idiot parents destroy Elsa’s psyche and turn her into a control-freak scared out of her mind that she’s going to hurt everyone if she doesn’t suppress her unexplained powers. There isn’t even an attempt by Elsa’s parents to help her, they just slap some gloves on her and tell her she has to try harder to keep her powers under control. Then they die. Great job, mom and dad. The rest of the movie revolves around one phrase, “She’s my sister.” I don’t know if writer Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph) has any sisters, but that mantra only works when you establish an actual relationship between Elsa and Anna that needs to be repaired. As far as the movie is concerned, Elsa and Anna’s estrangement boils down to Elsa locked herself in her room for over a decade and Anna became an idiot loner who’s, for some reason, suddenly obsessed with finding romance. We never get to know them as individuals much less as sisters, making the impact of their relationship unearned during the movie’s climax.

The most obvious problem is Frozen wants to be Tangled so bad it’s almost embarrassing how much it tries to steal. Rapunzel was a shut in, making her awkward, so let’s make Anna a shut in as well with the addition of insane ramblings that just serve to make her more “quirky” and “relatable”. Problematic to this logic is the fact that Rapunzel only had her caretaker, Mother Gothel, and her chameleon, Pascal, to interact with until Flynn Rider showed up, so it makes sense that she’d be awkward, naive, and a little goofy. Anna, however, has no excuse since she still grew up in a palace that had other people in it besides her sister and parents. We never see her interact with anyone else because the movie can’t be bothered to explain anything about her actual character. At the very least, show how loneliness affects her in ways that aren’t clock-watching and talking to paintings. At least Rapunzel was active enough to keep herself busy. But the theft doesn’t stop there. Did you like the animal sidekicks? Well instead of a militaristic horse that would make Javert go, “damn!”, we have a reindeer that acts like a dog. Remember that tavern full of ruffians who were rapunzelannamisunderstood? How about we replace them with a group of trolls that do nothing but explain things in a confusing way? Did you like an antagonist with actual motivation? Well here’s sort of an antagonist, only she’s not, but then there’s another antagonist revealed toward the end with the stupidest plan ever. Disney!

For all the in-house plagiarism going on, the movie spends a lot of time trying to make Anna an interesting character. I’m sorry, but she isn’t. Anna is an example of what happens when you go too far trying to make a character “modern”. But it worked in Tangled, so let’s do the same thing with Anna, right? And just to amp things up, let’s make Anna so socially awkward that she just says random things out loud and then questions them after she says them because that makes her “quirky”! Anna is the animated embodiment of the panic pixie dream girl trope. Elsa doesn’t come across any better. For all the time the movie spends on Anna, it spends less than half of that on Elsa who should be just as strong a presence as her sister. But what do we really know about her? She has ice powers and she’s been suppressing them. That’s about it. Oh, and she wants to “be herself”, whatever that means since we don’t know who she is as a person. She’s neither villain nor protagonist. She’s just there to make icicles and emote when we need to hammer in the other mantra of the film, “conceal it, don’t feel it” so she can overcome it.Elsa

And while I’m adding to the growing mountain of things that don’t work, the songs aren’t natural to the established world. We’re supposed to be in a Scandinavian kingdom but only the opening song and a small interlude even touch upon Scandinavian music. The rest of the songs are pretty much Broadway numbers shoved into a movie, as if the stage show had already been written and the songs were transferred over. There are a lot of Broadway singers in this movie. Idina Menzel is a powerhouse voice, but she only gets one song to showcase what made her a Tony award-winning singer while Kristen Bell, an admirable singer, gets four. To say nothing of how underused Jonathan Groff is in terms of his character and his voice. If you’ve ever seen Spring Awakening, or his stint on Glee as Jesse St. James, then you know he’s also a talented singer, yet they give him a throwaway ukelele number that just makes Kristoff look weird and kind of insane. The same goes for Santino Fontana, another Tony-nominated singer. He gets one song and it’s a bland duet that does nothing except force a “romantic” relationship. Josh Gad probably comes out the best in all of this with a number that fully embraces his comedic talent. Again, the songs aren’t bad, I actually like Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and their work in other musicals, but the music doesn’t match or feel organic to the setting, and it makes the movie feel disjointed. Granted, you could say this about a lot of Disney movies, but if The Princess and the Frog can embrace New Orleans jazz, I’m pretty sure Frozen could embrace Scandinavian music.

FROZENThere’s also an odd idea about love running through the movie, as if it’s trying to make some sort of meta-commentary on the Disney tradition of the female and male leads falling in love within days of meeting. Frozen definitely starts that way with Anna and Hans, which allows Kristoff to repeatedly stress the bizarre logic of Anna getting engaged to a man she’s known for one evening. Of course, when Anna and Kristoff fall in love it’s because they’ve had at least a day and a half of conversation, running around, and nearly being married by the weirdly pushy trolls in the forest, so that makes things better, right? To the movie’s credit, they do invert the idea of what constitutes true love when Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa, breaking the curse of a frozen heart in lieu of the typical kiss of true love solution. The set-up, unfortunately, is clunky making the climax difficult to accept.

That’s not to say the ideas in Frozen aren’t interesting. Siblings become estranged, it’s a fact of life, and usually it takes something huge to bring them together again. I’m just surprised, and disappointed, Frozen went the way it did with the narrative. But I can only talk about what I took away from the movie because I seem to be in the minority on this one. When I was in the theater, there were plenty of kids, boys and girls, who were engrossed in the movie and there seems to be an overall consensus that Elsa and Anna are fantastic additions to the Disney line-up of princesses. If you like them, then good for you, they just didn’t do it for me. The best part of Frozen coming out within a week of Catching Fire is we get to see two movies with female leads doing so well at the box office. No excuses now, Hollywood. If, however, you’d like to know how I would’ve approached the story, you can go here.

What it really boils down to is whether or not Frozen is worth your time at the theater. If you have small children and you need to distract them for a little over an hour, then sure, go for it. If you’re just a Disney fan, maybe wait until it’s at a reasonable rental price.

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  1. […] made my thoughts on Frozen known, but Maleficent is just a hot mess of a movie full of clunky exposition, an over reliance on […]

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