Monday, December 23, 2013

Theatrical Review: Frozen

Date: December 22, 2013

Time: 11:45am
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Party: 3 (my mom & sister)
Duration: 102 minutes (+2 trailers, an animated short and way too many commercials, lol)

Directors: Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck
Music and Lyrics: Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Musical Score: Christophe Beck
Type: Disney animation, fairytale-retelling, musical

Princess Anna- Kristen Bell
Princess "The Snow Queen" Elsa- Idina Menzel
Olaf- Josh Gad
Kristoff- Jonathan Groff
Hans- Santino Fontana
Pabbie- Ciaran Hinds

Awards potential

Golden Globes for "Best Animated Film" and "Best Original Song" ("Let it go").

Awards Commentary

It'll be a tight race for best original song. Coldplay is always awesome and their song, "Atlas" on the "Catching Fire" soundtrack sets just the right tone for the audience to leave with (as it plays during the ending credits). But "Let it go" really does deserve recognition.

As for animated feature, "The Croods" was really good and I haven't seen "Despicable Me 2" yet, but likely will soon. Another tight race especially because "The Croods" educates as well as entertains, but I have to give to Disney on this one too.

And I'm really hoping the same will play out for Oscars, particularly if there are wins attached 8-)


It was a rainy Sunday morning and this movie was released at least 3 weeks ago, so I expected a small crowd. We were among maybe a dozen. A good amount of those were of the target audience. Only one or two chuckles from them the entire movie (unlike me, lol).

The first trailer was for, get this, a Lego movie. They're definitely playing to a younger demographic with this one, between the animation style and the cultural references. I'm a sucker for all those things, but I doubt it's something I'd pay to go see.

Then there was a trailer for the Muppets movie sequel where a criminal doppelganger of Kermit switches places with him to pull off another heist. Features all kinds of celebrities, but prominently Ricky Gervais (who I've yet to forgive for the Golden Globes a few years back) and Tina Fey (who's bound to be hilarious with this Russian accent).

Animated Short

Before the main feature, they showed an animated short called "Get a Horse."
It starts out as a black & white cartoon featuring Mickey, Minnie, Horace Horse-Collar, and Clarabelle Cow with Pete as the main villain. But when Pete captures Minnie, Mickey does all he can to get her back. This is a task made all the more difficult when Pete literally forces our hero out of the cartoon into the real world where he's in colored, three-dimensional animation.

I won't give too much more away, but clearly this was made for 3D and it was insanely entertaining.

History with the Brand

Disney studios got started in full-feature animated by adapting fairytales. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty kicked off the "Disney Princess" brand. All of whom aspire to find true love and their happy ending.
Three years ago, my sister and I saw "Tangled" in theaters and loved it. I thought it was a great reimagining of Rapunzel, keeping the essentials in place, but adding a few twists along the way.

Around the same time, TV and movies crossed into [relatively] new territory in a big way.
NBC had "Grimm" (loosely based on tales from the Brothers Grimm). ABC had "Once Upon a Time" (based on fairytale and Disney characters).
Last year, two versions of Snow White were released in theaters and this year had "Hansel & Gretel" and "Jack the Giant Slayer."

I've seen all the above except for "Hansel & Gretel" (I'll get there eventually), but I've found that the biggest successes have been on the small screen. "Once Upon a Time" in particular, I've really grown to love. At the same time, though, it can be frustrating, especially when plots are drawn out and resolutions are unexpected ones.

But "Frozen" did remind me of the things I enjoy about that series. Although it's quote-unquote "loosely based" on the Hans Christian Anderson story "The Snow Queen," it succeeded as an adaption of a story as well as a reimagining... and I believe I read one headline that even said this movie might change the face of Disney movies as a whole.

Notable Cast Members

For the most part, there weren't a lot of recognizable names here.
Kristen Bell was the biggest name by far.
Josh Gad, I'd seen around a few times and giving him the role of Olaf the snowman... he just keeps getting better and better.

A month ago, roughly, Idina Menzel was promoting this movie on Kelly and Michael. I didn't recognize her name, but when I saw her, I knew I'd seen her before.
She played Rachel's mom, Shelby. Two of their most memorable duets was a ballad-ized version of "Poker Face" and Emelie Sande's "Next to Me."

Interestingly, another "Glee" alum made their way into the movie and I didn't recognize him until I looked up the name. Jonathan Groff played Jesse, a member of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline whose character history also included dated Rachel and served as a creative consultant for New Directions.
Thankfully, he gets a much nicer role here as Kristoff, the ice-seller with a reindeer as a companion.

The Story
which I'll try to keep as spoiler free as I can...

We begin when our heroines are just kids. They're the princesses of the royal family of the fictional kingdom Arrendale, which we're led to assume is located somewhere in Norway.
Elsa was born with her wintery powers, which she'd use on many an occasion to entertain her younger sister, Anna. On one of those occasions, Elsa accidentally struck Anna with her powers, turning a strand of her hair white.
The king and queen take Anna to a clan of trolls who offer two bits of advice. Firstly, they were lucky the ice didn't hit her heart because that's not as easily changed and secondly, they might be better off concealing her powers from the world for everyone's protection, including hers.

Elsa spends the rest of this period shut in her room and Anna keeps asking to play with no response. This relationship becomes even more splintered when, in the true Disney fashion, their parents die in a tragic boating accident and Elsa won't come out to help Anna grieve.

Fast-forward and we're at Elsa's coronation to become the new Queen of Arendelle. Anna is excited because it's the "first time in forever" where they've had people at their castle. Elsa, meanwhile, is trying to curb her anxiety so her powers don't reveal themselves.
Anna quickly finds herself in a true-to-form whirlwind relationship with Hans, Prince of the Southern Isles... to the point where she's engaged to him after one quick musical number. Elsa refuses to give her blessing, which unleashes a chain of events that reveals her powers to the kingdom.
Upon running away, she accidentally plunges the region into eternal winter.

Basically, the rest of the movie is spent with Anna, aided by Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, going after her sister to convince her to return.

The Music

According to Wikipedia, there are 10 songs on the soundtrack, including two versions of "Let it go" (the end credits version is sung by Demi Levato, who really can't compete with Idina's in-film version).

Early on, I felt like they were overloading us with too many songs. Points where I asked myself "did we really need a song here?"
"Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "For the First Time in Forever" ran a little too long, but sure enough, they did win me over.

"Let it go" was a huge turning point. It plays during the sequence where Elsa runs away from Arendelle, builds an ice palace in the mountains and [both literally and figuratively] lets down her hair, giving her a completely different look.

Then we get shorter, humorous numbers by Olaf ("In Summer"), Kristoff ("Reindeer(s) are Better Than People") and the trolls ("Fixer Upper").

"Tangled" had a really good soundtrack in a sugary-sweet sort of way. I almost hate to say this about Alec Menken, but his work on that film had nothing on the husband-wife Lopez team.
They didn't just provide a good balance of humor and good songwriting, but their songs had the same kind of magic as the visuals and the story. They swept me up, took me on a journey and in the case of "Let it go," I hadn't felt so strongly about a Disney song since... perhaps, "The Lion King." (One critique called "Frozen" Disney's best since that particular film).

Other Thoughts

I loved that we got two Disney princesses out of this. Both of them are strong characters in their own right. But the best part was how much they cared about one another. How they choose to express that love is what ultimately sets them apart. Elsa keeps herself hidden because she doesn't want to be responsible for hurting her sister with her powers. Anna wants to do everything in her power to reunite with her sister and rekindle the relationship they once had.

We have more great non-human characters. Admittedly, it's a little goofy that Kristoff does a funny voice for Sven when the two of them are alone in a couple scenes, but it's pretty cool that they had an actual reindeer character in this movie.
Olaf the snowman (who we see make a cameo in an earlier scene) is just good fun to watch whenever he's on screen. It's even funnier that his dream is to experience summertime. I'm sure Kristoff was saying exactly what the audience was thinking: "Is somebody going to tell him?"

Something else that was also refreshing was that there was no villain in this movie. Sure, the duke of Weaselton kept making comments about Arendelle being a trading partner and wanted to start a witch hunt to go after Elsa, but nothing seemed more threatening to the happy ending than Elsa's own fears...
or so I thought until the third act when a villain did emerge.
Regarding that, they pushed the envelope just enough for the sake of drama, but it never overpowered the story.

Probably the biggest star of the movie was the visuals. I'm not sure everyone will be feeling all the snow and ice, considering the time of year we're in now with all the shoveling and snowstorms we've had so far. To me, it encompassed all the things I find so beautiful about wintertime. I almost hated to leave it when the movie ended :-P
Going outside afterwards reminded me of the Eagles game a couple weeks ago. I got so used to the wintery conditions that I felt blinded whenever they cut to a game on the west coast. It took a few more seconds to get used to the colorized real world.

Grade: A+

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