Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Frozen (2013)

Frozen (2013)

Frozen isn't just a great kids' movie, though it is that. Nor is it just an amazing family musical that's sure to become a classic, though it is that too. Oh, it certainly is both of those things. No, above all, Frozen is an apology. It is Disney owning up to all of the awkward messages about "true love" that had permeated its animated musicals in the '90s, messages that, today, can be read as extremely poor morals to teach to little girls. It is a Disney Princess movie, straight from the source, that goes against everything that past Disney Princess movies represent, taking all of the rules and cliches of such films and turning them upside down by the time it's over. I swear, this is going to be a generational touchstone for every child born between 1998 and 2005.

To say precisely why would be to invite spoilers, so I'll just give you the broad strokes: in the vaguely Nordic-ish kingdom of Arendelle, there are two princesses, the younger Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and the older Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel). Yes, two princesses. The Disney Store must view this movie as a license to print money. Anyway, Elsa was born with the magical power to freeze things with her mind, a power that she and Anna use to build snowmen, go sledding, get into snowball fights, and have all manner of wintry fun year-round. However, one day Elsa critically wounds Anna with her powers, requiring a magical intervention to save her that wipes her memory of all magic, recasting the fun they had as perfectly mundane winter activities. Soon after, the King and Queen are lost at sea, leaving the princesses orphans; Elsa locks herself away so that she doesn't hurt anybody else, while Anna wonders why her relationship with her sister suddenly just fell apart. Years pass, and now Elsa is of age to be crowned Queen of Arendelle. Anna is overjoyed at the prospect of finally seeing Elsa again (and of possibly finding The One), but Elsa is scared that she'll expose her powers and become an outcast. Sho 'nuff, that is exactly what happens, and Elsa runs off into the mountains and casts Arendelle in a permanent winter. Now Anna, with help from the handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), the rugged mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and the magical living snowman Olof (Josh Gad), must head out and convince Elsa to turn back the snow.

The cast here is great. I was surprised to learn just how good a singer Kristen Bell was (she majored in musical theater and got her start on Broadway), given that I was most familiar with her through the show Veronica Mars (great show, by the way, and the movie's coming out next month), but good she was, holding her own next to Broadway veteran Idina Menzel. The two complement each other almost perfectly, pulling off both the singing and the acting. It's the same thing I said about Les Mis√©rables -- pitch-perfect singing can impede on acting (just ask Carrie Underwood), and in a musical, you have to know how to convey emotion while you're singing. And Bell and Menzel, who carry the majority of this film's songs, do that perfectly here. No less solid is the rest of the cast, composed largely of Broadway veterans like Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, and others. If I had a single complaint about this movie, it's that there weren't enough songs, especially for those cast members not named Bell or Menzel. I can think of at least two scenes towards the end where an added song would've fit perfectly.

Still, a great cast alone does not a great movie make; if it did, then American Hustle would've been one of the best movies of 2013. And with Disney, especially with the incredibly misleading advertising that this movie has been given, one would be forgiven for expecting a fluffy, DreamWorks-ripoff family comedy with some '90s Disney Renaissance throwback music thrown in. Watching those trailers after having seen this movie twice, I came to realize that they were all part of the movie's plan. Looking at the fact that Frozen seems to have made more money than God at this point, I think that the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired, but just in case, I'm putting a spoiler warning right here. If you haven't seen this yet, scroll to the bottom, because the following isn't so much a review as it is an analysis of what this film is really about.

You see, Frozen isn't the love story that it seems to be at first glance. Throughout the film, we are given clues that Hans, Anna's Prince Charming, isn't her true love, as both Elsa and Kristoff call her out for proposing to marry a man that she just met that day. The words that come out of their mouths are precisely the same things that people critical of the Disney Princess formula have been saying about it for years -- that Anna's conception of love is immature and that she doesn't know what she's doing. Knowing Disney, you'd expect this movie to be a response to those assertations, a bold statement that, yes, true love is real, and it is worthy of respect.


Elsa and Kristoff are, in fact, proven to be entirely correct. Prince Hans isn't the dashing lover that Anna thought he was at first glance; instead, he's a schemer plotting to take over Arendelle, seeing as he's far back in the line of succession back home and wants a kingdom of his own. He never knew that Elsa could freeze things with her mind, but he's quick to work around that fact on the fly, making plans to marry Anna and then overthrow and execute Elsa for sorcery. Anna's belief in Disney-style true love made her an easy dupe for Hans.

But what about Kristoff? After a fateful confrontation with Elsa leaves Anna on the verge of death, she and Kristoff are told that only an act of true love can save her. This being, again, Disney, they all conclude that this mean's true love's kiss, and surely Anna can find true love in that handsome charmer, right? Once again, Frozen takes that expectation and wipes its rear with it. Like Kristoff himself said, how can you declare true love for someone you've just met? With Hans exposing himself as the film's real villain, all hope seems lost for Anna... until she remembers that there is one person she loves more than any other. Not Hans, not Kristoff, but her sister Elsa. With Elsa herself about to die at Hans' hand, Anna, without a second thought, puts herself in front of Hans' sword.

And breaks the curse.

That, right there, is Frozen's real magic. Its music is great, its acting is great, its jokes are great, but its message puts it over the top. It is a love story, but a completely different one from what was advertised. Fanciful ideas about "true love" are not only foolish, but they are dangerous, putting one at risk for predators and abusers, and greater fulfillment can be found in love for family. All manner of other messages can be read into this movie (entire essays have been written on Elsa and her powers being a metaphor for repressed homosexuality), but I hope that this is the message that gets driven into the head of every tween girl out there. Frozen, an animated fantasy revolving around a young woman with magical powers, is the most authentic love story I've seen since (500) Days of Summer, and far more realistic than any number of formula rom-coms ostensibly set in the real world. And let's not even get started on Twilight.

Score: 5 out of 5

Even without its underlying message, this is a major-league return to form for Disney's animation department. But with it, it is by far the best animated movie of 2013 and one of the best movies of any kind released last year. If you have any doubt about seeing a "little girls' movie"... then just let it go and embrace the magic.

No comments:

Post a Comment