***viewed in 3D***
Featuring the voice talents of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Unlike some, hearing that Frozen was going to be an all-out old-school animated Disney musical was a huge plus for me. I grew up in the days of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin -- movies that relied on their songs to both advance the story and add depth to their characters. Of course, that was the era of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman whose respective music and lyrics felt necessary to the plot rather than seeming superfluous to it. With Ashman's passing in the early 90s, Menken still carried on the tradition and did so rather successfully. As of late, however, Disney has veered away from the movie musical in large part likely due to the success of Pixar's films which were never music-based. With 2011's Tangled, Disney rehired Alan Menken and were treated to their most successful animated movie in well over a decade, but the film wasn't as musically "full" as prior flicks, containing only four full-length numbers. Although the trailers for Frozen weren't entirely appealing, the Disney fan that I am still had high hopes because of the apparent return to their 90s-era all-out musical. Unfortunately, with some new lyricists and composers at the helm, Frozen just had me longing for the glory days of the Menken/Ashman 90's with the music proving to be a hindrance rather than a help to the overwhelmingly enjoyable plot and characters.
Admittedly, none of the songs by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez (music) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (lyrics) are unlistenable (with the exception of the final number of the film). However, there are two main problems that are major factors in the disappointment.
- First, the lyrics at the beginning of nearly every song are incredibly childish. Let's reminisce about Beauty and the Beast for a moment. Howard Ashman wasn't afraid to use a word like "expectorating" in a song for fear that kids wouldn't "get it." He used it...and it opened up my vocabulary to a new word! Here, the Lopez duo keep things incredibly basic. Best known for their Tony-winning Broadway play Avenue Q (which was hilariously ribald), the twosome also wrote lyrics and music for the Finding Nemo musical show in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Although that forty-minute Broadway-style show is a visual treat, the songs are incredibly pre-schoolish and the same thing could be said of what we're given in Frozen. In nearly every song, the lyrics begin with incredibly basic words that eventually shift to something a little more complex. Quite honestly, they all get to a "good place," but they never start out promisingly.
- Secondly, there's a lack of cohesive flow in the film from where the dialogue ends and the songs begin. To me, this is as much a fault of the directors as it is the songwriters. Unfortunately, this bumpy transition is off-putting more than once and it's typically never a problem for me in Disney films, so I just have to think something didn't quite mesh with the composers and the director.
My problem with the music is very unfortunate because, overall, Frozen is pretty fantastic. It's the story of two sisters -- older Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and younger Anna (played by Kristen Bell) -- who were best friends growing up. Elsa was born with the power to make anything turn to ice just by touching it, and after a horrific accident that nearly kills Anna when they were young, Elsa decides to isolate herself completely from Anna, never speaking to her or seeing her. Years pass, Elsa and Anna's parents -- the king and queen of Arendelle -- die, and Elsa is set to become queen. However, things go horribly wrong at the coronation ceremony and Elsa's powers are revealed despite her desperate attempts to mask them. Embarrassed and ashamed, Elsa runs away in an angry rage, turning the whole sunny town of Arendelle into a snow-covered icy wonderland. While the villagers want to crucify Elsa, Anna knows that her sister is good-hearted and kind-natured and sets out across the snowy tundra to find her and prove her goodness.
With a fantastic voice performance by Kristen Bell, Anna is the spunky lead, unafraid to speak or mind or stand up to a chauvinistic male. Anna finds herself caught in a love triangle between Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and "ice seller" Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), yet she needs neither of them to be happy. It's a pleasant change of pace from the typical "princess" stories we've come to expect and, with a nice twist at the end of the film, I imagine parents of young girls will be pleased with Anna becoming a figure of admiration for their daughters.
I also found the character of Elsa full of depth despite the fact that she definitely takes second billing when compared to her sister in terms of time onscreen. Elsa so easily could've been turned into a completely "evil" character, but the writers crafted her as a character who has absolutely no desire to have her icy powers. She's wary and nervous of the pain she could inflict with them. Broadway star Idina Menzel's vocal performance gives Elsa a strength that, much like her sister, is refreshing in a Disney animated film.
Frozen has an awful subplot (perhaps worse than my issues with the music) involving some trolls who raised one of Anna's suitors, Kristoff, since he was a youth. I couldn't help but think they were added for a money-making ploy to sell some toys. Similarly, one would think that the supporting character of Olaf, a snowman created by Elsa after she runs away from Arandelle, is present purely for merchandising opportunities. And, to be completely honest, Disney's going to sell quite a few Olaf plushes this holiday season. However, the reason they're going to be flying off the shelves is because the character is hilariously enjoyable, yet heartwarmingly sensitive. Voiced by Josh Gad, the joie de vivre of Olaf is infectiously refreshing and his song is perhaps the best fitting musical number in the film.
I'm certainly going to give Frozen a second chance and maybe it'll redeem itself upon another viewing. With a fantastic story and unique characterizations when compared to prior Disney princess films, I find myself wishing that the songs didn't leave me so cold.
The RyMickey Rating: B-