Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013, U.S.
The other of day’s two back-reviews is Frozen (2013). Let’s consider this my first Oscar preview article, since Frozen is the lead candidate for Best Animated Film. In fact, in my opinion it could have been nominated for Best Picture in general, joining Beauty and Beast (1991), Up (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010) as the only animated films nominated for Best Picture.
How good is Frozen? It’s certainly up there with Disney’s best animated films, and is an unexpected callback to what is now called “The Disney Renaissance.” The Disney Renaissance generally refers to Disney’s winning streak between The Little Mermaid (1989) and Tarzan (1999), or more specifically before the main Disney animation studio handed the baton to Pixar as the main focus of Disney’s animation efforts.
Frozen’s success comes from its ability to challenge well established Disney conventions, but flawlessly execute some of those conventions when it needs to. Like many classic Disney fare, it is loosely based on a classic story, in this case Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The dark, heavily religious story is completely transformed. What sets this apart other Disney films that “Disneyfy” dark fairy tales is that the changes don’t feel forced.
This is mainly due to the film’s focus on the relationship between Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) and Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) as sisters rather than it being a romantic love story in the conventional sense. There is a romantic subplot, but it stays as a subplot instead of overtaking the entire film. The focus of the film, and its ending, change what could have been a standard, someday-my-prince-will-come, Disney-phoning-it-in, story into something that deeply connects with its target audience.
As noted above, Frozen’s other strength is that it doesn’t throw the mouse out with the bathwater. Like the classic or renaissance Disney films, the music is fantastic. There is also the obligatory fantasy creature for comic relief, and what could easily have been a cheesy or juvenile element hits on all cylinders. Olaf, the talking snowman (Josh Gad), is one of the funniest characters in this or any film.
Frozen is the unlikeliest of films, in that it takes a well worn shoe and makes it new again. Or in this case, two large, yellow well worn shoes.
You might like Frozen if: You ever liked any classic or renaissance Disney film, you have kids, you like animation, or you like comedies.
You might not like Frozen if: The only films you want to see about Scandinavia are bleak and existential. In this case I would recommend “Let the Right One In” (2004), where the real vampire is the vampire within.
(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe