10 January 2014

First Impressions: Frozen

Quick - name a film who in its sixth week became both the #1 film in the country at the box office and whose soundtrack became the #1 selling album. Did you guess Frozen (2013)? Because that just happened. In honor of this flick's ridiculous legs, it's time for a spoiler-filled discussion of Disney's best film critically and commercially since The Lion King (1994). Seriously.

In many ways Frozen is a call back to that great Disney animation renaissance of the early 90s. It's really accessible to just about all ages, full of catchy songs, and gorgeous to look at. In terms of plot and character, though, it's got more in common with contemporary Pixar films, reaching deeper into relationships and hitting the heart in the sweet spot. It's also got a slightly subversive spin on many of the princess and true love tropes that Disney itself helped spawn.
Also one of the downright sexiest
Princesses ever. Damn, Dis!

Firstly, all the voice actors kill it, especially the co-leads, Kristen Bell as Princess Anna and Idina Menzel as Queen Elsa. Menzel's "Let It Go" is a dream song, a huge liberating character moment with a ton of snappy sass that provides the most important turn in the film. Bell duels her and holds her own in "The First Time in Forever" with all these quirks and genuinely human moments that lifts her character above the typical image of a stuffy, shallow Disney Princess character. It's really rich.

Between the sisters, there is a lot of pain and love that forms a pretty complex relationship. They both love each other, but Elsa shuts out Anna for her own protection because she can't control her crazy Mr. Freeze powers. Anna remains spritely, and in spite of Elsa's isolation, continues her support of her sister. Only when they're able to work together and express their love for each other, can Elsa learn to control her Sub-Zero moves instead of becoming a crazy hermit Ice Queen. Or Snow Queen, as Hans Christian Anderson would call her. The flick really nails this sisterly relationship with aplomb.

As far as everyone else goes, the comic relief snowman Olaf is only slightly annoying, which is a good thing. Mountain Man and sort-of love interest Kristoff has some epic moments of Reindeer-speak that are brilliant subtle comic moments. There's also all these really blurry villains - for a Disney pic, nothing is ever that clear. Is the big bad the Duke of Weselton who is basically a dick who (understandably) wants to open up isolationist Arendelle for trade prospects? Or is it Queen Elsa who through a series of moments we see intimately becomes a stereotypical Evil Ice Queen? Or is it Prince Hans from the Southern Isles who seems like every girl's dream Prince until his evil turn at the end? The answer is that there really is no central villain, they're all just people.

With Prince Hans, it's almost a Beauty and the Beast (1991) thing here, where the dashing young prince is the real douchebag, and the "Evil Queen" is really just misunderstood. Elsa never wanted to hurt anyone, in fact, she tried really hard for years to maintain the status quo, but since she can't control her powers, things got out of hand when she was aroused and she left to form her own crazy kingdom, unaware of the havoc she caused. Naturally, the Prince takes advantage of this for his own ends. Instead of being a hero going against a great Evil Queen, though, he's a rat bastard. On that note, what's with Disney re-examining all their evil Queens this year? Between this and Maleficent (2014), everything looks to be somewhat subverted.

My thoughts then turn to what happens when we get too many subversions? These moves are all a reaction to the overdone cliches that Disney itself drove into the dust. Even the "true love" bit at the end - teh whole film hints that only an act of true love can thaw Anna's frozen heart that Elsa causes. So, it must be a kiss right! It's as if the whole cast is locked into the same tropes the audience is - suddenly the big MacGuffin is getting Anna her kiss but that's also totally subverted when it turns out a sisterly hug will do just fine. Even after that moment you sit there for a second thinking "Wait, how did that work? She didn't kiss anyone..." But of course it makes much more sense that the healing relationship between Anna and Elsa is much more important than any boy in the film.
That boy sure do love that Caribou. And carrots. And the quirky princess.
Speaking of which, the film also concisely deals with the idea that love at first sight is bullshit and in fact proves disastrous for Anna and Hans. Elsa seems like such a bitch when she denies them their engagement, but jeez she's right after it turns out that Hans manipulated Anna into loving him and wanted to kill Elsa and take the throne of Arendelle. Anna forms a much more natural relationship with Kristoff, but the film doesn't end with them embracing in true love, just you know, in to each other. Because they're actually human characters.

As far as the incidental bits, a lot of the supporting elements of the film are crazy good. The animation, especially the show and hair (and snow on the hair) is amazing. On that note, why is every animated film loving the norse people? From How To Train Your Dragon (2011) to Brave (2012), it's been nutty how many Viking / Medieval animated tales we've had. And they're all pretty good! Frozen has all these Norwegian-specific moments though, right down to lutefisk, fjords, stave churches, and trolls, though. And Dwarf Runes straight out of The Desolation of Smaug (2013). It's got to be like, later 17th or 18th Century, though, I think, based on the Balls and the fact that there are all these well-established kingdoms jostling for power.

Lastly, we ought to talk about this film's success. Everything about the timing of this thing was perfect - it's a great family film for the holidays, it focuses on the earth literally freezing over right as the actual world freezed over for just about the whole country north of Miami, and it's a very natural throwback to the sing-songy Disney flicks of olde. Frozen has also managed to culturally outlast a lot of competition, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) to the aforementioned Hobbit. It's as if viewers were willing to be patient for this one, and I suppose it's because it has the sort of timelessness that doesn't require immediate viewing to be part of the national conversation. It's a spectacular slow burn. Or freezer burn.

Even with plenty of other releases today, Frozen is the best and biggest one to catch in theaters right now. Go chill out.

Oof, I had to have that one pun in there, folks.

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